Part 1: October 27th
When I found out I was pregnant, I planned to nurse for six months. I soon learned that babies need to nurse or have formula until they are a year old. I accepted that it was silly to wean her to a bottle for only six months and agreed to continue nursing until she was a year.
Natalie is now 13 months old, and we are weaning. But, weaning is nothing like I expected it to be. I thought that weaning would be more active and challenging, but thus far it has not. We have been down to in session a day for five days now. I know that there is still plenty of room for a set back, but I'm feeling very optimistic about our progress. After reading How Weaning Happens, I believe the smoothness of our weaning has been due to letting Natalie lead the progress and me staying home with her.
At first, I was a little worried that Natalie and I hadn't developed that deep bond I kept reading about described by nursing mothers. But now, I don't think that is the case. While our bond might deepen if I nursed her longer, I am happy with our connection. From what I read, mothers often have to offer nursing substitutes to calm their children when they are frustrated, tried, or hurt. That has never been the case for us. I've always picked Natalie up and held her, showered her in kisses, stroked her hair, rubbed her back, and comforted her with words. Natalie has loved nursing, but we never nursed to comfort a bump on the head. I also believe that my ability to be home with Natalie all day has helped me to show her love in other physical ways than nursing so that she has been able to let go of nursing easily with little pressure from me. Over her first year, I've carried her in the sling, let her nap on me (not latched to the breast), sat her in my lap at story time, tickled her, massaged her with lotion after bath, and most recently, let her pull up my shirt so she could get skin to skin contact by rubbing her face and hands on my stomach. At this moment, I feel that Natalie's weaning has gone well because she has never had a lack of physical comfort from me beyond the breast.
I also feel like Natalie's introduction to other food is a huge contributor. While I might wait until 6 months for my next child to start solids, I have no regrets starting Natalie on solids at 4 1/2 months. She was interested in our food and already sitting up unsupported. There have been very few foods Natalie has refused outright, though of course she has favorites. She has taken to both a sippy cup, and now cow's milk from a cup we hold. Spoon feeding has never been a battle. Natalie took to finger foods immediately and is most happy now when she can feed herself her whole dinner with her hands, including her favorite mashed potatoes. While my mother is baffled at our messiness since since she was told to spoon feed us everything from a dish until we were old enough to use a spoon ourselves, Natalie is happy.
Natalie used to nurse 8-12 times a day as an newborn. After her three month appointment, I dropped us down to closer to 8 a day since the doctor said we didn't need to worry about numbers anymore. (In hind sight, sometimes she was really not showing hunger cues but exploring her hands or just fussy for other reasons). The next three sessions that were dropped were Natalie's choice: She dropped them to sleep through the night. Even though we nursed to sleep, our use of a bed time routine starting around 3 months and Natalie's personal choice to suck her thumb, helped Natalie sooth herself back to sleep during the night. As Natalie started solids, our schedule shifted twice, eventually dropping two more sessions. We stayed at three sessions a day for a very long time. We rearranged again when Natalie no longer wanted her bed time nursing, and pushed that into the late afternoon. As Natalie rapidly approached one, she learned to walk and soon she learned to communicate to me most clearly her want to nurse by waiting for me next to our favorite nursing spot, the bed in her room. With this development and her lessening need for breast milk due to her age, I stopped making sure she had 3 sessions a day and followed her lead. Some days we nursed 2 times and others 4. Until a week ago when we took a big step and swapped out a breakfast of oatmeal, Cheerios, and yogurt melts for the first session. For the last five days, she has only asked to nurse once a day if that. On very busy days away from home, I've offered her the breast in case she didn't know best how to tell me she needed it.
Sometimes I worry that I haven't always known clearly that Natalie has wanted to nurse. Maybe she has been more stressed by the weaning than it seems. But I don't think so. She is such a happy girl and we understand each other in so many other ways that I try not to let doubts nag at me.
I do feel very sad at times about the end of our nursing relationship. I love holding her close to me as we nurse each day. I don't even read anymore as we nurse. I think the only things that prevent me from being less sad about our change in relationship is knowing that staying home with Natalie I will get to enjoy our relationship more and more as she grows and we explore new things, and that I hope to nurse another child.
Part 2: November 19th
Last Saturday, I brought Natalie out to a Craft Fair and then shopping for the whole middle portion of day, which is when we would usually nurse. When we got home, she did go to her room and stand at the bed a few times, but since it was so late in the day, we distracted her and pushed threw to our first day of no nursing. Sunday was similar because we went out to the mall and park as a family.
After the weekend, I was proud of our progress, but sad that weaning was actually here. I couldn't even remember anything about our last nursing session. Monday morning I woke up and my left breast felt a little hard. Scared of another breast infection, and wanting to nurse one last time for myself, we nursed on Monday. Today is now Friday and we haven't nursed again.
Natalie is going to her bed room to stand next to the bed less and less. When she does, I follow her in a minute or so later. Sometimes we snuggle on the bed and read a book. Other times, I offered her snack, changed her diaper, get her dressed, or we played with the toys in there. Thus far, there have been no tantrums or crying over being denied nursing. In fact, I don't even need to say no to her. Part of this makes me feel like I always was in control of where and when we nursed, not Natalie. I'm sure some people commend this and others condone it. I wanted to nurse on demand, but after her infancy, it just didn't work out that way.
I only have two regrets about nursing:
1) I knew for certain that Natalie always got to nurse when she wanted to.
2) I wish we had pictures of us nursing. I know that it is a private act and connection, but it seems so odd to have no photos of something that was so time consuming and so important when we have pictures of everything else.
Part 3: January 5th
After that last nursing before Thanksgiving, we never went back. It wasn't long before Natalie stopped going to her room and standing by the bed. She did however do it once recently when she was upset, but snuggling on her nursing pillow with me was all she was really after. Actually, Natalie loves the pillow associated with our nursing. We still have her lay against the Boppy at bed time and she often snuggles up sucking her thumb with her face pressed against it, butt up in the air. She also loves the pillow that used to be directly behind me. Its now stationed in the living room and is her place to go for a quick day time thumb suck or to sit to watch TV.
I sometimes get a feeling, both emotionally and in my breasts, of missing nursing. But it isn't often. I miss a few things about nursing: The connection and closeness, the effective way to spend time, the size and firmness of my breasts. But, mostly I am happy that we are weaned. I no longer need to worry about what clothes to wear. I can wear as many layers as I like and any bra I want. I also don't have to worry about being home at a certain time or finding a place to nurse in public. (I never was much of a true public nurser. I usually retired to the car or a secluded spot, but I think that will have to change with the next one). I also get to sleep in one morning a week!
Natalie is flurishing. As far as food goes, she is drinking milk, trying new foods all the time, and making strides with a fork and spoon. She is more connected with her father, which I think is largerly due to our more balenced parenting now that we no longer nurse. If I am around, she still wants me for hugs and kisses if she is upset, but otherwise Daddy gets plenty of lap sitting, snuggles, hugs, and kisses. Right when we started weaning, Natalie needed to touch my belly button a lot, but she rarely does that now. She is comfortable being independent in the safe places she knows and when I am within a reasonable distance. But, when she sees me front far away, she still comes running towards me. And she keeps hitting her milestones on time or early. She continues to be generally healthy and is growing well. Weaning didn't interrupt her sleep or eating or learning or anything really. We definitely weaned at the right time for our family.