The Slow Road to Weaning

by Amber Strocel on October 8, 2010

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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.

Jacob is one cool breakfast-eater
My son Jacob eats breakfast in style

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.

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Amber Strocel (32 Posts)

Amber is a hippie mama to two, a writer, a dreamer, a student, an erstwhile engineer and a lover of chocolate. She lives in suburban Vancouver with her family and one very cranky tabby cat. Keep up with her on her blog at Strocel.com.


{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

erinb October 8, 2010 at 8:04 am

I was fortunate that my little one made the decision for me. He just stopped showing an interest. I think he preferred being able to do things for himself – like using the spoon and operating his own sippy – and when I would try and encourage him to nurse, he wasn’t into it and would quickly extricate himself. It made me a little sad – this happened around 15 months or so – but it was nice to not have to pump at work anymore. suddenly I had my lunch hours back!

Erin

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Alissa October 8, 2010 at 8:41 am

My son is 13 months old and we are just now starting to think about how weaning might look for us. I am sort of considering starting the weaning process early (like in the next 6 months) because we want to try for #2 and my cycles are just not coming back on their own.

I just love that you went with the flow and are respectful of the fact that different kids need different things when it comes to breastfeeding and weaning.

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Camille October 8, 2010 at 9:19 am

My daughter self weaned herself at 22 months and it was a sad time for me because I wasn’t ready I guess. I didn’t go back to working full time till she was 2 1/2 and I think this had a lot to do with her nursing for so long. I realized nursing was just a part of the journey and she was ready to move on from that…but it was only a “part” of our bonding experience.

Now with my son who is turning 1 in a week our nursing situation is completely different. I went back to work when he was 6 weeks old and have only slowed down my pumping at work in the last couple days. He still nurses several times at night and on weekends but he can go really long stretches in between. Up until recently I was able to pump 2 bottles a day so if he took 3 bottles a day the 3rd would be formula. Now I’m barely able to pump 1 bottle a day. It makes me sad that I know my milk production is really slowing down. I think he is starting to wean himself but I can only wonder if things would be different if I didn’t have to work so much.

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Reija October 8, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Hi Camille!

I also worked full time with our first 2 children. I went to work when they were 3 mos old. When our son was 1 year old I didn’t pump anymore. He drank cow’s milk during the day when I was at work and he was at day care. He nursed in the morning and at night and also on the weekends. He weaned himself when he was 2 1/2. One morning he just woke up and never asked to nurse and I didn’t offer. It was the strangest thing. He was so used to nursing the moment he woke up but that day he just decided he was done and never asked again. Please don’t get discouraged about nursing just because you are not able to pump as much. Pumping is so different from nursing and it’s only natural that your body is reacting this way. I know it’s hard to work full time and nurse but it can be done. Maybe you could see about starting to wean him to organic cow’s milk during the day when you are at work now that he is close to 1 year. Then just allow him to nurse whenever he wants when you are together. Your body will adjust. Congrats on your journey so far. You have definitely beat the odds and should be very proud. So many working moms are let to believe that they can’t nurse when that information is totally incorrect. It’s great that you have made the commitment and your son is very lucky.

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Elena October 8, 2010 at 9:50 am

I’m actually starting the weaning process this weekend…my daughter is 14 months old and i’m pregnant with baby #2 (12 weeks)…the night nursing is just being so painful for me…she stays on for hours and because of my decrease in milk supply…it’s so painful. I’m becoming resentful of the breastfeeding process because i’m so tired and in so much pain. I would’ve loved to continue but i just can’t do it. Any good tips??? I’m so stressed out to start the process because i dont want jeopardize our relationship. As for the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” she still manages to request 8-10 feeding a day and 4-6 times a night….

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lori October 12, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Hi, i know what you’re going through. I haven’t breastfeed my son since August, he was 2y 7m.at the time and i was 9 weeks pregnant. I was also, agitated physically by my sons breastfeeding- my uterus would cramp up, my breast were sore and i was starting to resent breastfeeding. He hardly nursed during the day and as long as he was kept busy, he wouldnt ask. So at night i started taking him for drives until he passed out. I was relieved. Some nights, i would go to sleep first and my husband would read stories to him- my son was considerate enough not to wake me up to nurse- i felt really guilty for doing that on purpose.
Its been difficult because he just recently started telling me he wants his milk back- and hes been displaying some aggression problems. There been other things that could be responsible, a sibling coming, a new move, etc but i can help but feel its due to his weaning.
My only regret was that, i didnt realize i stopped holding him as much during the weaning (because he would ask/grab). We’re nursing our relationship and i feel had i slowed down and struggled a little longer- i he/we wouldn’t be having these emotional issues.
good luck

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the grumbles October 8, 2010 at 10:09 am

I’m just not starting to think about how this might pan out for us (our son Jude is 13 months). I’m happy to keep nursing as long as he’s interested but these days he’s a pretty heavy eater. He sounds a lot like your son, Amber. We’ll see how long he sticks with it.

I pump three time a day while I’m away at work. I’m considering going off the pump but continuing to nurse on-demand at home in the very near future but I’m a little scared it will tank my supply. I’m waffling back and forth on it– I don’t think Jude would mine eating foods / drinking milk/water during the day but I’m not sure if I’m quite emotionally ready for that. ;)

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Amber October 8, 2010 at 10:44 am

Of course, you shouldn’t do anything that you’re not ready for.

However, it might be interesting for you to know that when I returned to work when my daughter Hannah was 12.5 months, I never pumped. But I still continued to nurse for almost 2 more years. My supply adjusted and there was milk when she needed it, but not when she didn’t. The human body is a pretty amazing thing!

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the grumbles October 8, 2010 at 11:31 am

(my first comment was supposed to say “i’m just NOW starting to think…” because this subject is very much on my mind.)

thanks, yo! i’ve heard several people say the same thing. i’m looking forward to plucking up the courage and ditching the pump at work, while continuing to nurse at home. i think i need to have a little more faith in my body.

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Mary October 8, 2010 at 11:09 am

My story is so similar to yours!! The only difference is i weaned our daughter at 21 months bc i was pregnant with our son and my body was not handling it well. She didnt want to wean, i did it as gently as possible. But if it were up to here she’d still be nursing at 2 1/2 and to sleep. ;) but my son is so different! he loves food which she never cared about and i can see him naturally weaning himself. also my perspective is different with him because i dont plan on having another child. So, i dont mind letting him nurse until he’s ready to stop. But he falls asleep without nursing (has since he was a baby) and my daughter never did! sounds very familiar!!

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Anne October 8, 2010 at 11:46 am

My little guy nursed until 15 months. The nice thing was that the weaning process was very gradual and he didn’t seem to really mind. I stopped offering as often and gradually got to the point where I didn’t offer. I never refused. I think it took about 3 weeks or so and I think he must have been ready for it, because he took it in stride and didn’t seem to be affected by it at all.
He’s almost 4 years old now and our relationship is still close and loving.

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shannon October 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm

we weaned at 14 months shortly after i got pregnant with baby #2. my son was very easy to wean although i thought at the time it would be too hard and i wouldnt force it. i guess i used the dont offer, dont refuse method…that sounds like what i did anyway. he used a cup mostly during the day and at night and in the morning i just started offering him the cup, not really caring whether or not he took it. mostly he did and then he always did. i was really tired and nursing (especially in the middle of the night) wasn’t helping. once i stopped nursing he stopped waking at night.
sometimes i still have the urge to nurse him, i do miss it, but i am also happy and proud to see him dealing with life and upsets in his own way.
baby number 2 will be here in about 3 weeks and i am looking forward to having that nursing relationship with him too. i am also fully prepared to unwean my first son if he wants to nurse because the baby is nursing. i feel like as long as we keep things flexible and just follow everyone needs we will all be happy and healthy.

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carolb October 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Our daughter weaned herself at 22 months…by then 18 months she had decided she only wanted breastfeeding at bedtime and then at 22 months, one night just like that she didn’t want it then either…it was difficult for me, although I knew the time was approaching – her feeds has become smaller and quicker over the previous few weeks.
Bitter-sweet is the best description, I missed feeding her, but was so proud and pleased that we had allowed her to make the choice.

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sarah October 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm

wow what a wonderful heartwarming honest look at breastfeeding! I am breastfeeding twins who are nearly two and they hardly feed during the day but at night its another story!!!! I think they could breastfeed all night!!! So I am not really sure what to do any more as its all too much really as none of us are getting any sleep! would be gratefull for any advice as I want to continue breastfeeding but with my twins breastfeeding less at night!!!!!! I do not think they or I are ready to wean but I am very tired now!

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Star October 8, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Eliana is our first and is 19 months old. She is nursing at night, nap times and only a couple times a day if we are very busy or 6-8 times a day if we are home and relaxing or she is ill. My body adjusts beautifully. She is nursing for less and less duration now also. It is bittersweet for me. Yet I am happy that she is choosing the when and how as she sees fit. From about 10 months on she would take days of not being very interested in nursing to days that is all she wanted regardless of our day and that ended at about 14 months. We used baby led weaning principles as it applied tot he introduction of any and all solids she was interested in (exception of peanuts still, honey till 1 and eggs till 1 due to a family allergy). Offering her chunks and spears of anything we were eating and an array of choices. No baby foods or purees ever. I think this has also helped shape her confidence and ours in her knowing just what she needs when. As even with solids she cycles types of foods over several days. Glad to read the post and comments!!

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Maggie October 8, 2010 at 7:03 pm

My son is 37 months and still breastfeeding 6-10 times per day (24 hours). That is such a wide range because some days we are busy, some we are not. Once, I repeat ONCE he slept through the night – nearly 7 hours with a feeding on either end. I was amazed. It was about 2 weeks ago. We cosleep. The cosleeping relationship will no doubt a) extend the weaning process by nature of the all night buffet and b) outlast the breastfeeding by likely years, instead of months. I love to breastfeed when we can nestle in and be comfortable. I do not care to have to stop when I am rushing to get ready or when we can not be relaxed and comfortable. More often than not I oblige anyway. I periodically expose a nipple for a quick “sip” (really, often just ONE SIP) to settle emotions after a minor boo-boo. Once in a while he takes a sippy cup if offered during the night, but lets me know clearly if he really wants num-num instead. The hardest part about night time feedings…he seems to want to nurse longer than during the day – which makes it harder fo me to get back to sleep. When he was an infant, he barely moved and I often didn’t even remember nursing. Now, his big boy body requires a little more nogotiation on my part to find a comfortable position during the night time nursing. As he is becoming more of a “big boy” I am no longer worrying about how long until he weans. Those snuggles are amazing, and soon they will be altogether gone!

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Stephanie - Home with the Kids October 8, 2010 at 8:13 pm

My youngest is 20 months old, and we’re looking at weaning. My older two self weaned by 18 months. I have kind of a love/this is really tiring kind of feeling about all the night feedings she still takes. I’ve started offering her a cup with milk more often during the day, although I’m still very free about offering a nipple when she wants one.

There’s a lot of pressure from family on my husband’s side to wean, but then they thought I should wean at one year. Better than the 6 weeks my MIL thought on my first – they’ve learned a lot since then.

I know I’ll be both glad and sad to be done with breastfeeding. It’s just such a wonderful thing, but eventually it’s time to be done.

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Nicole Hampton October 8, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I personally can’t comment on emotions surrounding weaning- I was unable to breastfeed easily with my first (now 30months) and barely at all with my 2nd (now 8mos). I made it through 3months with the first before going back to work (which is travel intensive), and I barely made it through 8 wks with the second (and she loved the boob, unlike her bro!) HOWEVER- I have been studying attachment parenting and taking courses to better understand the challenges that crop up that can damage attachments, and I want to add: BOTH of my kids and I have very very good snugglesand I would consider them very attached. They are never left on their own with a bottle- my 2yr old is snuggled and bottle fed twice a day, or when he requests it (usually when he is upset). I keep the bottle close to my chest, arms wrapped tightly around him. I face criticism by many that he still “takes a bottle” from me, but he is certainly NOT ready to give it up. There are alternatives to breastfeeding that do not damage attachments. As for the emotional ties the parent faces when giving up b-feeding, I can’t comment, but wish you all the best! There are very strong ties that replace ones that you outgrow, :)

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CNicole October 9, 2010 at 10:59 am

My daughter is in the process now. She is 3 1/2 later this month. She has been only breast feeding up to twice a day (bedtime and first thing in the morning, she hasn’t napped in a long time – is up really late if she does nap) for just over a year and until recently showed no signs of stopping. A few weeks ago she said she wanted to stop. She hasn’t yet, keeps saying “one more day”. I am just thinking it a step towards weaning, she is now accepting the idea of stopping and will really stop once she is ready (her new “last day of Mommy milk” that she has picked is in a few days. We’ll see :) ) I am also feeling bittersweet. Yes, I am ready to move on from nursing, but will also miss it.

Kudos to all you moms who have nursed full term or who are doing it right now :)

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Melodie October 9, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Lovely post Amber. I’m still bfing my 3 1/2 year old who breastfeeds on demand roughly 4 times a day. Once in the morning, once around 3 or 4 pm and once before bed, plus at least once for comfort after an upset. I will miss this when it’s over but honestly some days I wish it already were. The ownership she feels she has over my breasts sometimes is a bit much. I still plan to respect her needs for it for as long as I can.

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Johanna S October 9, 2010 at 4:01 pm

My daughter turned three three weeks ago. She nurses about five times a day. That is only because she goes to preschool. Otherwise, she would nurse more often. I have been a believer in self-weaning, but, as of late, I have started wondering if I want to/should start weaning her. I would love to figure out other ways where she can feel connected to me that don’t involve nursing. I have thoroughly loved nursing her. I just feel like it is time for her to begin developing other coping mechanisms and other ways to connect with me. I am so conflicted! I’d love to read weaning stories, be it child-lead or mama-lead.

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Patricia October 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm

I never thought that I would be a Mom that would actively encourage weaning, I believe in self-led weaning, but I was amazed at how my comfort and attitude changed upon becoming pregnant. My daughter is 23mo. and over the past 4mo. (since I became pregnant) we have been working very hard on weaning. Some days I feel incredibly guilty for my decision and other days I realize that if Mommy is angry and grouchy because of nursing it’s not the same relationship it used to be. I wasn’t prepared for the change in our nursing relationship that occurred due to the pregnancy. But I am amazed at how my daughter has risen to the occasion and although we still have some hard times we are both enjoying our 2-4 nursing sessions much more than if we had kept up with the 10-12 we were at.

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Maire December 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm

My daughter is 16 months and nursing like crazy :). Honestly, I love nursing her and part of me is very sad at the prospect of weaning, but I also miss the physical independence of NOT nursing. My husband is loving but tired of the wee one always in our bed (we co-sleep too), always attached to my breasts and I’m starting to worry it will damage our marriage. I have adhered to attachment parenting principles since the baby was born because they make sense to me, but this is starting to not make sense anymore… and I am finding guidance on attachment parenting and toddlers to be meager. Sigh…

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Amber December 22, 2011 at 11:08 pm

I remember feeling exactly that way when my first child was a young toddler. They can still be very dependent, and it can sometimes even feel a little stifling.

Of course, every parent and child are different, but I can tell you that this doesn’t last forever. One thing that I did around this age with both my kids that seemed to help was putting them in their own bed in their own room. I got a double bed, so that if (more like WHEN) they woke up, I could go in and co-sleep with them. I could also easily lay down with them to nurse them to sleep. It gave me at least a few hours’ sleep in my own bed with just my husband each night, which allowed us couple time, but I was still there for my toddlers, too.

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Marie February 7, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Maire, this sounds very familiar! I have gotten pressure from all sides to wean since my little one was 6 months old (she’s now 17 months) and have been working on educating my family. My husband has learned a lot and is supportive but he definitely misses having our bed and my breasts to himself :). Actually, he says he loves the co-sleeping but not the breastfeeding.

Our daughter awakens 6-10 times to nurse every night and basically nurses all days when I’m home. I work 3 10-hour shifts weekly, and on those days, she has one bottle before naptime but otherwise no breastmilk. I love nursing and I love our attachment but I’m TIRED of getting no sleep and I frankly do not have any interest in my husband touching my breasts because they feel so over-used. I too worry that it might damage my marriage – it certainly has diminished our sexual relationship, which used to be amazing…

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Petra February 24, 2014 at 9:23 am

I’ve read a lot about gentle weaning. How do you go about it? My baby is 20 months and still breasteeding a lot, especially at night. I’ve been thinking about cutting the night feelings but don’t want to do anything wrong. My daughter self weaned at 18 months but I don’t see any signs of my son weaning himself.

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Andrea May 6, 2014 at 11:21 pm

I night weaned my son about 4 months ago. I couldn’t take the constant night feedings–a few months before this he decreased his daytime feedings and began really digging his teeth into me and not really drinking, just gnawing and fiddling. I felt like jumping out of my skin during nursing sessions, which became a bit contentious. While I really wanted to respect his needs and allow him to self-wean, our breastfeeding relationship wasn’t working, so at 23 months I decided to make a change.

I followed Dr. Jay Gordon’s instructions on night weaning (http://drjaygordon.com/attachment/sleeppattern.html). It went much more smoothly than anticipated (my son has an abiding love for ‘his’ boobies).

A few weeks later, I decided that I couldn’t tolerate the sporadic daytime feedings, so I cut them too. I always explained a week or so before what was coming, and that it had nothing to do with him. I let him know that my boobies were tired, they’ve worked very hard, so now it’s time for them to rest. I also let him know that we could be close in different ways, and offered him hugs, squeezes, kisses and lap-time whenever he asked to nurse.

A few weeks later, I decided to eliminate the morning nursings. My son had been waking up at the crack of dawn since the night nursings were eliminated, and with the very uncomfortable latch, I felt our relationship would be better served without the back and forth in the morning (mind you, he continued to not really drink, so I was more than a bit resentful, which is counterproductive for any loving relationship). For the past two months, a nursing session before bed (after storytime) has been all that’s left.

Tonight was the first time he has not asked to nurse before going to sleep. That session was the only one that he would consistently drink during, and about a week or so ago, he started taking a sip or so and pulling off. I told him last night that I noticed he wasn’t really drinking anymore and asked him if the milk still tasted good. He said it does. I let him know that to continue nursing, he will have to drink, but it’s o.k. if he does not want to drink or nurse anymore. He said “o.k.” asked for the second boobie, took a couple of sips and popped off.

I’m writing all of this to let you know that I understand your apprehension and to tell you that it is o.k. to begin weaning if that is what you feel is best for both of you. My approach was very gentle, and even though my son will still ask to nurse, he does so almost jokingly now and is fine with my “you know we don’t nurse (insert time period) anymore.” He is a very bright, loving, and friendly guy. Our relationship has not suffered in the least due to weaning–in fact, I know that feelings of resentment and being ridiculously sleep deprived was not helping anything, so weaning has probably strengthened our bond (he is 2 years, 3 months old).

I hope this helps. Much love :-)

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Renee February 24, 2014 at 9:52 pm

My daughter is 2 1/2 and still loves nursing. I have not loved the nursing relationship for quite sometime and have been working on a gradual weaning. She nurses before bed until a set timer goes off and then we snuggle to sleep. She also only is allowed to nurse for a set time during the night. That doesn’t always go over well for her and it breaks my heart. I do worry that the somewhat forced weening will damage our relationship. I just recently started telling her that she can only nurse at nap and bed time. Again, she can so stiles be diverted but at times will cry for a long time because of her desire to nurse. Nursing has become uncomfortable for me if she nurses for mor than 15 minutes.mi had hoped to allow her to ween herself but realized I didn’t want to wait that long since it is uncomfortable and she really had been wanting to nurse 7-8x a day until I started the gradual weening about 8 months ago. Again, I do worry and hope I’m not doing the wrong thing. I love her so much and nursing is such an emotional, attachment thing. I don’t want it to damaged her emotions or hurt our relationship.

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