A Weaning Story
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 3, May-June 2002, p. 90
Around the time my daughter, Maren, reached four years old she told me there was not much "boobie" milk left. We had been talking about this happening for several months, discussing the idea that maybe she would not want to nurse any more. She loved to nurse and would not be giving them up easily. Every night for a few more weeks, Maren would nurse to fall asleep and say the same thing, "Not much milk left." Then one night, she went through this ritual, rolled over, and started to cry. I asked her what was wrong and she said, "I am sad about the boobie milk disappearing." Although I knew this day would come and some days wished for it, I felt sad for her. I remembered how hard it was to grow up and give things up. As I cuddled her little body that night, I reflected on our breastfeeding journey and thought about how we had come to this point.
I remember how shocked I felt when I asked the midwife at our six-week postpartum checkup how long I should breastfeed and she told me at least a year. I had planned on nursing Maren for six months, as that was the norm in my world at the time. The first six weeks had seemed so difficult. I thought I could never manage to continue breastfeeding for an entire year but after a little while, we did manage to settle into the easy, enjoyable routine of breastfeeding an older baby. Maren nursed a lot. I never worried about having to teach her a code word for nursing, assuming she'd certainly be weaned before she could ever speak!
Well, Maren's first birthday arrived. Right away I realized that this weaning task would not be so easy and was going to take some time. She loved breastfeeding and did not seem at all interested in solid food. I decided right away that the weaning would be a six-month process. Yes, by the time this child was eighteen months old, she'd be off the breast. I sure wasn't going to be nursing a two-year-old!
Over the next six months, I tried several times to give her cow's milk in various forms: cold, warm, skim, whole, in a cup, in a bottle and yes, eventually chocolate. Every time she would take one sip, spit it out, and do a dramatic shiver move that looked like what I would do if I tasted straight whiskey or bad wine. I then tried soymilk, rice milk, and goat's milk. Same reaction.
Maren's eighteen-month birthday came and went and she was no closer to weaning. She was still not eating enough solids to survive on them and I came to the realization that my child was smarter about her own diet than I was. This was a turning point for me in our nursing relationship. I gave up on trying to wean her and trusted that she would know when she had had enough. I armed myself with the book MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER, by Norma Jane Bumgarner, drew on the support of my friends who had nursed or were nursing toddlers, and decided we were in this thing for the long haul.
I think the most difficult stage for me to get through was when Maren was between two and two-and-a-half. Of course now she was very verbal and I often kicked myself for not using a code word for nursing. She was naturally very demanding at this age yelling out, "I want some boobie!" at the most inopportune times. I had always felt comfortable nursing Maren in public or with friends and family, but now I started to become uncomfortable in most situations. Social pressure to wean was starting to get to me, though. I worked through this difficult stage by reading as much as I could on the continued benefits of breastfeeding, relying on supportive friends and family, trying delay strategies with Maren, and becoming more private about our breastfeeding. I often thought of myself as a "closet" nurser at this time.
As for Maren yelling out her need to nurse in public, I went from being totally embarrassed to being curious to see people's reactions to her request. Most people either did not know what she was asking for or assumed they had misunderstood her. Eventually I began to feel proud that I was still nursing my two-year-old. Proud that I had resisted the social pressure. Proud that I had listened to my child and my heart. Proud that I had nursed her through teething pain, several colds, new places, new people, chicken pox, and a sore throat. Proud that I had let this little child change my views so drastically. Proud to be this child's mother.
Eventually, Maren came to understand that there was a time and a place to breastfeed and that not everyone understands about children having "boobie woobie," as she now called it. We had endless discussions about nursing. She was and still is interested to know which of her playmates had nursed or still nurse. We play La Leche League meeting and breastfeeding her toys is a big part of her play.
When Maren was about three-and-a-half, a friend of ours had a baby and was having some early breastfeeding difficulties. Maren and I went to visit. As my friend and I were talking about the situation, Maren was standing beside the mother looking intently at the baby breastfeeding. I assumed she was just admiring the baby. After 10 minutes or so, Maren looked up and said, "He needs to open his mouth wider." Advice from an expert, my friend and I agreed!
As Maren was approaching her fourth birthday I began to feel a bit of the social pressure to wean her again. As I thought about it further, I reaffirmed my decision to let her wean herself on her terms. We had come so far. It surely can't be that much longer now, I told myself. I would let her weaning occur at her own pace and let it be peaceful and natural.
And now it is over. She doesn't ask to breastfeed anymore and hasn't nursed for over two months. When I ask her if she has weaned, she says she is not sure. She still likes to cuddle up to me at night. I went through a weaning process of my own. I don't feel as though I have a baby any more, and I tend to struggle with endings and good-byes. I have learned a lot from this journey and I am glad that I had such a wonderful little girl to help me find my way.