I can hardly believe I am typing this, but I successfully weaned my 2 ½ year old from nursing this week! This is HUGE for us and the days leading up to it left me with anxiety, fear, sadness, excitement and uncertainty. However, today I can happily say that it went so well, so incredibly well that I want to share my process with you in case you have a nursing toddler that you’re ready to wean too. So let me explain how we got to this point.
My son was never a good sleeper. As a baby he was up every 45 minutes or so wanting to nurse and I work full time as a teacher. I can’t function at work when I am tired. I’m responsible for 25, seven year olds all day and I have got to be ON. It was really rough. I swore up and down that I would NEVER co-sleep. I was very against it for so many reasons. I spent so many nights waking up every 45 minutes and nursing my son back to sleep. Then I would lay back down and it would take me about 15 minutes to fully fall asleep and then a half hour later he was up again. It was torturous! Somehow I managed to make it through each day without appearing to be a complete hot mess. However, my brain has been a SUPER HOT MESS ever since my son was born. I used to be so on top of things, so organized, so with it….not so much anymore. Anyways, I’m getting off track – see HOT MESS BRAIN!
So right around the time my son turned 1 he got sick for the first time with a high fever, and I was a new mom, and scared, and so I wanted him close to me. I let him sleep in our bed for 2 nights while he was sick. It was glorious! He still woke up just as often but I didn’t have to get up and walk down the hall, half asleep, and then sit up and nurse him every 45 minutes. I just rolled over, popped my boob out, and he went to town. When the 2 days were up I knew we needed to stop – even though part of me wanted to continue to co-sleep because it made my life easier, but I reminded myself of all the reasons why I didn’t like co-sleeping and made the decision to return him to his crib that night. Funny part is… he had other plans! Turns out he liked sleeping right next to the all night buffet and he refused to go in his crib. I tried – HARD, even though part of me kept wanting to quit and just co-sleep. Then after hours of no sleep, I finally gave in. And so our co-sleeping journey began.
By now you may be wondering why I didn’t just let him cry it out. Well that’s another thing I swore I would never do. I just can’t. And if you do, that’s fine. I’m a firm believer that each mother and child has their own unique set of needs and you’ve got to do what works best for your situation. Crying it out just isn’t a part of our plan. So anyways, we began co-sleeping and the nursing got worse! I mean if there is was an awesome buffet next to you while you slept you would probably wake up and take a nibble every few hours, right?! I know I would! We co-slept for about 6 months and then I decided that it was taking a toll on my nipples (haha – seriously though!), my marriage (we had zero alone time) and I knew it was necessary if I was ever going to wean him. So we turned his crib into a toddler bed, slapped some Lightning McQueen sheets on the bed and voila! He started sleeping in his big boy bed without me. I did however have to lean over his bed, like some sort of nursing ninja and nurse him to sleep. Not comfortable at all. But it got the job done and I was pleased with myself.
What did I know, I was a brand new mom with all kinds of lofty goals and fabulous ideas I had read about on Pinterest.
Now I need to back up a little and explain how I began to wean him around the time he turned 1. As it got closer to his 1st birthday I decided to start the whole, “don’t offer, don’t refuse” routine. If you’re not familiar with that, it just means that I never offered to nurse during his normal nursing times. But if he asked to nurse, I would let him. This is a great starting place. I also began to gently distract him or offer him a cup of milk or snack before letting him nurse when he did ask for it. When I began my breastfeeding journey I said that I would nurse until he was 1 year old, and then when he could have cow’s milk I would stop. HAHAHA! What did I know, I was a brand new mom with all kinds of lofty goals and fabulous ideas I had read about on Pinterest. I had a plan for everything and I was confident that I knew exactly what I was doing and how I was going to do it. Some of those fabulous plans have come to fruition and many others now just make me laugh. Anyhow, when he turned one he was still really into nursing and I didn’t want to just stop cold turkey. At that point I was nursing him to fall asleep, throughout the night, when he woke up each morning, when I dropped him off at my Mom’s house before work, and then when I picked him up from work. I was no longer pumping at work – THANK GOD! I decided to drop 1 session at a time, starting with the one I thought would be easiest. So I stopped nursing him after work because I could distract him by playing with him. I cut that session for a week and then cut out the nursing when I would drop him off in the morning the following week. This went fairly well, there were a handful of whiny moments where he really wanted it, but the art of distraction works wonders with toddlers.
Now I was just down to nursing him to sleep (at bedtime, and at naps on the weekends when I was home) and throughout the night. This is where it got tricky. I was terrified to take any of those nursing sessions away because they were all surrounding sleep and that was such a precious time for me! Naps are my sacred time that I get for me, and at night I wasn’t getting much sleep but I certainly didn’t want it to get any worse! I searched online for blogs and videos of other moms in the same situation as me and I decided to try night weaning. If you haven’t read about Dr. Jay Gordon’s night weaning process I would check it out. So I basically stopped nursing him throughout the night. He only go to nurse to fall asleep (naps too) and then in the morning when he woke up. This process went really well, there were a few nights were he would wake up and cry and ask to nurse, I would just rub his back and lay with him until he fell back asleep. Sometimes he needed a drink of water.
Up until this week I had him nursing just to fall asleep, both bed time and nap time and upon waking. It wasn’t terrible but I knew it needed to end. It is such a special time for us when he nursed but I was ready for it to end, and I knew it would help him and I both sleep better. Also, I am thinking about having another baby and tandem feeding is not something I want to take on! I should add that he no longer sleeps in his toddler bed, we somehow transitioned to a bed on the floor next to his bed and that is where we co-sleep (AGAIN!) most of the time. I want to transition away from the co-sleeping again – because a pregnant gal can’t be slummin’ it on the floor with a toddler. I need my big fluffy bed!!!! However, to transition away from co-sleeping I needed to completely wean my son from nursing first.
In the weeks before we weaned we started talking about it casually with our son. First we asked him if he was a big boy or a baby. He would usually say, “Big boy!” and so we built upon that. We told him lots of fun things that big boys get to do and then we added in comments about how big boys don’t need “boo boos”. One day when I told him that he asked, “But WHY?!?!” and I so was not prepared! I just said I didn’t know why but maybe it was because “boo boos” were for babies and big boys didn’t need them. He looked at me like I was crazy and laughed! As I nursed him each time I told him that soon his “boo boos” would go bye bye because he was a big boy. I told him they would be all gone and we will go to sleep without them. He always agreed and laughed. Now let me add in here that while I wanted desperately to wean, my heart was also breaking a little. I love nursing my son and it has been the most amazing experience, and I knew just how much he loved it and I felt horrible taking it from him. But I knew it the best thing for us at this point.
So after we talked up the big boy thing I started looking for books about nursing and weaning because my son loves books, and I knew it would help him understand what was happening. However, I found that there aren’t that many book out there about this topic. I settled on 2 books, the first was titled, “Ready to Wean” by Elyse April and the second book was, “Nursies When the Sun Shines” by Katherine Havener. I wish I had ordered the “Nursies When the Sun Shines” book when I night weaned him, because that’s what it’s all about, but I didn’t find this book until after. I decided not to read the words in that book; I changed the words to fit what I needed. We read both books for about a week before the big night! I was so scared to do this. I thought he would never nap again, and that we would be up for nights on end with a screaming and crying toddler. But I picked a day and I stuck to it. I started with nap that day. I put band-aids on my nipples just in case he really resisted and I needed backups. I took him up for his nap and I read 3 books. The last book I read was the “Ready to Wean” book. Then I said, “Today is the day! You are such a big boy that you don’t need boo boos anymore!” I smiled and hugged him. He whined and cried a little but then he stopped and he just started talking and playing. At one point I showed him the band-aids on my nipples and said I had “owies”. This upset him a little but I think it helped him to see that they weren’t available to him. I had to lay with him and rub his back, and pat his butt, and then he climbed on top of me and fell asleep on my chest. I stayed like that the entire nap because I knew he needed it. Then that night I was really dreading it, I thought the nap going well was a fluke and that night time would most certainly be worse. However, it went exactly the same. Except he didn’t sleep on me, he just rolled over and went to sleep! To celebrate after his first night EVER without nursing we took him to his very first movie at the theater, Cars 3! We praised him and told him how proud we were so that he continued to do well. We’re currently on our 4th day since he weaned and today is the first day he didn’t ask for his “boo boos”. I can’t believe how easy it was! I would have bet any amount of money that it was going to be the hardest thing I ever had to do! If you feel like it’s going to be impossible, I am here to tell you that it’s not! You can do it! Whatever you do, once you start you can’t go back – you’ve got to stick to it! You will be so happy you did!