Wednesday, June 8, 2011

End of an Era

I weaned my little C this week, after 2.75 years. 

When I got pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed.  Information I learned in breastfeeding classes through Kaiser Permanente strengthened my commitment to give C breast milk exclusively during the first 6 months of her life, and continue to nurse at least for one year as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When I made those milestones, I realized that one year was an arbitrary number.  C still needed to nurse and it was a pleasant and beneficial part of our relationship.  I set my sights on the two years of nursing as recommended by the World Health Organization.

During that second year of breastfeeding, the relationship changed a little.  It was a little less pleasant at times, a little less enjoyable.  Whenever I had a discomfort, I would set a new limit and harmony would be restored to our relationship.  And I kept in mind that two year goal. 

Well, two years turned out to be a rather arbitrary number as well.  C didn't suddenly lose interest in nursing just because she had celebrated a birthday.  I briefly cut her way back in anticipation of complete weaning, but her intense clinginess and other signs of anxiety let me know that she just wasn't ready for that. 

I read Mothering Your Nursing Toddler and drew encouragement to keep going.  I enjoyed reading the sweet stories of children who self-weaned when they were ready, and thought I'd like to know what C's story would be.

So, I gave her greater access to nursing again for a few months.  Then I again got frustrated with our relationship, and wondered if it were affecting my fertility negatively (we have been trying to conceive our second child for a year now). So, I cut her back to three times a day (wake up, nap time and bedtime).  This time she readily accepted the limit without repercussions.  

Over the past few weeks, though, I realized that even that had become too much for me.  I felt ready to have my body back to myself. For a variety of reasons, nursing was increasingly uncomfortable for me.  I thought about how in nature, mother animals push away their young who are ready to be weaned.  Maybe my body was telling me something worth listening to.  At the same time, I noticed that C was showing more signs of readiness for weaning.  Sometimes I would offer and she would refuse because something more interesting was going on, and sometimes on very rare occasions she would just forget about it all together. 

Somehow when I thought about mother-led weaning, I assumed to be done right, it had to be gradual, or at least have a lot of preparation and talk before hand.

And yet, when I came to the realization that I was ready to wean while nursing C at bedtime the other night, I just wanted it to be done.  I told her right then that we were going to say goodbye to nursing.  I explained that we wouldn't nurse in the morning, or at nap time or at bedtime, but that she could ask me for cuddles and snuggles whenever she needed them.

The next morning I reminded her no nursing and she protested and tried to pull up my shirt a few times. I held firm and offered to snuggle and hold her hand. She settled for that and went back to sleep.

Later that morning after breakfast, we were talking about babies. She said, "I not baby anymore." (not words I've used with her at all)

I said, "Yes, you're growing up in lots of ways. You don't use diapers anymore and you don't nurse anymore."

She said, "Yeah, I'm getting bigger!" and went off happily to play.

Could it be that easy?

Not exactly. 

She has continued to ask to nurse periodically, and has had varied responses to my refusal.

Mid-morning that first day, she just climbed in my lap and started lifting my shirt. I said, "Remember, we don't nurse anymore."

She said without missing a beat, "Can I have a snack instead?"

At lunch time that first day, she tried lifting my shirt again and this time when I said no she wasn't so easy going about it. She actually pounded my chest to show her frustration.

I put her down and said, "I can't let you hit me, but it is OK to be sad and mad about no more nursing because you really liked it."  She came back to my lap for snuggles. I wondered how nap time would go, but we just lay down together and not nursing wasn't even an issue.

Bedtime would be the real test, I thought.  She did ask and I said no. She threw herself on the floor in tears, and I thought that perhaps we'd both benefit from a bit more formal end, so I told her she could hug and kiss my boobs and say goodbye. She laid her head across both sides of my chest and gave the sweetest little pecks through my shirt.

Instead of trying to get her to sleep in her own bed in her own room, though, I just had her start out with us that night. I kind of figured she would need the extra reassurance, and it was already 10 by the time we were getting her down.

The second day, she asked every few hours or so. She cried in my arms about it once when I said no, but not hard or long. I kept reminding her that we can snuggle and play together instead of nursing whenever she wants to be close to me. I told her now she can ask for "lovie bug time" or "mommy time" instead of nursing, and by the end of the day she had caught on to that. Bedtime the second night, we let her start off in our bed again, but transferred her to her own room after she fell asleep.

Yesterday was the third day.  She continued to ask to nurse, but quickly rephrased her question to request mommy time instead each time. Bedtime, we were going to start off in our room, but she said she'd rather be in her own bed.

My emotions throughout this have been mixed.  At first, when she was seemingly taking it so well, I was relieved and yet felt like saying, "Wait! Come back!" at the same time. It was definitely bittersweet.  When we did our more formal goodbye to nursing I felt more closure about it.  She's doing well with it, but not completely forgotten about it either. 

I have no regrets about nursing her as long as I did. I love breastfeeding, and hope to nurse my next child whenever he or she comes along as well.

Weaning her this way has been a great opportunity to practice limits with empathy, to exercize my ability to be both kind and firm. I feel good about how I handled it in a way that respects both of us. I'd like to believe that this is a good example of gentle discipline and positive parenting in action. :)


  1. Very nice! I remember the first time I tried to wean Jack. I'm not sure he cared about it, but I was a wreck! So I went a few more months. I went away for a weekend and he never asked for it again. It was time for us. (that was @15 months). I'm glad you shared your story. You have a wonderful relationship with C, and it's going to help her become a confident adult. :)

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I am nursing my 21 months old as well as my 1 month old right now, and sometimes I've wondered about that balance of mommy boundaries and respect for both of our needs. Good to know that it is possible.


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