tandem nursing 4 year old quite stressful -- wean or allow unlimited nursing? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 7 Old 03-11-2012, 06:00 PM - Thread Starter
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I'm currently tandem nursing my 4 year old DD1 and 3 month old DD2.

During my pregnancy I reduced DD1's nursing from 3 times to once a day. That went relatively well and smoothly -- I think she was nursing mostly out of habit at that point, and she told me there wasn't much milk. I wasn't sure I wanted "unlimited" tandem nursing, but I knew nursing was still very important to her (at 3 1/2 years). I figured I could deal with nursing her once a day in addition to the newborn.

Then she self-weaned during my third trimester of pregnancy, due to her having a stuffy nose for a long time and my low supply. The weaning was fine with me. It was easy and mellow.

When the baby came she asked if she could nurse again and I said yes, once a day like before. Now that I had lots of milk and the baby's nursing reminded her, she returned to being VERY enthusiastic about nursing and would nurse far longer than the baby. Eventually I told her she could nurse 5 minutes on each side, once a day. We use a timer and that works fine.

The problem is that it feels like she's sort of obsessed with nursing now. Even though she knows she's only allowed to nurse once a day, she asks to nurse 10 times a day, maybe more. She tries to "sneak" sips when the baby is going on or off my breast. She begs repeatedly to nurse extra times. I've been VERY firm and consistent about my limits, but it feels like we spend all day discussing nursing while she tries to negotiate. I might expect this during a transition period, but the baby is 3 months old now! I suspect DD1 is even waking up earlier in the morning because she's so excited to nurse. We made a chart where she checks off if she's finished nursing for a given day, but so far it has not been a magical solution.

Part of me thinks maybe I should wean her (with advance warning about the date, and a family weaning party) just so we can stop putting so much energy into her begging and me saying no, all the endless discussions and reminders of the rules.

Part of me wonders if I removed the limits and let her nurse in an unlimited way (at home, in private), if that might release the pressure valve -- if she'd nurse a bunch for a while but then not have to think about it so much, and maybe nurse less. But she loves the taste of the milk so she might just nurse a million times, all day long.

My fear about weaning is that nursing is SO important to her. After weaning day came and went, I suspect we'd be in for days/weeks of tears, fury, hurt, jealousy of the baby, etc. I could be wrong, but I don't think she'd "give up" easily, even with lots of advance prep. Especially since she'd have to see the baby nurse all through the day. I don't mind nursing her terribly -- I just don't want to spend all day doing it. I'm busy enough! So I fear it would be hard to stand firm on weaning when I'm really not that opposed to continuing to let her nurse.

The current situation isn't a disaster, but it's stressful and not much fun for me or DD1. Is there a way out?

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#2 of 7 Old 03-12-2012, 09:05 PM
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Having been through this--though dd1 was a little older, a very enthusiastic 4-1/4 year old--I'd suggest a compromise. Maybe take away the "only once a day" and the timer because it's just creating a "forbidden fruit" situation, BUT she has to wait until the baby is full (because it's the only thing a baby eats).

The main limit I put on dd1 was "wait until the baby is full." You can start to put other limitations on it, like not nursing in public, or not being completely on demand. It could be 3x a day again. You can put her off--distract her-- if you don't feel like it; you can ask her straight out if she's hungry or if she's really wanting the snuggle. You can try to make other kinds of one-on-one opportunities--things that big girls do that babies don't--and build that connection.

3 months seems like plenty of time for a transition, but what I've found is that it comes in waves. Things got hairy when dd2 got old enough to be territorial--maybe 18 months? But by then dd1 was plenty old enough to be told no or made to wait. She finally weaned at 6, reluctantly. She will still try to claim one side even though she's no longer nursing, which I sometimes think makes dd2 switch sides more often, just to be contrary--sibling rivalry is going full force.

I didn't flat out wean her, though I thought about it, because whenever I raised the subject (and after all, at going on 5, she was perfectly capable of expressing an opinion), I met a lot of resistance and I envisioned precisely what you describe.

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#3 of 7 Old 04-10-2012, 09:57 PM
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I sympathise with your post! My son was also 3.5 when I had a new baby.    Everybody would ask when the baby was born "Is he sleeping through the night?" I would reply, "the baby is great! It is my 3 year old who is wearing me out wanting to nurse all night long!!!" It really was exhausting!  I finally moved out of the family bed and into the  guest room out of desperation. My husband was soon able to get the 3 yr old to sleep through the night with him.  But it can still be exhausting when he wnts to nurse (he is now 4 and the baby is 7 months) repeatedly during the day.

One way I have dealt with the situation is to come to the conclusion that my 4 year old's desire to nurse frequently stems from his need to "play act" babyhood.  After all, play-acting is one of the ways that children learn about/explore/make sense of the world.  I now divert nursing episodes by going along with the game.  On occasion, I'll carry him like a baby, spoon feed him, sing songs, play peek-a-boo,  etc.  He delights in this play but also understands that it is pretend for him.,I constantly tell him that he was once my baby and we did all of these things together.  I then enlist his help to do those things with the real baby. 

Anyway, this is just a suggestion for how to think about the situation and some ideas for coping.  It is working for us in the sense that we have no signs of jealousy or sibling rivalry in the family.  It also diverts the nursing.  Finally, it turns a potential power struggle into creative play. I also hope it will make my older child more secure down the road because I did not force him to "grow up" before he was ready.

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#4 of 7 Old 04-10-2012, 10:31 PM
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I tandem nursed for a year, and then I started getting resentful and not enjoying it. I decided to wean my older son when he was 3 years and some change. I worried a lot about how he'd take weaning because he was an avid fan of nursing. I talked up how all of his friends used to nurse, but there comes a time when kids stop nursing and announced that we would be having a weaning party. I asked him pick a special weaning present that would be a symbol of his growth (he requested a scooter), made the flavor of cake he asked for, invited friends for the party, we had our last nurse with much love and little fanfare, then had the party a few hours later, and then it was done. He'd ask to nurse in a sort of "just testing" way, and I'd tell him that nursing time is all done, but we can cuddle and read a book. After about a week, he quit asking, and it was waaay less of a big deal than I had feared.


I tell you this because you may be building this up to be more of a trauma for your daughter than it would turn out to be. Have you had a conversation with her about how at some point, kids stop nursing and asked her how she'd feel when that time comes? It might give you more information instead of imagining a meltdown. She may be cool with being a big girl who gets her mama-snuggles in other ways.

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#5 of 7 Old 04-11-2012, 08:25 AM - Thread Starter
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I've been talking with DD for years about the idea that someday kids don't need to nurse anymore, and they stop. She says she will never be ready to stop, that she'll need to nurse forever, and gets very anxious about the idea that anyone other than her will decide this for her. She sometimes asks me anxiously, "I'll get to decide when I stop nursing, right? I can nurse as long as I want to, right?" I tell her, "We'll see" because it's not a promise I'm able to make. Which probably just feeds her anxiety. I bought a copy of Maggie's Weaning recently to see if we could do some bibliotherapy about the concept, but the book isn't quite right for our situation. I'm thinking I'll make a book about a girl who chooses to wean, which is designed to be more like us.

I've often read that when kids at her age nurse, they really either want to snuggle or they're thirsty/hungry. Yet neither "alternative" option ever seems satisfactory to her. When she asks to nurse after she's already done for the day, I often say, "But I would be happy to snuggle with you," or "Would you like to drink some cow's milk or water or [whatever else is in the fridge]?" She almost always says no to both. Honestly, she treats nursing the same way she treats candy -- sort of obsessive adoration, thinking about it a lot. When I ask her why she wants to nurse she says, "Because it tastes SO GOOD!"
She treats my offers to snuggle or drink something else sort of the same way a kid lusting after a Snickers bar would act if you said, "No, you can't have that, but you can have an apple or a hug instead." Not a good replacement AT ALL, he'd say.

She does like to play baby so maybe I'll encourage more of that. (May be hard to encourage more since it's sort of been her primary make-believe play for the last two years -- she started playing "baby" as soon as she stopped being one, and sometimes is a "baby" for big parts of the day! We've always just gone along with it and not tried to discourage this, figuring she'd drop it when she was ready to. The baby play does seem to be fading finally, at age 4.) But I don't get the sense that her desire to nurse is linked to her desire to act like a baby -- they seem to function independently of each other.
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#6 of 7 Old 04-16-2012, 01:03 AM
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do you all get out much? does she have friends her age who are also nursing or have weaned recently? i am wondering if maybe she was busier maybe she wouldn't focus on it so much. maybe if she has friends who also have nursed for awhile, maybe they could let her know it will be ok. i mean i know 4 is pretty young for that sort of thing, but maybe??

if you don't mind doing it, maybe going back to the 3 times a day AFTER the baby is done (like someone suggested). or if it is making you resentful (which is no way to nurse) maybe just calling it quits. setting a date, have a party and give her lots of love. 

i have never tandem nursed because my kids always weaned while was pregnant, i wanted too, but never got the chance. although ds#4 asked after dd#2 was born and i was just so pooped i said "No, meemees is for baby" and he didn't ask again, (and i mean like a couple hours after she was born. lol) and he was almost 4 at the time.

i think maybe nothing i have said will be helpful. lol good luck!

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#7 of 7 Old 04-16-2012, 07:10 PM - Thread Starter
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We do get out lots -- she's in preschool three mornings a week, regular playdates/childcare trades, and wants to take every extracurricular class known to humankind. smile.gif We limit her to two at a time. So she's very busy -- I don't think she asks to nurse all the time because she has nothing else to think about. And I don't think I could even keep track of 3x a day -- then it really would become all we talk about. At least now she nurses in the morning and then we're done for the day.

I'm not aware of any friends who nursed for a long time and weaned recently -- as far as I know, they were all weaned long ago, whether they were 1 or 4 at the time. But the funny thing is, if there were other kids nursing at her preschool, or who weaned recently, I wouldn't know.

I think I'll wean when she turns 5, with lots of advance notice and a book (that I'll make) that we'll have been reading together for months by then.
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