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Saturday, July 30, 2011

THE PROS AND CONS OF WEANING A TODDLER

This is my story, and I'm sticking to it. I guess.

Weaning my 2-year-old has been a roller coaster. When I thought he had weaned while I was pregnant, I was an emotional wreck. Then I had Little M and decided I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tandem nurse. I did tandem nurse for a while, but then I started to become irritable every time I nursed him. And he seemed to be asking out of half-hearted habit, not out of true desire. So I distracted him when he asked. And he was easily distracted. So he stopped nursing.

And then he started again, and then I decided to wean him for good.

Here’s why:

My First Mistake: Losing Confidence in Myself as a Parent



As Baby T turned 12 months old, then 13 months, 14 months… he was nursing like crazy. I never expected him to wean before he was two, and I didn’t want him to. He was still nursing like an infant. Long, sweet sessions in the morning and maybe one or two more times each day.

But around that time, I went to several La Leche League meetings and read a lot on Kellymom.com about setting limits on toddler nursing. A lot of people choose to stop nursing their toddler in public between 12 and 24 months. The reasoning I heard for this was essentially that at this age, they are learning limits about everything, so it’s not so developmentally abnormal to establish limits for breastfeeding, too.

Until about 19 months, I had nursed Baby T wherever and whenever. Public or not. But as Little M’s due date approached, I felt more and more that I needed to set limits for Baby T. I was reading a lot about tandem nursing, and a lot of the advice I got was to set limits. Many toddlers would nurse for only a few seconds—long enough to sing the ABCs or count to 10, for example. Other mamas only nursed before naps.

I decided I would try setting limits too. I don’t know why. There was no reason for me to do so, other than that’s what everyone else seemed to be doing. At that point, Baby T was mainly nursing in the mornings, but if he felt uncomfortable during the day, he would ask to nurse. If we were out, I would explain that we only have mommy’s milk at home.

I feel like that was my mistake. Baby T still wasn’t at a stage where I was setting many limits on anything. Setting limits on nursing felt like I was making it something that should be hidden. And I’m a big proponent of nursing in public. But I read too much. I sought advice from others when I should really have listened to myself.

And then there were Two

When Little M came into the picture, everything changed. All of a sudden, I just wanted to nurse my little newborn baby, but I felt so guilty for feeling that way. When Baby T was really sick during Little M’s first week in this world, that changed. I wanted to nurse Baby T. He needed the comfort, not to mention the health benefits.

But now I really didn’t want to nurse in public, only because tandem nursing pretty much exposed everything. I do have some boundaries. And giant stretch marks that I don’t really want everyone seeing.

It was easy at first, too. Little M slept all the time. In the mornings, I could leave Little M sleeping on the bed and nurse Baby T for as long as he wanted. And Baby T wasn’t the typical nursing toddler. He didn’t nurse often, but when he nursed, he would nurse like a baby. Twenty-minute marathon sessions, without getting distracted.

But I started to notice that he seemed to be asking to nurse out of habit. It would just slip from his mouth when I walked into his room in the morning. The same way you get so used to saying “I love you” when you hang up the phone with a family member that sometimes you’re nervous you’ll let it slip on a professional phone call or something.

That coincided with Little M sleeping less. So now he was waking up at the same time as Baby T and I was nursing him in bed. Big T was getting Baby T and playing with him until I came out. Nursing Baby T after that just felt like too much. I decided to try to distract Baby T in the mornings instead.

It worked pretty well. He probably complained a bit for a couple of days, but then he accepted that we weren’t nursing in the mornings anymore.

My Issue: Inconsistency

But he didn’t accept that we were never going to nurse again ever. He still asked sometimes. Especially while I was nursing Little M. And this is my problem (probably due to me reading too much, as usual). I’m so afraid of being inconsistent. I felt that since I was not nursing him in the mornings, it would be inconsistent to nurse him at other times of day. How do you explain to a toddler the difference between those nursing sessions?

I always go back to my friend who said nursing is like giving a hug: if a child needs that comfort, would you deny it at some times but not others?

That always got me, too. I felt like I had stopped nursing in the mornings exactly because he wasn’t nursing for comfort anymore. If I felt he wanted the comfort, I would still have nursed him.

Did I Wean Too Early?

But then again, what do I know about what my 2-year-old needs? Comfort and habit are one and the same in the mind of a toddler.

In the last six months, Baby T has been extremely needy. On top of getting a new brother and new teeth, he didn’t have the comfort of mommy’s milk anymore. He rarely asked for it, but he wanted to be held. All. The. Time.

I finally convinced myself that it was because I had weaned him too early. I really struggled with the guilt. And now the tantrums were beginning. I felt like it would be so much easier to calm him down if I could just nurse him once. They used to stop a tantrum in its tracks.

So I nursed him again. I read online about how many toddlers ask to nurse after they’ve weaned just to know they can, and then they lose interest.

Not Baby T. He nursed for longer than Little M, and all of a sudden he was asking for it all the time.

Breastfeeding Should Last as Long as Mutually Desired

I didn’t want to nurse Baby T all the time. I wanted to nurse him when he was throwing a major tantrum, but not when I was nursing Little M. Tandem nursing had begun to give me the creepy-crawly feeling of irritation that so many women talked about and I had never experienced until now.

I was so wishy-washy. I wanted to nurse him sometimes, and other times I wished he was weaned. A major part of the problem was that I felt like I couldn’t nurse him in public anymore. We had had so many conversations about how we only nurse at mommy and Baby T’s house that I felt like I would confuse him if I started nursing him elsewhere.

But what if he had a tantrum in public and demanded milk? How would I explain that I could comfort him with mommy’s milk at home but not in public? It felt hypocritical to me.

And that solidified my decision. For me, nursing had to be all or nothing. I had trouble explaining why limits were set, because I didn’t believe in the limits myself. I was imposing them because other people did. I was looking to others for how to parent because I wasn’t confident in my own decisions. That just led to me losing my instincts and wavering on my convictions.

But I guess on some level, I really did want to wean him. I don’t think I could have come to this decision if I still strongly felt like nursing him. I feel guilty for feeling that way. Just seven months ago, the thought of weaning brought me to hysterical tears. I do still feel like I took something away from him and gave it to his brother. I think I would still be nursing him if Little M wasn’t in the picture.

But when I look back and hear his voice in my head blurting out “mommy’s milk,” I still strongly feel that it was such a habit that he didn’t even know what he was asking for. And even when he asks to nurse now, he asks in a different way. “I want to eat mommy’s milk, please,” he says. Like he’s testing out his boundaries, his vocabulary, and his manners. Like he’s testing his limits, just like he does with everything else. And I can’t say yes sometimes and no sometimes. I don’t know why. I just don’t feel comfortable with that. So Baby T gets lots of snuggles and kisses and hugs. And he's just started to accept that laying his head on my chest gives him the same kind of comfort that nursing once did. But Baby T has weaned.

***
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13 comments:

Kristen said... Best Blogger Tips

Great post! I'll think about this post when I start to wean my son. He is 10.5 months now and we are trying to get pregnant again. I'm not sure if I will tandem nurse or not. Sometimes it makes me really sad to think of weaning him and others I feel that it would be a relief. But it is such a GREAT way for getting him to sleep, making him feel better when he is sick and it just makes him happy!

I'm a new stalker from Super Stalker Sunday. I'm following you via GFC, Twitter, Facebook and Networked Blogs.

I can't wait to read more from you about breastfeeding & baby wearing. (Two of my favorite things!)

Please check out my blog at http://babygiveawaysgalore.blogspot.com/

Thanks!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said... Best Blogger Tips

I am currently in the middle of major nursing heebie jeebies due to pregnancy. I'm not thinking of weaning - yet - but I completely understand where you're coming from. Last night I was SO exhausted, and after laying there with Kieran gritting my teeth for 45 minutes while he fell asleep, I just wanted to run away. (sigh)

At any rate, work on accepting how weaning happened for you two. Guilt isn't all that healthy, and it sure isn't a motivator, so shed that guilt mama! You gave him two years of breastmilk, that is wonderful!

Devyn said... Best Blogger Tips

Great post! I wish the Lad had wanted to nurse for longer, but considering I was pregnant again when he was 4 months old, it may just be the way things were meant to be (he weaned himself at 7 months... even now, if he sees my nipple, he will try to pinch it or bite it, but has no interest in nursing). Thanks for the follow!

I'm a full-time mummy said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi Gaby!

Thanks for dropping by my humble blog!

I too dread the day when I have to wean off my toddler the moment I found out I'm pregnant early this year. And it got worse when my BM stopped as I entered 2nd trimester but somehow my boy continues to nurse even though there is no more BM now. But he only nurse for comfort and prior to his nap and sleeping time, which takes about 5-15 minutes, depending how sleepy he is.

He's going to be 29 months old in a few days time and I do hope we could go for tandem nursing when my 2nd child comes along in a month's time though I have yet to think and figure out the logistics of it all :P

Have a nice day!

mmbear said... Best Blogger Tips

I never did breast feed my daughter so I can't give any advice on this issue. I just did not even think about it at the time. I hope everything works out for you soon. I came by from the blog hop and now following your blog thru GFC and Facebook. I would love a follow back on both when you get a chance. Thanks so very much and have a wonderful day!

Mary@http://www.mmbearcupoftea.com

Shana said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi! Just stopping by. Following you from Super Stalker Sunday Blog Hop. Would love a visit and a follow back on my blog: http://blog.writerslairbooks.com.  Thanks! By the way, we are GIVING AWAY an IPAD 2 and would love for you to enter if you haven’t already!  Nice to meet you!

Kortney said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks for linking up to the Super Stalker Sunday! Hope you had fun stalking around and I hope you had a great weekend! See you again next weekend,
Kortney @ Kortney's Krazy Life

Amy said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm going to catch up on yours now (I'm following now). I hope I'm embarrassed to say this, but I had no idea what tandem nursing was! I hope that doesn't make me a horrible mommy..lol!!

Amy
http://lifewithaubrey.blogspot.com

Tmuffin.com said... Best Blogger Tips

@Amy Oh my goodness! I hope I didn't make you feel that way, Amy! I just like to share my crazy story... it works for me! Every mama is different--that's what makes this world interesting, right?

Wolfmother said... Best Blogger Tips

My son is 14 months old now and I couldn't even imagine trying to wean him off nursing because it is so integral to our routine. We naturally fell into setting some limits though because he began dancing around while nursing which would hurt me so unless he is still and focuses on it, I will end it and we do something else. I'm not sure myself when we will naturally wean, as he is showing no signs of letting up anytime soon but our relationship has definitely changed as he got older. He nurses less for food and more for comfort and it works for us right now so I'll take your advice and trust my instincts and just let it be!

RealMommy said... Best Blogger Tips

Aw, I had a lot of these feelings too! We even unweaned when things got to be just too much and I ran out of tools. I hope you are all at peace with these changes, and you gain an even closer relationship for finding these new ways to stay connected.

Jennifer said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks for this! I don't have tandem nurslings as my LOs are 6y apart. But I can so relate to your feelings described in this post. DD is almost 14m and the current plan is to have her fully weaned by December (18m) when I'll be away on business for a week. When I think about that, I get sad. And nervous. Sad that she won't be a baby anymore. Nevous that we won't make that deadline which could prove difficult for DH, especially at night. BUT, reading this has made me realize that I have to trust my Momma instincts and value my own feelings as well as acknowledging hers. As long as mutually desired. Yeah.

Momma Jorje said... Best Blogger Tips

Thank you for this post. I'm currently nursing my nearly-2yo and she nurses *often*. Sometimes long sessions, sometimes it just seems like she is making sure milk is still here (which is a fear of my own). We have a baby due in January and I hope to tandem nurse them both.

I also shared your post on my Blog's FB page.
http://www.facebook.com/MommaJorje

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