toddler weaning

Weaning is hard, especially if you have mixed feelings about ending breastfeeding like I did.

On one hand, I looked forward to reclaiming ownership of my body after so many years of being pregnant and nursing two babies. I mean, what would I do first? Binge vodka? Try Botox? Wear a turtleneck? It was all very exciting.

On the other hand, breastfeeding had been such a special experience. I would truly miss the snuggles, the closeness, and the magical healing powers of breast milk.

Since I knew it would be challenging for both me and my boob-lovin’ two-year-old, I decided to approach weaning as a slow process with no strict deadline. My first step was to stop nursing on-demand and to stick to regular feeding times. For us, that meant breastfeeding in the morning, before nap, and at night, but no longer “just because.” This was a harder habit for me to break than my daughter. When she cried after getting a boo-boo or whined about being hungry, I had to resist the temptation to fix everything by whipping out my boob. Once we had established a few regular feedings, it was easier to slowly drop them one at a time.

Morning feedings were the first to go. As much as I loved our long, sleep-extending a.m. sessions, they were making everybody late for school. I enlisted my husband for breakfast duty. The faster he could get some cereal and milk (from the carton) in front of our hungry toddler, the less time she had to complain about not nursing. A month or two later, she abruptly dropped her afternoon nap, which killed me (I had hoped she’d keep napping until college), but at least it took care of another feeding. Now we were down to just one breastfeeding session a day, at bedtime.

That’s where I got stuck.

I tried the old “don’t offer, don’t refuse” method, but I found that if I skipped our nightly feed, my daughter would always let me know, wailing, “Mama you forgot to nurse me!” That’s wehen I realized I had to get more aggressive, so I kicked off a plan I like to call The 3 R’s:

Reassure: Every night during reading time, I reminded my toddler that I would always love her, always hold her, and always sing and tell her stories. But nursing was not supposed to last forever. Soon we would be all done nursing. Planting this seed, coupled with reassurance that we’d still have special cozy time every night, helped lay the groundwork for weaning. At first, I got some pushback. She actually complained, “But I’m just a little baby!”, which is funny when you hear those words spoken in perfect English. Eventually, she started saying back to me, “Soon we will be all done nursing.”

Revise: A regular bedtime routine is a mom’s best friend—except when you’re trying to wean. That’s because if you’ve been doing things the exact same way for hundreds of nights, your kid is bound to notice a change of plans. The same time I was working on weaning, we happened to switch from a crib to a full-sized big-girl bed. Now we could read stories in bed instead of in the glider, which I know she associated with nursing. Switching up a step in our bedtime routine really helped create a new plan for nighttime.

Replace: When my toddler asked to nurse at night, I offered delicious whole milk in a straw-cup (in bed) as a substitute. I know this move is not dentist-approved, but I figured it’s only temporary. There’s a reason they call them milk teeth, right?

Once I put the 3 R’s plan into place, I made sure to wear lots of layers on top so that my toddler no longer had easy access to my breasts. I also enlisted my husband and babysitter to sub in for me at bedtime whenever possible. When we reached five consecutive days without breastfeeding, I realized we were done.

I didn’t know that the last time I ever breastfed was going to be the last time. Maybe that’s for the best because I probably would have sobbed through it and thoroughly freaked out my toddler. I’m so grateful for our whole breastfeeding journey, but I’m excited about the next phase of development.

…Except even many weeks after weaning, my daughter will occasionally ask to nurse, which hurts my heart a little.

Part of me wants to say yes.

Instead, I gently tell her, “We’re all done nursing,” as I hold her close and tell her a story, which I will do every night, for as long as she lets me.

Photo by: Genevieve Elaine Photography