Child-led Weaning: They Aren't Going to Nurse Forever
A little more than two years ago, I wrote about my experiences nursing a preschooler. At the time I discussed the fact that my nearly 4-year-old daughter was still nursing and how I never planned or expected to be nursing a 4-year-old, yet it just happened.
"I didn’t set out to nurse a preschooler, but somehow along the way my sweet little baby grew from an infant to a toddler and eventually blossomed into a preschooler in what now seems like the blink of an eye. I am confident this won’t go on forever and when I look back on this time when she’s 10 or 20 or 30, and I look at the young woman she’s become, I am hopeful that I will feel good about the choices I made and have no regrets."
As I suspected, it didn't "go on forever." I never blogged about it when Ava weaned, but that milestone occurred almost four months after my post. She was 4 1/4 years old. At that time I was also nursing my son -- her younger brother. From what I can remember, she and I had talked about weaning and being done with mama milk for a while. I felt like after a long, mostly* wonderful nursing relationship with Ava, I was comfortable with the idea of her weaning. Although she wasn't excited to wean, I felt like Ava was pretty ready too.
I remember one night she went to bed without nursing (which is the only time she would nurse at that point and had been since she was 2 1/2). After all of the discussions we'd had about weaning, it seemed to me like the perfect stopping point. The next night as we cuddled to go to sleep, she asked for "na-na" and I explained to her that she was done having na-na. She cried a few tears that night, but we cuddled and she went to sleep without na-na. The next couple days she continued to ask for it before bed and sometimes cried a bit or was sad, but I never felt like it was unbearable for her. If I had felt it was absolutely unbearable for her, I would have put off weaning longer, but I never got that impression. Yes, she briefly mourned the loss, but the transition went well.
After several weeks had passed and I felt fairly confident that she had lost the knack of suckling, she would -- once in a while -- still ask for na-na and at that point I would let her try. As I'd suspected, she couldn't figure out how to get milk out any longer. It was a little frustrating for her, but I think it was comforting that I let her try rather than just tell her "no, you don't have na-na anymore." Letting her try seemed like a gentle way for her to discover on her own that she had, in fact, weaned.
While I wouldn't call what I did with Ava exactly "child-led weaning," it felt like a pretty gentle transition and was what I deemed best for our family at that time. After nursing two kids (although usually not at the same time) for a year and a half, I was ready to go back to nursing just one child.
And that brings us to the present, when my now 3 3/4-year-old son is still nursing. This time around, however, it didn't come as any surprise to me that I'm nursing a preschooler. He seems like he might wean before Ava did, but I'm not holding my breath. Lately, he will go a few days at a time without asking for it, so I think we are heading in that direction. He went five nights without nursing while I was at BlogHer this year, but when I got home -- sure enough -- he wanted to nurse before bed. Most recently he went about four or five nights without asking to nurse while I've been home. I thought he might be done altogether, but then asked to nurse again. I talked to him about possibly being done and he insisted that he was NOT, so he nursed before bed. But then the past two nights, he did not.
I'm not in a big hurry for Julian to be done. I know it will be bittersweet just like it was when Ava weaned and perhaps a bit more so since I'm fairly certain I'm not going to have any more children. However, I also see this as a milestone and a door opening to the next chapter in our relationship. Yes, we've had several years of a great nursing relationship, but I also look forward to what lies ahead.
I'll repeat what I said before, but this time for Julian. I am confident this won’t go on forever and when I look back on this time when he’s 10 or 20 or 30, and I look at the young man he’s become, I am hopeful that I will feel good about the choices I made and have no regrets.
Related posts I've written:
- Breastfeeding until Age 3, 4 or 5 - More Common Than You Think
- On Nursing a Preschooler
- * Breastfeeding While Pregnant - Trying at Times, but Ultimately Worthwhile
Related posts from other bloggers:
- From Lactation Narration - Child Led Weaning "Munchkin is 4 today. If you had told me when she was born that she would still be nursing now, I wouldn’t have believed it. My original goal with her was to nurse for 6 months, yet here we are. My goal now is for child led weaning."
- From Not a DIY Life - Transitions "At 31 months old, Ladybug weaned herself. It didn't happen quickly. It was very gradual. But accompanied with all the other big girl things that she's doing, it does seem sudden. ... I am so thankful that we were able to wean this way. It was gradual. There were no tears on her part or on mine. We were both ready."
- From Raising My Boychick - A Day Without Nursing "I likely won’t know the last time, won’t pause and study him and strain to memorize the moment like I did that morning. It will just not-happen one day, and then another, and then I will realize it is has been days, weeks, and the moment I’ll want to remember forever I will already have forgotten."
- From Anktangle - Child Led Weaning "I plan to practice child-led weaning, not just because breastfeeding is a public health issue, but because intuitively, it seems like the gentlest way for me to parent my child through this early part of his life. But more than that, I plan to do whatever works best for us as a family in each moment."
- From Code Name Mama - The Joys of Breastfeeding a Toddler A collection of stories from moms nursing their children past infancy
Learn more about Child-Led Weaning:
- A Natural Age of Weaning by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD
- Child-led Weaning: The Whys and Hows of Child-led Weaning by Jessica Woods from iParenting
- Natural Weaning by Norma Jane Bumgarner from The Natural Child Project
- Weaning: How Does It Happen? by Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC, Becky Flora, IBCLC and Paula Yount from KellyMom