As my first trimester came to a close and breastfeeding continued without a hitch, I started wondering just what my plan was regarding weaning. I had always meant to stop somewhere between the 18-24 month mark, but where that mark specifically happened was foggy in my mind. It wasn't just me wondering; Husband was starting to question my plans, too, because we had both agreed long ago that nursing a toddler AND a newborn at the same time (a.k.a. tandem nursing) was probably not a very good idea for me/us.
And while I still thought that tandem nursing sounded like an incredibly difficult feat (and - to be honest- it seems a little weird when that older baby is over 2 years old), a tiny part of my mind started to question if that might be the path of least resistance. You see, I had hoped for Bella to wean on her own once I became pregnant, like I had heard of so many other children doing. That way I wouldn't have to expend any effort on creating and carrying out elaborate weaning plans. But given Bella's love of breastfeeding and her tendency to request it frequently, it slowly dawned on me that she wasn't likely to be weaning anytime soon. But, oh, the thought of me having to initiate weaning seemed like a monumental project, especially because breastfeeding is a part of our naptime and bedtime routines. Mess with sleep? No way, Jose. And so I put it off. When in doubt, I choose the lazy route.
It was in the middle of this non-decision time that I ordered a book off Amazon that a LLL leader had recommended: Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond by Hilary Flower.
Rather suddenly, my boobs, especially my nipples, were on fire during our nursing sessions. The pregnancy-related breast pain had started out super mild, but it quickly ramped up to intense pain when Bella latched on. I struggled not to gasp in pain and clenched my teeth, reminding myself to "JUST BREATHE." (Totally fun! Just like labor!) The breast changes that had been missing all through the first trimester were suddenly there in full force.
After a week or so of this terrible nursing pain, the tandem nursing book arrived at my door and I gave it a quick read-through. One crucial piece of information that stuck out like a sore thumb (or nipple, if you will) to me: if you find nursing during pregnancy to be painful, you will likely feel that pain for the remainder of your pregnancy. Lo and behold, I was suddenly very, VERY committed to weaning. Perhaps if Bella were only 6 months I would feel differently, but she is nearly 20 months. It's more than OK to stop breastfeeding her now. (YES, Dr. Sears. It really is okay, you Judgy McJudgerson.) And so weaning has commenced.
First, I should tell you where we were at in terms of nursing frequency before I initiated weaning. I liked to pretend (and even told the pediatrician when asked) that I nursed Bella only three times a day: morning, before nap, and before bed. The truth of the matter was that I was nursing anywhere from 4-6 times a day over the past few months. Every time I lay down (and I certainly did that a lot during the pukey first trimester), Bella would request to nurse. Since I knew that nursing would keep her occupied and allow me rest, even if it was just for 5 minutes, I would let her. I was also nursing her after her nap, which was usually a long and lazy feeding, again giving me a chance to relax and half-snooze. And that first-thing-in-the morning nursing session could go on anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour since she would get all cozy with us in our bed. So there had been a whole lot of nursing going on up in this joint.
Since I didn't really know where to start with weaning and don't have any mom friends who have experience with actively trying to wean a toddler-who-REALLY-loves-breastfeeding during pregnancy, I turned to some of the books that I currently own and also kellymom (see resources list at bottom of post). Between those resources, I put together a plan. We (because Husband is also quite involved in this) decided to introduce just one step at a time, and give at least a little time in between changes (whether that be a few days or a few weeks) to keep from rushing things.
The Weaning Plan
We have currently implemented the first three steps.
1. Limit nursing to 3 times a day: AM, before nap, before bed. When Bella requests nursing outside of those times offer a sippy cup of milk (which she takes happily) and/or distraction.
2a. Reduce length of feedings, especially before nap and before bed. For example, I talk to Bella about getting to nurse for two "Twinkle, Twinkles" (i.e. I sing Twinkle, Twinkle twice) before I put her in her crib. She will very briefly complain for more milk, but is asleep within a minute or two.
2b. Increase the naptime and bedtime routine length through reading 1-2 books while cuddling - essentially replace one activity (breastfeeding) with another (reading books).
3. Eliminate the AM feeding. At first I thought I was going to have to start by nursing Bella in a chair instead of bringing her to our bed and cut back from there. But Husband suggested we just go for it since she has done fine in the past when I've gone on overnight trips. So for the past few days we have brought her down to the kitchen first thing in the morning for a sippy cup of milk and it has been a complete non-issue. Hooray! One feeding eliminated, two to go.
4. Put together a book that will tell the story of Bella's breastfeeding journey. It will start with pictures of Bella nursing as a newborn and then nursing as an older baby and then finally drinking milk from a glass as a toddler. I will also include specifics about her naptime and bedtime routine WITHOUT the breastfeeding piece. The idea is to get her used to being a "big girl" and to help her understand she doesn't need breastfeeding anymore to receive comfort and love from me/us. (This book idea comes from the No-cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.) We can read the book frequently and reinforce the concept with comments about how she is a big girl and big girls drink milk. I have mixed feelings about the whole big girl=no breastfeeding, but it seems the simplest way to get our point across.
5. Eliminate naptime and bedtime nursing sessions. This is the scary one for me because I fear the falling asleep issues that might crop up as a result of the change. Husband will be leaned on heavily for implementing this step, at least initially. I think we will start it up on a Friday night so that he can do it for the full weekend before I take over.
So that's the plan, man. I think weaning should be complete within a month and possibly sooner as so far things are going really, really smoothly. It helps that my supply has dropped (at least I think it has dropped-I can never tell with these things) and she isn't really relying on nursing for much more than comfort.
I wish that I didn't have to actively pursue weaning - not just from the aforementioned lazy factor - but also because this might not be the easiest thing for Bella. As much as we'll cheer her on for being "such a big girl!" she is still my baby. And that is where this weaning thing gets a little hard for the mama and I question everything.
But then it's naptime or bedtime again and as I am wincing at the excruciating pain and I think, "Yeah. It's time."
[Husband's comment: The other benefit of this seems to be that Bella seeks out other ways to be comforted, which means I'm getting all these random acts of kindness from her via her seeking hugs and kisses from me. I love it because I'm a pretty touchy person and I used to have to chase her around the couch just to get her to give me a hug and a kiss when I came home from work. Now, I come home and she runs up to me and squeezes my legs, asks to be picked up and just hugs me for almost a minute or more and then asks for kisses. It's the cutest thing in the world!]
My Weaning Resources because I am lame like that and took AP English in High School
- The Baby Book by William & Martha Sears
- No-cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
- Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond by Hilary Flower
- Kelly Mom on Weaning: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/weaning/weaning_faqs.html