Once you are a mom, there’s two milestones to everything – there is the first time you do everything and there’s the last time you do it.
The beautiful thing about the first time is that you usually know it, you savour it, you linger on it, you cherish it, you make it last, you carefully file it away under memories for life that you will always look back upon as magical and miraculous. The first time you gave birth, the first time you held those tiny little fingers and toes in our hands and looked into those big, trusting eyes, the first time you held them to your breast will always be special.
But the lasts, they creep up on you, they leave behind the most bittersweet feelings, blink and you may miss them. The last time you could safely leave your baby on a bed without 25 pillows, the last time you fed them a meal, the last time you rock them to sleep, the last time you wake up in the middle of the night for a crying baby, or the last time you hold them close to nurse your little one. The last time you do it, you usually don’t know it.
Nearly a month ago, I weaned my second child who had gotten into the habit of nursing to sleep since he was 11 months old. While much has been said and written about other aspects of baby rearing I still find that not enough has been said about baby weaning in forums. It is a difficult topic I get it, every child is different and methods that will work for one child may not work for another, but I found information about why, when and how entirely missing.
So when I decided that it was time to help him wean, both for me as well as him, I decided to approach it carefully and apply some trial and error to see what worked. Most people I spoke to said I may not be able to do it alone, that both mom and child can get ill and we need help to wean the baby, but that was not an option for us so we just went ahead with it.
While I didn’t know that his last feed would be his last, I had enough memories, snuggles, and special bonding time with this one to save it well. However I still missed the last feed. So I am going to try and capture what we did under Why we weaned? What we did during the weaning period, and How we weaned?
Why and when we weaned?
Between my first and second child I have nursed for over 3 years. I was working for my first so he had been used to the bottle and was happy to transition to the bottle at night as well when he weaned from nursing at 1 year.
My second however has had me around all day, since I took a break from my career when he was 6 months old. As I had a 4 year old at the time, to help my second child sleep faster I started using nursing as an easy way to help him fall asleep quickly. It worked for us because it was easier to travel with him as well, I have nursed in flights, cars, restaurants, malls, airports, public spaces and more.
Around 18 months, when I tried to change the habit it didn’t work he absolutely did not agree to stop so we carried on. The next time I tried was at 20 months, which went down pretty badly as well. So we kind of gave up and continued another 4 months.
At 25, a little after his 2nd birthday we decided to give it another try and this time we transitioned much more smoothly than I’d ever expected.
Why is a more important question here?
- Around 23 months, my normally ‘nurse for 15 minutes and fall asleep’ baby started nursing longer.
- He woke up more often but asked to nurse fewer times, means a cranky sleepy baby with no soothing mechanism
- Some days he would eat less so he can nurse more
- And I had chronic back pain from hours of night nursing
Which meant both of us were accommodating nursing to sleep but really needed to wean.
The how of weaning
Nursing was a sleep aid for my child, one he had gotten used to from 11 months, it was going to be easy to just stop nursing.
But I had seen him fall asleep in moving cars, when the music was playing. I had seen him get drowsy when we read for a long while. He has slept to white noise. So I had to choose our tools to match his cues. We took the following on our first day of trying to wean.
(He had nursed that afternoon and I’d had no idea it was the last time he’d be doing it)
- Music – I used the Brahms Lullaby of nursery rhymes
- Books – his favorite books
- Milk – in case he needed a sip
- Water – but of course
I had braced myself for crying to the tune of 20 mins or so, but we had less than 5 mins of crying on 2 days.
Day 1 – we played around, snuggled, read, listened to music for an hour and the last 5 mins he cried and fell asleep.
Day 2 – less than 45 mins to sleep and zero tears
Day 3 – he actually chose a single song from the lullaby series I was playing the last couple of days and actually made it play it on loop. But we did cry the last 5 mins yet again
Day 4 onwards there were no tears. But he had chosen his new sleep aid, the song he wanted and his head on my shoulder he falls asleep.
Till day 15 everyday he asked after the milk, whether it was for babies, if its bad now, if he can’t have still. He hasn’t asked or talked about it since then.
Today a little over 35 days since we weaned and this little guy has a better appetite and is learning to sleep better. I am grateful for that.
Baby weaning can be hard both on the parent and the child but it requires that we see the signs and read them well. When the child is ready with the right tools and the right time weaning can be easy on the child. How we approach weaning can make the transition better in terms of sleep quality and health for children while also improving their appetite.
Just make sure you have an alternate plan for all the snuggles and cuddles that weaning is going to cost you.