(almost) no-tears weaning

Over the past two and a half years, there have been times I was convinced I would be nursing my child into his twenties. After he got the hang of nursing in his first few days of life on the outside, he couldn’t get enough. Fortunately, I didn’t have to work outside of the home (and spent countless work shifts nursing him while typing one-handed), so BG nursed on demand for a very long time. We also slept either in side-by-side beds or in the same bed for his first year and a half, so he had access when he needed it. It has been easy for us, beautiful, and for ages, I couldn’t imagine how we would ever wean. Just thinking about it made me panic a little.

But there came a time when BG was about fourteen months old when he wasn’t letting me sleep at night. He would have these all-night nurse-a-thons that would leave me feeling stuck in bed and wanting my personal space. It was around this time that we decided to night-wean, and it was brutal. I slept on the sofa for a few nights while my wife dealt with a screaming, crying boy. My breasts would ache, and I would lie there crying along with him. But after a couple of nights, he did calm down for his mama, and I went back to bed. He fought me to  nurse. He was desperate, but I helped him understand that he could nurse when the lights came on. He would bargain with me when he really wanted to nurse. “Light! Light!” (or some approximation) is what he would say while pointing at the lamp in our bedroom. But he eventually got it, and the nights of tears were really very few. There were a few occasions when he would need to nurse at night because he was sick, and we’d have to repeat the process, but those few times were brief as he got more and more accustomed to sleeping at night.

But those tears confirmed for me that I really didn’t want a repeat of those desperate begging cries. I didn’t have a plan for when we would wean, but I knew it would be gradual. It seems now that it was a full year of gradual following his first night-weaning. Slowly, we stopped nursing as much during the day, and by the end of last summer, when he turned two, we were down to just two or three nursing sessions a day: one in the morning, one midday, and one before bed. I loved nursing a toddler, but there were occasions, particularly when he was teething, that I didn’t. There were periods when he would bite down, and eventually last fall, when we were down to just morning and night, he bit me hard one morning–he drew blood. I had no choice but to cut out the morning nursing. Every time we cut any nursing out during the day, it involved a lot of distraction. When he woke up in the morning, for example, there was no lounging around in bed; instead, we got right up and made breakfast. (As a result, he also became intimately involved in our coffee-making routine in the morning. It’s good training.) This happened so suddenly, and I had a moment of sadness for the way it happened, but it was so successful. We were fine.

Honestly, I had a hard time imagining how we would finally stop the final nursing session of the day, but he just kind of figured it out on his own. He would go for a couple of nights without nursing and then would pick it right back up again for a few weeks. I decided I wouldn’t decline if he asked, but I wouldn’t offer either. And for the last six months, he’s been slowly weaning himself from that night nursing. In the last month, he has on several occasions just wanted to have contact with my breast while he rocks with me at night, and just like that, he has finished the process. A week or so ago, he tried to nurse, and it was so painful. I told him it hurt, that “nana” didn’t work anymore. So he stopped. The  next night, he mentioned it, that nana didn’t work anymore, and he patted my breast, laid his head down, and smiled. I asked him if he thought he might be all done nursing, and he said he was. It was so simple, and that’s all it really needed to be. No need for agonizing, for setting a cut-off date. It was just a matter-of-fact, but very sweet conversation. I think this is what is so ideal about nursing–and then weaning–a child who is verbal. I am grateful for this.

And ultimately, I’m so proud of our boy. It’s a big deal to decide you don’t need one of your greatest comforts in the world, but he hasn’t given it all up. We have lots of snuggles when he needs them, and on occasion, he does just get to lay on his beloved nanas when that’s the only thing that will do.

I’m proud of myself though, too. I’m proud of what I invested in the nursing relationship, proud of standing my ground to meet my own needs, even proud of the sacrifices I made to ensure our son’s health. I can’t say there is no sadness at all. I will forever miss the sweet, soft, wide eyes of my nursing baby looking up at me. I’ll miss hungry bird mouth (although I’ve missed that for a long time). I’ll miss the drowsiness of prolactin and the boost to my metabolism. But I’ll never grieve how it all ended. We were both ready, and there is something so very satisfying about that.

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5 Comments

Filed under Boy Genius, breastfeeding

5 responses to “(almost) no-tears weaning

  1. I’m glad it ended on a much more peaceful and happy note 🙂

  2. What a nice story. People often judge women who still nurse kids who are verbal, but you’re right, there are some great benefits to waiting to wean until you can really explain things to your child!

    • reproducinggenius

      Oh, certainly. We’ve all heard people say, “If they can ask for it, they don’t need it.” But it’s far from the truth. We live in a culture that has such a hard time with breastfeeding, and we have these arbitrary dates that we set for when it’s appropriate to stop. Still, it never escapes me that so much of what we do as parents is up for judgment by the masses. It’s a little maddening! 🙂

  3. Next in line

    Thank you thank you for sharing this story! I am hoping that we are just behind you and I will in a few months be able to post something similiar 🙂

  4. I loved reading this story. It rings so true and similar (right down to the night weaning and the reasons for it at 18 months) to the experience of weaning my now 7.5 year old. Thank you for the sweet trip down memory lane.

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