Why I Chose To Wean My Toddler: A Gentle Journey To Weaning
Published on August 28, 2014 by GirlieGirlArmy · 3 Comments
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It’s amazing how many decisions we make, as parents, every day. Whether it be cloth nappies or disposable, breastfeeding or bottle-feeding or both, co-sleeping or separate rooms, plastic toys or eco-friendly toys, TV or no TV, school or home-schooling or un-schooling… the list goes on. For me personally, my latest decision was whether or not to allow my boy to wean from being breastfed, naturally (himself) or with encouragement. When I say ‘latest’ decision, I really mean I’ve been considering or questioning this scenario for the last six months, it has just taken effect recently. My boy is 33 months (just over 2.5 years) old and it’s not a decision I made lightly. He has known breastfeeding, or “nookies” (milkies), his entire life. It’s been there for him every night and day, to help him fall asleep. It was comfort for him during the pain of teething or when something upset him. It helped prevent many illnesses and cure others. “Nookies” nurtured and comforted him, it practically became a friend and took on a whole separate persona, in his eyes.
I have many friends who breastfeed babies, toddlers and older toddlers, I also have friends who mix feed (b’milk and formula), and some who never breastfed at all. My mother breastfed me until I was 8 months old. My sister breastfed my niece until 2.5 years. Everyone has their own idea of what they feel comfortable doing. I’m sure people I know quietly judged me for ‘still’ breastfeeding as long as I did, the odd few even made it clear how they felt and I’m sure many also felt disappointed I stopped. There was absolutely no way that I could have met everyone’s expectations, nor did I want to. In the end it was about me and my boy, nobody else.
Kirsty’s final BF photo
Why did I choose to wean?
The last few months of breastfeeding had become more stressful, than enjoyable. My, normally happy and playful boy, was literally hanging off my clothing, begging to get me to sit down to feed him, most of the day. During the night, I would have to be facing him or he would get so upset and began yelling and pulling my hair. He was becoming aggressive which made it all very uncomfortable and it just didn’t feel right, I was becoming resentful. Completely out of the blue, he would say “I sorry Mummy”, with a sad heavy head, and I’m positive he was feeling guilty for being rough and angry with me. I felt, to a certain degree, that his love for “nookies” had become an obsession or habit that he couldn’t control, instead of an enjoyment. This decision had become a complicated mess inside my head. It was going against my idea of ‘natural’ parenting, because I was taking the choice away from him. Then I considered that I might actually be listening to him. I really believe that by behaving so out-of-character, he was actually trying to communicate his unhappiness. He too had a mix of emotions, he loved nookies so much that he wanted it, yet he wanted it so often, it distracted him from other enjoyments and became a frustration. He also woke frequently at night, every night of his life, to have nookies for comfort or food- little did I know, when I (or, rather nookies) wasn’t around, he would sleep through the night, not waking once. (Read on and I’ll explain more, however, I strongly believe babies and toddlers naturally wake frequently for a reason and the decision to gently night wean should be made for the individual child’s needs but not recommended prior to one year of age).
In the lead up to the decision to wean, I had another very difficult choice to make. I chose to fly overseas to visit my very ill grandmother, which meant choosing to leave my son, for almost 4 days. The longest I had ever left him was 22 hours, once. For a number of reasons, I felt it best he didn’t join me on this trip, as heartbreaking as it was. My main concern was how he would go at night, without me/nookies comforting him, however, I soon discovered that he would sleep all night, without nookies and me! It became clear that he was waking because of them, no other reason. So really, he was getting interrupted sleep because of it, when what he wanted and probably needed, was a full night’s sleep. On returning home, he began the automatic wake-ups again (only once a night though, which was a big improvement anyway), even with me sleeping in another bed…
How did I wean my son?
In our situation, obviously, the beginning stage was done ‘cold turkey’, while I was away, not at all how I imagined it would happen. The first night was the only difficult, unsettled night, after that he had no issues with Daddy by his side. I don’t recommend every mother to leave your baby/toddler, in order to wean, our circumstances just happened to show me that weaning made sense for him. When I returned home, I feared the true weaning challenge would begin. I waited for my boy to ask for nookies and then I was able to explain to him that milkies was all gone and he could no longer drink it but said he could cuddle it instead. I also spent a lot of time suggesting other options, like drinking banana smoothies instead and having “nookie cuddles”. He adjusted fairly quickly to these new suggestions and without upset. Together we discovered there are still many ways to bond and find comfort. We can now play together and focus on activities because he isn’t preoccupied with nookies, we also have so many beautiful cuddles and conversations. At night time I continued to let Daddy cosleep with him, as it had worked so well while I was away. On the first night that I had returned home, he assumed I was in bed with him and automatically woke and requested nookies, once he stroked his Daddy’s prickly face he felt annoyed that he wasn’t the nookie maker, but quickly settled back to sleep! The nights following, he continued to wake only once a night and was mostly happy for Daddy to settle him back to sleep. On occasion he requested me back to our bed and nookie cuddles (and elbow rubbing- his only other comfort) were enough to resettle. The intention was not to abandon his night times but to keep some routines consistent so there weren’t too many changes at once. We will look at the situation again, once he has completely adjusted to being weaned.
Not once have I regretted breastfeeding well into toddlerhood, nor have I regretted weaning. I still believe it to be the best form of nutrition and comfort, for growth and development, if it meets their needs, at the time. I certainly don’t judge those who’ve chosen to breastfeed for a shorter period, or not at all. Like I said at the beginning, we all do what we feel best for our babies/toddlers, with the knowledge, understanding and feelings we have. Comparisons shouldn’t be made from one family to the next. The choices we have and the decisions we make are not to compete with other parents. Our focus as a parent needs to be our own child’s wellbeing, not other people’s criticisms and judgments, particularly us mothers know we do enough of that to ourselves! When it comes to breastfeeding, it’s in the interest of the child and the mother’s wellbeing, only, no one else. It’s too easy to get tangled up in what concerns other people and meeting their expectations, but in the end I trusted my instincts and listened to my boy.
Kirsty Soo is the mother to Izaiah (2 year old boy) and is passionate about parenting respectfully and peacefully. She lives in Victoria, Australia.
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It saddens me so much to think that, generally, society believes it’s perfectly acceptable to talk to our children with words that are demeaning and manipulating, in order to ‘control’ them. Today the teacher of my toddlers Ball class repeatedly told him he was “naughty” for going out the door (repeatedly) that had been left open (repeatedly). And then threatened not to give him a sticker at the end of the class, if he did it again. So in a few short sentences she had judged him and threatened him, in order to manipulate his behavior. Am I overreacting? To us, it may not seem like a big deal, but in the eyes of a two year old who loves stickers (and running away) these words held a lot of meaning. Luckily, he doesn’t understand what “naughty” means because we never use it, but he still picked up on the negative tone and facial expression of the teacher.
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Unfortunately, the poor teacher is the perfect example of mainstream society, who don’t seem to understand that toddlers don’t have the physical capability of controlling their impulses.
“Just as your child can’t be expected to walk until he has the appropriate physical coordination, the ability to ‘behave’ is influenced by developmental readiness, especially neurological development. This isn’t a reflection of your little one’s intelligence, but is related to brain connections that enable behavior such as impulse control which means your child can stop himself from doing things that are unsafe or unacceptable. Each child will develop at his own rate, but being aware of what to reasonably expect at each stage can help you be more realistic and may save unnecessary battles.” Pinky McKay via Toddler Tactics
So no matter how manipulating the teachers’ language, I doubt she’ll ever be able to control her little students, as she would like. No, she’s not the Wicked Witch of the West, she’s just never been educated on natural, toddler development. The easiest and most effective way to deal with this situation, simply would’ve been to shut the door and create a safe space for the class.
How can I ‘control’ my boy if I don’t make him feel bad for ‘misbehaving’? My aim isn’t to control him, as much as I’d love to have control over every situation, I can’t and refuse to belittle my child because he’s not ready to comply to my expectations. Mainstream society certainly expect way too much from these little human beings. I feel judgment and criticism when I don’t react by getting angry at him and telling him he’s ‘wrong’ or ‘naughty’. Personally, I don’t learn when I’m criticized and made to feel bad, so once again I ask, why would a toddler be any different? And people wonder why toddlers break down and let out huge emotions (aka ‘tantrum’).
I know that one day, in the future, when he’s ready, he’ll (probably) understand how to take instructions and (hopefully) how to implement them. In the meantime, I communicate using positive language and being very patient, but more importantly, by being the example he can learn from. Right now, he needs guidance, reassurance, security, connection and respect. My sister, Melissa Knauf, perfectly sums this up “This societal bullying of children needs to stop if there is to be any hope of having a truly peaceful, whole and loving world.”
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- Gentle Parenting 101Who knew how complicated parenting could be! Our babies don't come with their own manuals but there are thousands of parenting books on the shelves, ready to teach us how to train our babies to sleep (alone) all night, to self-settle/ soothe without our help, to behave an acceptable way without fully expressing themselves. Society makes us feel we should know how to control these little humans, our very own offspring, by persistently repeating routines and strict schedules, regardless of the babies reaction. We couldn't possibly trust our own instincts and be led by our babies cries, which is in fact their way of communicating.
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Gentle Parenting 101
Would you like to be left alone, crying after being warm and cozy in your mothers womb for nine months? Even as adults, we don't like to be ignored or left alone to deal with our emotions.
Nature would tell us that babies need closeness, to hear and feel our mothers heartbeat for comfort. This is why co sleeping, breastfeeding and babywearing are commonly practiced, allowing the baby a 'fourth trimester'. This way of parenting has been criticized by mainstream society, claiming it will 'spoil' them and they'll never grow out of it. Why do we question practices that the animal kingdom do without hesitation? Have we become so modern in our world that we forget what comes naturally, is actually what nature intended?
By practicing gentle, natural, positive methods of parenting we allow our babies to be comforted and nurtured, safely and securely, so they grow into healthy, secure, confident and independent individuals.
Let's celebrate the beauty of allowing our children to develop and grow in their own way, without forcing unrealistic and unnatural expectations on them. This year the very first 'International Gentle Parenting Week' has been created to bring attention to this alternative (and yet as old as time itself!) parenting style.
Follow @gentle_parenting on Instagram to be involved with a world-wide community of like-minded parents. They'll be conducting a 'photo-a-day' challenge through the week of 13-20 march 2014. Share your attached parenting/ gentle parenting photos with the following hashtags on instagram to join in this lovefest - #GPweek2014 #NormalizeGentleParenting
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Most of the parents who end up going back to work when their children are under the age of 1 (or 2, or 3…) claim that staying home all day with their child was draining them of joy, and their children were not socializing enough. They felt miserable, and felt that their children were not thriving like they should. Once the parent was back at work though, and the child in daycare, all appearances pointed to a happier situation for everyone. Mom was fulfilled, baby was stimulated, and everyone was relaxed and happy.
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When Jean Liedloff visited the Yequana tribe in the Amazonian forest, she was compelled to write her groundbreaking book “The Continuum Concept” for one simple reason.
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Because in the end, this is the way it should be. We should be able to chat and laugh with other mothers with children of varying ages while giving our children the reassurance that yes, we are here, we will always be here, and they are free to roam and explore the world knowing that whenever the need for a hug arises, we will be there for them. There should be no crying at daycare drop off. The children would “drop” themselves off whenever they are ready. The separation might last 5 minutes at first, only to increase gradually as toddlers feel comfortable taking off with a group of their peers to play. There is no danger. There is no anxiety. Mom is here. She may not be right here right now but she can be reached within minutes, and in the meanwhile, she’s having fun. This is the way life is supposed to be.
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Here are some suggestions you may find helpful.
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- Join an Attachment Parenting International support group: It’s easier to relax when you don’t feel judged for your parenting choices, and don’t feel the need to explain yourself. No group? Create one!
- Find a MeetUp.com group for like-minded moms, or create your own: Joining an existing group allows you to immediately meet other moms, while creating your own group lets you fine tune what you’re really looking for -- and if you set up meetings at your house, it’s even easier to make it to meetings!
- Go to parks, or attend children-oriented events: I can’t tell you how many times I went to parks only to sit down with a mom for a relaxed chat while our kids plaid. Children, especially attachment parented children, aren’t afraid of other kids. My son will find a child around his age, and will offer to start a game (first by joining in, then verbally as he grew older). Libraries often have Story Time hours, which can be a lot of fun as well (you might want to try a few, as they probably won’t all work for your child’s personality).
- Attend events for adults when your child has gone to sleep: I could not do this when my son was very little, as I fell asleep at the same time he did, but if you have a sleeper who goes down when you still have some energy to spare, take advantage of it! Organize or join a Girls’ Night with your friends, invite people over for dinner, etc. Take advantage of it to have a date night with your partner if he or she has to work during the day.
You don’t need to turn attachment parenting into an exercise in martyrdom. From what I’ve seen and read about, the happiest families are the ones that find balance and nurture everybody’s needs. And yes, it is possible! If you find that you crave the presence of others, there are many organizations and events available, and a few are bound to suit you. Don’t forget, for every lonely mother is another one waiting to meet her. In the end, not only is attachment parenting the natural choice for many families, it is also the choice that is most likely to bring them joy and fulfillment.
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