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Weaning a Toddler

January 17, 2011

Mama and Gus - From over a year ago... time seriously flies.

I can’t say it’s a new phenomenon for me to feel, in the midst of motherhood and all it’s joys, that I am the ONLY one to feel a certain way, or to think a certain thing.  In those first tumultuous months I thought that I was failing, I thought that I was just not cut out for this, I thought that I regretted having had a baby at all. But mostly? I thought that I was alone. 

In the intervening months I’ve learned that I am most certainly not alone in the feelings I had as a new mother.  But still I find myself feeling the same way now, as I face weaning my toddler from the breast.

See, there is a boatload of literature on getting the baby to breastfeed successfully.  I took advantage of a lot of it.  How to get the perfect latch, how to navigate blocked ducts, overactive letdown, pumping, teething, you-name-it.  And there is, it seems to me, sufficient information on how to wean a baby onto a bottle of formula if the need arises.  In fact, my own sisters and mother could easily coach me on that particular transition had I asked.  But I wanted to nurse for at least a year, so I never planned to, and never did, wean onto formula.

And, at the moment, there are books and websites and even brick-and-mortar establishments set up to support extended breastfeeding and, most importantly, natural unprompted weaning that happens when the child determines he or she is ready.  (FTR: if left to his own devices I’m convinced Gus would totally be the kid that comes home from high school and wants to nurse.)  When I consult these I just end up questioning my resolve, and generally feeling bad about my choices and terrified of traumatizing my little boy and altering our close relationship for good.

And here is where I despair.  I want to wean my 19-month-old toddler.  I do.

(and I don’t)

This is a boy who *loves* his “ah-jee” (how he got that from “milk”, I’ll never know) more than anything.  A boy who has nursed every single day of his life.  A boy who finds comfort in our nightly ritual of rocking in a quiet, dark room, and playing silly games that make him smile up at me until he is tired enough to request to go to his crib.

The thing is, I’d be lying if I said that I don’t find just as much comfort in it as he does.  And I can tell you that his tears won’t be the only ones shed when the milk tap is turned off.

So the questions is why? right? why am I subjecting myself and my sweet boy to this if it is going to hurt us both?  Part of me doesn’t know.  But the other part of me, she has her reasons. I want to get pregnant again. And while I know this feat can be achieved without weaning (I have regular periods again) I know how hard pregnancy was on my body and my psyche last time and I just don’t really want to further stress my system by also nursing.  And I am really not interested in tandem nursing a newborn and a toddler.  I want there to be enough separation between when Gus weans and when a new baby comes on the scene that Gus doesn’t have even MORE reason to be jealous of the newbie.

And I hate to admit it but I feel pressure from relatives and loved ones as well.  I’d love to say that I will do what I want and forget my mother’s voice in my ear telling me “it really is time” and my grandmother saying “he’s getting old for that” and a close and dear family friend warning that extended nursers (in her experience as a pediatric nurse) are troublesome…  But these are women to whom I look for just this sort of advice and support.  These are my role models, flawed though their ideas might be.

There is certainly a part of my intellectual self that knows they could be out-moded and wrong, that they probably are.  But tell that to the other part of me who has been listening to them for her whole life and who, in adulthood, has come to know that most of the things they tell me are truth.  It’s not as simple as saying “you’re wrong, go away.” you know?

And the resources from which I have drawn the majority of my parenting help, books and the Internet, are eerily quiet on the topic of weaning an extended nurser before he’s “ready”.  Either you’re weaning onto formula before a year, or you’re celebrating “weaning day” with a cake for your four-year-old.  I’m finding very little in the in-between.  It’s been disappointing.

So here we sit.  It’s January. The latest deadline I gave myself.  And now January is more than half gone.  It’s safe to say we’ll be setting a new deadline, but I think this one is going to be a little softer.  We’ll go slowly, allow for setbacks, and see if we can eliminate one of his nursing sessions first, and then the other. Somehow.  I just need to take the first step, and I am beginning to think the first step has more to do with getting *myself* ready than it is about Gus.

So help a mother out. What about you? Have you successfully weaned a toddler before s/he decides it’s time?  Any tips?  (Even just a “yeah I’ve been there, and my child is not traumatized for life” will do.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2011 2:21 pm

    This is a very personal decision I think. I’m not there yet but I am anticipating and will soon be in the same boat and still don’t know what to do. My plan was always to nurse until 2 years old and then wean. But, now I don’t know. My daughter is 21 months. I promised my husband (who wants me to wean now but is patiently waiting for her to be 2). Ugh. Some days I will admit I really dislike nursing. Others I relish it. My baby girl loves it, always has and gets a great deal of comfort from it. She isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. A big part of me feels like how could I do that to her, wean her before she is ready. Another part of me says that I have done my duty and I should have some say because it’s my body. And when I really think about her being done, I feel great sadness. My feelings totally contradict themselves. And then I feel guilt at wishing I was done. I just wanted to commiserate with you. I have no problem with extended breastfeeding if mom and baby are both happy and applaud it. I just don’t know if it is for me and yet maybe it is. We shall see.

    • January 18, 2011 8:09 am

      Julia, that’s pretty much it exactly. your “two years” is my “january”: essentially an arbitrary deadline. I think of how the last nursing session will feel, and I never fail to tear up (even as I type this!). but then I think of continuing on till he’s ready to wean, and I feel overwhelmed (especially when you factor in the possibility of a younger sibling also nursing). it’s just another of the seemingly endless questions to which there are no easy answers, only conflicted emotions. I hope you figure out what’s best for you and your family. Good luck!

  2. Jay permalink
    April 11, 2012 7:03 am

    Hi. This post was over a year ago. I’m lying here with my son on my breast, looking for a way out. You were right, there was (and still is) nothing on the in between, weaning a toddler before he is ready. My 25 month old still nurses through the night (every 2-3 hours) and I am simply exhausted. I watched breastfeeding save my preemie’s life…I watched it nourish him to normal weight…I watch him lose all his defenses as he latches onn…and I see the desperation in his eyes when he cries for his “t-t”. YET, I want out so badly I want to scream. I want my freedom. I want my sleep. I want what I think to be a normal life. Nursing is a trmendous sacrifice, although one I believe is due, and I feel very conflicted between sacrificing and sanity. Then I am also. Confused because I sit on both sides of the fence, even without pressure from any other person.

    So I’m interested to know…how did you make out? Did you wean? Is there another baby in your life? How did he take it? How did you? Is he doomed for life now, LOL? My son seems as though he will never self wean. I am horrified of. Causing him pain of letting go of the most consistent part of his life.




  1. How I Weaned My Toddler (last year…) « a little barefoot

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