My oldest is now 5, but she self weaned at 26 months old.
Here is an article I wrote detailing it after it happened. I am now nursing our newest addition Angelina who is nearly 11 months old.
Our Weaning Story
Published in Compleat Mother magazine, and Iparenting.com and Le Leache League.com
"Wean: to accustom (as a child) to take food otherwise than by nursing."
My daughter and I shared an incredible bond that went beyond the usual 9 months in the womb. It was a bond like no other, sometimes more powerful that when I carried her within the warmth and security of my body. We lovingly and beautifully shared the sacred bond of breastfeeding. This wonderful act of nourishing my child from my body was, in my opinion, the best way to feed my baby. There was no other feeling in the world to me, aside from birthing her, than that of cradling her in my arms and putting her to my milk-filled breast. It just felt natural, an extension of myself.
After her much anticipated though difficult and long birth, I assumed that I would simply breastfeed my new baby. I believed that to breastfeed was simply to put the baby to breast and smile a heavenly smile. While breastfeeding is not rocket science, it is a learned undertaking, and did not come easy for us. My daughter was a sleepy baby, thanks to a severe case of jaundice and side effects from birth, and I had no idea what I was doing. The hospital wasn't much help, and when I got home I was terrified. But, through much hard work and stubborn determination on my part, and with a strong foundation of support from my husband and family, we managed to establish a truly incredible relationship. It took us almost 10 weeks, but during a growth spurt, we finally were truly breastfeeding.
During those early weeks and months, it was all about feeding her. I made sure, as when pregnant, that I ate well, took care of myself, and fed her whenever she wanted or needed, on demand, as it is known. She was a happy baby and easily satisfied. As she grew she soon found nursing to be her greatest comfort. She knew she could happily fall into a blissful soothing state of sleep while nestled securely within arms, drinking my precious golden liquid. She thrived on what my body was designed to produce for her. And I thrived watching this second miracle occur. The first was simply conceiving her and helping her develop within my body. Just being a part of this miraculous happening, under God's watchful eye. Breastfeeding was a continuance of that exquisiteness, that natural wondrous blend of moments.
We continued on in our relationship, and we came through many obstacles and joyous moments. We faced thrush, a yeast-like infection, with angry determination. We battled supply issues with perseverance and hope. We struggled with decisions about when to start solids, we fought colds and flu by researching non-harmful medications, we worked on maintaining a good diet, and, the usual things a mother and child learn to deal with when connected in such an intimate fashion. We educated our family members, friends, strangers and our doctor, with a resounding natural passion. One thing that never occurred to me through it all was ending the relationship, or as it is recognized, weaning. While no one in the long line of mothers in my family breastfed past a couple of months, I truly never gave thought to weaning, or how long we would breastfeed. Prior to pregnancy I assumed I would nurse the usual and recognized few months. However, I inwardly felt that because of all of the problems and difficult situations we faced in getting it established, I found I wanted to go on longer. This was probably a natural feeling because of the extreme effort it was for us to become a successful breastfeeding couple. But it wasn't a conscious thought or decision for me. It simply was the way it was.
As we grew in our nursing partnership, I learned all I could about breastfeeding. I researched and read everything about the basics of breastfeeding, through books and online. I read stories from other mothers about how they overcame their problems, and I learned about the purpose of nursing for a longer duration, defined as extended breastfeeding or nursing beyond the first year. I became a member of La Leche League, and locally attended meetings when I could. I treasured knowing what I was doing what was best for my daughter and enjoyed being around other moms who shared my passion. It also strengthened my inner beliefs that this was a relationship built on trust between my child and myself, and basically it was up to us to see it grow. That was key. Learning that a real child-honoured breastfeeding relationship was about the two people involved, not just about one of them and which one makes the decisions. So long as we were both content and wanted this circle of two, it would remain. I don't remember when it occurred, but I had decided to practice child-led, or natural, weaning. This, to me, epitomized what parenting was, and my husband and I shared this belief system. Parenting with loving guidance, rather than forcefulness.
The following paragraph, to me, is priceless: "Natural weaning means allowing the child to outgrow nursing on his own timetable. Many mothers choose this approach because they recognize how important breastfeeding is to their child, or because they find it easier to wait for the child to wean himself. However, that doesn't mean the mother has no influence in the process. Natural weaning incorporates the natural limit setting that babies need as they grow into toddlers. A mother who is practicing natural weaning views weaning as a developmental skill and lovingly guides her child as he learns the skills that replace nursing. This guidance may involve asking the child to wait to nurse or providing food or stimulating activity in place of nursing. It involves respecting the mother's feelings and preferences about breastfeeding while also taking into account the needs of the child. " [Excerpted from "How Weaning Happens," by Diane Bengson, 1999, LLLI]
I soon became a strong advocate for breastfeeding, educating those I could, and staying strong against those I couldn't. My daughter quickly turned one year old, and nursing was still the way she received most of her true nourishment. We held off on solids, as I learned (the hard way) that they weren't necessary until after 6-9 months of life, or so. Breastfeeding by now had become just a normal part of our family. It was a wonderful way to feed her, but also to comfort her, love her, teach her and parent her. To many, a nursing toddler was something odd, something not in the societal norm, but to us, and those who knew us, it was just our way of life. Soon, we were into teething, a stage where many give up nursing for fear of being bitten, or, for having been bitten. My daughter rarely did this, and on the two occasions tried, the shock from my reaction was enough for her to realize that if she wanted more of this relationship, she would not be wise to try that again. I also discussed with her from an early age that she was to be as gentle with mommy as mommy was with her. It must have worked, because she never knowingly tried to hurt me while nursing again.
Our relationship was now set in stone. We nursed throughout the day here and there; we nursed at night, in the morning, and sometimes during the night. I won't say it was easy all the time. I was awakened many nights with a request to nurse, and many nights I was not too happy with that. There were many times over the span of our 26 month nursing relationship I just wanted to be left alone, when I didn't want to sit still for a feed, or offer yet another comforting moment. And true to form, that was precisely when my demanding child insisted I do just those things. But, every time she asked, there I was. Ready and willing. It felt natural, and I knew she trusted that I would always let her nurse, for whatever reason. I could not refuse her sweet face looking adoringly up at me, wanting to be nursed. And when she was older, the bond grew because she was able to verbally communicate her need to nurse to me. There is nothing more amazing than actually discussing with your nursing child how your breastmilk tastes to them, how it feels to nurse, why they like it and so on. I soon learned all these things and it brought tears to my eyes. I knew I had made the right choice for us, to continue breastfeeding until she decided she had enough. While it sounds like it was a choice made by me alone, it truly was not. It was a shared need by us both. I simply tuned into her cues, and she made sure I knew what they were.
There were many times I wondered about breastfeeding for such a long time. Not about ending it, because I knew deep down I did not have the heart to ever say no to her requests to nurse. But, I often wondered how moms did this for so long. How did they trust that the child would ever wean? Ideally, child led weaning was a nice idea, but the reality seemed to be that as she got older it felt like I still had a needy baby on my hands. Could I trust that she would ever tell me she was done with nursing and that I had fulfilled her need? It was never a major concern for us, but the thought crossed my mind, naturally, more than once. The funny thing was, everytime I felt like I'd had it with nursing, that feeling was soon extinguished somehow, without my understanding most times. Now looking back, I assume it was simply the true depth of my love for my child that kept me going. The knowledge that I was giving her the ultimate in immunity, nourishment, love and comfort, secured my decision even further. This gave me peace when the road got bumpy. In every book I read there was the understanding and proof that child-led natural weaning did happen when the child was ready. Weaning would occur, eventually. But of course, I never felt it would really happen to us. Even after setting a few limits here and there to maintain my sanity, she adjusted so well it simply gave her more incentive to use the other nursing sessions to her advantage and enjoyment.
And then as she turned two years old, the nursing sessions and her fierce needs started to diminish. I noticed that as she developed in leaps and bound in other areas, she lost her desire to breastfeed. I knew this was natural and that I was still needed as a partner in our breastfeeding bliss, but it was changing. I watched her learn to draw, years ahead of her time, and the focus she had was similar to the intense concentration she once had when nursing. She started to want to us to read more books to her, and once we put all of her books in her bedroom, she was completely enthralled with reading. Nursing was becoming secondary to learning. It was a natural progression, and incredible to watch firsthand. We then were able to cut out the naptime nursing. I simply prepared her weeks in advance of what was to happen and she happily accepted. Then she started to lessen the time at the breast overall. Naptimes were now happy reading times that lulled her to a tired state, as the breast once did. She slowed to nursing only the morning, in my bed with me, and in the evening, before bed after reading time. These sessions at one time were longer to make up for the others that we had limited. But, within weeks they too waned. She was too busy now to nurse for long. For a few months a normal session for us was her asking, "Mommy, booby please for me?" in her most precious tone of voice, and me smiling and heading for the rocking chair. But, she'd latch on, tickle my face or talk with a mouthful of breast, and ask to go to bed. I shed many a tear as she matured and needed me less in this respect. I knew logically she needed me in the new and exciting things she had learned and was now doing. But, nursing had been truly what we were about and was our foundation, so I had to now be the one to adjust to the limits she was setting.
Soon, at the start of her third year of life, she started to simply not ask me to nurse. She would forget to ask and go to bed at night without giving it a thought. I was torn about offering, even though many months had passed since I had ever offered her the breast. I wanted to remind her, to keep it going somehow. But, I knew it would be a detriment to the natural process, and might confuse her more and possibly upset her normal state of development and maturity. I left it alone, and quietly dealt with my own emotions. I had to trust her now, to do what was best for our relationship. It was life come full circle. At one time not too long ago she depended on me and had to trust me to do what was best, and allow her to nurse as long as she needed. But now, it was me who had to trust that she would do what she needed. It was a natural turn of events, and I was determined to let it happen as she decided it should. Nearing the end of the first month of the New Year, she stopped asking and forgot on many occasions to nurse. Then we created a playroom next to her bedroom, and that, suddenly, it seemed to me, was the end of our morning nursing session. She just wanted to play. We were now down to one night session before bed, and soon, that stopped. While I was shocked that she now had not asked for days, at the end of that month, I knew the end had come. My baby was now growing up, and had clearly decided for herself that she had nursed enough. The relationship was over. She and I now had to move onto a new relationship and find ways to connect and communicate. And we have.
On two occasions since she weaned, she has asked me to try and taste my milk again. Of course, I let her. The first time, she said no without even latching on, and the second time she licked my breast, giggled loudly and said, in her big girl voice, "No mommy, I don't have that anymore I am a big girl now. Booby is for babies. Can we have a baby please and can I give some to the baby?" Needless to say, we are onto bigger and better things. Our relationship is strong, secure, and I am learning new ways to parent, with the same loving guiding way I did when I nursed her. I truly feel because of nursing her as long as I did, and allowing her to self-wean, I have offered her a way to develop and grow on her own schedule, and with confidence. I see that now in all other aspects of her learning. It is a beautiful thing, and I am proud to have helped her get to where she is. I will forever miss the bond of breastfeeding we shared for 26 months, and I treasure every moment we shared. Breastfeeding is a way to parent and gives me a sense of well being and security as a mother, knowing I am not only giving the best in nourishment, but allowing for a natural developmental growth, and a head start in self-direction and self-reliance. I am blessed to have had this experience.