Letting Go of Plan A
I weaned my first child on the eve of her third birthday. We had been working up to it for months. Originally, my plan had been that she should be the one who decided when she was done, but I ended up finding myself in a place of parenting that I hadn’t anticipated.
For two years my daughter nursed around the clock for up to an hour or more per session. She woke up ten times per night on average to nurse. Just as I fell asleep, she would wake up again. This went on for two years until we transitioned her to her own bed. After that she still woke up 3-4 times per night.
When she was 2 1/2 years old I got pregnant again and she nursed throughout my pregnancy. I was one of those rare women who didn’t experience pain and only minor discomfort during breastfeeding while pregnant. After my second daughter was born she went on to nurse for five months alongside her baby sister. I loved tandem nursing in the early days. My oldest used to stroke her younger sister’s head when they were both on my lap. There was never any jealousy between them, only love.
But soon my body began to have a negative response to my oldest nursing. I became extremely uncomfortable and irritated. I would have to count her down to the point that she could only have ten seconds at a time, unless she had hurt herself, then the mommy-love hormones kicked in and I could handle it for much longer. But we were reaching the end of our breastfeeding relationship. I decided to make a date to stop, and her upcoming birthday seemed like a good date. I started talking to her about it three months in advance. Admittedly, this was to prepare myself as well as her.
Not Quite Black and White
The night before her birthday we nursed for the last time. It wasn’t a desperate farewell scene from a black and white movie like I had envisioned. She nursed just as she had nursed in the past. At this point we had talked about it so much, it almost didn’t feel like a big deal. It was, but we coped well.
She proudly told everyone she knew that she wasn’t going to have “annie” anymore (her word for breastfeeding), and for a couple weeks she was “annie-free.” Then one day something happened. I no longer remember what it was, but it was one of those things that happens when a child is not easily consoled. Nothing was working to ease the agony of what she was going through. So I offered to nurse her. It had been awhile, but she still remembered how. All it took was a few seconds and she calmed right down. At first I thought we had just taken a huge step backwards, but the coming days and weeks proved to me that we hadn’t. She probably nursed three more times over the course of three months before she was finally done for good. A year or so later she asked to nurse again – I think it was just to see what I would say – but when I said okay, she couldn’t remember how, and she was fine.
Even though I didn’t practice child-led weaning perfectly, I do still feel good about the way we weaned because it was done gently, with love and respect. I took my child’s needs into consideration and bended the “rules” when it was appropriate.
The Path Ahead
Now my youngest is 2 months away from her 4th birthday and she is still breastfeeding. She nurses at bedtime for about ten seconds on each side and in the middle of the night when she crawls into bed with me. Sometimes she nurses once in the middle of the day if she is having a really hard time. We are closer to the end of our nursing relationship than we ever have been.
I find myself in the same place as I was three and a half years ago. The yucky physical reaction to breastfeeding has returned. I can’t bear it for more than a few seconds unless she is in crying inconsolably or in pain. I am seriously looking at the calendar wondering if I should implement yet another mommy-led/child-accepted weaning process.
This is my last baby. I look at her sweet face and my mind tells me that child-led weaning is the way to go. Then I hear my body tell me that enough is enough. I am not sure what I will do. I have a trip coming up in a couple of weeks that will separate us for 9 days. We’ve never been apart more than 2 nights, so maybe that will do it.
Did you practice child-led weaning or mommy-led weaning? Do you wish you had done anything different? I’d love to hear your story.
Melodie is the moderator at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! She stopped blogging last month so she could start spending more quality time with her daughters but continues to be passionate about breastfeeding, natural parenting and real food. She is currently home schooling and making plans for an organic garden and chickens in her new backyard.
Photo credits: author