How Child Led Weaning Worked for Us

This summer I was exhausted, emotionally and physically, and the act of nursing was contributing to my overwhelm. I had no idea how hard the weaning process would be, and wrote about it over on Offbeat Families in an article entitled “I knew breastfeeding might be hard, but had no idea weaning was impossible.”  I knew, then, that my goal for Potamus was to be done at 2 years, but I tempered that desire with my deep philosophical heart belief that it wasn’t set in stone, because there are two people in this nursing relationship. And so I powered through some rough toddler months and then we found our groove again.

Ultimately I kept thinking about our weekend away, in December, as my end-goal. Boof and I had never been away overnight, and I figured that the slowing down of the nursing relationship might end in a gradual *poof* it’s gone and then we would come back and suddenly ‘mama snacks’ wouldn’t be available. We left on Friday the 13th, my 31st birthday, and I remember thinking ‘this is me giving me the gift of my body back. I’m not going to nurse him anymore.” And I was sad, and nostalgic.

And it didn’t happen.

When we returned from our ‘trip,’ of course he was clingy excited to see us, and desperately needed some comfort for bedtime routine. And so, banishing the voice in my  head to ‘stick to your guns! don’t let him win!,’ I “gave in,” and nursed him. And it was sweet. And tender. And everything he needed.

Four days later, on the eve of his 2nd birthday, when changing him into his jim-jams, Boof asked, “you want some mama-snacks buddy?” (our cue for nursing), and Potamus shook his head  no. He grabbed his water bottled, snuggle down with me, and sipped himself to sleep holding my hand. Just like that, he weaned himself. And the next night, when he made his sign for mama snacks, and I said, “just cuddles buddy,” he hunkered down without a peep and promptly fell asleep. There was no wailing and gnashing of teeth, just peaceful sleeping next to his mama.

A few nights have gone by, now, and he hasn’t asked for mama snacks again. He sometimes reaches down my shirt to feel meh boobies, but mostly it’s hand holding and water-sippin’ for this little man. The transition even managed to carry over to a new place, since we spent two nights on the other side of the state and he had to get used to sleeping in a new bed with me. I couldn’t be more pleased. It was hard to make it work to fit both of us, but I am so happy that he’s happy and that giving up nursing wasn’t a traumatic event for either of us. I hope that in the future, if I ever have another child. I follow my instincts again…

Breastfeeding a Toddler

extended breastfeeding

Potamus is 14 months old, and I have crossed over into the extended breastfeeding camp, surpassing my original 12 month goal. While exhausted some nights, wishing Boof could take over for all of the parenting duties, I am mostly really pleased with still following the baby-led weaning philosophy. While we’ve been weaned during the day for many months now, I have noticed this super flexibility in our breastfeeding relationship that doesn’t feel like the urgent nurse-on-demand offering from when he was small and I was worried about it going okay, and the rigorous every two hours all night nursings that accompanied the back-to-work-forced-day-weaning that happened when he reverse cycled and refused a bottle.

This flexibility has become more of a relaxed state of mind in this stage of the journey. We were day-weaned, which is what I felt comfortable with as a mom of a year-old baby/toddler. Night nursing only would involve the two of us (plus Boof), and nobody would really need to be bothered by the nursing of an older child. It kept mama happy and baby happy. He’s finally learned the art of the sippy cup, but still only drinks water and prefers yogurt over milk.

But there have been some times lately, like with Potamus not feeling well, that I offer the breast to him. It’s after I get home from work, or when he wakes up from a nap, or on my days off, when I am trying to put him down for a nap. And he has even begun to ask for it in his own way (and by ask I mean, just help himself), like when we’re in the shower together. We’re happily playing with the foam bath shapes, sticking them to the wall and he looks over at me, surveys the goods, and then dives in to boobie #1. Squatting like a little frog-man, he fully nurses and then goes back to happily playing with his toys.

What I love is those little snuggle moments. Like after his nap, when he’s rested but still sad to come back to reality from dreamland, and nestles on up to me, tears still in his eyes, and gets a little comfort. Sometimes playing with toys works, sometimes listening to some really bad 90’s music works, and sometimes he just needs a little nursing snack (as we call it), to feel grounded.

We’ve settled into this easy baby-led weaning place, and I love it. My snuggly, wiggly, big baby still needs me, and I am happy to oblige.