On weaning: Part II (Un…weaning?)

Wow, we feel passionately about breastfeeding! And I mean we should. Whether you choose to or not, whether you nurse to sleep or use a cover or wean at six months or a year or four – breastfeeding is huge. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I got such a response to my last post – the most common being “Oh my gosh you sound so sad, like someone died! Why on earth are you weaning her?”

This question is totally fair, and it’s fair because I chose to write about it in the first place. So here’s a little bit of the reasoning behind undertaking this whole endeavor, as well as a little update for those who asked.

The reasons I chose to wean Olive ranged from what felt like selfish ones (after nineteen months I just reallt want to wear “real” bras and have my body be mine again for at least six months before we even start thinking about little The Steve coming along) to entirely vague (I don’t know, it just feels like it’s the right time), but I think the most important reason was that I felt she was indicating to me that she was ready to make some changes in her routine.

I have nursed Olive to sleep almost every night since she was born, but in the last few weeks she has started falling asleep on her own more and more. Every so often she’d nurse but not fall asleep. She’d roll around beside me, chat a bit, giggle and wiggle and then five minutes later be laying there, her eyelids getting heavy and her breathing slow. She fell asleep sitting in my brother’s lap as he played “Damn it feels good to be a gangster”. She fell asleep on the bed beside me as I answered an email – when I looked over, she was out.

This is entirely new. She has typically needed something (like nursing) to help her fall asleep, and I haven’t had a problem with that. I wrote a whole post about it, which is how many of you found me in the first place (hi!)

It was rewarding for both of us, and something that was a really sweet close to the day. And while I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by pushing independence on your child before they are ready, I also think that part of your job as a parent is to recognize those first glimmers of autonomy and encourage them to continue. Even if it breaks your heart.

So I started seeing Olive fall asleep by herself more and more, and I thought to myself, “You know, this would be a great time to transition her out of nursing to sleep, since she’s already begun the process.”  Since she was only nursing three times a day – when she woke up, and before her nap and bedtime- it seemed like the natural thing to do would be to wean her completely.

And then, the emotions. Oh god. I mean, I thought I’d heard it all about weaning – the gigantic boobs, the pain, the cabbage leaves in your bra. But I hadn’t heard about the emotional train wreck that rolls into town after breastfeeding stops. Your hormones just immediately nosedive, and shit hits the fan in a rather large way, and in addition to this biological shitstorm you are also saying goodbye to the last thing that makes your baby seem like a baby. The last real primitive physical connection. Hence, this post.

There were so many sweet, supportive comments and it was absolutely amazing hearing how many of you felt the same way, or anticipated doing so. It was incredibly reassuring hearing how many other mothers experience the same feelings about breastfeeding, the same reluctance to let go (it’s always so nice to know I’m not the only crazy out there! )

Many others commented (and emailed privately) to ask why. Why was I weaning if I was so upset over it? Was I being pressured? Were there medical issues? Was I pregnant?

(No, no, and sadly, not the right time. Not yet)

These emails were all incredibly respectful but also inquisitive, and that got me doing some reflecting, too. It made me revisit my original reasons for wanting to wean:

I want some autonomy. I want to wear real bras, and choose shirts based on qualities other than ease of access to The Boobs. Most importantly, I want to encourage Olive as she is learning to fall asleep on her own.

But I was also clearly not ready to let go. When I looked at that list full of reasons again I realized that all I had to do to accomplish these goals was cut out the nursing to sleep, not the nursing altogether. For months the two have been so intertwined that it truly didn’t seem possible to have one without the other- but of course it is.

I came up with a compromise that would allow me to reach the points I wanted to, without giving up the closeness that I felt by nursing Olive. I gave myself a goal of one week to wean Olive and make the sleeptime transition. If things didn’t go well, we’d put weaning on hold and try again later. How was I going to magically start nursing again if things didn’t pan out? Well, by not stopping entirely in the first place.

After two days of tearing up, and second-guessing, and questioning myself and every decision I’ve ever made), I decided to bring back the morning nursing sessions. She comes into bed with me, we curl up and it’s a lovely, peaceful way to start the day.


And now, the update

Olive has adjusted incredibly well. She cried the first day, and it was pretty tough to get her to go to sleep (which is totally understandable, I’m changing the sleep routine she’s had for pretty much her whole life.) By day three she wasn’t asking to nurse at naptime or bedtime, going to sleep well for naps but still having trouble winding down at night. I am finding that being physically close to her in these first few transition weeks is important in order to replace the closeness she’d typically get from breastfeeding.

And the million dollar question that I have always wondered: If I’m not nursing her, how the hell do I get her to sleep?

Well, because she had done it a handful of times in the last few weeks I knew she couldwhen relaxed, simply fall asleep. This was mightily encouraging. For naptime I have discovered that reading her stories works like a charm. One and a half readthroughs of this and she’s out like a light. Bedtimes are still a work in progress. Sometimes reading works, sometimes I sing to her, and then other times she seems to need more and she falls asleep nestled into me (which I love, obviously).

So that’s the explanation and the update. I feel very at ease with this middleground. I am encouraging her to grow, stretch and do new things, while at the same time remaining a familiar place she can come home to. I’m also hoping that by gradually reducing nursing sessions it won’t be such a whatthewhat! roller coaster when I do wean her, for real this time, sometime in the future.

I think sometimes we are afraid to go back. I was.

I kept thinking I couldn’t revisit my decision because I had decided. But of course we can. We are human, and so are our children – fluid, adjustable, ever-evolving human beings. If something isn’t working, or doesn’t stick; if it doesn’t settle right and you find yourself feeling like you wish you never went down this damn road in the first place I think it’s worth re-evaluating, seeing if you can find some middle ground, or even just putting it on the back burner and trying again in a few weeks.

So, not a goodbye after all. More of a “See you soon.”

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  • Reply jamieramirez May 12, 2014 at 12:40 AM

    omg, when you put so much thought, so much care, so much energy into a decision, and how you’ll implement it, it can feel so hard, once the wheels are in motion, to recognize and then turn around what’s not working quite like you expected/wanted. it’s totally one of the hardest things! i’ve had to reevaluate a lot of decisions lately, and force myself to change course on several. luckily, once the discomfort is over, there’s a sense of relief that i went with my gut instead of following the path which had momentum. and it makes me feel like a grownup, that i mustered the patience/willpower/wisdom (whichever one happens to be applicable). i hope you’re feeling this way, too!

  • Reply Natasha May 12, 2014 at 1:16 AM

    Sounds like you’ve reached a really good compromise. When my first daughter (now seven) turned two I decided it was time to get my boobs back, we had cut back to one feed a day already, but I was ready to go away for a weekend without her for the first time, and I decided two years was enough. Besides, we wanted to try for baby number two at some stage, and I wanted some time in between where I could eat and drink what I wanted for a bit! But after a week, I decided it wasn’t the right time, and we started again – she seemed to not be coping, and even though we were already down to just one feed a day, we went back to breastfeeding for a few more months. We kept the morning feed as the last feed too, because as she was my first and I stayed at home with her, we didn’t have to leap out of bed at the crack of dawn and get ready for anything, so she hopped into bed with me and fed and snuggled, and it was a really good start to the day. In the end I weaned her completely at 26 months, it was the right time. Coincidentally it was the exact same age I weaned her sister (now three), although with her it was different – she was ready to give it up and I just abruptly decided one day (after she’d bitten me and barely fed at all at bedtime) that I was all done and dusted. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I’m glad you worked out a fitting solution for everyone’s needs 🙂

  • Reply Sam Pereira May 12, 2014 at 3:12 AM

    Yay! Sounds like a gentler way for both of you. Well done for looking at what was and wasn’t working. You’re such a great mum, because you’re paying attention, not just to Olive, but to your own gut. Awesome 🙂

  • Reply Serene Criticism May 12, 2014 at 5:18 AM

    I was so touched by your original weaning post, because it was almost exactly what I went through with my first girl – the wondering how I ended up nursing a toddler, the wondering why she wasn’t self-weaning, the feeling selfish for wanting my body back. I tried to lovingly, but firmly, wean her even though we were both miserable in the process … and then I changed my mind, as you have. I realized that it was becoming all too dramatic for both of us. Why should my decision be so absolute, so unchangeable? I came to the realization that something was just not working, I nursed sporadically over the course of a month as we both adjusted. What struck me in your original post was the emphasis you placed on “the last time you nursed.” I did the same thing, lingering in my mind over that experience, but now I have two distinct memories – that emotion-laded, sob-inducing “last time” and then the actual “last time” about a month later, which was peaceful and tender and quiet and right. My girl is now six and I am on the cusp of weaning my second girl, at about 18 months. If I have learned nothing else, I’ve learned that decisions do not have to be final … finding what is right for both of you can be difficult, but taking a deep breath and changing your mind is part of the process. Good luck to you both in finding your way to that “last time” that makes you both happy.

  • Reply Katie May 12, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    Love the post. I have been torn with breast feeding my daughter right now. I have the same list of reasons for weaning, and I am going to work in three months so that is my goal. My daughter is 17 months old in a week and was an avid nurser until recently. Lately she will say no if I ask her if she wants milk (we sign for milk but now when she is frustrated she signs with two hands as well as hollers “MILK!”) and has been naturally cutting back on her own. She is becoming a comfort nurser with teething so I think for now we will slowly start cutting back a bit, but it’s hard on my emotions when she says no already when she would usually nurse, I know exactly what you mean!! Also, Louise was on our list of girl names and then my husband named her Lyla Grace, go middle name grace and to future Louise’s!

  • Reply Karis May 12, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    Love this post, I am so glad you revisited your choice and found what works best for you and Olive 🙂

  • Reply knightlizard May 12, 2014 at 1:13 PM

    You seem much more relaxed in this post! Very happy for you and Olive. 🙂

    I once decided I had been wrong to restrict nursing at all (I know, at all? Seriously? Yes. Because second guessing all decisions is in the job description) with my older child, partially because I felt bad for deciding to do so when she was only a little over a year old in order to get pregnant, and so, crazy as it sounds, I decided to let her nurse all the time. While I was nursing her EBF baby brother. Because nursing twins has always sounded fun? I blame hormones.

    I lasted a week. Then I went back to three times a day, suddenly quite content with my original decision, and never regretted it again.

    We all know it is important to be consistent with small children. But it is also very important to be willing to experiment and withhold judgement and even completely change your mind if the occasion demands it. Or change it twice, in my case. Bravo for finding the best solution for the two of you!

  • Reply Erica Stanojevic May 12, 2014 at 3:26 PM

    Totally get it….. I love to nurse, and do it just a little, admittedly before nap!

  • Reply Whitney May 13, 2014 at 6:08 PM

    Curious about something– of you have always nursed her to sleep, what happens on nights you’re not there? My 9 month old prefers to nurse to sleep and I’ve been trying to teach her to go to sleep without nursing so that when I am (rarely) away from her at bedtime it’s not traumatic for her or for her daddy.

    • Reply Whitney May 13, 2014 at 6:14 PM

      Never mind 🙂 I just read your post about it- that you didn’t have problems with other people putting her to sleep… Hmmm. I am not so lucky with Daddy, though my mom seems to have a magic touch (though my mom is also my daily child care and holds/rocks her for every doggie nap).

      • Reply Whitney May 13, 2014 at 6:14 PM

        Gah. Every single nap. Not every doggie nap.

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