My son Cavanaugh is a little over two now and we recently embarked on night weaning. Night weaning then researching weaning for our API meeting last month got me thinking about breastfeeding in the Attachment Parenting community. So many of the AP mamas I know were planning on child-led weaning and many of them are changing their minds as their kids move further into toddlerhood. But a lot of us have mixed feelings about weaning, whether we decide to partially, gradually, or abruptly wean or to nurse as long as our kids feel like they need it.
So here’s how I’ve been thinking about weaning in relation to the Eight Principles of API
- Prepare for Parenting: Preparing for weaning includes considering goals for nursing plus different types of and strategies for weaning.
- Feed with Love and Respect: If mama is feeling exhausted, angry, or impatient while nursing, even if she doesn’t voice those feelings to her child, she is not respecting her own needs, nor is the child getting a clear loving message during feeding.
- Respond with Sensitivity: Being able to meet child’s needs and respond to child’s feelings with sensitivity doesn’t require breastfeeding.
- Use Nurturing Touch: Many of the mamas I know who have weaned are experiencing even more cuddles with their kids. Moms are being able to relax because they’re not anticipating being asked for milk or having their shirt pulled up at any moment. The children receive other forms of touch like hugging, massage, holding hands, having their backs drawn on, sitting on parents’ laps, and fun play like airplane, tickling, and gentle wrestling.
- Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally: At some point, children benefit physically from sleeping through the night (and mamas really appreciate it). Emotionally, sleep is safer if moms don’t go to bed dreading the next time they’re going to be woken up, which results in children getting to experience more emotional safety too.
- Provide Consistent and Loving Care: If one’s feelings about nursing range from loving it and wishing it would end, the message to the child may not be consistent. “Particularly if nursing is for comfort, the emotional quality of the exchange is of great importance. …you are protecting your child from the mixed messages and resentment that can build up when you say yes, but really mean no.” Adventures in Tandem Nursing, p. 175.
- Practice Positive Discipline: Setting loving limits for nursing can help keep the relationship rewarding. Toddler nursing doesn’t need to be on-demand all the time. Teaching children nursing manners and limiting nursing can make breastfeeding a time that is calm, sweet, and nurturing for both mother and child.
- Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life: Balance between meeting children’s and parents needs can be one of the greatest challenges of AP. Whether weaning is partial or complete, the process of being able to exercise control over the breastfeeding relationship, rather than feeling at the mercy of one’s child, goes a long way towards helping familes achieve balance.
Weaning can feel like a loss or wonderful milestone depending upon how it’s approached. As Dr. Sears says, “If you resent it, change it.” Changing it doesn’t necessarily have to mean ending it. Setting some limits may allow a breastfeeding relationship to continue for months or even years longer.
Sonya Feher is a writer and mama living in Austin, TX. She blogs at mamaTRUE and is co-leader of the S. Austin Chapter of API.