Welcome to the Carnival of Weaning: Weaning - Your Stories
This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Code Name: Mama and Aha! Parenting. Our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles about the end of the breastfeeding relationship.
My older nursling is turning five next month. I haven't been writing much about our tandem breastfeeding (mis)adventures lately for a few reasons.
One is that it was going relatively poorly, sorry to say: major nursing aversion. And I felt bad about that.
One is that I had this external sense that Mikko really should wean. I happened upon a discussion of people talking about me behind my back, and that was the consensus. I know — you never hear good things when you're eavesdropping, right? It stuck with me, and made me feel sheepish and low. I kept telling myself, What do I care what other people think? But I do…obviously.
Just look at the recent hubbub over the TIME cover. That kid's a three-year-old. Mine's almost five. I know there's hate out there.
I felt bad that I was feeling this external pressure to stop nursing, and bad that the internal pressure due to the nursing aversion was exacerbating and emphasizing it.
I wanted the end of our nursing relationship to be one of gentleness, peace, and mutual respect — a wistful bittersweetness with more sweet than bitter. I didn't want an abrupt end with me screeching, "I can't take it anymore!" and forcing him away from me.
Calming the nursing aversionI read a couple articles that Amy Phoenix wrote as guest posts for Code Name: Mama about nursing aversion. I had tried techniques before (calming techniques, hypnosis techniques, deep breathing and relaxation, distraction), but nothing had made the toe-curling sensation go away. If nails-on-a-chalkboard had a feeling, nursing aversion was it. But this time, when I read Amy's articles (this was a couple months ago now, I think), I concentrated on this item: "I am choosing to breastfeed."
It was so simple, and it worked. It felt magical that first time, and I was scared it would disappear. It wasn't magical, because I would still feel nursing aversion from time to time afterward, but it was amazingly helpful, because it was much abated from those earlier levels.
I also participated in a private conversation with Amy (where I doubt she knew she'd have this much effect on me), where she said something about how she wished we lived in an environment where nursing pairs could continue as long as they wanted without any inappropriately placed shame. That and seeking out other mothers of older nurslings took a huge weight off me and reassured me on this most basic level: My kid and I are doing something that's totally normal and fine. I realized it had been the aversion that had caused a lot of my psychological discomfort, because it made every nursing session feel so off to me.
I now felt able, since I wasn't dreading each nursing session or feeling guilty about breastfeeding an older nursling, to contemplate weaning on a more logical, loving level.
I use the term "nursing" intentionally here. I tend to favor "breastfeeding" in general, because I feel it's a source of less confusion (there's a profession for nursing, after all, and you can practice bottle nursing) and because it seems more technically appropriate and encouraging of a frank discussion of just what the feeding is. But when it comes to a four-year-old, the feeding isn't really the point anymore. I mean, Mikko is getting milk; he tells me so, and will knead the breast or switch sides if he can't get any out. (I've had to curb his kneading, because it triggers my aversion.) But he nurses for literally several seconds on each side, and then he's done, so his calorie intake is low.
Setting limitsWe've got it down to twice a day, at my own behest: once in the morning, once at night. Sometimes he forgets and skips one or the other (and I don't remind him), but not often. Sometimes I put him off, and then he falls asleep, but not often with that, either. He used to insist on nursing twice in the morning — upstairs (in our bedroom) and downstairs (in the living room) — and the same at bedtime. But I've put the kibosh on that obsessive behavior and told him one session is enough, and he can choose where it happens.
Just in general, I've felt more comfortable about setting a lot of limits with him at this age. I limit how often, where, for how long, and, at some points, whether. I don't feel this is unfair to him at this point, since he's old enough to do without if he needs to, and he'll often snuggle next to me or ask for back scratches to replace any perceived cuddle deficit. While he's nursing, I can simply say, "Ok," and give him a little pat on the side, and he knows to come off immediately. (During the worst of my nursing aversion, I had the hardest time not turning that "little pat" into something more forceful, and the "Ok" came out between clenched teeth, which is why I'm so glad the worst of the aversion has dissipated. It took nearly a year.)
I also still can't stand nursing both boys simultaneously, so that happens only very rarely, when I seem to be out of other good options. If Mikko's nursing and Alrik's awake, Alrik starts giggling happily and lunges onto whichever breast is free. However adorable that is, this is why I try not to nurse Mikko when Alrik's conscious of what's happening. (When they are both nursing, I have this recurring thought: "They're milk brothers!" And then I remind myself, "No — they're just called brothers in this instance.")
Steps toward weaningSo … weaning. I've begun speaking with Mikko about the idea of weaning, which to me was the first step, and one I resisted. I loved the idea that he would gradually stop nursing on his own. Do I think it would happen, eventually? Oh, sure. But I've finally admitted to myself I'm not willing to wait forever. Most extended nurslings I know of stopped at 2, 3, maybe 4. When I hear of a 5-year-old, I feel safe for a little longer. I heard of a 6-year-old the other day (from a reasonable, respectable person) and felt another little burst of relief. That said, all the mothers say the same thing about those kids: They're nursing occasionally, once every few days, not still on this highly regular schedule Mikko's on, where he would gladly nurse more if I would let him.
I think he needs a push. And I've finally gotten past the guilt and, yes, grief that I have to give him one. I really, really was hoping this could all be of his own volition. Even saying here "I want him to wean" breaks my heart a little. I don't know quite how to explain that to anyone who doesn't believe in child-led weaning. I do believe in it philosophically as an option, and had hoped to practice it, which is why it's so upsetting that I'm abandoning my plans. I'm now ready to try for a mix of mother-directed and child-approved. I'm hoping for something gentle and that's honorable of our nursing relationship so far.
So back to my tentative plans: I've mentioned to Mikko, and Sam has chimed in for me, that everyone stops nursing eventually. His dad and I are not having nummies anymore, we told him. Neither is his (beloved) cousin, or most of his friends. Eventually everyone gets big enough that they don't need them anymore, and they stop.
That's been step one.
Step two has been planting suggestions of when to stop. I said, Maybe five years old. Mikko countered with "Maybe seven!" I guess we'll come to a compromise.
I'd rather not do a weaning party or other abrupt cutoff date, at least not at this point. For one thing, my maudlin sensibilities don't feel like celebrating the end of our nursing relationship. I know, I know, it's gone on for five years. Of course, on the one hand, I'll be glad to have it naturally phased out. But on the other hand, it's gone on for five years! It's all I've known with him! And I'm already feeling a little bereft at the thought of forging a new connection with him.
Instead I'm thinking further negotiation will be necessary. I'll suggest dropping one of the daily sessions, either morning or night. I'd like to drop night, because I'm usually putting both kids to bed alone, and it's a challenge, as mentioned above, to feed both of them. But I wonder if that's Mikko's favorite session, in which case we might need to drop morning instead.
I haven't broached this one yet, since I just thought of it … oh … yesterday. But that's step three.
Beyond that, I'd really like to get something special to remember our nursing relationship by. Maybe a weaning necklace or other keepsake for us to share.
I'd also like to continue our new, connecting traditions of back scratches (he'll even scratch mine occasionally! Score!) and lots of hugs. I think those will ease the transition into being a big kid who doesn't need nummies anymore to continue feeling loved and secure.
Here's another factor when I think of weaning Mikko: Sam and I have discussed having a third baby (so! fun!), in which case I know, for suresies, that I do not wish to nurse through pregnancy and tandem feed again. It was really painful on my nipples through pregnancy; my milk dried up, which was a bummer; and tandem nursing has been more burden than bliss. However, I say "do not wish" rather than "absolutely will not," because if we decide to have a child sooner rather than later (or if the universe decides for us), I don't want to cut Alrik off before he's had his share of the nummie goodness. I will say that it's been lovely to have tandem nursing to smooth over the sibling newness. I do think it's helped reduce rivalry, so yea for that. But, one way or another, I don't think triandeming is in the books for me. I really hope not!
So those are the first three steps of my plan, and we'll see how it goes from there.
What I believeHere are truths I affirm:
- It is totally legitimate to nurse a child until he wants to stop.
- All children will eventually stop nursing.
- Sometimes the weaning timing works out perfectly, but not always. Some children stop nursing before the parent is ready, and some parents want or need the nursing to stop before the child is ready.
- It's totally legitimate for a breastfeeding parent to decide when to wean. (I've believed this for other parents, but giving permission to myself has been harder.)
- Ideally, the weaning process, whether child- or parent-led (or a mix of both), will be gentle and respectful, though that doesn't mean the participants can't be sad or have strong emotional responses to the process.
- Breastfeeding your child for any length of time is a gift, and those of us who practice long-term breastfeeding have done something good for our children that cannot be undone by weaning.
All right, that's my long-winded story of where we've been and where we're at. I'd appreciate any perspectives on what you would do (or did do) with an extended nursling who kept … on … extending the nursing. What are gentle ways to encourage weaning that preserve the relationship of trust you've built?
Thank you for visiting the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Dionna at Code Name: Mama and Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (and many thanks to Joni Rae of Tales of a Kitchen Witch for designing our lovely button):
(This list will be live amind updated by afternoon May 21 with all the carnival links.)
- On Breastfeeding, Weaning, and One Mother’s Identity — Jessica at Natural Parents Network has been nursing one or more of her children since 1993 - breastfeeding is wrapped up in her concept of mothering and herself. She shares her thoughts on weaning.
- two tales of weaning — Aspen at Aspen Mama writes about their countdown to wean.
- Wean Me Gently — Tam at Please Send Parenting Books shares a beautiful weaning ceremony.
- You say potato, I say bleeeuuuuch... — Anelie at Mindcradle had read the books and knew just how to introduce her baby son to solids—unfortunately, he had other ideas.
- A Post Called Weaning — (Not) Maud at Awfully Chipper writes about how weaning her son took longer than she expected.
- On Weaning, Pregnancy and Emotion — Shannon at The Artful Mama talks about her mixed emotions as she allows her son, Little Man, to guide her through his weaning process.
- half of her life — Staci at Springpatch Jam looks back on her nursing relationship with her first born.
- Is it just this After Forty Mom or is it harder to wean when its your last? — Amanda of After Forty Mom shares her emotional journey towards the impending self-weaning of her toddler daughter.
- Nursing Limits — Jorje of Momma Jorje shares how she has weaned her toddler down to minimal nursing and her guilt about the decision to do so.
- Weaning Video Series #1: Preparation for the Weaning Process — Why is weaning such a taboo topic? Dionna at Code Name: Mama got mamas from across the blogosphere to start talking about weaning - on video. Come check out the first video in a series of five that she'll be posting this week.
- Weaning due to anxiety — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about how she had to wean to preserve her mental health.
- When Will I Wean? A Guest Post — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama hosts a guest post from a mama who contemplates when her breastfeeding relationship will end.
- On His Own Terms — Momeeezen shares her heartbreak from when her son weaned much earlier than she anticipated.
- Our Weaning Story - Sudden, Surprised, and Embracing a New Season — Weaning doesn't always go how we imagine. That Mama Gretchen shares the story of her daughter's sudden weaning and how she has embraced this new season of motherhood.
- A Tale of Two Weanings — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares the similarities and differences of how her nursing relationships with her now six-year-old and four-year-old daughters came to a close.
- She Doesn't Remember — Alicia at Lactation Narration finds that her 6 year old no longer remembers nursing, only one year after weaning.
- It's The End of the World As We Know It — A story about the end of a tandem nursing relationship on Never Mind The Rain: A toddler moves on to a new phase in her life before mom is fully ready.
- A Natural End To Our Breastfeeding Relationship — With two self-weaning children, Jennifer at Our Muddy Boots does not know when the end will come, but that it will be natural and without regrets.
- Child-Led weaning: It's Not Extreme; It's Biological — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children explains why child-led weaning is based on biology rather than social constraints.
- 6 Years of Natural Weaning in 5 Steps — Jess at miniMum shares how and why she let her first child stop when he was good and ready.
- Is This Weaning?: A Tandem Nursing Update — Sheila at A Living Family bares all her tandem nursing hopes and fears during what feels like the beginning of the end for her toddler nursing relationship.
- Memories of Weaning: Unique and Gentle — Cynthia at The Hippie Housewife shares her weaning experiences with her two sons, each one unique in how it happened and yet equally gentle in its approach.
- Weaning Aversion' — Gentle Mama Moon shares her experience of nursing and unplanned weaning due to pregnancy-induced 'feeding aversion'.
- Three Months Post-Mup: An Evolution of Thoughts On Weaning — cd at FidgetFace describes a brief look at her planned (but accelerated) weaning, as well as one mamma's evolution on weaning (and extended nursing)
- Weaning my Tandem Nursed Toddler — After tandem nursing for a year, Melissa at Permission to Live felt like weaning her older child would be impossible, but now she shares how gentle weaning worked for her 2 1/2 year old.
- Every Journey Begins with One Step — As Hannabert begins the weaning process, Hannah at Hannah and Horn's super power is diminishing.
- Reflections on Weaning - Love Changes Form — Amy from Presence Parenting (guest posting at Dulce de Leche) shares her experience and approach of embracing weaning as a continual process in parenting, not just breastfeeding.
- Weaning Gently: Three Special Ideas for Success — MudpieMama shares three ideas that help make weaning a gentle and special journey.
- Guest Post: Carnival of Weaning — Emily shares her first weaning experience and her hopes for her second nursling in a guest post on Farmer's Daughter.
- 12 Tips for Gentle Weaning — Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting describes the process of gentle weaning and gives specific tips to make weaning an organic, joyful ripening.
- Quiz: Should You Wean for Fertility Treatments? — Paige at Baby Dust Diaries talks about the key issues in the difficult decision to wean for infertility treatments.
- I thought about weaning... — Kym at Our Crazy Corner of the World shares her story of how she thought about weaning several times, yet it still happened on its own timeline.
- Celebrating Weaning — Amy at Anktangle reflects on her thoughts and feelings about weaning, and she shares a quick tutorial for one of the ways she celebrated this transition with her son: through a story book with photographs!
- Naturally Weaning Twins — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings discusses the gradual path to weaning she has taken with her preschool-aged twins.
- Gentle Weaning Means Knowing When to Stop — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl writes about knowing when your child is not ready to wean and taking their feelings into account in the process.
- Weaning, UnWeaning, and ReWeaning — Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy discovers non-mutal weaning doesn't have to be the end. You can have a do-over.
- Prelude to weaning — Lauren at Hobo Mama talks about a tough tandem nursing period and what path she would like to encourage her older nursling to take.
- Demands of a Nursing Kind — Amy Willa at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work shares her conflicted feelings about nursing limits and explores different ways to achieve comfort, peace, and bodily integrity as a nursing mother.
- Breastfeeding: If there's one thing I know for sure... — Wendy at ABCs and Garden Peas explores the question: How do you know when it's time to wean?
- Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Two, Three? — Zoie at TouchstoneZ discusses going from 3 nurslings down to 1 and what might happen when her twins arrive.