Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gently Weaning Our 3 Year Old

*This post may not be interesting to everyone.  Unlike the rest of my posts which I'm sure are EXTREMELY interesting to EVERYONE. :)*

Since January I've known that I wanted to wean my son by the end of the year.  At that point I had already been tandem nursing my children for a year and although I mostly enjoyed it and believed it was the best option for our family, it was starting to feel like it was too much for me to handle.  Giving myself an end goal seemed to alleviate much of my angst.  I could slowly start working towards weaning my son, who at that point was almost 2 1/2.  I wanted it to be as smooth a transition as possible but I did not feel that I could leave the timing completely up to him.  The weaning advice of 'don't offer, don't refuse' didn't work for me as I had been 'refusing' sometimes since he was probably 12 months old.  At 2 1/2 I rarely offered, and he was still nursing 8 times a day.

In giving myself a time period to be finished by, I suddenly felt free again, that I wasn't being held hostage in this nursing relationship.  That was very helpful.  And it also gave me more of a motivation to set some healthy boundaries and continue to help Saf to find other ways to be comforted.  We were in Thailand in April and May and being able to nurse through all of that change and transition was very helpful, not to mention that he stayed very healthy on our trip.  On that trip we night-weaned him for good (unlike the two other times) although I would let him nurse early in the morning if he woke up and that would usually knock him out for another hour.  

When he was turning three in August he started to say that he would be all done with 'nai-nai'.  He even told someone that nai-nai was gross (um, excuse me??) but he continued to nurse, although less frequently, maybe only 3-4 times in a day.  The one time that it was so helpful was when he needed to have a nap and I could easily nurse him to sleep in under 5 minutes.  His dad had a lot of other skills to help him fall asleep, but I did not.  

In September we had an incident where he cut his finger on a sharp can lid and it was a bit deep so his dad and I took him to the doctor to have it looked at.  He was crying quite hard while we were there and I offered him milk, thinking it would calm him down, but he wanted his dad instead.  That's when I realized that we were moving out of the breastmilk as comfort stage; when he was really upset he usually wanted his dad, or he wanted me to put all 17 kgs of him in the Ergo and wear him but he actually rarely asked for milk.  

Also in September I became pregnant.  I'm assuming it's safe to nurse two children through a pregnancy (I know that Dulce de Leche has triandem nursed) but I don't personally know anyone who has done it.  And I really, really did not want to.  I also wanted my daughter (who was 20 months) to have a chance to nurse on her own for a while, until the baby came (if she didn't wean before I gave birth).  Jubee would take it very personally when Saf nursed - she would cry, whine or start counting to ten the best she could, trying to let him know that his time was up.  I also remembered how hard it was to nurse through pregnancy last time, the pain and feelings of aversion, lack of milk - I couldn't imagine going through that again and having two nurslings this time around.  So Chris and I decided it was time, for real (FOR REAL) to wean.

We began talking more frequently about Saf being all done with my milk, explaining that the baby in my tummy needed some of the milk to be able to grow strong.  Saf seemed to understand that and I think we only talked about it once.  When he would ask for milk at his usual times, which were pretty much boredom moments I think, I reminded him that we were going to be all done.  For the last few weeks he only had the early morning milk and it was painful to give it up as it helped him go back to sleep, but it had to go.  One day he didn't ask for milk, the first time ever, and I knew we were just about done.

A friend mentioned to me about having a special present for when the child is weaned and we told Saf that when he was ready to be all done, we could pick out something special that he could have instead of nai-nai.  On a shopping trip saw a big stuffed carrot that he desperately wanted.  We said it could be his special weaning present but we would hold on to it until he was ready to be all done and he grabbed the carrot from my arms and said, "I'm finished."  We had one last special nursing time the next evening, when I was 8 weeks pregnant.  It was fairly typical/hilarious because Jubee was crying and trying to climb on me while Saf nursed for the last time.  We took a picture together, which is pretty blurry, but he really wanted a picture with his carrot.  He asked most mornings for the next few weeks but when I would say no and remind him that he was done, that was it.  No fussing or begging or complaining.  He was three years and three months old.

He has been weaned for seven weeks and I barely miss it.  I cherished the time, (especially considering his traumatic birth and our initial separation), I'm so glad we got to have that in our relationship as long as we did, but I was ready to be done and I think he was nearly ready as well.  It's possible I would miss it more if I didn't already have a 23 month old nursling still having milk multiple times in the day and night, but my arms are still very full at the moment.   I do think mother-led weaning can be gentle and with minimal tears, but you probably have to take it pretty slow.  I think Saf being 3 also helped a lot in that we could converse with him about what was going on in our family and what our needs were, while still considering his. 

first nursing session - 30 hrs old
our special last nursing session - with a giant stuffed carrot


And a small sleep update: A few people have asked lately how our nights are going and what our bed situation is.  I am very happy to report that Saf usually sleeps 11 hours a night without waking up, with our day usually starting at 6am.  Occasionally he will wake in the night to pee, or for a drink, but it's pretty minimal.  We did have a 'wake-up at 2:30 and can't get back to sleep until morning' this week but those are so rare now that we can handle them when they happen.  In our bedroom we currently have a queen bed and a double bed pushed together, with bedrails on both sides.  Chris and I sleep in the middle, although technically on separate beds, and usually with separate blankets.  Jubilee still wakes and nurses 3-5 times a night.  I would like to night-wean her in the next few months before baby comes but I don't feel nearly as stressed about it as I did last time around.  I have nursed two babies in the night for many, many months and while it is not ideal, it's also not the end of the world.

The second bedroom in our flat is right on the main street that we live on, across from a pub.  We've had guests lately staying there and they've been woken up by arguments or just general loudness on the weekend nights.  We couldn't put our kids back there by themselves and would prefer not to be woken up by it either so we are all pretty happy to just sleep together in the windowless middle room for now.  I think there is plenty of room for the new baby in there as well.  Right? :)

**I'd like to take a moment to thank my husband of four and a half years, Christopher.  He has been extremely supportive from the very first nursing session to the last.  He actually has encouraged me to keep going when I threatened to wean my children (usually in the middle of the night) and he wasn't even keen on me weaning Saf, although he was supportive nonetheless.  He's a good one.**


  1. Well done Becca and well done Saf. I love the giant carrot's role in all this.

  2. and now the kiddos fight over "carrie" as much as they used to fight over me. ;)

  3. Hi Becca,

    Just wondering what approach you took for night weaning with your son?
    I have a 13 month old son who also had a traumatic birth, being separated from me immediately as he was premature. He has never slept for more than 4 consecutive hours at night and sometimes wakes every hour to feed. I love bfing and I don't want to wean him completely. But I'm so tired of night feeds! I'm looking into different methods and just thought i'd ask which way worked best for you?

  4. I found Elizabeth Pantley's No Cry Sleep books to be very helpful - both the one for babies and toddlers/pre-schoolers, which you can often get at the library. She has some great ideas about creating routines as well as getting the child to become less dependent on sucking all the way to sleep. Jay Gordon has a night-weaning plan that seems to work for people but we ended up taking a much slower approach. It did involve my husband rocking him (and my son therefore crying/sometimes screaming) but pretty quickly he got used to his dad being involved. I think when his last molars came in and teething was finished he just got a lot more settled in the night (as well as cutting out dairy, which we still do for him mostly). We night weaned him a couple of times but it always ended up being easier to let him nurse so we would un-night wean him until the last time when he was 2 1/2 and then it was like he was just more ready. I think for a lot of kids they would be ready earlier. I'm getting ready to night wean my 23 month old daughter and I think it will go pretty smoothly. If you look up I think Kathleen nightweaned her daughter recently and it went really well for her. Hope you start to get some more sleep soon! -b