I always wanted my son to self wean. We had followed baby lead breastfeeding and baby led weaning with food introduction and was a firm believer that he would naturally wean from the breast when he was ready, ideally without intervention.
When Ravey was nearly 2 I fell pregnant and continued to breastfeed him. I read lots online and all my friends who had been in similar situations all said the taste of the milk changes at around 5 months pregnant and he will just stop feeding naturally. I felt sad to have him stop earlier than he might normally choose to stop but felt relieved he would still be in control of the process and that I wouldn’t have to worry about balancing feeding both a newborn and a toddler.
I will say absolute hats off to any mother who tandem feeds! In my eyes you are an absolute hero. I considered it, but by 6 months pregnant when I was heavy and uncomfortable I just could not bare having a heavy toddler clambering over me to feed. And during the night I was getting no rest, between the SPD pain, needing to pee and Ravey’s incessant appetite for boob.
Those 5 months came and went and if the milk did change well he was a fan of the new flavour because he was showing absolutely no sign of stopping at all. It was my absolute worst fear and the opposite of everything I wanted or thought was right, but I personally felt I had to intervene and wean him off breastfeeding.
Feeding had become an uncomfortable and irritating experience and I remembered the early baby days of being a hostage to an all day cluster feeding baby and didn’t know how on earth I could cope with a toddler feeding too.
With a heavy heart at 7 months pregnant when my son was 2 years and 2 months I made the decision to stop breastfeeding.
I had no idea how to go about it. We were already going to have a new addition to the family which was bound to be hard and I didn’t want him to also associate the weaning process with the baby. To make it more complicated we had also chosen to potty train before baby was coming and therefore there were a number of very big and significant changes and transitions all occurring at once.
We had already been quite proactive in trying to prepare Ravey for the arrival of the new baby and had bought a handful of books that we read most days aimed at toddlers exploring the emotions and changes a new baby brings. Most of these books showed the new baby breastfeeding and provided a route for discussion.
Ravey was 2 so although his understanding and language was limited, we were able to talk with him, so for the week leading up to it, each time I read these books I spoke with him about how mummy would need to feed the new baby like in the books and we would need to stop breastfeeding.
His reaction of course was to dispute this, but each time I would say we would have to stop soon.
The day before we intended to stop I told Ravey that today would be the last day and that tomorrow there would be no more feeding. He didn’t seem to really believe it and it was pretty much a normal day.
We decided to start the Sunday and we were busy most of the day so it was easier to distract him. Bedtime was hard and Si had to rock him to sleep to music.
That night did not go well for us at all. Ravey had been used to waking in the night and getting into bed with us. This had become even easier since grandma had bought him his own bed for his second birthday, so you would wake in the night to a scene out of a horror film of a child 2 inches from your face staring at you. Often accompanied by the words “mummy I need the toilet ” or worse still “ mummy I’ve been to the toilet… in my bed”.
Needless to say when he woke he came straight in, into the bed, hand into my top and onto the boob. The plan was that daddy would intervene and take him away and try to get him back to sleep in his own bed.
Now I don’t know about you guys, but this would possibly work if daddy actually ever woke to the sound of his child in the night. EVER! Si has a special skill that enables the sounds of babies crying to not penetrate into his hearing range whereas the simple ruffle of my sons bedcovers next door can have me up like a bolt. So in reality what was happening was Ravey was waking, I’d be elbowing Si telling him to get up, Ravey would already be in the bed hanging off me by the time Si was awake and then he would have to drag a screaming boy off of me into his room. Of course this would lead to screaming like a massacre was taking place, the sound of daddy pleading with the boy to sleep, and me laying awake judging every single action Si was taking or not talking.
I was laying there getting annoyed, worrying the neighbours would be woken and then going into the room and undermining the whole process. I found it unbearable to listen to his cries pleading for me and eventually went into the room, took him from Si, who was doing everything he could, but at that point I couldn’t see reason, and got him into bed with me.
The rest of the night was a battle of Ravey constantly attempting to feed, me moving his hand and telling him “no honey. Feeding has finished”, him crying and daddy sleeping soundly.
By about 5am Ravey had fallen asleep and I was an emotional wreck.
The next day was Monday and Si went to work. We hadn’t planned this whole thing very well thinking back, I really did need his support, but the process had started and we needed to persevere. I worked part time Wed-Fri so I had 2 days to wean him off. Again in retrospect it may have been worth utilising the days where he would normally feed less anyway, as the days at home he would feed more purely because it was available to him.
That whole day was a constant repetition of him wanting cuddles and to be close, attempting to feed, me telling him that I was sorry and that feeding was finished now, and him getting upset.
I couldn’t get him to take a nap because he was so used to feeding to sleep, and the tension and upset was rising.
To this point, despite finding it so hard I had not cried or become upset, only frustrated and angry, mostly directed at Si. I had tried to stay strong. I ended up giving in that night to get him to sleep after several hours and attempts to get him to settle, which I knew wouldn’t help but I didn’t know what to do. Si spent much of the night with him screaming in the living room.
Then day 3 there was a moment when Ravey was sat looking deep in thought and forlorn. He looked at me, with the saddest little face and said “mummy is feeding all finished?”. I replied “yes sweetheart it is”. He asked “the new baby needs it?” and I said that they did. He was quiet for a moment, thinking about it and then turned to me with watery eyes and said “okay then”.
It absolutely broke me! I cried my eyes out! I held him close to me and sobbed. I remember texting Si and him sending me a teary emoji. I explained how I loved him so much and I knew it was hard and he didn’t want to stop but that like in his books the baby would need to feed. I praised him for doing so well.
It was easier after that. The attempts to feed continued but they were more playful and testing of the boundary. He expected and knew he would be stopped. It was a process to establish a new way to be close and provide that comfort without feeding. The cuddles and holding remained but it was hard for him to know how to find a replacement or an adjustment for when he would usually feed.
We did lots of cuddling and listening to music together. He often wanted to put his head on my chest and wanted to look at my breast, hold it, smell it and do other weird things. He would pretend he was going to feed and watch my reaction.
It was only just over 2 months later that his sister came along. And although he questioned and asked about the past when he fed, it was hard to tell if he actually remembered when he bf. His curiosity moved towards trying to understand what physiologically happens in feeding. He was fascinated watching his sister feed.
Now she is nearly 2 and like him shows no sign of weaning. We wont be having any more babies, two is plenty for us, and I find myself wondering at what point might she self wean? Will she by herself or will I find myself having to intervene? (I’m writing this entry with her feeding on me like a gannett!)
I certainly know people whose little ones showed no sign of intending to self wean at 4!
Is it unfair to her brother if she gets to bf for longer? Can I manage the judging stares and comments associated with bf as she gets older? I have all these things to consider moving forward, however I hope I can learn from my previous experience.
I hope I can make it easier on myself by utilising my partner as much as possible. I wonder if there was a part of me that subconsciously punished and made it harder on myself by choosing to do it on the days I would be alone the whole day with Ravey, rather than at the weekend, or on the days he would be at nursery?
I hope I can allow Si to manage his own way of intervening by day or night, rather than rushing in, feeling like only I could fix it and undermining his authority and taking more of the burden on myself.
The books for Ravey to process a new sibling arriving helped greatly and I would definitely recommend this if you are weaning for the same reason, however this approach will not be appropriate when it comes to weaning Roo from the breast. We absolutely are not having more!!!! Haha
In this process its important to be kind to yourself and your child. Its hard for you both physically and emotionally and it changes the dynamic forever. Breastfeeding your little one is a magical thing and its very upsetting moving away from that time, but you never lose that closeness it just changes in appearance.
Even now at 4, Ravey loves to sit in my arms for a cuddle. And he still creeps into our bedroom in the dead of night and gets into our bed seeking closeness. I often don’t notice until I get a foot in the back of my head! (Getting kids out of your bed?! Well that’s another blog post in itself… any tips welcome!).
Good luck when your time comes, whenever you decide is right for you and your family.
If anyone is interested in books to help toddlers understand and process the birth of a sibling, we bought the following ones but there are plenty of choices out there and loads of websites that recommend books. We also got some great ones from our local library:
MY new baby By Rachel Fuller ISBN 978-1846432767 And Waiting for baby By Rachel Fuller ISBN 978-1846432750 My son adored these and although we gave waiting for baby to a friend he still likes to read My New baby even now
There’s a house inside my mummy By Giles Andreae & Vanessa Cabban ISBN 978-1841210681 My partner and I thought this one was a little weird but my son loved it and loads of parents recommend it
Topsy and Tim The New baby By Jean and Gareth Adamson ISBN 978-1409300564 Ravey liked this as he recognised the characters from the Cbeebies programme.
Pictures a combination of authors own and stock images taken from unsplash and pixabay