A few weeks ago at nearly twenty-three months old Willow reached a very bitter sweet milestone. She completely weaned from breastfeeding. And let me just share that it was much more difficult to wean an almost two year old than it was her sisters who were weaned at 12 and 13 months. When I decided to wean my first at 12 months old it was simply because that was what I thought I was supposed to do. With baby number two I had a horrible case of mastitis at 13 months old and after being on antibiotics that transferred to her through my milk resulting in a horrid bleeding diaper rash I decided to offer cow’s milk until I finished my medicine. Since she was happy with the cow’s milk we never went back to nursing. Looking back I know that the reason it was so easy to wean them at about a year old is because there was nothing they could do to protest but to fuss a bit.
Curious about why I decided to nurse Willow much longer than her sisters? At only nine weeks old Willow was diagnosed with RSV and so when her first birthday came upon us I decided to discuss with her pediatrician what he would recommend doing with the introduction of cow’s milk since we would soon be approaching RSV season again. He told me that delaying cow’s milk would probably be a great idea so that if she did come down with RSV again we would not have to worry about an even thicker phlegm buildup. And so instead in addition to nursing at meal times I decided to offer her almond and coconut milk in sippy cups….. which she hated. And so we simply continued to breastfeed and offer water in sippy cups. When Willow was roughly nineteen months old I found out I was pregnant with baby number four and immediately borrowed a book about tandem nursing from our local breastfeeding center. After reading the book I discovered that deep down in my heart and gut I knew that tandem breastfeeding just would not be an ideal situation for myself or for Willow. And at that moment I knew I wanted to have her weaned by the halfway mark of my pregnancy at the latest so that she would not connect the arrival of the new baby with her no longer nursing.
So how did I do it? Willow had reached a point in our breastfeeding journey that she would literally get our her food source whenever she wanted it. If we were out and about running errands or at the playground she never wanted to nurse because she was simply too busy, but at home it felt like almost a constant routine. If I sat down on the couch she wanted to nurse. Every single time. And so I knew that this would have to be a slow gradual process. And here is how I did it…. please not that I put roughly two weeks between each step as I wanted this to be very gradual.
1.) Transitioning from co-sleeping to her own bed. Ok, so I know this could be a whole post in it’s own… but this was the first thing I needed to do as my little Willow Jean was a night nurser. I honestly do not even know how much she nursed at night because I would simply sleep through it. I began getting her to sleep in her crib by nursing her to sleep on the couch and transferring her to the crib. If she woke at night I would go in her room and nurse her and put her back in her crib. I realize at this point we had yet to eliminate any nursing sessions but we did eliminate all night grazing.
2.) Cutting out day time nursing. When Willow would wake up in the mornings I would bring her to cuddle in bed with me and she would nurse for a looooong time. After she crawled out of bed to play with her sisters I would not allow her to nurse any more. If I was sitting on the couch and she wanted to nurse I would distract her with healthy snacks, sippy cups, toys, going outside to play, coloring, and more. Basically anything that would take her mind off wanting to nurse was fair game. I admit in the beginning sometimes she would get rather ticked off at mama and that was very hard on me, but I stayed strong and at night she would still nurse to sleep before I put her in her crib. Once we reached a point where she was no longer asking or attempting to get my breasts out herself we moved on.
3.) Eliminating night nursing sessions. This step involved cutting out the nursing sessions where she would wake in the middle of the night to nurse. I continued nursing her to sleep at night and then putting her in the crib, but when she would wake at night to nurse I would go in her room and rub her back for a bit then leave the room. I will admit this step was utter hell for the first two nights. She pitched a horrible fit and I wanted to cave so badly, but I knew this was the next logical step. And after a few rough nights she began sleeping through the night. It was pure bliss as I could barely remember what a full night’s sleep was….. suddenly the hardest step became the best step ever.
4.) No more nursing to sleep. I was scared of this step. I feared taking Willow in to her room, hugging her, kissing her, covering her with her blankie and walking out because I knew she would scream. I knew she would cry. And she did. But only for about 10 minutes the first night. And the second night for only about 5 minutes. And the third night she barely fussed. Then from that point on she has simply laid down and went right to sleep. And with that success we were down to only one morning nursing session a day.
5.) Saying goodbye to breastfeeding. I admit that I dreaded cutting out that morning session. And I now know that I was more scared of losing that special bonding we shared every morning. I had planned that I would wake up in the morning and instead of bringing Willow to bed with me we would go immediately to the kitchen and eat breakfast. I kept putting off the morning that would happen. And then one morning Dustin got her out of her crib, changed her diaper, and instead of running in to crawl in bed with me she went out to the living room with her sisters to eat cereal. I took that as my cue. After a little while I got out of bed and she never nursed that morning. It was heartbreaking, but I was also relieved at the same moment because she had done it on her own. The next day I went with my plan and we simply avoided cuddling in bed so that she wouldn’t associate that with needing to nurse. And she hasn’t nursed since. After a few weeks I decided to see what would happen if she came in our room and crawled in bed with me and she simply cuddled. I was so relieved.
I feel the thing that made this so successful for us was how gradual I made the process. With roughly two weeks between every step this process took a little over two months to complete with only a few really hard days tossed in. Since weaning completely she has only asked to nurse once and that was her big sisters fault. Willow was acting fussy and her older sister said “I think Willow needs mommy milk”…. always their answer if she was fussy from birth on. The moment Willow heard mommy milk she was trying to get to them. I told her that she was a big girl now and there was no more milk in mommy, but offered her a snack and a sippy cup which luckily pleased her. I also had a talk with the big sisters that we would avoid any talk of mommy milk or breastfeeding until a little before the new baby arrives. At that point I plan to read Willow a wonderful book titled “Mama’s Milk” so that she will know that her new baby sister will be nursing from mama and to also talk about ways she can help with the new baby. I also think it would be a great idea to get her a special baby doll that she can pretend to nurse when I feed the baby. Who knows how all of this will exactly go down, but I do hope and pray it is as smooth as the weaning process went.
Have you weaned an older toddler? Do you have any tips to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And guess what. Tomorrow I will be posting a fun giveaway as a farewell to our breastfeeding journey.