How Weaning Happened
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 1, January-February 2008, pp. 21-22
Trusting that weaning would "happen" was a leap of faith for me as a mother of a three-year-old daughter. I never imagined in those first days of breastfeeding a new baby that our nursing relationship would continue through walking, talking, potty training, and counting to 10.
My breastfeeding goals gradually shifted from six weeks to six months and there never seemed to be any real advantage to stopping breastfeeding. Maybe we'd stop when she'd finished teething or could settle herself to sleep or maybe when she dropped her daytime nap? Isabella was nursing two or three times a day as a toddler and as she reached three years old, she usually needed to nurse to sleep. She was happy to go to bed without nursing with her dad or grandparents, but if I was around she wanted her "nokkies" (her word for nursing). It began to dawn on me that nursing before bed was becoming one more distraction stopping her from settling: one more book, a quick snack, another cuddle, then a breastfeed.
I had talked to Isabella about weaning and although she was excited about the idea of a weaning party, she was still not quite ready to let go. We'd snuggle in bed, then I would hear her whisper, "I don't want my party any more" and we'd have a quick nurse. My milk supply was dwindling, however, and nursing for more than a few minutes was uncomfortable. I began to look forward to the end of nursing my little girl. There were several times when I thought we might have nursed for the last time, but in the end Isabella dictated when she was ready to stop. She had been playing with some older children at the park and had a pretty serious and uncharacteristic tantrum as we left for home. She nursed at home then turned to me and said, "I don't want nokkies any more" -- just like that. I asked her if she was sure and she said that she was ready for her weaning party. She asked to nurse that night and, when I reminded her what we had agreed, she just nursed for a couple of minutes then went to sleep. She probably had a couple of token feeds after this but I knew that she had weaned. We went ahead with the party a couple of weeks later with some of her close friends -- it was just like a birthday party without the candles!
Isabella is still fascinated by my breasts and makes jokes about what breast milk tastes like -- usually chocolate milkshake. She nurses her dollies and talks about her baby cousin breastfeeding. I would not be comfortable with her nursing now, a year after she weaned, but occasionally she will still kiss me and we will cuddle like we're nursing if she's tired or hurt.
Our families were intrigued by Isabella's extended nursing, but stopped asking if she was "still breastfeeding" a long time ago. I was less happy to nurse in public as time passed, and I'm pleased that we had a code word for breastfeeding, although it was usually pretty obvious what she wanted! Ironically, I feel much more confident explaining to people that I nursed Isabella for several years now that she has weaned. I no longer need to defend us from possible criticism. My standard response used to be that I was happy and Isabella was happy to continue nursing and that I could not see any reason to stop.
There were some times when I wondered if Isabella would ever wean and I kept referring to the LLL books, HOW WEANING HAPPENS and MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER. The mothers' and children's stories in these books were reassuring and discouraged rushing into weaning before my daughter was ready. The support of La Leche League has been key to my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter.
When she was a few weeks old, I was convinced she was feeding too often during the day and, at nearly six months, I was tired out, but I knew that switching to formula was not the answer for me. LLL Leaders helped me find my own way in the face of well meaning advice from other people.
I am happy that Isabella weaned at a time that was right for her and that there was very little upset for either of us. Isabella has just started school, which has been another weaning of sorts. I'm pleased that she will always be able to remember nursing and that breastfeeding is a normal and natural part of her life.
Reprinted with permission from LLL GB News.