I'm a bit baffled over how I missed this excellent list of weaning techniques at KellyMom and am only reading them now, already a few days into "nursing liberation." Especially since I've been reading lately on the same site about how to care for the weaning mom.
I still want to share my own story, because in going through the process I felt like there weren't a lot of easily accessible resources on how to wean an older nursling. I'm realizing now that's kind of surprising, considering how hardcore and passionate breastfeeding advocates can be. None of the books I have at home say more than a paragraph about it, and at least three of them are dedicated solely to nursing!
As you may know, Peanut and I had a very rough start to breastfeeding. At one point, however temporarily, I didn't think we were going to make it. Andrea brought that up again the other day in relation to how proud he is of us for beating the odds. In the grand scheme of things however that tough start has shrunk to a blip when compared to the marvelously long and beautiful run we have just completed.
Andrea has been a huge part of the process, especially considering how inherently two-being-focused nursing is. He is the reason I chose to wean now. In fact, for this I feel more comfortable saying "we" chose to wean now. Each step has been fully discussed, even though I did far more research, designed the action plan, and was the only one of us actually carrying it out. The latter is why the rest of this post is going to be pretty me-centred.
But first a few more words on Andrea. He knocks the ball out of the dad-park. I chose to actively wean Peanut now because of the enormous respect I have for him as a parent, and the recognition that nursing has delayed them from sharing a similarly close bond. He deserves to feel it too. It also happens to come with the delightful side bonus of my independence.
In fact, right now I'm in Berlin!!! Hopelessly hip Berlin. I've died and gone to hipster heaven.
But let's go back to the start of the plan. I was pretty specific on the timing of it all. We had reason to expect Peanut would be operated on sometime before the end of 2012, and I was adamant I would not stop until after the operation. There was no way in hell I was going to withhold his favorite comfort of all during likely the scariest, most painful experience of his very young life.
I will never forget the moment the hospital staff finally let me nurse him after the operation. There is not much that beats the feeling of silencing wrenching cries. I am eternally grateful we got to experience that.
The staff were kind. Few even blinked to see me nursing my 28-month-old, even though I'm sure it's quite rare. Many commented on it, albeit benevolently, and I'm ashamed to say I always felt like I had to justify it by explaining that I'd wanted to wait till after the operation to stop. While that's the truth, I shouldn't have felt like I needed to justify anything.
At any rate, true to my word, as soon as we started feeling like we were out of the post-op dark, I developed a plan of action, based on meager resources. I started with advice from breastfeeding advocate extraordinaire Kiersten Miller at the Milk Bar in Rome, whom I paid a visit in November. She too weaned a toddler. If I recall correctly, her daughter was around 3. She told me she night weaned first by explaining that her breasts were going to sleep. Then when they were down to maybe one feed a day, she went away on business for about five days, and by the time she came back the separation was a good excuse to stop.
I liked the sound of that and followed it pretty much to the letter, complete with a concluding five-day getaway. I booked my trip to Berlin at the end of January, so we had about six weeks to work with. Both KellyMom and Dr. Sears suggest losing the least popular feed first, which is what we did by discontinuing daytime feeds. These were also easier to distract Peanut from, though it challenged me to employ two key parenting tools: quick thinking and imagination.
After about three weeks we started the night weaning. I realize now that was probably Peanut's most beloved feed, and so maybe should have gone last. It was hard, but not as bad as I expected. By then Peanut had developed the helpful habit of putting his hand down my shirt the instant he was in my arms. A friend of mine who also weaned her 2-1/2-year-old said her son enjoyed doing the same thing post-weaning, so I suspected this would be a perfect comfort mechanism to help him through our transition.
Peanut wakes at least twice a night, and before we night weaned I would nurse him for a few minutes and he'd immediately fall back asleep again. On our first night of weaning I explained to him at bedtime that my breasts were going to sleep too and would not be waking up during the night. Then when he woke I explained again that they were sleeping and offered warm milk in his bottle instead. It took time for him to start accepting this without protest. We developed a ritual in which he comes with me to prepare the bottle, his hand down my shirt the whole time as I carry him in my left arm (which has gotten quite strong). After drinking he falls quickly asleep, his hand remaining in place. He is quite specific about wanting to access my breasts from my collar rather than reaching up from below.
The last feeds to go were the ones right before and after sleeping. The morning feeds fell off rather naturally on their own, becoming only sporadic. We were therefore down to just the bedtime feed for much of the last three weeks. Amazingly there were even two nights, including the very last one, when Peanut did not ask to nurse. I was actually a little sad when that happened on our very last night, because I could not remember what would have been our last feed. But I was equally thrilled by this sign that he would clearly be fine for our impending separation.
The night weaning was not just tough at night. Peanut acted out quite a bit during the day. It killed me to read that he was manifesting all the signs that weaning was going too fast for him. I felt guilty imposing this on him but reminded myself we were doing this for the good of the whole family.
I read somewhere about trying to celebrate the transition rather than mourning it. Some even mark it with a party. We had some beautiful timing going for us because I happened to come across a great used bike for Peanut a little over a week before the end. I decided to turn our last day of nursing and my departure into a day when we would celebrate his independence with this lovely present.
Now that it's over, I'm glad we got the hard part out of the way before the end. The last day went so perfectly I can hardly believe it. The morning I woke up to leave for Berlin, Peanut was still sleeping. When there were only ten minutes to go before I needed to leave, I thought, This is it. If he doesn't wake up right now and ask for boobie, we will officially never nurse again. Seconds later I heard him croak "Mummy, boobie" from the bedroom. I rushed in and gratefully scooped him into my arms, telling him how much I loved him as he latched on, first to my right breast and then to my left, for the last time.
My breasts deserve mad props. They have handled the transition brilliantly. I'm certain the gradual wind-down played an important role, but I also consumed a quarter teaspoon of sage three times a day for a couple days, as recommended in KellyMom's section about decreasing milk supply. I still worry that my mood will be difficult to handle as my body adjusts to the lack of good-vibe nursing chemicals, not to mention having to watch what I eat again for the first time since I was pregnant. This little family-free vacation has been a great way to soften the blow. Hopefully things will be ok when I return to reality.