Struggling near the goal line…

My son turned two a week ago and is as much an attachment baby as ever, maybe even more so. I love to hold him, and cuddle him, and even sleep with him when he comes into bed in the middle of the night. I am fine with him sitting on my lap during meals and crawling all over me all day long. The problem is, there are times I can barely stand nursing anymore.

We have been going strong for two years and over the last few weeks I have begun to find certain aspects of the process irritating, stifling, and uncomfortable. I am more physically sensitive than I used to be, and he has a full set of teeth, so the process is often uncomfortable. Also, he has gotten into the habit of reaching into my shirt and tugging at my other breast while he nurses, which drives me insane. When I take his hand out of my shirt, he will cry and fight to put it back in. I keep taking it out, but he’s two, so it becomes a battle royale and unpleasant for everyone involved. He even got his first time out the other day because the “hand in shirt” war resulted in him intentionally hitting me for the first time.

I am getting to my wit’s end. He is clearly not ready to be weaned, and I am just as clearly having trouble continuing to nurse him.

I have tried to strike a compromise by cutting back on nursing times. We started only nursing when he wakes up, at nap time, and at bed time. Initially, this seemed to help. He was a little cranky in between nurses, but seemed to be getting used to the idea. Then suddenly he began to refuse food and cling desperately to me until the next allotted milk time.  Now the limitation seems to be making him ask for milk more often than he did before we started the weaning process.

A lot of people are telling me the only way to handle it is to cut him off cold turkey, including my husband, but that feels so intrinsically wrong to me. I can’t imagine just telling him the milk is all gone and being done with it. He has nursed his whole life, he still loves it and derives a lot of comfort from it.

My initial goal was to nurse until he was two and a half. I am not sure six more months is going to work out for us. I feel really bad about weaning him before he is ready, and at this point I don’t even know if he is ready. I tried reading his signals, but they keep changing. Sometimes I am afraid that he will want to nurse forever, and that I will be nursing him during his college interviews.

I am so frustrated! Does anyone have any advice? I want to do what’s right for both of us, but I don’t know what that is!

Scylla from Law and Motherhood

14 thoughts on “Struggling near the goal line…”

  1. Hi Scylla! I wanted to respond to you right away to let you know that I experienced the exact same thing with my first son, who is now almost seven, also right around the time he turned two. I suddenly began to feel resentful of his bad nursing manners, his seemingly constant need to nurse, his embarrassing me by bellowing to “nurse!” in public….all at the same time not getting much support from my husband or anyone I knew. I also instinctively knew that I wanted for him to self-wean if possible, but could not imagine that ever happening.

    I’m here to tell you that we stuck with it. I never flat-out refused him, but I discouraged nursing as gently as possible whenever a distraction was available, set some firm boundaries for what was acceptable during nursing and when and where it was okay to ask to nurse (at home, with understanding friends, or supportive places in the community, NOT in the middle of the grocery store).

    Miraculously, about six months later, my son started FORGETTING his 6 a.m. nursing, the time I thought he’d never give up. He was so busy in the morning, sometimes he’d just hop out of bed (with me) and address whatever was fascinating him at the moment. Three months later we were down to only occasional nursings, and by three years he was entirely weaned! In retrospect, I wish that at two I could have had the confidence that self-weaning would happen naturally and had been more positive about the process…but how could I have known?

    I’m now nursing a four-month old, who I’m sure will present his own challenges as he grows…but I certainly learned a great deal from his brother.

    I should also mention that the books How Weaning Happens and Mothering Your Nursing Toddler helped me a lot.

    Hang in there, and don’t forget to give yourself major cred for coming this far!


  2. I don’t exactly have any advice, but I did want to congratulate you for nursing this long! I think it’s just incredible.
    I have been nursing for 12 weeks now & I am loving it. I hope that I can continue for a long time!

  3. Oh, my daughter is doing the same thing under my shirt and it is also making me want to wean. She’s 21 months, and I planned to nurse her until 2.5 as well. We are moving when she’s 26 months, and I felt like it would make the transition easier if we still had nursing.

    I’ll be following the comments!

  4. Oh god, I am dealing with the same thing. My daughter will be two in June and lately, nursing has started causing some anxiety for me. She reaches into my shirt, kneads my belly, and will try to dig into any crevice she can, despite me repeatedly removing her hand.

    She also sleeps in our bed and wants to nurse all night and very early in the morning, so she rarely has a restful sleep (and neither do we!).

    I was planning to let her self-wean, but I’m considering whether to begin the weaning process now, so I could use some advice as well!

  5. I have no advice, but my daughter does the same thing. Well, she actually pulls at my hair and plays with my ear (which is worse than nails on a blackboard for me) and refuses to eat anything else. She basically nibbles on a piece of meat or a cracker the rest of the day. And nurses most of the night, too. She has given up so much food, I feel like I can’t wean for fear she would starve herself. I have no advice, I wish I did.

  6. It looks like the roaming hands are a common nursing toddler problem! It helps to know that I am not alone at least!

    I tried giving him a toy during his last nurse, to distract the hands, but instead of the grabbing and pinching, I got beaned in the face repeatedly with the toy.

    It’s a process, I guess. 🙂

  7. My son loves to put his finger in my belly button, which drives me crazy. I tried putting a stuffed animal between us so he could rub or pet it, but that didn’t help, so I started telling him, “You can put your hand on my hand.” Now when he starts in on my belly button, I remind him what he can do instead of telling him what he can’t do. It has helped with that particular power struggle so much. Also, I recently led a meeting on Weaning for our local API chapter and the handout is at under Topic Handouts / Weaning. It includes readiness signs for weaning, strategies, and a resource list.

  8. My son is going to be 1 and I am noticing that he has just started to play with my teeth. I haven’t tried this, but I have heard of nursing necklaces to try to distract toddlers while they nurse.

  9. My firstborn nursed until two (he would insist, “I want to put my arm in your sleeve!”) and we went cold-turkey. It seemed like every time I tried to cut back I couldn’t keep it up. The cold turkey was actually okay. It was hard for a few days, but resolved quickly. At least at that age you can explain what is happening a little bit.

    My #2 weaned herself. Number 3 is 19 months and I see several more months ahead, unless he finds my belly button again. I advise figuring out something that doesn’t make you feel resentful. If you can’t continue without being resentful, you should stop. Good luck!

  10. It’s interesting I stubbled onto this site at the exact moment my husband is putting our 2.5 year old daughter to bed for the first time without nursing. Like many of the responders I never expected to nurse this long… culture mentioned 6 – 12 months, but I followed my heart and through reading and LLL found support to continue. My daughter loved to nurse and did so atleast every 3-4 hrs (more frequently at night) until 2 years old. Emotionally I was at the end of my rope but struggling to allow her to self wean. A few weeks after her second Bday she responded well to my decreasing nursing to naptime, bedtime and once at night. That gave me the energy and hope to keep going. A few weeks back she forgot to ask to nurse at night and I let that be the last time. Bedtime nursing was decreased as I simply didn’t have much milk during that time of the day. Naptime tomorrow will be the roughest…. as I am “full” and I rock her to sleep. Tonight we had a “hello big girl” and “bye-bye milking milk” party. We gave her two gifts a special constellation night light and special sippy cup filled with vanilla almond milk and ate strategically designed cupcakes 🙂 She was thrilled! We shall see how this transition goes…. so far so good. I’m glad to have found the support to follow my heart regarding nursing a toddler. I will never regret the joys and struggles of nursing nor giving my child the best start in life! Good luck to you as we each find the story that works best for us!

  11. My daughter is 21 months and does the exact same thing. Sometimes I get sooo frustrated. She tries it every time we nurse.

    To curb the nipple twisting and her insistence on it, I hold my arm over the unlatched breast. When this doesn’t work I say “hands down” firmly. If she does it again I say “hands down or we have to stop nursing.” If she tries again, stop nursing for about 10 seconds. She wails all the while but after the break I say, “Do you want to nurse?” she says “yes”. So I say “you need to keep your hands down.” A lot of times it doesn’t get to this point, I do this at the times when she is really insistent and I feel I can’t take it anymore. Come to think of it it hasn’t gotten to that point in a long time so I think it is decreasing the behavior. You have to be consistent though.
    Part of behavior modification is replacing the behavior with a more desirable one. (yes, I said behavior modification, as it is useful in instances like this.) I’ve been meaning to try a nursing necklace or scarf that she can finger or play with. For now I let her touch the breast that she is nursing on.

    Good luck! It is irritating! But this too shall pass.

  12. You said, “I am getting to my wit’s end. He is clearly not ready to be weaned, and I am just as clearly having trouble continuing to nurse him.”

    I think this is really well-put and not something I hear a lot of. I’ve learned, over the course of nursing my two sons, that there are times of deep ambivalence, that it is not all happy-glowing all the time. 🙂 Knowing this has helped me ride out the ups and downs along the nursing path. I often think about my relationship to my husband as an analogy… that there are times we are more in sync than others. Of course, he is more reasonable than a two-year-old, so addressing imbalances is a lot easier! LOL!

    First, I wanted to mention that I remember hearing that the nipple twaddling (and frequent side-switching) is the baby/toddler’s way of stimulating the milk flow. Hearing this helped me understand it better from the baby’s point of view, and be a bit more accepting. I also increased my water intake hoping that would make more milk. 🙂 But for an interesting take on collaborating with baby (he using hair-pulling as an example), you could read a short “daily groove” by Scott Noelle, here:

    Oftentimes, if I try to insist on no side-switching it does just set us up for a battle of wills, as you mentioned happened with you. So I try to do a little mental preparation… actively making a choice to be okay with switching sides (rather than “succumbing” or “giving in”). For example, my internal dialog might be something like, “Mica is nursing and wants more milk. I do want my child to enjoy nursing and he will only be switching sides for a few minutes before he is up and running around. I am choosing to be okay with side-switching right now.”

    I could also go the other way, “I cannot abide the side-switching right now. It is okay for me to take care of myself and stop nursing, even though my baby is crying and wants to nurse.” This is more tricky, though, as I often feel conflicted between meeting my own needs (autonomy for my body) and meeting my child’s needs (for connection and nourishment) and my stress can rise, so then I try to give myself empathy, “It is hard for me to meet everyone’s needs right now. I wish there was a way for me to do it.”

    Sometimes I go back and forth, trying to meet my own needs but then choosing to meet his needs.

    I hope this helps. I wish you the very best on your journey.


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