When breastfeeding is not always best
Three weeks – that’s how long it’s been since the last time my little guy asked to nurse. He is 18 months old now and while my original plan was to continue breastfeeding on demand and let him do the weaning at his own pace, like his siblings, I could not. Breastfeeding had become tiresome, with huge tantrums resulting whenever I tried to refuse. Naturally, I’d give into nursing my little one for comfort, but then we’d end up having these really long nursing cycles. Night time feedings were the worst. He was still waking up several times to nurse. We’d both fall asleep mid session and I’d wake up an hour or two later to unlatch him only to make him cry until he was back on. The whole thing felt just like having a newborn again!
Nursing my baby had lost its magic for me and I reached a point where I dreaded it. The guilt that came with aversion (read more on that at Mama’s Milk, No Chaser) was so intense that I was in constant tears too. This was no longer the sacred bonding experience we had always enjoyed, but I felt stuck. Until I realized that sacrificing my body for the sake of my child was not making me a better mother, it was making me an unhappy one. I reached my decision and set out to wean my demanding toddler.
Defining the process
Being a mom of four, I’d picked up a few things along the way. I knew I needed these four elements to achieve success: a clear plan of action, realistic expectations, a support system, and consistency. The one thing I knew for sure when I started this process was that we weren’t doing it cold turkey. I planned to wean in stages, one step at a time. Though I was the one leading the weaning process, I wanted it to be a gentle experience for my son. I decided not to move to the next phase until I felt sure that he had fully completed the previous one. I kept my expectations real, knowing that there would be tears and possible set backs. I enlisted my husband’s help and support to get through the rough patches. He took over our bed time routine, because I was sure that would be the hardest part. Above all, I aimed to be consistent, no matter what. I had my plan and now it was time to put it to the test.
One step at a time
- First, I eliminated the constant grazing during the day. This was the easiest part because I could offer alternative snacks or distract him with other activities. The older siblings did a great job at creating distractions. It only took 3 days for him to quit the snacking.
- Next, I was determined to end nap time feedings. I did that by moving meal times closer to his naps so he’d be nice and satisfied come sleepy time. I stopped rocking him and started a routine of shutting the curtains, closing the door and sitting next to him while patting his bum until he’s asleep. Always with lullabies on to help him relax. This took another 3 or 4 days for adjustment to settle in.
- Phase three, removing night feedings, was the hardest. This was the part where I almost gave up. Bed time was no biggie, as my hubby handled that. The real problem came when he’d wake up for those midnight feedings he was used to. Normally, I would lay him next to me and let him nurse freely and we’d both drift off to sleep. This change was not welcomed well and we had some rough nights. The hubs and I took turns trying to comfort him and soothe him back to dreamland, while he cried and cried. After 8 or 9 nights of tears, one night he just didn’t cry anymore. He had slept through the entire night and has been ever since! Mission complete.
Please know that this is not a one size fits all method. It is a guideline to help you develop your own plan that’s suited to you and your child. You know your toddler better than anyone else. Listen to his cues and trust yourself as you move from one phase to the next. It will be challenging and bittersweet, but you will both make it through. My very last piece of advice is to take that last latch all in. Feel your body nourish your baby one last time. Cherish it and know that you have given your child an incredible gift.