Monday, September 6, 2010

Weaning after Extended Breast Feeding

As I said in my last post, I am in the process of weaning Angelo. I guess I'll consider him officially weaned once he does not ask to nurse, even once, for ... I don't know, a week? A month? We have now not nursed for over 2 weeks and the process has been much much harder on me than on him. I didn't expect myself to be so sad, but I've talked to someone who gave me a lot of insight and done some soul searching to figure out how to work this out for myself.

So, how did we do it? The whole process started a long time ago when I stopped letting him see my bare breasts during the day, because that made him want to nurse immediately. This was well after we started solids, but he was walking. I don't know exactly how long ago it really was. Gradually, on his own, he found enough things to occupy him during the day so that he only asked to nurse in the evenings when he got tired. But, at night, I couldn't say exactly how much he nursed because I was mostly asleep myself.

After being done mentally for months now, a few weeks before we stopped nursing altogether, I stopped nursing him for the only remaining session we regularly had during the day by lightly saying "no, it's not time to go to sleep". Then I offered to snuggle and read a book or something else that offered comfort.

The last time we nursed, I was prepared to start the weaning process "soon"- that night somehow by lessening the number of times we nursed. We had no commitments that weekend and could afford to lose sleep. I knew it wouldn't be easy, and was prepared to be as gentle as possible while shielding myself from the inevitable tantrums that lay ahead. This is just Angelo I'm talking about- do not assume your child will do anything the same way because every child is different. Our last session was not at all enjoyable, I'm sorry to say. I was so done mentally that I had no tolerance for his rolling around and switching side to side over and over (because my production was so low at that point), that I told him we would hug and were all done nursing. I've done this before quite a few times and he often threw a fit, but sometimes accepted the outcome quietly and snuggled in. There were times when I was under stress and my milk production lower than what he wanted that he said the "nursey [was] broken", and since I denied further nursing that night because he was having to work so hard to get milk, I told him the nursey was broken. That's what I told him for the next few days (nights) when he asked to nurse. The first two nights were extremely difficult for both of us. Me wanting to give in, but knowing I couldn't or we would never be done and I had to be and him wanting his biggest source of comfort, his easiest solution for sleep. But, the third night, he only asked to nurse once. Eric started taking him to bed before me, reading to him and snuggling him until he fell asleep. We have had many nights since when he has not asked at all and he sleeps for very long stretches at a time. I hope I don't jinx the whole thing by reporting that in fact now, he sleeps for about 8-9 hours straight and even has slept a couple times here at home for his nap! If you know what our nap time struggles have been, you know it has been a very long time since he has not slept in the car for a nap.

About a week ago, we had sadness when he asked to nurse and was denied (though I always deny kindly and acknowledge that he is sad and I'm sorry he is sad, and cuddle and tell him I love him very much.) I no longer tell him that "the nursey is broken" since it is clear to me that I do have milk to give him and don't feel it is right to lie. I just simply say no and hug him and if possible, find a distraction. I know he asked a few days ago to nurse, but the event was fairly insignificant. Now he usually announces that it is time to get out of bed now and go get an apple or play with trains.

I still respond physically to his cries, though am in less physical pain. There are many reasons for sadness with this process- different for everyone, but the biggest and most obvious being that it is an end to a very sweet and close part of your relationship. I already have been taking the opportunity to read to him more, pick him up a little more than I was and give him extra hugs and kisses. I planned some bigger activities for us to help with the distraction and then we happened to already have a beach trip planned, which helped tremendously. He was so tired from all the playing and new experiences that I didn't need to worry about him waking up. At least once he asked to nurse and my instinct said it was because he was thirsty, so I offered him water and he excitedly accepted. Another time, I suspected he was hungry and he was happy to take an apple instead.

I wanted to write out this process for myself and then someone suggested I write it out. I agreed it was a good idea. I wanted to do some sort of "ritual" to properly end the relationship and and then someone suggested I do some sort of "ritual". I agreed it was a good idea. I'd heard of people throwing parties and before I asked on the Mothering Face Book page for ritual ideas, and someone suggested a party or something special for the child. I agree that it is a good idea for other people if it seems right. But not for me. In truth, Angelo is still doing much better than I am. Then, Mothering suggested that I write a letter to Angelo and I agree that it is a perfect idea for me. So, I've started by writing to the people who read this blog. :) This is the link Mothering sent me It made me cry- a lot, but not in a bad way.

My friend JoAnna asked me in the comments to the last post how I'm getting Angelo through it to help her and her daughter. I was about to post the link when I saw her comment when I realized that I should start by writing out the process here. I've tried doing numerous searches for suggestions on gently weaning after extended breast feeding and had no luck. They were all very vague suggestions like "be gentle and loving" or to just let the child decide when it is right and let it happen "naturally". Sounds pretty vague. So, hopefully I've given enough details that my suggestions for being gentle and loving are actually helpful. If not, please ask for more details. Writing it out has helped me tremendously, so thank you! :)

I knew it was time to move on, I just had to listen to myself and do it. As it is so often important when mothering, follow your instincts. They will guide you the best way since they are coming from you. :)


  1. Thanks for posting this! I am so glad he is taking to it so well. I really need to just buckle down and do it. Hopefully if school works out for her, it will get a bit easier. I guess I have been expecting her to get bored with it or just get OVER it, grow out of it, but she has not. In fact she tells me that boobies are better than anything, including chocolate milk, and she plans to never stop nursing. =:O So! LOL!!! She actually does NOT nurse at night at all, maybe once before bed, but usually does ask 3/4 times during the day. You are right, there is little to no info out there about weaning after extending bf'ing! I am so glad things are getting a little calmer for you, I know you both need that rest!!!

  2. I know how you feel. For the longest time I just kept saying, "I can't imagine even trying to deny him because of the way he reacts when it just doesn't work." But if you are over it, it really sounds like it is time for you both to be done. I think nature gives Mama a heads up too. :) You are right, I think school will be a good distraction for her and you. I forgot to mention that Eric took Angelo out quite a bit that first weekend and that helped a lot. Maybe you all can plan a few evening outings for Bella and Charlie for the first few days. You may find she becomes more independent on other things automatically after not nursing for a while. Angelo did! He has made tremendous progress with potty training and his sleep issues are so much better. It was definitely time for both of us to move on. Good luck!! And thank you, yes, we did need that rest and I feel like I have more energy to do other things with him. We are reading a ton more and we have done more yoga together and the beach trip was jam packed full of fun stuff! :)