If you would have told my freshly postpartum self that I would nurse my son until 3 days before he turned 21 months old, I would never have believed you. My initial goal was to make it to the one year mark when milk is no longer considered a child’s main food source, but even that seemed unattainable in those first few weeks. The first two months of my breastfeeding journey are laid out in detail here, but spoiler alert, it was a rough start. That said, once I got over the initial learning curve, my son and I became a lean, mean feeding machine. He went from getting frustrated and me feeling pain to him seeking out nursing for comfort and it being a beautiful bonding experience for the both of us.
Once I hit the one year mark, I thought my breastfeeding routine would magically change, but it really didn’t. My son was actively requesting to nurse, and showed no interest in weaning (see more details in a previous blog post here). Because our routine was working for us, I kept on nursing with my son as my guide. This continued on for about 6 more months, and it was at that point (when my son was 18 months old) that I felt like some change would be good for the both of us.
The decision to wean is personal and unique to everyone. For us, it was a collection of factors.
- My son was beginning to nurse for comfort when he wasn’t hungry. Nursing for comfort is a beautiful thing, but once your 18 month old vomits the ice cream he ate all over you after nursing due to overeating, I think it’s natural to desire change.
- He was not eating meals and transitioning well to a food-based rather than milk-based diet. On occasion he would make a dent in his plate, but he mostly only nibbled on food.
- I think nursing became more part of our routine than anything else. My son thrives on routine, and if I do something more than once (or even sometimes once) he remembers and wants it replicated. I’m not sure that he would have ever broken from routine on his own. For example, this past week I took my son to an open gym session at our local youth gymnastics center for the first time since we finished our set of group classes. He could have explored the entire space, but he chose to run back and forth on the floor just like the instructors would have led in class. The employee monitoring the space was kind enough to see that he was asking for a stamp on his hand like he always got at the end of class, and then he ran to the desk with his hands outstretched for the final hand sanitize per usual.
- I was curious to see if he would begin sleeping through the night. Thank goodness we were far from our nights with three or more wakings, but we had been stuck with a fairly consistent one wake-up per night to nurse. My son never accepted milk from a bottle (not due to a lack of trying), and I started to feel like I would never be able to leave the house at night in fear that he’d wake up and no one else could get him back to sleep.
- While I loved nursing, I had my fair share of clogged ducts and bouts of mastitis. Not having the impending doom of a clogged duct hang over my head was extremely appealing.
- Last, and most selfishly, I wanted to see if my menstrual cycle would come back naturally. Even though I was 18 months postpartum, my good (or not so good) friend Aunt Flo had not yet returned. If you are familiar with my story, it took years for my cycle to return after coming off the pill, and it took help from my doctor to get it back. I had one period before getting pregnant with my son, so I’ve literally had one period in the last 5 years. Pregnancy has the potential to reset a person’s system, but I couldn’t be sure if it did for me until I quit breastfeeding and let my hormones get back to operating without sustaining a baby as their driver. As I write this post, my cycle is still yet to return; however, I know that it takes your body time to adjust. Aside from not wanting to feel rogue and like I need to take a pregnancy test every two weeks, I would like to make my son an older brother someday!
So with all of these factors in mind, we began to slowly start the weaning process on Monday, February 21. The least routine nurses were those not tied to sleep in the mid-morning and afternoon, so we began by taking those ones out. For us, that meant pivoting my son’s attention and grabbing one of his favorite snacks or toys and offering Ripple pea protein milk in a sippy cup. On occasion if someone else was home, I would leave the room for a few minutes to help shift his focus away from me. Cutting out those nurses went smoothly without much fuss. By the end of the week, we were down to nursing upon waking in the morning, before his nap, before bedtime, and in the middle of the night. That sounds like a lot when I write it out, but because of how fast my son breastfed (less than 5 minutes), it felt like I was barely nursing at that point.
From there, we started to have my son skip the morning wake-up nurse, as he had occasionally not been interested (likely by how much he drank in the middle of the night). To do this, my husband started being the one to get him out of his crib and change his diaper. I would meet them in the kitchen where we would jump straight into the morning routine and have him help us make coffee. A little “responsibility” does my boy good, as he likes to feel included and important. It didn’t take long before I could get him in the morning without him asking for “bub”. He began to eat much more food at breakfast time and get excited about it. I think it’s so fun watching your kid learn preferences and discover what they enjoy. In his case, it’s pancakes, waffles, or bread (pretty much any carb) with some sort of topping (peanut butter, jelly, syrup, or honey). Bananas are a no for him, but he can’t get enough blueberries and grapes!
With the elimination of the morning and midday nurses, we were left with only the difficult, sleep associated nurses: the nap, bedtime, and overnight. By sleep associated, I don’t mean that he fell asleep while nursing. Even before weaning, I would read him a book after he was done and put him in his crib drowsy but awake.
On March 20 (almost a month later), we started to put him down for a nap without a nurse, and what a journey that was. The first day was tough. I don’t know the exact amount of time that it took him to fall asleep, but it was certainly over an hour. Making sure my son feels loved and cared for has and always will be my priority, so I wanted this process to be as gentle as possible. We avoided “cry-it-out”, and opted for holding, rocking, and soothing him with our words. I don’t judge anyone that does otherwise, but this is what worked for us. We replaced the comfort of nursing with cuddling up and reading a book together in the rocking chair, and after about 5 days, he no longer asked to nurse at naptime and was content with picking out a book instead. This became our new routine, and I still read him his book(s) of choice for as long as he keeps signing for more at the end of a book or until I can tell by his body language that it’s time to put him in his crib. Sometimes we read books for 5 minutes, and sometimes it’s up to 20 minutes; it depends on him. After a few weeks of this on April 10, we were ready to take out the nurse before bedtime.
To do this, we applied the same approach that we did for the nap and replaced the comfort of nursing by cuddling and reading books. Since my husband is home for bedtime (unlike him being at work for many of his naps), we thought that it would be easier for my son to adjust to a new routine by having my husband read him the bedtime books; however, my son made it very clear that he wanted his mama. That said, after being put in his crib, my husband and I both were able to take turns comforting him if he stood up or struggled to fall asleep. More often than not, he fell asleep after my husband rocked him, talked with him, and sometimes even rubbed his feet (by my son’s request). As with the nap, it took about 5 days before he started falling asleep quickly without expecting to nurse. And then there was one… the overnight nurse.
After almost a month of feeding him only at night and a couple of days before Mother’s Day, my son started to not be satisfied with the overnight nurse, and my husband had to go rock him and get him calmed down after I fed him. I can only assume that my milk supply had dwindled, which is likely due to only nursing him once a day or not at all if he slept through the night (a new but very rare occurrence). With him turning 21 months old later that week, I knew that it was time to fully wean and end our breastfeeding journey.
1:00am May 8, Mother’s Day morning, was the last time that I nursed my son.
Every night since then, we’ve done the same comforting approach as we had previously of holding him and not letting him cry alone. As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, my son has never accepted milk from a cup as a replacement- it just gets thrown out of the crib. One of the only ways that I am able to calm him down in the middle of the night is by offering to read him a book in the rocking chair. When we got the books “Rocket Science for Babies” and “General Relativity for Babies”, I had no idea how much time I would spend reading them at 1:00am. He loves them dearly, and because I have them memorized by now, I can thankfully even read them with my eyes closed. While I am able to calm my son down, I’ve never gotten him to fall asleep by myself in the middle of the night since weaning. My husband has taken most of the load in the middle of the night and has been the one to get him to relax, likely because my son doesn’t expect milk from him. I usually watch them on the monitor, and I am always blown away at how wonderful of a father he is. I’m lucky to have such a supportive parenting partner and best friend to spend tough nights with.
We have yet to have a night since last Sunday where my son sleeps through the night, but each night has been better than the previous one, and I’m feeling very encouraged. On Wednesday, he asked for a blanket at naptime that we had played peek-a-boo with earlier in the day, and I let him use that instead of a sleep sack. I don’t think I’d ever seen him fall asleep so fast, so I opted for a blanket at bedtime as well instead (keep in mind that sleeping with anything extra in the crib is not considered safe before 1 year of age). Since it went well, albeit after his initial excitement, I decided to use a blanket instead of a sleep sack from then on out. On Thursday, the fourth night without a nurse, he only woke up once, and it took about 20 minutes for him to go back to sleep. After breastfeeding for 21 months, I couldn’t ask for more. I’m still processing the fact that I will never experience nursing my sweet boy again, but I’m also shocked at how well he and I are both adjusting.
Because we took a slow and steady approach to weaning (Feb 21- May 8), I never struggled with a clogged duct or mastitis during the process, and that’s coming from someone who has certainly dealt with them before. I did feel “full” in the beginning, especially after taking out the naptime nurse, but I haven’t felt like I’ve had much milk since then. Even now, almost a week out from the last nurse in the early morning of Mother’s Day, I haven’t experienced any fullness or pain. I think my body was ready for this new stage of motherhood.
I feel very at peace about our decision to wean at this point in his life, and I honestly believe that we did the best that we knew how. While he doesn’t need me for milk anymore, I can still tell in every hug and by the way he looks at me that he still needs his mama, even if it’s in a different way. I love my son more than I previously thought humanly possible, and watching him grow up is a blessing that I will never take for granted.
Overall, I’ve loved breastfeeding and feel very passionate about talking about it and motherhood in general. If you’ve stumbled upon this blog and want someone to talk with about weaning or breastfeeding, I would love to connect. Us mamas have to stick together!