On how I gently weaned my toddler… by letting her lead the path!

So, even though this blog is not intended to be only about breastfeeding, a friend of mine asked me to share my experience weaning a very much boob-attached 18 month old toddler with almost no tears… I immediately thought it was a super idea, mainly because I had one of those babies that would never let it go! I am sure you know the type…

And having been at that hopeless place, I thought I had a very strong message to share with all of you, mums, out there, dealing with the same situation… It is going to be OK! Your baby will let it go, with the right support and when SHE IS READY to do it. In fact, I was expecting weaning to be terribly exhausting for me… kind of a fight… and even though I cannot say it was easy, I was surprised to see how once I set it on, it was actually my daughter the one that leaded the path!

First of all, I would like to make clear that I do not think there is a ‘one fit for all’ formula to wean your toddler in the less traumatic way for mother and child… The right formula for every child depends on many things, such as the child’s personality, her situation at home (and beyond, i.e. at the nursery), her life style, etc.

But let me tell you in a few words what worked for us:

1. I had way passed the feeling of not being able to take anymore the exhaustion of breastfeeding my child every 4 hours. I was still a living zombie at the time, but one that was not upset anymore with the situation. I had accepted all the bad feelings and somehow made peace with them… And when I said to myself, Ok, things have to change, it was not because I was exhausted, but because I was planning on a second child! Now I am not saying that you can only be determined enough to succeed at weaning your toddler when you want to get pregnant again… but I truly believe you have to take the bad feelings out of your balance and put on a positive note on the whole process of weaning.

2. I had full support (and I am talking 24/7) of a very close friend who was also determined to wean her toddler. We encouraged each other tremendously, in the highs but most of all in the lows of the process… And we kept repeating each other that we were close to the end line, so we could’t give up. Find that person going through the same process as you and, if possible, with the same type of stubborn child… and share every step of the way… It will take you almost to the finish line… The last wonderful steps are for you and your baby to live together and be proud of!

3. I knew I could lose a couple of battles and still win the war, so I never pushed my baby to the corner of desperation, where she just had to cry out all her frustration. We, mums, know our kids very well… to the point where we can tell if bath time on a particular day is going to be hell, by simply paying attention to their body language when they come back home from the nursery! I would use the same intuition with my daughter, not to take her to the breaking point… For example, I would refuse breastfeeding my daughter and would offer instead a juice or other snack. She would, of course, be upset and begin moaning. Sometimes it would stop at that, just moaning. And it was for me a won battle. But if she was way too tired, after coming from the nursery, and would get really upset or cry, then I would offer her the breast to soothe her… and tell to myself: oh, well, tomorrow I will try again. That is why my method was essentially with almost no tears, because I never really pushed my daughter so far in the process… After all, weaning is a pretty serious detachment issue for a toddler and it must be taken us such, with understanding of the scary feelings it might create in the child and lots lots of EMPATHY.

4. I truly let my daughter lead the path towards weaning, because at the end of the day, the toddler must be ready to let go… so if, as it happened in my case, you have repeatedly tried to wean your child and miserably failed, it might be simply because she was not ready to let go. Defenders of the ‘crying out’ method reading this blog are most probably thinking that a child will never wean himself. But I believe that, as breastfeeding is the result of mutual adjustment, love and work between mother and baby, weaning cannot be achieved if only the mum wants to do it… Let me tell you what happened in our tandem! I decided to begin weaning by cutting the 4 am feed. The first night it was my husband who tended to my daughter. She wasn’t happy… She used not to let daddy get anywhere close to her at night, it was a business between us, girls… That first night she complained and cried, as usual, but my husband managed to make her sleep. On the second night, we did exactly the same and my daughter reacted as expected. But, guess what, on the third night my little girl did not wake up for her 4 am feed. We applied the same strategy in order to eliminate the 12 am feed and it worked. It is worth to say that, while taking all these steps, I kept verbalizing what was going on for my daughter to understand. For example, before taking from her the feed before bedtime, I would say to her things such as: “my angel, this is the last milk mummy is going to give you before daytime, because boobies do not give milk at night… since at night we all have to sleep”.

* Note on the side: All in all, and notwithstanding what books normally say, I found weaning my toddler at night much easier than on day time. Indeed, even though she was still breastfeeding before going to sleep, she would finish the feeding with a milk bottle and it didn’t take much for her to accept just the bottle.

5. I also found very helpful all the advice coming from the La Leche League international association on weaning (spending as much time as possible standing instead of sitting, avoiding putting your breasts at the reach of the toddler’s hands; covering as much as possible your breasts, using maneuvers of distraction or substitution when the child insists on being breastfed; weaning in the warmer months of the year to spend a maximum of time out of the house, where the kid can be stimulated and forget about breastfeeding). I figured, since they are so pro-breastfeeding, they would be more sensitive towards the feelings of a mum that truly enjoys breastfeeding her toddler but has decided to wean for whatever reason… Because, let’s be real: our feelings are going to get hurt in the process of weaning and kids have a lot of empathy, so it is my belief that the more we are at peace with the decision to let go, the more chances we have to succeed. On this last note, I send you all my support and positive energy!

References:

Huggins, Kathleen, Ziedrich, Linda (2007): The nursing mother’s guide to weaning: how to bring breastfeeding to a gentle close and how to decide when the time is right.

La Leche League International: http://www.llli.org

Breastfeeding your child beyond borders…

I am not really interested in the debate on breastfeeding vs bottle-feeding. I think each mum must choose the method that best fits her family and life style. In my case, breastfeeding was the choice of preference… And it was not an easy one! I have always enjoyed breastfeeding (leaving the first discomforts besides). I have breastfed my daughter well beyond the 12 months threshold… and yes, this choice has meant not being able to sleep for more than four hours in a row for a really really long time… Needless to say that I have been immerse in a state of deep exhaustion for months, but I do believe it was worthy… and I do not think I need to name in here all the benefits of breastfeeding a child. What I would like to share with you is my experience while breastfeeding my child beyond borders… I have breastfed Chiara in many public places in London, most of the times without using anything to cover my breasts… I do not believe breastfeeding this way implies any kind of indecent exposure and I have never felt any weirdness while doing it, apart from the typical curious looks from people here and there. However, when I traveled to Africa with my husband and my toddler, I was concerned about how my ‘breastfeeding ways’ would be seen… since we were going to the encounter of a very traditional society, most of all with regards to how women should dress, talk or behave in public. Of course, it did not take much time for my daughter to pat my breasts in public (that is the way she would ask to be breastfed). Uncomfortable and unsure of what to do, I tried to ignore it as much as I could… We were, after all, in the company of some elder men. To my surprise, one of those men hurried to tell me that I should feel free to breastfeed my child… I think he saw I was a little hesitant and so he kept going explaining me that in the old days, if a woman would not hurry to breastfed her baby when she was crying, the whole village would come to tell her off and she could even be beaten! It sounds drastic, I know… But what I retained from that episode was that even for some of the most conservative societies on earth breastfeeding is considered as natural as walking, coughing or breathing. So next time you hear about the everlasting debate on if a woman should cover up while breastfeeding her child in public, give this anecdote a little thought…