I know what caught your attention- the word beautiful, right? How can weaning from breastfeeding be beautiful,especially when it involves a stubborn two and half year old? It’s hard for the mother and the baby, isn’t it?
I have read and heard a thousand weaning stories in the past one year- most of them were done cold turkey, and some of them, gradual or natural. I would just let out a sigh- I had no clue if my nursing would ever end, let alone peacefully.
The making of a nursing addict:
I am a strong advocate of breastfeeding, and I managed to exclusively breast feed for six months. As a newborn, my baby cried all night and only in the morning would he allow me to rock him to sleep. Ah, those zombie days!
When he was around four months, he would fall asleep while nursing. That is when I started nursing him lying down. I had been warned against this by several mothers. It’s a habit that’s hard to break and my child would start waking up many times at night, just to nurse. But after four months of complete sleeplessness, I was happy to not have to rock him in a hammock anymore.
Nursing to sleep was way easier. Thus was born a nursing addict, who would wake up several times to nurse.
After five sleep deprived months, I was tempted by the idea of uninterrupted sleep. I pumped milk and asked my husband to take care of one night feed.
That night, my baby finished the milk from the bottle, but refused to go back to sleep without nursing. Next night, he refused the bottle outright. Lesson learnt- I wasn’t ready to waste more sleep pumping and sterilising a bottle my son would never take.
Weaning advices and dilemmas
When to wean baby from breastfeeding?
I knew that breastfeeding for at least for a year is mandatory and nursing for two years is ideal. I started receiving my first weaning advices when my son was 9 months old. I ignored them but there have been nights when I was really, really resentful.
One night, I had a bad fever and it wasn’t getting better because I wasn’t getting any sleep or rest. But for most of the times, I thoroughly enjoyed the special bonding that my child and I had.
When my son turned one and half, I started paying heed to weaning tips and considering weaning advices.
People said, the older the kid, more difficult it is to wean, especially after 2 years. But how did WHO (World Health Organization) then recommend weaning after 2 years as the standard? I was confused. A popular breastfeeding support website Kellymoms suggested that the closer a child is to weaning age, the easier it is to wean.
One good thing was that with the slow and strategic introduction of solids, my little one’s nursing had automatically come down to nap time, night time and sick or injury time. I felt weaning was progressing without any special attempt- until I realized that my son’s daytime nap will continue till he is 4. There I hit a roadblock and did not how to proceed.
That led to more pressure to wean, even from my supportive mom and hubby. As my son got older, we started going for more outings, and nursing was making things difficult. He would sometimes nap in the car, but would demand compensation when he woke up.
By now, my little champ was hardly getting sick and I felt breastfeeding was a major reason for that. But I started getting weaker and tired day by day. Being a very healthy eater, I had shunned multivitamins. But now I was questioning myself whether it was a smart choice.
Two years now- Failing weaning attempts
Finally, when the addict turned two years, I was officially left with no reason.
The most popular advice we received was to leave the child with the grandparents. We were told that he would cry for three days and then forget all about it. But it wasn’t an option for me as I would never allow that little soul to cry for a whole night.
Even worse, if this weaning attempt failed, we would have shattered his sense of security for no reason.
I thought that using neem oil or something like that would not work for my determined kiddo. I believed more in the idea of gradual weaning from breastfeeding.
We made some attempts to let him sleep with daddy. It worked for a couple of hours till daddy told him stories or rocked him. Then in the middle of the night, he would cry inconsolably and daddy would just give up and so would mom. We were too weak at heart to let him cry like that.
Strategic approach to weaning
It was time to get more strategic in our approach. So I worked out a plan.
I started my attempts with day weaning as that would make our day outings much easier. Luckily, we had a light weight crib with wheels that was lying unused. When he was much younger, he would sometimes go to sleep with the movement of the crib.
We needed to give it a makeover now. I put some soft toys in it and excitedly told my son he would nap with the teddy bear and deer. He took to it surprisingly well and loved the idea. He napped in his crib, after many, many months.
What next, I thought?
That’s when I figured out that I was nursing him more times than I realized. I was nursing him to nap. If he woke up in the middle of the nap, I nursed him to sleep again. When he woke up from the nap, he would cry again and I would nurse him then too. I nursed him to sleep at night, then as often as he woke at night. Then I nursed him when we woke up. Additionally, I nursed him whenever he had a painful injury from his naughty deeds.
Initially, I had convinced myself I was just nursing him for nap and night times. But, I now realized there were lot more steps that I had to take.
Weaning one step at a time:
By now, I stopped nursing if he had an injury and found other ways to console him. I had already started using the crib for his nap. There would be days he would test my sanity by totally refusing to nap, but I still didn’t nurse.
Then we made a trip to my mom’s house. There was no crib with wheels there. So were back to naptime nursing. When we came back to our place, things fell back in place again. We got back to having naptimes in the crib.
There would be some days he would cry after waking up from nap. I made it a point not to nurse. I would just distract him in some other way.
Then, he caught a cold.
When my little one has a cold, he tends to wake up often and cry. If I let him cry for long, he would vomit all he ate. So I had to bite the bullet and nurse him during his nap times again. When his cold got better, he was surprisingly cooperative.
Sleeping by himself
Till this point, night time nursing continued the same way as before, as he slept next to us in bed. To my annoyance, I felt he was nursing more at night to compensate for the daytime weaning.
One night, he nursed all he wanted and told me he wants to sleep in the crib. Wow, that was definitely a first time. Then, this started happening regularly.
One day, during the nap time, magic happened! He chose to nap on our bed by himself, rather than rocking him in the crib. This was the first ever time in his lifetime that he slept all by himself- no rocking and no nursing.
For some babies, it happens from day 1 of their lives. But for us, I was glad that it ever happened- atleast at two and half years. This happened three days in a row, I don’t have to be worried about outstation trips from now on.
All these few months, I had been explaining to him that nursing is meant for smaller babies and what he now gets from me is a bonus. He agreed in theory that he would stop nursing. When he woke up at night to nurse, I wasn’t letting him nurse for as long as he wanted.
I would nurse for a minute and say we are done. He complied.
When we visited my mom’s place again, I cuddled him in bed and asked him to sleep. He asked to nurse. That’s when I cooked up the vulture story.
If the vulture sees me nursing in the daytime, he would take off the boobie permanently. He was convinced and he napped. Of course, the vulture was only an excuse I used.
My son was developmentally ready to sleep by himself, and that’s why he did.
Night weaning from breastfeeding
That night, at my mom’s house, we slept on different cots. I switched off the lights and I asked him to sleep next to me.
He jokingly asked what if he demands thaachu thoongi (the term coined by him for nursing). I said the vulture would take it away. He asked me to pat him to sleep. And sleep, he did! I was so excited.
From this time, he started waking up less at night. When he woke up, I would offer him water, in case he was thirsty. Sometimes, he would drink the water but at times, he wouldn’t settle until I nursed him.
When we came back to our own house, he caught a cold. Then he would wake up at night and cry to nurse. I was now confident that I could wean him later. So I decided to give in until he was well again. When he got well, he stopped waking up at nights.
For the first time in his life, he was sleeping through the night! He was even ready to go to bed with dad instead of me. What a relief!
The viral fever- setback in weaning:
By now, the big boy was happy to go to sleep listening to stories and songs from mom or dad. Even if he woke up at nights (yes, he still does!), he was happy to settle for a story.
We considered him officially weaned- for several weeks. I was patting my back for this smooth weaning process- that involved no crying for my child and no breast engorgement for me.
That’s when it happened- like a movie plot.
After more than a year had passed without a single fever, he was down with a severe viral fever. He wasn’t willing to get up from bed. He wasn’t willing to eat. He would not have his medicines or even want to drink water. We felt totally helpless. We felt we should request that he get admitted in a hospital. That’s when the suggestion came- from my hubby and mother in law – to nurse him again.
I was taken aback. I thought it was all over. I thought he would have forgotten to nurse.
But still, it felt like the only option left. I was relieved to find that my milk supply still existed. And then as I was hugging my sick child, he suddenly remembered his favorite thaachu thoongi. He asked to nurse. And I gave in.
After a few minutes of trying, he got back his technique. He was back to nursing like a pro. But now, he wanted to nurse all day and night. That was his only source of comfort.
After several days of not nursing, my breasts hurt. I started resenting this. But really, I knew it was a blessing in disguise. This white gold was his source of water, food and antibiotics. At least after the nursing, he was ready to accept a few drops of water or a few spoons of yogurt.
I was worried how I am going to wean him again. I dreaded if I have to start over.
After a gruelling week of sickness, my child was back to normal. But this time, it was easy to wean. In just two days after he got well, we weaned again. There was no crying and no engorgement.
A few weeks have passed now since we stopped nursing again.
Here in Chennai, all types of fever are making rounds post the floods. I hope my little one makes it healthy through this season. But if I have to nurse again, I would be okay with that too.
We have had the best of our times in those cozy nursing sessions. I have had my resentments and frustrated midnight moments too. But I have enjoyed this journey the way it is.
If you are planning to wean your baby from breastfeeding, you can also read,
- Weaning from breastfeeding at night – 6 ways that work
- How I weaned my toddler completely from breastfeeding?
Hope my story encourages you. How did your weaning period go? Let me know in the comments.
Happy weaning to you and your little one…