Lessons in Parenting
On Weaning
Published on October 9, 2012 by guest author: J LeBlanc

Like most of our transitions, weaning was a slow process for us. I put my son on “scheduled” feedings at around seven or eight months, but I wasn’t terribly strict about it and it was based mainly on the six or so times a day he tended to eat anyway. The process began in earnest at around thirteen months when we finally weaned him from nursing in the middle of the night. 

My husband and I had been trying to wean him from night nursing for several months, but always seemed to get derailed: My husband would be tired, or I would be tired, or my son would be teething. Part of the problem was that it really had to be my husband who got up to calm him down — which could take quite a while — and the poor guy just couldn’t keep up.  If I got up with him, he would just cry until I nursed him. I wish I could offer up a clever trick or hint, but the tables turned when he finally allowed me to get up and rock him back to sleep without nursing. Once I saw that was possible, I was on a mission: No matter how much sleep I lost over that week, I made sure we successfully brought the all-night diner to a close.

I started getting serious about the next phase of weaning when the time approached for thinking about a sibling for my son. I was afraid that all the breastfeeding would keep me from being able to get pregnant again. I started cutting daytime feedings. First, I cut any feedings that he tended to reject periodically, like the post-nap feeding. I tried to soften the blow by offering to read to him, a favorite activity of his, thinking that would give him the chance to wake up slowly from his nap, as he used to do by breastfeeding. My son went happily along with this new routine and didn’t even seem to notice that a feeding had been cut.

The final three feedings were the hardest. They were the morning feeding, the pre-nap feeding, and the before-bed feeding. I cut the pre-nap feeding first. This led to a difficult couple of weeks during which my son would cry and run to the chair I used to sit in while breastfeeding, making the sign for “milk” with his fist. But eventually he calmed down and went back to more drama-free napping.

Most mothers I know saved the morning feeding for last, but I cut it next because it seemed like the logical thing to do for us. My son gradually stopped responding to the early morning “have some milk and please go back to sleep” routine, so I figured that meant it wasn’t essential to him. Also, I wanted to save the best for last, and the bedtime nursing was definitely our greater bonding time.

In the meantime, I became pregnant again, so I felt like the last feeding had to go, to give my son plenty of time to adjust before seeing a sibling take over what used to be his territory. By this point, he was eighteen months. I was ready to cease being an essential part of his bedtime routine, yet sad that this special time that we had shared would soon be a thing of the past. But, I thought to myself, a lot had changed anyway, as he had gotten older. Some of my favorite moments, such as when he would nurse himself to sleep and his head would fall back against my arm, his mouth open in a small “o,” had ended a while ago anyway.

On the day of the last feeding, my husband came in the room while I was nursing my son and said, “Oh, so this is it?  It’s the last nursing!” My son didn’t seem to hear him, but dropped off to sleep in my arms, just as he used to do. A couple of hours later, however, disaster struck. My son woke up, crying. We tried soothing him, but nothing worked. Finally, I decided I would go to bed early and put him directly in the bed with me, which usually calmed him down enough to sleep when he was upset. Not this time. He was crying hysterically and thrashing around. My husband came in and tried his hand at comforting him, to no avail. Finally, we sang him to sleep, lying on my arm, and I thought the worst was over. But a short time later, he woke up again, inconsolable. At a loss, we let him get down out of bed and walk around, and as he babbled at us his mood seemed to improve. A short time later, he agreed to settle down between my husband and me. 

I later realized that we had underestimated how much my son understood. When my husband announced that this was the “last” nursing, my son probably had a pretty good idea of what this meant for him, as I used this word a lot with him during the day. In any case, he took it pretty well after that, and now I am done with nursing — for a few more months anyway ...

J LeBlanc is a former high school teacher who resides in Lebanon, N.H. She is currently taking a break from teaching to stay home with her 8-month-old son.

Previous Posts By This Author: How I Wish I'd Spent My First Trimester

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