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Mommy-Led Child-Accepted Weaning

on March 24 | in Motherhood | by | with 23 Comments

Today’s guest post comes from Melodie of Breastfeeding Moms Unite. If you don’t already know her, let me tell you a little about my bloggy friend. She’s passionate, kind and she believes in her friends. Second, she’s tranparent. She tells it like it is, even at the risk of being judged. Third, she has integrity. When blogging began to take a toll on her relationship with her kids, she quit, just like that. Kinda gutsy if you ask me :)

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 author of 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

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23 Responses to Mommy-Led Child-Accepted Weaning

  1. Heather says:

    Thank you for this post, Melodie! I am so grateful for all you have done to practice and teach others to be kind to themselves and their babies through breastfeeding . . . even when that means bringing that part of the relationship to a close.

  2. Heather says:

    We also mommy-led, child-accepted weaned. My son was 31 months old, but he was night weaned, and only nursed at bedtime. I had been feeling ready to wean for at least a few months, but I didn’t want it to be traumatic for either of us, and I was worried it would be. One day I told him that the next day we weren’t going to nurse anymore. He said okay, but I didn’t think he would be when we actually got around to the next day. He did fuss a bit, but it was the kind of fussing you can tell is forced, and is whining more than actually crying. I told myself that if he actually cried, I would give in. He didn’t. I thought he might the next day. Nope. He never cried, so we weaned. It was way less traumatic than night weaning and he’s only asked to nurse a few times since. It’s never been when he was upset, more just because he seemed to notice it. We’ve even been to a few LLL meetings where other toddlers were nursing, and he hasn’t asked. All in all, I’m glad that I trusted my instincts to take care of my needs, and my son’s – gently and with compassion. I’m glad to feel that reinforced by an advocate like Melodie that I respect a lot! Thanks Heather (and Melodie) for sharing Melodie’s experience with us!

    • Melodie says:

      It has been an eye-opening experience for me when I do set limits with my kids what they actually can handle and what they can’t. I am learning that generally, kids will tell you if they can handle what you are asking of them. Sometimes they need a bit of time to think it over (even if they react negatively at first), but then they either will a) come around or b) show you that they really aren’t ready, which at that point I feel it’s good to have a Plan B up your sleeve. That’s wonderful that that worked for you Heather. Having a slightly older child makes a difference too. When they can understand what is going to happen, and sometimes even why, life is a lot easier than when they are still at that stage of not comprehending. :)

    • Heather says:

      Hi Heather! I love that you made your plan flexible based on your sons response. As I have contemplated this subject I often run across the idea that if you attempt you need to “commit.” I like this approach better.

  3. Alina says:

    Well I am a beginner at breastfeeding compared to you experienced mamas. I am not at the point of self weaning as I only have a 6 month old. I always knew that I would breastfeed, but I only thought it would be for a year. Now, I too am looking into self led weaning. However, I can relate to be up at night feeding. I think my son, Thomas, is teething because he has been quite fussy and last night he was waking up every hour to feed. I felt felt a little worried feeding him constantly because I fear of going backwards. Before last night he would feed once or twice. I kinda felt like even that was alot, especially since everyone’s first question is, is he sleeping through the night? They can not believe that I still feed him through the night. Even my doctor said I should not feed him as I will create a bad habit, however I always felt that when he doesn’t need to feed anymore at night he will just stop getting up. What are your thoughts on this? Do babies self wean themselves from night feedings too? Am I doing something wrong since I still have a 6 month old feeding at night? Thnaks for your thoughts!!

    • Heather says:

      HI Alina! I currently have my 6 month old strapped to my chest while we make lunch, so I sent your question to a nursing expert that has helped me in the past in the hopes she can respond more quickly than me. If she’s out, though, I’ll share my thoughts when the kids go down for a nap.

    • Melodie says:

      My doctor, whom I respect so much for her knowledge on a vast array of issues *except* anything related to parenting, especially breastfeeding, as this is her admitted area of non-expertise, told me that too. I fed my daughters many times throughout the night until both of them were 2 1/2 or so. My first daughter especially nursed *on average* 10 times per night for the first two years. Finally I got myself a copy of The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley and implemented some of her suggestions, before finally transitioning her to her own bed, when she was two. That nipped nursing 10 times per night in the bud, but I still got up 2-3 times per night to nurse her for at least a month or so. Maybe longer. It’s fuzzy now. I am not sure if babies can night wean. I haven’t heard of any, but of course I am sure there are some as all babies are different. There is a post I wrote about the importance of nighttime feeding and bed sharing that includes some info on why babies need to night feed, which might help you. http://www.breastfeedingmomsunite.com/2009/05/why-nighttime-breastfeeding-and-bed-sharing-is-so-important/ Anyway, long story short, night time feeding will not harm your baby and it is 100% normal. You are doing everything right mama so keep it up!

  4. shannon says:

    what a wonderful way to wean! You were both happy and satisfied. I did mother lead weaning, but we did it slowly over months and he’s never asked again for it or looked back. (We did the 20 minutes for 20 days, 19 minutes for 19 days, etc as often as he usually fed until it was one minute for one day) : ) He was never upset with any of it. : )

  5. Megan says:

    I am currently nursing my 22 month old while 8 months pregnant and am figuring we’ll be tandem nursing once the new baby is here. Nursing currently is not something I enjoy and typically gives me the heebie jeebies. I try to let her nurse as long as I can stand it, trying to focus on other things, but then we sing a song to end the session. I’m hoping those feelings stop once I’m not pregnant anymore, but we’ll see. It was great to read this to see that if my body really can’t handle nursing her alongside the new baby, that there are options that are gentle and respectful of my toddler’s needs. Thank you!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Megan – I had the heebie jeebies all the time while nursing through my last pregnancy. It took a few months to completely fade after the birth but I can say that I’m a happy tandem-nursing mama at 6 months postpartum. Your experience may be totally different, but maybe my story can be useful in some way.

  6. Mae says:

    Thank you for the guest post!
    I’m so glad you wrote about that feeling! My daughter was around a year old [much younger than yours, I know] but I started getting that feeling. She got EXTREMELY aggressive with me about nursing, and started nursing like a newborn. About a month after her birthday we found out we were pregnant, so I thought maybe she was aggravated because my milk supply might have gone down [I really hadn't noticed] I really had no clue what to do bc I planned on nursing til 18 months at the MINIMUM, I felt…like a failure for thinking about it so early.
    After lots of prayer the Lord told us some very specific things about our daughter, and how we were to raise her, so over a week’s time we “mommy-led, child accepted” weaned. It worked for us! I was terrified of the judgement of my peers [and myself] for only making it to 15 months, but my decision wasn’t REALLY my own. With number two due any day now, I think I’ve prepared myself more for this experience if it happens again.
    Thank you SO much for this post :]

  7. dianthe says:

    you story is so similar to mine – i just weaned my 3 year old a month ago though i’m still nursing her 13 month old brother – if i’d left it up to her, we’d probably have nursed forever!! but like you, i had become irritated and uncomfortable while nursing her – i felt a lot of guilt over that because i thought i was the only one! – i began to get irritated whenever she’d say the phrase “can i nurse” – as much as i wanted to allow her to self-wean, i knew for my sanity it was time to end it – the day of her birthday was our last day to nurse – she asked a few more times the following week but hasn’t asked since then – though she did come at me today with an open mouth when she saw my bare breast – crazy kid!

  8. Oh my. What you’re saying sounds so familiar about your body having a reaction to nursing.
    My son is a year and a half now, and I always thought I’d nurse at least until he’s 2… but every time I nurse him, I grit my teeth in discomfort and start getting so annoyed, and then when he twiddles me or bites me I snap at him… I really want to wean him already, but he’s soooo attached. I nursed his older brother until 19 months old when I was 5 months pregnant with this one, but it got too painful to nurse during pregnancy and I wasn’t up to tandem nursing, so I weaned him… I don’t have the same push of a baby coming to wean this one, but I really don’t know what to do because I am NOT INTERESTED IN NURSING ANYMORE but my little one is so attached that I feel guilty about weaning him for “selfish reasons”…

  9. Thanks for the beautiful little intro you did Heather. I really like the lay out too. :)

  10. Amy W. says:

    My first was child led and he actually quit fairly early. However, my daughter was mommy led, and not quite child accepted. She just weaned about 2 weeks ago, but tonight she asked again. However, there was nothing to give. But, I do miss it.

  11. Whittney says:

    My little one was 18 months when she weaned with a little encouragement from me. I nursed her until I was 13 weeks pregnant with my second baby and felt like we needed to be done. My body wasn’t handling vomiting multiple times a day, nursing her and growing baby #2. I think she knew though that I needed her to be a big girl and I simply stopped offering the breast and would say “No honey, let’s do something else!” when she wanted to nurse. After a couple of days, she was done and that relationship ended. Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything because I followed my instincts and acted accordingly. We both handled it well!

  12. my daughter weaned at 21 mos, when i was 4 mos preg with my son, who’s now 20 mos and still nursing. i think he’ll definitely go longer than she did! with my first i tried to get her on a schedule from the get-go, which decreased my supply, but she still kept wanting it and as she approached her first birthday i decided to let her continue, especially since i didn’t feel ready to quit. we were separated for 4 days 3 times between 11 mos and 18 mos, so i’m sure the last several months were completely for comfort and i was probably all dried up. it was nice to have a little break before having #2! there were times when we struggled getting her to sleep that i missed being able to just nurse her down, but i don’t specifically wish we would’ve done it differently. my second is “weaning” as in, nursing less and i can tell my supply is going down but neither one of us is in a rush. he’s gone a whole day without it while i was away with my husband and we’ll be taking a whole weekend away in a couple months so probably later this year i’m guessing he’ll wean. i never know whether to think of our way as mother-led or child-led, i think it’s kind of both =)

  13. I do not remember the last time I nursed my four year old because she nursed so infrequently at that point, maybe once a month. So it was not a big deal. Same thing with my older daughter who was three and a half I think. I tandem nursed for a while when they were little. I remember the touching scenes between them and we had no jealousy either. They got along remarkably well until they were teenagers anyway. Society should not judge what it does not understand. We have a remarkably unattached and dysfunctional society when it comes to raising healthy children. My children have to go to school with all those children now that they graduated from elementary education and they don’t get why everyone else is so screwed up. But I know the secret. They are not judgmental about it but they keep noticing the differences in how others were parented. I always said my only wish for them is that they will marry another breastfed child but it’s a hard question to ask before dating. LOL

  14. Rebecca says:

    I so appreciate this post. I’m really struggling with nursing my 15-month-old through pregnancy right now, and it helps just to know that that heebie jeebie feeling isn’t unique to me or a sign of failure (I’ve read Adventures in Tandem Nursing, but still good to know that real life people struggle, too). I had absolutely planned to let her wean herself, but it’s really helpful to read about gentle ways to move that forward a little. I’m going to try really hard to keep nursing her, and I’m hoping that awful feeling goes away after the baby’s born, but in the meantime, I am using a few of these tactics just to limit her time at the breast for my own sanity. It’s hard not to feel so guilty for hating nursing so much. I had planned to nurse AT LEAST until age two, and she’s not even close. She’ll only be 20 months when the baby is born.

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