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.
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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