Weaning

One of my parenting books (it might have even been Dr. Sears) explained that all of parenting is one long weaning process. There’s birth, which is a weaning of a sort, then weaning from breastfeeding, weaning from the family bed, then sending a child off to school, to sleep-overs, to college…

We are now at the weaning-from-breastfeeding stage of weaning. It’s a bit late, I think: Sophie is 23 months old, but in my mind my own deadline was to wean her by age 2 at the latest, so I figured I should start this month, before Ben leaves for Britain (my pending six weeks of single-parenthood is a subject for another post). I was getting a bit embarrassed to be still breastfeeding, and a bit tired of the hours of my day that it soaked up, and really ready to let Ben do some of the parenting in those hours.

Most of Sophie’s friends just naturally weaned themselves, somewhere between 7 and 15 months. One of the holistic fathers from our birth-class saw me nursing Sophie at 16 months and said, “Wow, that’s amazing, congratulations. How long are you going to keep this up? What’s your goal? I’m so impressed.”

My goal was to get my body back, really.

Sophie’s goal was to keep her world as consistent as possible. She wants to wear the same purple pajamas every night, and she wants no deviation from our routines, and that included nursing.

It’s not that she’s immature. She’s eager to put on her own clothes and almost too eager to be helpful around the house. Just tonight, after dinner, she insisted on carrying all the bowls to the sink herself. She’s been drinking from a grown-up cup since she was seven months old. She’s just also a bit clingy, a bit conservative in her routines, and not ready to give up nursing on her own.

So now I’m forcing her to give it up. This means I’m feeling guilty and uncharacteristically stern, but also determined to see this through. I’ve been trying to slowly reduce our nursing frequency, for months, with little success, and finally faced the inevitable: we had to go cold turkey.

We started last night, with a little explanation: “You’re a big girl. We’re not nursing any more.” Instead, we read Good-Night Gorilla, with all the cuddling we could possibly fit in. I had stocked up on weaning supplies: vanilla ice-cream, chocolate milk, strawberry kefir, whole-fat cottage cheese, and other foods she likes that might fill her up. I had warned Ben that he would have to do the night-time parenting for a few weeks, because nighttime wakings are especially when she wants to nurse. I had prepared myself for a lot of tears and a little more sleep-loss than usual.

I’m probably jinxing it by describing this here, but so far, it’s going okay. Last night, she cried for six minutes at bedtime. When she woke at midnight, I decided that I could night-time parent one more time. I brought her strawberry kefir, hugged her, held her, and sang her favorite lullaby, but refused to sit in the nursing chair. When she understood that I was leaving without nursing her she howled in pain, but that lasted only five minutes. This morning, waking up and getting no nursing caused maybe two minutes of crying.

I purposely started on Sunday night, knowing that she’s in daycare all day Monday through Wednesday, which makes it easier to not-nurse. But being picked up from daycare is another routine time when she likes to nurse. It’s our reconnection time. It was almost harder to not-nurse this evening than at bedtime.

I had tried to cook foods she liked: mushroom-rice-pilaf, fried fish, slices of cheese, slices of apple, and even a glass of chocolate milk. But when she understood that there would be no dinnertime nursing, there was a giant break-down.

We finally distracted her by offering a car-ride, which calmed her down enough for her to decide to eat all the mushrooms out of the pilaf (she’s on a mushroom kick, lately — I just keep hoping that other foods cling to the mushrooms enough to balance out her diet). Then we drove down to the local frozen-yogurt place we’d never been to, as a distraction tactic, and discovered a whole family scene we didn’t know about.

Sophie’s best friend from daycare was eating frozen yogurt too. The thrill of that is indescribable. Thirty minutes of giggling ensued. All thoughts of nursing were forgotten. When daycare-friend left, there were still stairs to climb, balls to throw, babies to meet, pizza to long for, and aloe-spears to examine in this little grassed-patio area in a pleasant outdoor nook of the mini-mall that I hadn’t realized was the perfect place to parent at dinnertime. We met two other moms we knew from the park. We’re going back soon for a pizza dinner.

My breasts feel ready to burst. This is the hard part: I am denying Sophie what my body is longing to give her. It hurts to even type this, to think about the times when we regularly nurse.

But Sophie went down to sleep tonight with no crying. When we got home from the frozen-yogurt outing, she announced she was still hungry, ate two hardboiled eggs, a half-bowl of hummus, a glass of milk, and a quarter-bowl of cheerios. And that was that. No need for nursing.

I won’t count this a success till we’ve gone three or four days with no nursing — but so far, it’s not as dreadful as I anticipated. She keeps patting my breasts, peering down my shirt, asking for nursing, but I think she’s beginning to understand my “sorry, no, we’re not doing that anymore.” I hope.

I’ll find out in a few days whether this is only the calm before the storm, or whether getting through the first 24 hours means we may have actually finally weaned.

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