Lessons in Weaning


Long before I had children, I had lots of ideas that later turned out to be false. For instance, I remember thinking that my kids would sleep through the night at a young age, that my kids would never behave badly in public, that I wouldn't want to be a stay-at-home mom, and that having kids wouldn't have any impact on our sex life. Regarding breastfeeding, I remember saying something along the lines that, "If they are old enough to ask for it, they are too old to be breastfeeding!" Now that I'm older and more experienced, I've had the joys of learning that so many of my ideas were wrong and advocating for some of the very things I was so wrong about.

My First Time Weaning

While I was pregnant with my daughter, I thought that two years would be a good length of time for breastfeeding.  After she was born, despite many of the usual early nursing problems, I fell in love with breastfeeding.  The closeness it promoted, the ease of nighttime feedings, the sheer wonder of my body producing a perfect food: I absolutely loved breastfeeding!  As my daughter neared two years old, I knew that my arbitrary plan to wean by the age of two was unnecessary.  Why should we stop doing something that we both enjoyed so much, and that was so healthy for my daughter? Breastfeeding was so much more than I thought it would be, and instead of feeling like I couldn't wait to be done, I found myself thinking of how sad it would be when we were done.

And yet.  As she neared two years old, my daughter was still nursing several times every night.  How I longed for an uninterrupted night's sleep! So when my daughter was 22 months old, I decided it was time to night-wean her.  I spent three miserable nights trying to comfort my daughter in every way I could, except the one way she really wanted: breastfeeding.  Over those three days, it became readily apparent that my daughter was not ready to be night-weaned.  She cried for long periods during the night (even though she was still in our bed and being held by me), but even more troubling were the differences that I noticed in her daytime behavior.  She became increasingly clingy and very insecure.  Anytime I tried to put her down or leave the room, she was upset. And then she became ill, and I realized that this attempt at night-weaning was not working, for any of us.


So I backed off, and let her once again nurse at night.  All was well. My daughter's behavior returned to normal, and we got back into our previous routine.  About 6 months later, I decided to try night-weaning again.  It was a breeze!  There was a small amount of resistance from my daughter, but I was amazed at what a difference 6 months could make.  There was no negative effect on her daytime behavior, and it was obvious that she was developmentally ready for night-weaning at this time.  This illustrated one of the most important lessons of parenting:  every child is different and trying to fit my daughter into a mold of what she "should" be doing was not good for any of us. By balancing my own needs with my daughter's needs, we were able to advance towards weaning at a time that worked well for everyone.

My daughter was 26 months old and still nursing fairly frequently when I became pregnant with my son.  By the middle of the pregnancy, my milk disappeared completely, and nursing my daughter got to be so uncomfortable/painful for me that I really didn't enjoy it anymore at all.  I think my daughter could tell that I felt this way, and she self-weaned herself by around the 4th or 5th month of my pregnancy.  But, at the same time, I could tell that she wasn't really "ready" to be weaned, as she started having temper tantrums for the first time ever, as well as other signs that the milk had been very beneficial for her (such as less immune resistance to illnesses).  I think she would have benefited from nursing for longer, if I had been able to do that.  After her brother was born, I let my daughter try to nurse again, and was surprised to find that she had completely forgotten how to nurse.

My Second Time Weaning

Right now I'm in the process of weaning my son, but this is a much different experience because I am letting things develop more on their own (since I am not pregnant this time and am able to do things much more gradually).  Ten years ago, I never could have guessed that I would someday be nursing a 3&1/2 year old. But life has a way of showing me that I am not always right, especially when it comes to "planning" the way I will do things that I have no experience with.