As promised, my post about weaning Littlest for anyone who’s interested (informational link at the end of this post).
A few things are worth clearing up before talking about this at all:
- Littlest hasn’t needed to nurse to fall asleep for a very, very long time. I think he stopped nursing to sleep several weeks before I went back to work when he was 14 weeks old. Nursing during the night has almost always (=98% of the time) calmed him down but he has always unlatched and fallen asleep on his own in his crib.
- He’s also been sleeping in his crib in his room pretty much since his fourth night home. During those first weeks he often ended up next to me in the guest room for some part of the night, but essentially he’s been a crib-sleeping baby and he can’t even fall asleep if we are in the same room as him.
So why wean? To be honest I would definitely rather have let Littlest come to the point where he wanted to stop on his own. I’ve wondered about weaning for about the past year, thinking maybe it would be okay to stop, but essentially I decided every time that it made our lives easier than not, and also that most of my questioning was due to cultural expectations that I didn’t find valid.
We essentially started down the path to weaning when we got back from vacation last summer and decided to limit him to two or three nursing sessions per day: wake-up in the morning, wake-up from his nap (or whenever he saw me next), and any night wakings. I had gotten a little tired of the on-demand aspect of nursing— and let’s be honest, the French aren’t particularly well-informed or open-minded about nursing (though there are judgy people everywhere), so I was more and more reluctant to nurse him around anyone other than his dad. But at the time this decision was very difficult for me—I had never said no to him for nursing before and I did shed a few tears over it.
So we cut back and I believe (here’s the biological part) this is what set me to ovulating again, or at least getting my period, in late October/early November. By then I think my milk supply had also decreased since his nursing sessions, especially at night, had climbed up into the 30-minute range. Soon after that nursing became painful. (This is all hormone-related.) We tried night weaning but it was a disaster so we made the decision to wait till Christmas vacation when we’d be able to recover from any bad nights. By the time we made that decision, we had already eliminated another nursing session—if he nursed in the night, he didn’t get to nurse in the morning. In that case J would get him up in the morning rather than me to avoid extra tears.
For the past few weeks I’ve been telling Littlest that “nummies” was going to end soon, not yet, but soon, because it hurt too much for Mama. (I also told him that I had loved “nummies” with him up till now.) The word “hurt” seemed to mean nothing to him but once I said “booboo,” he got it. He occasionally points to my chest and says “booboo” and if he sees me getting undressed he says it too, so I can tell he’s made the connection and also that it’s on his mind.
In practical terms weaning meant that the first week of vacation we just night weaned him. He would wake, ask to nurse, cry, be sad in our bed with us, and typically accept some (sometimes lots of) milk from a cup, before eventually going back to bed. I would tell him I knew it was hard and that I was sorry but it was over and he was going to be okay. It lasted about an hour and a half the first couple nights (though J typically didn’t wake me right away and tried to handle it himself before calling for reinforcement). Given the nights at his Mamie’s (Christmas, plus one other night), it took about a week for it to sink in and he’s sleeping through the night now (fingers crossed).
Then a couple days before ending the last nursing session, I reminded him it was coming and explained to him again about the “booboos” but also that he could have all the extra cuddles he needed. He nursed for the last time after his nap three days ago. So far he’s asked for it a couple times but seems to be more or less distractable. I’ve told him I’m proud of him without saying exactly why in order to avoid bringing up a potentially painful subject for him. He has been a little more watchful of me—not letting me out of his sight sometimes and needing more cuddles than usual. But otherwise he is handling it like a champ considering it was not at all his decision. (And as for me, for now I am pumping just a little before bed to avoid creating any blocked ducts. This shouldn’t have to go on for very long but for now I still have milk.) I feel less torn about it than I expected, but no huge sense of relief either.
One thing is sure though, I never tired of the actual act of nursing him. When it was painful it was obviously not fun but the times when it didn’t hurt, it was still fulfilling for both of us.
If a lot of this is foreign to you and you’d like to know more, here is a good article with some basics about the history of breastfeeding in western and traditional societies, and more relevant, weaning—scroll down to “The Process of Weaning.”