Weaning My Toddler
So, I have some more big news to catch you up on. I weaned Cee a few weeks ago, soon after her second birthday. I took a few notes along the way, but I never pulled it together to post on the blog about it. I thought I’d share some of those notes here and reflect back on our experience.
Tonight, I nursed my baby girl for the last time. She’s not so much of a baby anymore. She turned two last week. But I savored the feeling of her curled into my arms. I noticed how her long eyelashes cast a shadow across her cheeks and how soft her face looked, the tension of the day melted away.
I remembered nursing her in those early days, when her eyelids were still translucent, tiny blood vessels visible. I remembered how she would be frantic to nurse one second and peaceful the next, her little hand clasped in a fist, resting on the top of my breast.
Cee and I started talking about weaning a few weeks ago. We usually read books while we nurse, and lately I’d noticed that she was so enthralled with the books that she could hardly nurse. I’d turn a page, and she would break her latch to look closer at a picture, pointing something out to me. We were going through the motions because we always had, but nursing didn’t feel that important to either of us anymore. It felt like it was time to make this change.
We had been down to nursing just at naptime and bedtime since the summer. We dropped the naptime feeding first. All fall, Cee had gone down just fine without me and my milk at daycare and with Husband, and there were only a couple of days of brief protest over this change.
Down to just nursing at bedtime, Cee and I talked about how Mama didn’t have very much milk anymore. We talked about how babies (like our friends’ 3-month-old) need a lot of milk, but kids like Cee eat lots of good food and can drink their milk in a cup. We talked about how we love snuggling and nursing, too. I guess I wanted a chance for us both to appreciate our final days of nursing.
A couple of days ago, Cee watched me as I undressed for a shower. She pointed at my naked breasts and said, “Milk?”
I replied, “Not now, Cee, you can have milk before bedtime.”
She cocked her head, eyed my breasts again as if sizing them up, and said, “Milk all gone.”
“Yes, soon the milk will be all gone.” I didn’t know if I was ready for this, but it sure felt like Cee was telling me that she was.
So tonight, as I nursed her, I held her extra close and stroked her hair. I told her that I loved her and I loved nursing her. And I told her that after tonight, Mama wouldn’t have any more milk. She paused, looked at me, and nodded. I told her that we’d snuggle and read before bedtime, but we wouldn’t have milk.
Then I started singing a lullaby to her that I hadn’t sung in a long time, probably at least a year. I was thinking about all the late nights of nursing her and singing that song when she was tiny. I teared up.
Suddenly, Cee broke her latch and looked up at me with a grin, as if to reassure me that she would be OK. She stroked my chest gently and then reached up to my cheek. Then, she stuck her finger up my nose. Maybe she sensed that the moment was growing too heavy for her. Having my toddler jam her finger up my nose made me feel more confident that we were ready for this change.
Four days in. Each night at bedtime, Cee has asked for milk. Each time, I have reminded her that the milk is all gone and that we’ll snuggle and read books, but that we won’t be nursing anymore. On the first three nights, Cee responded to this statement with a small protest but moved past it quickly. Easy peasy, I thought.
However, I have noticed that Cee has been having tantrums first thing in the morning these last few days. They are set off by things like not wanting to get her diaper changed (“No Mama, DRY!”) or struggling to dress herself – not wanting help and yet not being quite able to finish the task on her own. I’ve learned that Cee doesn’t respond to any kind of explaining, consoling, distracting, or deal-making mid-tantrum – and I admit that I’ve tried all of these tactics, because these tantrums really hurt my brain first thing in the morning. I’ve learned that she just needs to ride it out and bring herself to a calmer place, as frustrating as that may be to me when we need to get our morning going. I wait calmly near, and after a few minutes, her cries subside and she’ll go back to getting dressed, this time cheerfully accepting help when needed. I had no idea if this recent rash of morning tantrums was related to weaning.
This morning was no different. Big tantrum. After the storm had subsided, Cee climbed into my lap, and I gave her a hug.
“You were crying a lot,” I said.
“Do you know why you were crying, Cee?”
“Oh, you feel sad. I cry when I’m sad, too. Is there anything that Mama can do to help you feel better when you are sad?”
Cee nodded her head. “Milk,” she said, signing it with her hand, too.
Oh my, that was heart-breaking and took me totally off-guard. But then again, it gave us a chance to talk about it again. I told her that I felt sad about it, too.
Tonight, there was another tantrum at bedtime, again set off by the diaper and pajamas process. Husband left us alone in her room, and she let me hold her while she cried for a few minutes. Then she was OK. We brushed teeth, read books, and said goodnight.
That last tantrum on day 4 was the final protest of weaning. After that night, milk has come up a few times, but only in a matter-of-fact way.
Overall, I feel good about how weaning went for us. The timing felt right for me. And up until just a few weeks before we weaned, I was still really happy to be nursing her. In fact, I enjoyed nursing her all through this second year of her life. I remember that around her first birthday, nursing wasn’t as pleasant because she was easily distracted and attempting all kinds of acrobatics. But for most of this past year, nursing was a sweet and calm time for reconnection. I felt like she really respected my body as she nursed. I’m glad we kept going as long as it felt right.
It wasn’t an easy transition for Cee. If I had left it up to her, we might breastfeed for a few more years. A friend of mine weaned her daughter, close in age to Cee, around the same time. She just stopped offering to nurse, and her daughter stopped asking. I don’t think that would have worked with Cee. She is too much a creature of habit. Plus, I really wanted to talk about it with her before we stopped. I wanted to mark that change and then be consistent in our new routine. Had we nursed on that fourth day, when Cee told me she was sad, I think she would have been confused. The process would have been drawn out and might have become more of a battle. I think the way we did it was right for us.
Change, growth, and grief: these are all parts of life, and in the end, I think Cee (and I), processed those feelings beautifully.
What is funny to me about our weaning experience is that I didn’t research this at all. I didn’t evaluate every option for when and how to do it. But now I’m curious to hear from other moms: how did you approach this transition? What worked and didn’t work for you and your little one?