One Mom Shares How She Weaned Her Son
By Karen Deaver
“Nurse,” my son, Kolter, cried. “Nurse!” Much better than the “Booby, Booby!” command I’d heard from another child, but just the same, there was something about a kid being able to articulate this particular need that prompted me to say, “It’s time to move on.”
In the beginning I was more in love with the idea of breastfeeding than the actual nitty-gritty reality of it. The initial discomforts and inconveniences made me think something was wrong or that it just wasn’t going well. Without support from another woman with lactating experience, it can seem easier to give up and dust off that unsolicited baby formula sample you never thought you’d consider.
Some babies, I’ve heard, wean themselves.
I had everything from cracked nipples to sporadic flow, where one day my rivers ran dry and the next I was the “fountain of moo.” I had mastitis, too, or boob flu, as I call it, when it seemed the only solution to aching breasts would be their swift removal for a detox spa special. I spent precious alone time massaging rock-hard breasts under a hot shower, wishing my tears would turn to milk. At least those ducts were working.
The combination of shock that these physical adjustments weren’t allowing me to relax enough to enjoy my new baby, a supportive husband and midwife, and my stubborn insistence that breastfeeding truly is a wonderful, natural experience strengthened my resolve to continue. And I’m so glad that I did. It took about three weeks for my body to get in synch with the demands of a nursing infant, and once over the biggest hurdles, the occasional discomforts were easier to handle.
Giving myself enough time to wrap my head around breastfeeding enabled me to be more patient when faced with even greater challenges down the road, like colic and teething. Through all the ups and downs of newborn life nursing remained constant, and before too long we were even ready to move on from there.
Some babies, I’ve heard, wean themselves. My friend Cynthia’s daughter, Mariel, is 1. At 17 months she simply declined the breast and asked for milk, much to her mom’s dismay. Not my Kolter, who from the moment he arrived took to the breast as Pooh Bear will to honey. Though it wasn’t always easy, I nursed him on demand for 20 months before I even considered slowing down. Since I’d decided to stay home full time with him, I didn’t have pressure to wean earlier, and I didn’t want to. The benefits of breastfeeding – from immunity-building chemistry to close, physical bonding – were worth the sometimes difficult moments when my nipples were sore, I preferred to sleep or I just wanted my body back.
When Kolter began to use words more than cries to express himself, some of which he employed to demand a greater variety of foods, I realized that nursing was more habit than necessity. Breast milk had become just another choice on his menu: juice, milk, nurse. I felt more like a pacifier than nurturer, which I didn’t think would serve him, or me, in the long run.
I like to say the decision to wean was mutual, but obviously it was mine. My angel would have nursed until kindergarten. And yet, it was tough for me to let go of our intimate ritual, too. I wondered if I’d feel less close to him or if he was really as ready as I suspected. And if he wasn’t ready and I cut him off prematurely, would he become addicted until high school to the pacifier we’d given him for comfort? I didn’t push myself to take action but instead talked to fellow moms and tried to listen to myself.
In order to wean I had to be reasonably assured that Kolter could comprehend what was happening, and I wanted to be comfortable with how we did it. I’m not an admirer of the cold turkey method, which I had tried earlier when he was having trouble going to sleep for the night. Just walking away and letting him cry it out resulted in hours of stress for both of us. So I began to explain, even before I was sure he could get it, why he needed to go to bed, that he could do it and that I would help him. We developed sleep-time rituals that included reading and singing, and I firmly lay him in the crib each night at the same time while holding his hand, even if he cried, until he fell asleep. After two weeks of this he went down without a fuss. In both sleeping and weaning, my goal was to weigh my needs against his and then ease our way, with digestible amounts of information, into new habits.
Weaning was different from sleeping in two ways. One, I tolerated nursing a whole lot better than sleep deprivation, and two, there are benefits to nursing. So although Kolter could have grasped the weaning process earlier, I initiated it at 22 months, when I felt his need fall off and my desire for change increase. I began by responding to his plea to nurse with, “Let’s have some juice, instead.” At first Kolter whimpered, and I’d capitulate but explain to him that soon we’d stop nursing, because he was becoming such a big boy. Then he became more demanding, “No! Nurse.” I began to refuse him the breast, sometimes even getting up from my chair when he tried to crawl into my lap, while calmly telling him that when he wanted to nurse it meant he was thirsty. Then I’d offer him juice in a “big boy” sippy cup. Again, it took about two weeks for him to make the transition and ask for juice when he wanted a drink. On his 2nd birthday I packed the nursing bras away.
For me, and I believe for Kolter, as well, two years of nursing was just right. It was satisfying to have been able to give him such a long stretch of comforting body contact, which may have helped him become the warm and socially agile creature he is. Waiting until we were both ready for the greater independence weaning brings made the process easier and has enabled us to move freely on to the next trick: potty-training.
Now, at 2 1/2, Kolter often saddles up to me for snuggles, gingerly places a hand on my breast, and sighs, as if he’s remembering a long lost love. I’m betting it will be the first of many.