Our Slow Road to Weaning

cuddle gnome

I’ve talked recently about how we are working on gently weaning my 19 1/2 month old son.

::Sigh::

It all began with night weaning. Which even after I wrote about here, here, and here, still took several attempts and re-commitments, and trials and errors. In the end it was all about consistency, and dealing with a few (many, horrible, gut wrenching) tears. As of right now we nurse at night, to get E to fall asleep, and we nurse again at 5 am (sometimes a little earlier, sometimes later) to keep him asleep for another hour or two. We also nurse for nap, unless we are out and about in the morning and our car ride home puts him to sleep. He’s pretty good about transferring to his bed and staying asleep, and honestly I have been doing this more and more often as one of my strategies for weaning. But before I get too far, let’s pause…

Why are we weaning?

I always planned on nursing E until he was ready to stop. I was happy to have him go past 2 years, and continue right on through toddlerhood, if that was what he wanted. But somewhere along the line, like probably right here when I finally realized and admitted to my postpartum depression, I realized this kid was (and is) literally sucking the life out of me. I was constantly tired, weak, achy, run-down, and generally blah.

Don’t get me wrong. I am so grateful for the nursing relationship we have had. I have loved (and still love, on occasion) the moments of closeness, bonding, of knowing that my body is responsible for feeding and nourishing his little body. I have loved the way he twirls my hair, and lays his hand on my chest. I have loved so much about this relationship, and I would never have wanted it to go any other way. However, I’m done.

The problem is, that he’s not.

::Sigh again::

The kid could nurse all day, every day, until the cows came home (which they will never do because we live in a city). He uses it for comfort, and yes, that is ok. But for me nursing has turned into a chore. Every inch of my body wants to run in the other direction when I know it is time to nurse (except at 5 am because at that god awful hour my body does not want to run anywhere). And because I truly believe that breastfeeding is a mutual relationship, one that must work for both humans involved, I know that for us, it is time to help it come to an end. A slow, gentle, and peaceful end.

So that’s why we are weaning. Now here’s a look at how. Now, remember peeps, I am no expert. I’ve read a little, and I’ve reflected a lot, on just what is going to work for our family. I share this with you only in the hopes that it gives you support to find what will work for yours. So here in a neatly bulleted list (though in real life it is anything but neat) are our strategies for gentle weaning.

Strategies for Gentle Weaning

  • Avoid nursing triggers. This has meant that sometimes I avoid nap time (as mentioned above), but I also avoid laying, sitting, or even stopping moving depending on the time of day. If it’s a high trigger time like after nap, or before dinner, I distract, distract, distract, and now that he finally takes it, I offer milk (almond).
  • Set limits. A light bulb went off for me sometime around Christmas when I went in to see my nurse midwife. She took one look at me and started talking about sleep. We were still in the throes of night-weaning at that point, and I wearily told her about my son’s deep affection for the “na-nas”. She told me it was ok to say no. . . . huh. No kidding. Seriously, mind blown. Because before that it was all “don’t offer, don’t refuse” from all the (wonderfully lovely) attachment parenting friends and professionals I had spoken with or look to for advice. So, I started saying no. And yes, even just that was extremely hard for a while.
  • Offer replacements. Almond milk finally became a thing for my son. One day he just up and started drinking it, after months of refusing. So now, when he wants “na-nas”, and it’s not one of our established nursing times, I offer milk. I also recently made him a cuddle doll. This was another thing he has never been into, but we talked about it (as in I talked to his little face about it and he said “uh-huh”) and he agreed that he would like one. So I made this guy.

cuddle gnome

  • Create new touch opportunities. So much of nursing is about the bond. The time to snuggle, the time to look into each others eyes, the time to smell each other, and give kisses. This stuff is all really important to continue beyond the nursing relationship for both your little one and for you. The hormones that are released by this time are the hormones of love. Many moms feel a drastic change in their moods once they stop nursing. But by building in time for these touch experiences the dip can be less pronounced. For us, story time and yoga play help to create this opportunity. We sit and snuggle with books, or get on my mat and tumble around. Of course sometimes the request for “na-nas” will appear, which is when I go back to the first two mentioned strategies.

So that’s it.  That is our plan for gentle weaning. Like I said, I’m no expert, and I’m still on the journey myself. I’ll keep you posted, of course. In the meantime, let me know…

What has helped you to feel more empowered in your nursing relationship?

Did your ideas about breastfeeding change once you were in the thick of it? 

After nap cuddle and  snack.. milk and bananas with almond butter :)
After nap cuddle and snack.. milk and bananas with almond butter :)

 

Adventures in Night Weaning (Part 3)

E nursing himself back to sleep during a nap

A kind and gentle Grandma is the greatest gift on earth. For both mommies and babies. We are extremely lucky because we have two of them. Without their love and support through this entire mothering journey, I would have been lost. All of my love goes out to them, this and everyday. 

E nursing himself back to sleep during a nap
E nursing himself back to sleep during a nap

October is my hubby and I’s anniversary month. I will never forget the brisk, cool day of our wedding. Surrounded by our friends and family, we exchanged traditional vows, in a garden, in a ceremony led by our friend (and minister for a day) Jesse. We danced and partied all night, and woke up the next day to drive to New Hampshire, our favorite fall getaway. Since that night four years ago, we have always celebrated our anniversary in either New Hampshire, or Vermont. Except for last year, everything (especially night-time getaways) halted last year, when our son was born.

But this year we decided a getaway was possible! With a little help from night weaning, and grandma. E had been prepped for several days (see part 1 and part 2), night nursing had pretty much ceased (except for the faithful 5 am wake up), and it has been months since he has needed to nurse during the day (at least when I am not around). He doesn’t take bottles, or drink any other kind of milk, but he does eat lots of solid food. Grandma has been E’s second mother since the day he was born, watching him on days that I work, and even using practices such as babywearing and co-sleeping to help E nap and get to bed. We were totally confident in leaving E with Grandma for the weekend, and she was confident that all would be well.

Grandma usually watches E on Fridays, so the Friday we were leaving she was at our house in the afternoon. When hubby got home from work, we spent some time with E, eating a snack and making sure he had everything he needed for the weekend. Grandma loaded him into her car, and after many hugs and kisses they rode off into the sunset together. Hubby and I packed up our car, and hit the road. We drove about 10 minutes, when I realized I had forgotten one very important thing, my pump. UHHHHG, my pump. Yes, I would definitely need it on a weekend away.

We got to our destination in Smuggler’s Notch Vermont, our new favorite autumn getaway spot, late that night. We hadn’t heard from Grandma so we decided everything must be well, and we went to sleep. Correction: I pumped first, and then went to sleep, excited for a full night of rest, and maybe even some sleeping in!

I awoke at 5am. Totally engorged, and in pain. I wandered out of bed into the kitchen, and out came the pump, and I begrudgingly set up the pump next to the bed I was supposed to still be asleep in, sat up and emptied my full breasts, cursing my ever abundant milk supply. (which I am actually quite thankful for because is has allowed me to donate milk to several mamas and babies in need, but at 5am I was not happy)

At 9am I called to check in with Grandma. E had slept well, once she got him to sleep. He took quite a bit of rocking and soothing to settle down. Perhaps because he missed me, or maybe just because he was excited about a sleepover at Grandma’s but didn’t actually want to sleep during it. He woke only once or twice that night, and after a bit of cuddling and some pats on the back, easily drifted back to sleep. Grandma stayed with him, cosleeping in a big full-sized bed, just like we do at home. Relieved, we went about enjoying our vacation. My only complaint was the discomfort of my full breasts, and of my belly after I ate a half loaf of cinnamon raison bread with maple ganache, but in the end it was all worth it.

Hubby and I ready for a night out on the town!
Hubby and I ready for a night out on the town!

For night number 2 we decided to go out on the town (small town). We had dinner and even went to a bar for drinks and dancing (oh my!). Upon our arrival home (er… to our condo) I pumped and prayed that the session would last me through the night.

5am, breasts are full. Luckily the pump was set up right next to the bed, ready. I sat up, quickly emptied and then rolled over to keep sleeping. Just like being home, although this time I cuddled up to my sleeping husband, who required no “shhing” or pats on the back to stay asleep.

We didn’t bother checking in with Grandma just yet, figuring no news was good news, and realizing after yesterday’s call that E was doing better not thinking (or hearing from) mommy at all, as opposed to phone check ins. We gathered our belongings and went for a hike, then we started the long drive home, enjoying open road, and glimmering sunshine on the last of fall’s colored leaves. There was even a bit of snow on our hike. White crystals holding tight to deep evergreen branches. It was all quite magical.

Our drive finished, destination Grandma’s house to pick up E. As soon as he saw my he put up both of his little hands, and signed to nurse, with adamant expression. “Must nurse now!” We sat together in a rocker, mama and baby happy to be reunited. He snuggled in satisfied by mama’s milk, and my breasts final felt normal again. Thank goodness.

The second night had been even more of a success than the first. E fell to sleep easily, he stayed asleep all night except for one quick wake up. He did wake early, just after 5:30 am, and was a bit sad to have no nursies to wake up to, but Grandma distracted him quickly with food and Thomas the Train. Night weaning was deemed a success!

……

It’s been several weeks since this getaway. Several weeks of continued effort in night weaning. Most nights are good. My husband and I are alternating night duties. We take turns waking up, comforting, and cosleeping with E. He still reliably wakes up by 5am, sometimes a few minutes before of after, and at a few other instances (11, 1, 3am) but during these times he is easily comforted with back pats or gentle bouncing. We nurse at the 5am wake up, and generally sleep for a few more hours (until 6:30/7). Sometimes he nurses straight through from 5am-7am, and I have to deal with a toddler climbing all over my chest, kicking me in the side, or face, and clumsily grabbing and pulling my hair. But overall, I’m getting more sleep. My mood has improved. My body feels stronger. Night weaning has made me feel mostly human again.

I knew in my heart at 15 months, we were ready. Ready to move out of the infant phase of waking, nursing, and struggling for sleep. We were ready because we all needed better rest. We were ready physically (E was eating plenty of food, and drinking water) and emotionally (I was a crazy mess, and E was suffering from my lack of rest). But night weaning has left me with the feeling that E is no longer a baby. He is in full on toddlerhood, and growing more independent everyday. He still needs me, yes. I still need him, yes. We are still very much bonded and connected to each other, yes. But someday, nursing (even in the daylight) will be over for us. I’m not sure when that will be. I only think I’m ready some days. But it’s in the back of my mind, that this relationship is changing. E will always be my baby, my son, but he will not always be my nursling. For now, he is my nursling during the day, and at night the nursies are finally getting some sleep.

big boy bed