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Photos: Anna Bondarieva
Mother’s situation: Putting a stop to breastfeeding: gentle toddler weaning
My son is 17 months and, similarly, he breastfeeds a fair amount day and night. In particular, I’ve been having some very intense feelings at night, when I feel like calling out, “Just leave me alone” or “Go back to sleep,” as he lies suckling for half the night and won’t let me even roll over! Is this what you mean when you say you “want your body back”?
In terms of gentle weaning, I can recommend two really good books: How Weaning Happens by Diane Bengson and The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Gentle Weaning by Katherine Huggins and Linda Ziedrich. Both have ideas and real life stories, which you can think about adapting for yourself and your own son.
Distraction and postponing look like some techniques I’m thinking I could follow. For example, one evening recently, I put my son’s dinner on to cook, but then he wanted milk. So we sat down only for me to realize a few minutes later that his dinner was bubbling away, so I made a start and said, “Oh, that’s your dinner sizzling, we’d better check it’s not burning.” He looked at me with interest to try to understand what was happening as I held him on my hip, walked back to the cooker and turned it off. I must admit I forgot about the nursing as his dinner was ready. I set about serving it up and making to put him in the high chair. He protested. Then I realized we’d interrupted his nursing. So I sat back on the sofa, he latched on for just a second or two, then slid off the sofa leaving one arm outstretched patting my breast and smiled. He was happy he’d had enough milk and was ready for some dinner.
I think that provided me with a nice example of a way we can now negotiate without making him unhappy. I was able to make the interruption, but he was then able to choose whether to finish what he’d started.
The books suggest weaning in the summer time can be easier in terms of creating distractions, i.e. you can be out doing activities in nice weather, whereas at home I know myself that boredom and familiarity create situations where my son feels like breastfeeding more. He will turn two years old in the winter, so I feel weaning next spring/summer may be an option for us. I’m sure I’ll play it by ear as the time comes, but it is nice to have some kind of framework or timeline to keep in mind, especially in those 4am moments.
It won’t be long until he’s ready to understand language more fully and be talking more himself. I know of other mums whose strategy is to set limits at night by saying there won’t be any milk until morning or the sun has come up. So that’s another option I’m considering.
Interestingly, I notice you call it a “habit” and only today another mum friend of mine asked me if I thought my son was continuing to want milk at night through “habit.” While it is undoubtedly part of his routine and what he’s come to expect, I don’t feel comfortable categorizing it as “habit”—it’s not like nail biting! It’s not a mindless activity, it’s a need to be close, to feel comfort, to be reassured, and essentially be provided with security. It’s useful for me to remember he has such needs at night as well as in the day time and I want to respect him when he’s communicating this to me.
All of my comments, I realize, are assuming nighttimes are most difficult for you as well. And, of course, there are other reasons you may want your body back. Finding suitable clothes, external pressures from friends and family may all have an impact on your feelings, too. I’m hoping to wear something really nice and totally unsuitable for breastfeeding for a wedding soon, just to get a fashion fix.
Some friends are supportive, others less so. With those ones I don’t bring up the subject of breastfeeding. Family are more difficult to avoid, I’m sensing some raised eyebrows although no one has verbalized their thoughts, so I’m acting like it’s the most natural thing in the world (isn’t it?) and trying to project confidence. At any rate, it may help you to identify what’s most difficult for you, so you can address that while you explore some gentle methods, as they are likely to take a little bit of time.
My last point and probably most important: is your son happy now? At our last meeting, my LLL Leader commented that I’m going to have a very calm son as a result of his breastfeeding career. It was really nice to take my perspective beyond the current demands on myself, which can be overwhelmingly intense at times and remember what my son is getting from nursing. While I’m learning he is a gentle and sensitive individual, I also feel he is already secure, confident, and happy. I hope his nursing experience means he grows up to be someone who knows how to get his needs met and chooses people to be in his life who meet them and whom he can mutually respect. Two or three years of sleep deprivation have got to be worth making sure he’s not “unhappy,” not just in the immediate sense, but in gaining a lifetime’s worth of emotional security.
Lorna Smith, London, UK
Keep him busy, offer him a snack or water, loads of hugs, and send your hubby in to him at night first to see if he might settle for your partner.
Laura Kelly, Isle of Man, UK
A lot depends on how your son feels and whether he is ready to stop.
I have just stopped feeding my toddler. For me, all it took was to tell him the milk had all gone! He was a bit upset but only for a couple of seconds. He did carry on nursing at night until we gradually stopped that too over a short period.
Even though I loved our breastfeeding journey, I was ready to stop.
Sarah Gillespie, Isle of Man, UK
I felt under pressure from my husband to put a stop to breastfeeding my daughter who carried on nursing for an “extended” period. Neither my daughter nor I wanted to quit because it actually was no big thing, most of the time, and was a relaxing and important part of our time together. Most people didn’t know she continued to have my milk because we only nursed at home and increasingly just at night. So in our case, it was my husband who wanted my body back rather than me!
I spoke to other women who breastfed longer than the cultural norm for our society, and had a mixed response. Some mothers experienced a loss of libido while breastfeeding continued, while others found it made no difference. In my own case, it was parenting itself that made me feel less romantically inclined, and talking about my exhaustion frankly and honestly with my partner encouraged us to work out ways we could find to meet each other’s needs, both physically and emotionally. This involved his helping more with the chores and spending more time entertaining the children, so that I had a bit more time just for me, to think about myself as an individual, and consequently this made me feel happier and want to find time for the two of us as a couple.
It’s important to ask yourself what it is that will be gained by putting a stop to breastfeeding. If a child isn’t ready to be done, you have to invest even more time in providing substitutions by way of distraction and affection, which can be even more time consuming and harder work than just flopping down for a cosy nursing session.
All children give up breastfeeding of their own accord. Some just take a little longer than others.
Amelie Poirot, Lincoln, UK
Mother’s new situation: Stretching family finances
I’m breastfeeding my six-month-old baby and have two other children: a preschooler and an eight-year-old. I’ve decided that I need to stay home rather than going back to work. While this is the right decision for my family and we shall not need to spend any money on child care, we are going to struggle financially. How do other families go about finding bargains and stretching their money further when mother stays home?