Thoughts on Weaning

Posted on Jan 19, 2010 in Breastfeeding, Featured, Parenting | 10 comments

I consider myself lucky. In this culture of formula and inadequate support and work pressures, so many women seem to struggle with breastfeeding. For me, the struggle was actually weaning. Breastfeeding came easy. My babies latched well and I had a bigger issue with oversupply than with not producing enough. I had great support from my midwives and family, and I was lucky to have a whole year of Canadian maternity leave.

Nursing 9 month old Noa

Nursing 9 month old Noa

My children were both enthusiastic nursers and as a result, weaning was a very long gradual process. I had initially intended to nurse my firstborn for 18 months. We did manage to night-wean him at 15 months when I got a part-time job but his day-time nursing made up for it. There was no chance he’d be weaned at 18 months. I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding before my son was ready. I wanted very much for the process of weaning to be loving and gentle and to move at a pace dictated largely by my son, with some encouragement from me.  In that sense, I wouldn’t say it was truly child-led weaning as I definitely played an encouraging (or discouraging) role. I employed the oft-cited tactics like “Don’t offer, don’t refuse” and distraction or offering alternatives. Eventually, I would decline a request to nurse whenever I thought I could get away with it.

I will be honest. Sometimes it felt like I would never get my body back. Sometimes I felt touched out and resented having to nurse again. Sometimes I felt that weaning gradually was too difficult, too slow.

By the time Rain was two years old, he was only nursing before and after sleeps and when hurt or upset. A month after his second birthday, I got pregnant again. Nursing quickly became uncomfortable and I wasn’t sure I was interested in tandem nursing. I knew that the next 9 months held Rain’s weaning. We gradually got him into a bedtime routine that involved reading books, a cup of milk and some a lot of cuddles. By January 2008, he was only nursing once a day, before his nap.

A horse for a toddler

A horse for a toddler

One day—was it January? February?—he was playing with his cousins in the house. They had the camping gear out and were pretending that the rolled blue foam sleeping pads were horses. They would sit on them and pretend to ride. Rain brought one back to the bus at lunch time. He asked to sleep with his horse during nap time. We laid down together on the bed in the back. I remember the light peeking through the curtains. I remember him putting his arm around Rose, his trusty horse and curling his body round the blue foam pad. I remember tucking his blanket around him. I remember how I stroked his hair and how he drifted off, forgetting to ask for a nurse.

I don’t remember the day before, the day we nursed as we always did. I don’t remember the way he looked or what the light was like the last time we nursed.

But I remember the day he didn’t nurse. I remember this day as the day he weaned. He did nurse again after that day: occasionally to sleep, when he fell and got hurt, after his sister was born and he would watch her nurse, curious and remembering how he had loved to nurse. By the time Noa was born, he would only latch, suck once or twice, grow bored and wander off to do something else. I remember the day with the blue foam horse named Rose because this was the first day he didn’t nurse. This was the real weaning: the day nursing was no longer a daily affair, no longer a part of the rhythm of our lives.

Nursing Rain at his First Birthday party

Nursing Rain at his First Birthday party

I have many many memories of breastfeeding Rain. I remember the early days learning together, sitting up alone with him at night by the light shining through the closet door, listening to Aaron and the dog snore, listening to Rain’s sleepy swallows. I remember the toddler acrobatics as he nursed while doing downward dog with one leg extended in the air. I remember being curled together on the couch. I remember him energetically signing for milk with both hands raised in the air, shouting “Nur! Nur!” when I would get home from work.

And I remember weaning. But I don’t remember the last time we ever nursed.

For this I am glad. It tells me that the process really was slow and gentle. I also feel that it spares me that feeling of loss, that bittersweetness of having to let go. I don’t know how I could have managed a final nurse if I had been aware it was our last time together. This way, remembering weaning focuses me on my boy’s growing independence, on his sweetness, his silliness, not on the sadness of our changed relationship.

Even in weaning I consider myself lucky.

10 Comments

  1. This is so lovely. So, so lovely. You (and Rain) are lucky, indeed.
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

  2. Your story brought tears to my eyes. Kieran is 25 months old, and while there is absolutely no sign that he will be weaning anytime soon, I know that it’s probably closer than I can imagine. (sniff)
    Twitter: CodeNameMama

  3. This is such a lovely story. Just this week, my 14 year old 6’2″ son mentioned that I did not have to tuck him in bed anymore rather he would come to me to say goodnight… Such steps of independence we take eh…

  4. I was pregnant or nursing (or both) continuously for 4 and a half years. At one point I was tandem nursing a toddler and a newborn – that lasted almost six months. (I still wish I’d let my husband take pictures but like a moran I didn’t). I had to lower the boom on the older child because I was exhausted from the effort required, although looking down at them and seeing them holding hands and looking at each other was awfully sweet…

    Weaning the younger one was traumatic – we were in the family bed and sleeping with her was like being in a cement mixer. At 22 months I told her that I couldn’t handle the biting and getting punched in the face when I was asleep and she was weaned more or less overnight and put in her own bed during the same week.

    Honestly, I don’t know now how I did it, and I was working full time for all but 16 months of that period.

  5. What a beautiful story. Weaning can be such an emotional experience and you’ve expressed it in such a lovely way. So nice to have this story you can look back on with your children.

  6. thanks for sharing this – very beautiful and encouraging to nurse till the time is right to wean!

  7. That’s beautiful. 🙂

  8. Thanks everyone! I’m glad you liked it.

    I think of that day often, especially as my daughter grows and I begin to wonder what her weaning story will look like.

    @Allegra – I know what you mean about pictures. For this post, I searched through all of our pictures and could really only find those few pics that I posted. There were a few self-portraits that were poorly framed or blurry but only these two that were taken by my husband. What a shame!

    I’m sorry that weaning your younger babe was traumatic. How hard for everyone. I know well that kicked in the face co-sleeping routine and yeah, nursing or pregnant for 4+ years, while lovely, also starts to wear you out doesn’t it?

  9. This is a beautiful post. My son, 10 months old, is in the process of weaning by his own direction. Nothing that I do seems to draw him back to the rhythm of us together, nursing. I just wrote about this on my own blog and when I happened to find your post, it truly brought tears to my eyes. You are so fortunate to have had a gentle parting. I am struggling to hold onto this process much more than I should. It is good to be reminded that each child does have a weaning story and that it is there story. I would not have written the story my son has chosen for us, but I must learn to accept it.

    Your site is amazing.
    .-= michelle caplan´s last blog ..my mother’s best friend =-.
    Twitter: seekingmother

    • Thank you Michelle.
      That must be difficult to let go of nursing already. It’s hard at any time but it definitely is easier when it is very gradual and when the baby doesn’t seem so much like a baby anymore. I can certainly imagine why you are struggling even though I haven’t been there. I wish you peace during the process.

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