Monday, May 21, 2012

6 Years of Natural Weaning in 5 Steps

Welcome to the Carnival of Weaning: Weaning - Your Stories
This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Code Name: Mama and Aha! Parenting. Our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles about the end of the breastfeeding relationship.

 I breastfed our son, on cue, day and night, from the day after his birth.  (You can read about the unpleasantly exciting birth in my previous Carnival post.
From the start, I stopped everything and responded to his every cue for milk. At one stage, I figured out that he'd figured out that I stopped everything and responded to his every cue for milk. 
When he started signing for milk when he didn't want milk but just wanted me to stop everything, I had to laugh and learn to respond to that a bit differently.
With our son, I learned at La Leche League that breastfeeding is far and away, bar none, no contest, baby, the best and easiest way to ease a growing child's journey through our rough, tough world.

  1. Take one sad or mad child
  2. Fold closely in mother's arms
  3. Apply gently to breast
  4. Hold until fully done 
  5. Repeat as desired
  • A happier, calmer, more grownup child
Magic like that is worth holding onto.

Weaning process - Step 1: Nature's weaning

So it was all "milk and who cares about honey because hey, there's milk" for the first two years of our son's life.  My pregnancy with our daughter was his first real experience of weaning - he was a few months past two when he noticed:
  1. There was less milk
  2. It tasted funny
  3. Mummy said, "Ouch, time to stop!"
Reportedly, many children fully wean during a pregnancy, but our son simply adapted to all the changes.  Long breastfeeding sessions were too painful for me, but two-year-olds don't have a great need to breastfeed for long either.  He accepted the limitations, learned some manners, and we both just kept on bonding.

Weaning process - Step 2: Night weaning

I knew that I would be too tired with one newborn to also respond to our son at night.  Our son did not like sleeping by himself in a separate room, and he was a frequent waker.  (I moved him from my room due to my hyperalertness from PTSD, and I still can't help wishing it could have been different.)

We had already reached the stage where the breastfeeding response at night was very brief. Now we began Daddy Duty - when our son awoke lonely at night, he was comforted to sleep again by Daddy instead of me.

While our son did not embrace the change with joy, at the age of two he was able to accept it - the level of distress was manageable between him and Daddy.

Weaning process - Step 3: Bedtime

I knew there could be times when the new baby would need me at bedtime.  While our son could go back to sleep during the night with Daddy, I still always breastfed him to sleep at bedtime. I needed to go off duty.

This was probably the roughest toughest weaning we did.  One evening, I breastfed him (now 2y 9m) and then went to visit my sister's house - and only came back when Daddy told me he was now asleep.  It was pretty late.

But I knew he had Daddy with him.  And I knew he was not 3 months old, or 6 months old, but not far off three years old, with years of my love and strength behind him, the communication skills to express his emotions, and the knowledge of other means of comfort.

This isn't to say I never responded to our son at night or fed him to sleep again because of his new sister. But now he and I both knew he could do this without me.

Weaning process - Step 4: New sister

I was again in the hospital for an emergency surgical birth of our second child, so our son had to do without me for a few days. It was brilliant having him visit in those early days of milk engorgement - a newborn hardly makes a dent but a 3 year old?  Bring it on!

Word of warning
It may be that our son broke my waters early because I did not insist that the bouncy boy be super careful with my pregnant body during morning feeding sessions. Undercooked babies are often extra hard work, and if there's any chance that this warning could help someone else, it will be worth it.
He generally understood the new rule of Baby Goes First: he still got to breastfeed but the baby needed milk more as that was her only food.

Sometimes I actually tandem fed - both at once - but it was physically uncomfortable to hold those positions.  And usually at least one of them was wiggly enough to make me nervous about going two directions at once. So normally, he just learned to wait his turn.

Weaning process - Step 5: Life

Age 3, age 4, age 5, still awaiting his short turn at the breast in the morning. Sometimes patiently. Often he would get a short nighttime feed on one side before I took his sister for the long feed to sleep. 

But there were sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa's or with school friends. He didn't miss me when I wasn't there.

And then he would get up and be more interested in a joke book than whether he got his turn.

And not long after he turned 6, he often complained he couldn't get very much.  With his sister (3) feeding only a few times a day now, I'm sure the leftovers were pretty low.  I told him that it was because he didn't need it very much anymore. I mentioned how lucky he was, and that probably none of his friends had gotten milk for this long.

Soon after that, I asked him if he was OK with not having milk anymore.  No problem.

Was it hard for me to stop after all these years? Well, he was getting pretty big and developing a real big kid attitude.  It was always very quick and even starting to feel not quite right anymore. It really was time.

He has a couple of times wistfully said he wishes he could still have milk. He still loves to get lap time, whenever we can and especially when his sister is getting her short feeds.


Thank you for visiting the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Dionna at Code Name: Mama and Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (and many thanks to Joni Rae of Tales of a Kitchen Witch for designing our lovely button):

(This list will be live amind updated by afternoon May 21 with all the carnival links.)
  • Is This Weaning?: A Tandem Nursing Update — Sheila at A Living Family bares all her tandem nursing hopes and fears during what feels like the beginning of the end for her toddler nursing relationship.
  • Memories of Weaning: Unique and Gentle — Cynthia at The Hippie Housewife shares her weaning experiences with her two sons, each one unique in how it happened and yet equally gentle in its approach.
  • Weaning Aversion'Gentle Mama Moon shares her experience of nursing and unplanned weaning due to pregnancy-induced 'feeding aversion'.
  • Three Months Post-Mup: An Evolution of Thoughts On Weaning — cd at FidgetFace describes a brief look at her planned (but accelerated) weaning, as well as one mamma's evolution on weaning (and extended nursing)
  • Weaning my Tandem Nursed Toddler — After tandem nursing for a year, Melissa at Permission to Live felt like weaning her older child would be impossible, but now she shares how gentle weaning worked for her 2 1/2 year old.
  • Every Journey Begins with One Step — As Hannabert begins the weaning process, Hannah at Hannah and Horn's super power is diminishing.
  • Reflections on Weaning - Love Changes Form — Amy from Presence Parenting (guest posting at Dulce de Leche) shares her experience and approach of embracing weaning as a continual process in parenting, not just breastfeeding.
  • Weaning Gently: Three Special Ideas for SuccessMudpieMama shares three ideas that help make weaning a gentle and special journey.
  • Guest Post: Carnival of Weaning — Emily shares her first weaning experience and her hopes for her second nursling in a guest post on Farmer's Daughter.
  • 12 Tips for Gentle Weaning — Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting describes the process of gentle weaning and gives specific tips to make weaning an organic, joyful ripening.
  • Quiz: Should You Wean for Fertility Treatments? — Paige at Baby Dust Diaries talks about the key issues in the difficult decision to wean for infertility treatments.
  • I thought about weaning... — Kym at Our Crazy Corner of the World shares her story of how she thought about weaning several times, yet it still happened on its own timeline.
  • Celebrating Weaning — Amy at Anktangle reflects on her thoughts and feelings about weaning, and she shares a quick tutorial for one of the ways she celebrated this transition with her son: through a story book with photographs!
  • Naturally Weaning Twins — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings discusses the gradual path to weaning she has taken with her preschool-aged twins.
  • Gentle Weaning Means Knowing When to Stop — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl writes about knowing when your child is not ready to wean and taking their feelings into account in the process.
  • Weaning, UnWeaning, and ReWeaning — Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy discovers non-mutal weaning doesn't have to be the end. You can have a do-over.
  • Prelude to weaning — Lauren at Hobo Mama talks about a tough tandem nursing period and what path she would like to encourage her older nursling to take.
  • Demands of a Nursing Kind — Amy Willa at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work shares her conflicted feelings about nursing limits and explores different ways to achieve comfort, peace, and bodily integrity as a nursing mother.
  • Breastfeeding: If there's one thing I know for sure... — Wendy at ABCs and Garden Peas explores the question: How do you know when it's time to wean?
  • Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Two, Three? — Zoie at TouchstoneZ discusses going from 3 nurslings down to 1 and what might happen when her twins arrive.


  1. I remember the first night Tom got Kieran to sleep without me. It was (oh my goodness) after Ailia was born. We hadn't really been nursing to sleep to night for awhile, but Kieran was still very accustomed to having me there in bed with him rubbing his back and loving him to sleep. It has since gotten better - and I'm glad we've gone at a slow pace :)

  2. I see so many similarities here to my own story! For us, the bedtime nursing went pretty early. She stopped nursing to sleep at bedtime around 12 months - she would nurse and then still be awake! We still nursed before bed for many years, just not to sleep. Then there was pregnancy, night-weaning, tandeming, and life, just as you describe!

  3. It is wonderful how gently your weaning went. I am the same as Dionna in that I have only had my husband put my daughter to sleep one night and that was the night I was in the hospital after my son was born. Since then I still put her to sleep... it just no longer involves nursing. Wish our nursing journey ended that slowly, but I guess it was not meant to be for us. Glad yours has been the way you envisioned!

  4. I love the recipe you shared! Isn't that the truth?!?!?

    You're gentle approach to weaning your son is a beautiful story. I love how different life milestones naturally brought about weaning so it never became a stressful change for either of you. Just wonderful!

  5. We too found "daddy duty" essential when I became pregnant again. Having someone else who can put your dear child to sleep really is a relief. It became overwhelming for me to be the only one!

    We have had similar experiences with our weaning journey and I love the recipe. Though I do not think I need to write it down.... I think I've got it right here <3, and always will :)

  6. Loving hearing from all you guys - what a great Carnival!

  7. I think there are so many misconceptions about nursing "older" children. Weaning is a process that naturally (and usually) occurs over an extended period of time. A four or five year old isn't nursing as much as a newborn. It changes over time, just like anything else in life. Thank you for sharing your gentle experience.

  8. What a lovely, clear account of gently weaning over a long period of time so that it's as natural as....well, as breastfeeding! And what a lucky son and daughter you have! Thanks for sharing your story and normalizing extended nursing.

  9. Thanks for showing so clearly what gradual, natural weaning looks like. I'm starting to thing from reading a lot of these entries that we took an opposite approach to many: We day weaned before we night weaned. Actually we never really night weaned in the no more nursies till sunup daddy takes over kind of way . . . neither stopped nursing at night/bedtime until they weaned completely. That was the last to go, well after they did not even ask during the day. Also, my 4-year-old still wants me and only me at bedtime most nights. We never really tried to have dad take over at bedtime, we just made it a family event.

  10. both children weaned gently at 22 mo. we did it both times during family vacation. a week of cousins, grandparents, lots of big family meals and big family fun and no one even missed nursing. we've never used bottles, we went straight to glass with no worries. we used mainly distraction when they were fussy and used their slightly older cousins as good role models. we never had to say straight out "no" to nursing. we just found more interesting things for them to do. =)