Mine & T’s breastfeeding journey has been very rocky from the start with low lows, some highs, a lot of tears but a ton of joy and gratefulness too. I have wrote about breastfeeding before here and here and over the past 14 months (since my son’s first birthday) my thoughts about nursing, nursing at night, and weaning have been all over the map.
My son turned two in March, as of January he was nursing all day AND all night, today as I write this (May 15th) he is nursing at nap time only, once to fall asleep and sometimes once more if he wakes prematurely. These past couple months have been *nothing* like I could have ever imagined so I thought I would share our weaning story, for anyone who feels like their toddler will never “self wean”, anyone frustrated with the amount and/or duration of their toddler nursing, anyone who feels like the end will never come, or even those just curious as to what could lie ahead!
In January we tackled night weaning.
We were following T’s cues, many times when he would wake I would go in and cuddle him and he would fall back asleep. I knew he was capable and it would yield much better sleep for both of us. It was rough though. He would usually settle for cuddles until about 1-3AM and then he was INSISTENT on getting milk. I explained over and over not until the sun, but days and weeks, a month passed and he was still asking. We would get out of bed, get water, get snacks, there were some veerrryyyyy long nights in there but we stuck to it, we had taken this step because we were all ready and we were not going back. He still sleeps in our bed, so we were always there with him, cuddling, singing, patting his back, he would often ask me to bounce him on the ball but I wanted to help him sleep on his own, not substitute nursing for bouncing. Often in order to calm down a walk around the house was necessary and then we would climb back in bed for cuddling and maybe a song.
In April T contracted a mild case of Hand, Foot, Mouth Syndrome. He had a fever one afternoon and through the night so he was nursing TONS. We watched movies, slept, and nursed.
I made an exception and nursed him through the night during his fever and the next night to help him sleep as he was obviously very uncomfortable. I knew it would be hard going back, T is a very all or nothing kind of guy, and although the next couple of nights were difficult, the nights after that were much improved!
Our last nursing session for the night was usually lying down next to each other where T would drift off to sleep while still on the breast, but a few nights in a row he started growing restless, popping on and off, and eventually I would just say no more milk and he would roll over, cuddle into me and fall asleep. I took this as a sign that he was ready to give up nursing to sleep. Not only could he fall asleep without it, but it seemed the limit would actually really help him. From there we started doing bath time, diaper, pajamas, nurse in bed sitting up with the lights on, then read lots of books, have some water and/or snack and then turn white noise on and lights off to cuddle and go to sleep. T picks up on routines a lot more now and his memory never ceases to amaze me. Because we were doing something new I knew it was important to really start being more “routine” and sticking to the same thing night after night in the same order. We have always been kind of all over the place during the evening but it was a very natural shift for all of us to be more disciplined as it seemed beneficial for T and helpful for all of us to avoid melt downs, super extended bed times, frustrations, etc. We are by no means strict or anything, just follow the same flow each night around the same time. This was surprisingly easy, as I said, he was definitely ready. There was hardly any protest and he would normally make it until around 5AM until asking for milk, which is when we would nurse for the first time that new day.
On May 1st T had his 5AM nursing and was incredibly restless afterwards, nursing was not putting him back to sleep and was up, out of bed and ready for the day before 6AM. This was very UN-typical for him as he would usually like to lay around in bed nursing and sleeping on and off until 8:30, sometimes even 9AM! I took it as a great opportunity, I had been wanting to cut down nursing to 5AM, nap time, and before bed for awhile but he was just nursing SO often during the day it seemed like an impossible feat. Something clicked that morning and I just knew I had to try. I wish I had more to add, but really, it just came out of no where that today, was the day.
We don’t do the “big boy” thing in our house and it’s not something I will continue with but for this instance I talked up “big boy milk” in the morning and told him that we were going to go to the coffee shop where he could get some in a cup that was just for big kids. I knew we had to get out of the house, and fast, before he got bored or wanted my attention and asked and then had a tantrum to nurse. This day and the next day were not easy. He would still ask for milk at home (we had stopped nursing in public a long time ago) but I stuck to the 5AM, nap time and bed time only. I would offer almond milk, cow’s milk, to make chocolate/strawberry/banana milk in the blender or make a smoothie. There were tantrums and meltdowns but I tried to stay as busy as possible and keep us out of the house from the morning until nap time and then leave the house after nap for an activity before coming home for dinner. My husband came home at 4PM the first day and took T (as he usually does on Tuesdays & Thursdays) for an activity outside of the house just them two. This was extremely helpful! The next evening we headed out of the house and then played outside for a long while. I had to give T all of my attention, if I became the least bit distracted (by my phone or a conversation) or was trying to do something that didn’t involve him (makeup, laundry, etc) he would ask for milk and it would be a lot harder on both of us.
After two days he was totally fine! He would still ask for milk but I would just say “you have your water over here”, or “want some almond milk?” or just laugh and say “noooo noo milk!” and he would just smile and run off. I honestly was surprised at how easy it was. We have tried to decrease frequency and duration in the past and it was always met with unparalleled perseverance, uncontrollable crying/tantrums and a huge disconnect between us. This time he was obviously ready and it showed, it seemed he just needed the nudge. He would fall or get hurt and cry in my arms and I would offer him water in his straw cup and he would accept, a few days in he had a fall, came to me in tears for a big hug then got down and went and got his water cup himself! Tears gone and he was ready to play more! This was extreme initiation to me, he was so old and independent and practicing amazing self regulation right before my eyes!
The Night Time Nursing
After a few days his night time nursing session was literally 30 seconds long on each side, and seemed like the perfect feeding to cut out next. I tried saying no milk one night and he was pretty upset so I was happy to continue. Two nights later though he wasn’t even asking and late into the routine he asked once and I just said “you already had your milk!” and he didn’t even protest and just like that the nighttime feeding was gone.
The Early Morning Nursing
He seemed to be waking earlier and earlier in the AM wanting milk, 5AM, then 4:45AM, then 4:40AM so although I knew it was going to be rough on us I decided to nix this one ASAP. We went to bed each night armed with almond milk + a little maple syrup in a straw cup, water, a banana and a cheese stick next to the bed. Whenever he would wake, middle of the night, early morning, I would first rub his back and cuddle, if that didn’t console him then I would offer water or almond milk then offer snacks.
The mornings are still rough and he is upset because he doesn’t actually want to be awake that early but can’t put himself back to sleep, but he doesn’t insist on milk and totally “gets” that it is not an option and the choices that he does have. We have naturally transitioned into continuing to lay in bed that early but reading his favorite stories. After a couple of weeks he has even fallen back asleep after the dreaded 5:30/6AM waking until 7AM a few times!
Nap time Nursing
So that just leaves us with the last nursing time of the day, nap time. I am not ready to give up his naps. Although he *could* go a day without napping, he can’t go several days in a row without a nap considering his early rising times now. He also has never fallen asleep in bed for nap without nursing. I use naps to work, nap myself, or just take some time in the middle of the day to recharge, as I often feel like I am running on crazy. Some friends that have weaned rely on a car ride around 1 or 2PM to put their little one to sleep but since we car share with my husband this isn’t an option for us. He has fallen asleep in the stroller before but usually not until 3PM when he is just wiped out, which is really late for a nap and doesn’t really help me if I am out and about pushing the stroller. I am not really sure what we are going to do about this last feeding…. I am not in a complete hurry to end it but also don’t want us to get to a point where he is absolutely unable to nap without nursing and naps go out the window entirely when nursing does. I feel like we may have a small window of time where it could still be possible?
I know this has been all over the place but I just wanted to get our entire story and process out in one place! This transition really has been everything I could have hoped for, easy, pleasant, and seriously feels liberating for everyone! T has such an easier time sleeping now, if he falls asleep in the car he can be transferred to bed (that has never! happened without nursing before), he has a more reasonable bed time and naturally evolved schedule that works well for us and he doesn’t have the super cranky episodes for times in which I am unable to provide nursing. We read more books and cuddle more and I don’t feel a bit of sadness or regret or any negative emotions at all for that matter, only positive! I am so very grateful and thankful to have nursed him this long, through fevers and diarrhea, through bumps and bruises and countless bedtimes and nap times and uncomfortable situations and so glad that our weaning has been so smooth. It hasn’t been without effort, all of the above was definitely a lot of work. Early wakings, more attention required then just laying down with a boob out, gentle reminders, boundaries, more time out of the house, but it has yielded nothing but great results for both of us. I think when it works, it works, it really is akin to the stars aligning.
What is your experience with weaning/wanting to wean/child led weaning? Does anyone have a similar situation to the nap time nursing? I would love to hear anything and everything!