My toddler Jacob is now 2 years and 2 months old. He breastfeeds several times a day, especially at naptime or at night. Nursing remains an important source of comfort for him. And yet, I am slowly noticing shifts in Jacob’s nursing patterns. For example, at night now I can often re-settle him without nursing. And on a few occasions he’s stopped playing, laid down and fallen asleep all by himself. When we’re out of the house or doing something fun, he can go hours and hours without nursing. And I have noticed that my milk supply is slowly decreasing.
Jacob is not my first nursling. I weaned his older sister, Hannah, when she was 34 months old. But no two children are the same. Hannah’s nursing style, and by extension her weaning style, was very different from her little brother’s. She still nursed 7 or 8 times a day at 2 1/2 years old. Jacob nursed 5 or 6 times a day at 1 1/2 years old. Hannah refused to go to sleep without nursing until she was almost 3. Jacob is much more easily settled with just a pat on the back.
I took an active role in Hannah’s weaning when we reached a point where the relationship wasn’t working for me. I started with partial weaning, using techniques like “don’t offer, don’t refuse”. We worked together to find things to replace breastfeeding – both food and comfort measures. I was worried that I would damage our relationship in some way through weaning, but I am happy to say that it didn’t.
Through my experience with Hannah I’ve come to view weaning, when handled gently and respectfully, as just another step on the path of childhood. All of the groundwork that you’ve laid throughout your breastfeeding relationship, and through attachment parenting in general, will not be destroyed when the time comes to take the next step. Those ties are strong. And as children get older, they develop skills that help them to connect in other ways. They become more ready to leave nursing behind.
While I took a fairly active role in weaning Hannah, I can see that Jacob’s breastfeeding relationship may draw to a close on a different timetable and without my involvement. Honestly, I feel relieved at the prospect. I love our breastfeeding relationship, and I will look back on it fondly. But I also love that my son is moving in new directions and finding new ways of relating to me. And I am glad that he is finding his own way through that process. Or, at least, that he appears to be.
The only sure thing about breastfeeding is that it will eventually end. There is a bitter sweetness in that truth, and perhaps a lot of unanswered questions about when and how. I’m not sure that when and how breastfeeding ends are the most important things, though. The important things are striving to honor everyone’s needs as best you can, and enjoying breastfeeding while it lasts. Because the happy memories that you can take away from a positive nursing relationship are the real gift of the time your child spends at your breast.
Have you ever weaned a child? What was that experience like for you? Or do you have any thoughts on the weaning process? I’d love it if you shared in the comments!
You can catch up with Amber’s regular adventures on her blog at Strocel.com.