our weaning story

Sweet baby - on the process of weaning

I’m writing this down as it happens, as we go through this, because I’ve realised I didn’t fully write it down the last two times. Not that that really matters, because women have been & will be doing this long before & after. But our stories are all our own at any rate, no matter how universal. Anyway – our current weaning story is long & drawn out, it’s the sort of saga that you keep on thinking might end soon and then doesn’t. There’s been grumpiness (from me) and crying & kicking (from him), but I’m trying to rejoice in what will possibly be the last feed each time it happens.

Ari (who’s is now 12) weaned fairly easily when he was about 2 or so. I was pregnant at the time, and we’d been talking about weaning and slowly having less & less feeds during the day. Then one day he bit my me and I simply said that’s it. And if you’ve ever been pregnant and had your nipple bitten by a breastfeeding toddler then you’ll know where I was coming from. With Mishi (who just turned 10), I can barely even remember. I know I was in an intense state of tiredness all the time. Over 6 years of being pregnant and breastfeeding sure takes its toll on you doesn’t it. So, I can’t recall what age she was exactly. Not quite 2 perhaps. But she did it herself, very naturally. She pretty much toilet trained herself and started getting herself dressed when she was 1, so you know – one of those kids who just wanted to be doing all the big girl things.

Ellie Beck Petalplum - new born baby - first skin contact - talking about breastfeeding

Well, things are different with River. He’s coming up to 2 1/2 and loves his ‘milkbar’ more than I can even know. Over the past few months we’ve gone through ‘sleep-through-the-night’ to asking for milkbar in his sleep every 20 minutes. My levels of tiredness each night has determined how resolute I’ve been in saying no to all those requests. It’s a bit hard when someone’s kicking you, screaming, hitting and pinching and spends all night groping down your top. I’ve taken to sleeping flat on my stomach so he can’t help himself to the milkbar. You know when they get to the age of self-service! I feel like the only way to stop him some days and nights is with an iron bra.

During the day he lets me know he’s ready for a nap by quietly coming up and saying milkbar in the sweetest but cheekiest little voice. It’s like he knows we’re trying to stop the milkbar, but he also knows he can have it for nap time. I must admit he’s tricked me a few times needing more than one nap a day. ‘Lie down mummy and have milkbar’ and drags me off to bed. Why are toddlers so smart!

A few weeks ago when I went to Melbourne for three nights, River had some extreme crying and tantrums. We’d assumed he’d have been weaned when I booked my Melbourne trip; I had never planned such an intense process for either of them. On the third night Sam reported that River went to bed easily and slept all through the night – so four full days without milk. The moment I came home, he climbed on my lap and pulled down my top. And we were back into breastfeeding again.

Weaning isn’t about cutting off or stopping something, it’s about slowly easing off one thing and easing onto another. So, while I’m drawing back with breastfeeding, Sam and the kids are stepping in with more reading, cuddles, songs and patience.

During the night, with a kicking toddler lying between us, Sam and I take it in turns to sing and pat him back to sleep. To ease his anger and upset feeling with whispered songs in his ear. Some nights he falls back to sleep quicker and easier, other nights it’s more of a trashing battle and we end up black & blue.

I sorta thought I kinda knew this parenting gig, but this little one is reminding me all over again and again that I know nothing. That the best guide I have is to listen to my instinct, and listen to him. Our children really do teach and guide us, if we stop and let them show us the way.

newborn baby breastfeeding - talking about weaningSo, while I feel endlessly tired, I’m trying hard to maintain the joy of breastfeeding. To think of it as a special nourishing bond between us. I look into his eyes, he gazes into mine. In those moments before he slips off to sleep I know that we have something with breastfeeding that cannot be replaced with anything else. And I melt away into the peace of it.

BUT – I have to say that there is a mixture of this joy and pure love combined with a desperate need for it all to be over. And I’m at the point of not wanting to feel resentful of it. Resentful of how drained I feel. I am not sure in traditional cultures, or other women, but I feel like the toll of being pregnant and full time breastfeeding for what ends up being 3 or 4 years (or more if you have a close age gap in your children) changes a woman’s body and her mind. I feel like we’re really meant to live together as a community with other women helping and supporting us – and that modern day world seems to make it harder for women to keep on breastfeeding. Heck – it’s even often referred to as “extended breastfeeding” once you’re feeding past one year old! That’s quite ridiculous, don’t you think.

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Update: So, it’s Wednesday today, and his last full breastfeed was last Friday morning. He’s still asking me at different times during day and night, but not demanding. He asks, but knows the answer. Daytime naps have been hard, as he’s so used to feeding down to sleep. We’re having to wear him out and ending up having late day sleeps (unless he falls asleep in the car). Mostly Sam is holding, cuddling, rocking him to sleep because River is mad at me – he pinches and kicks me, whereas he’d doing that so much with Sam.

So it seems the weaning is happening… not fully weaned yet. When does weaning become weaned? When he stops having it, or when he stops asking for it, or when he can go do sleep more easily without it? I’m not sure, it probably doesn’t matter. What matters is we’re working as a family team to create a transition that feels comfortable, loving, open, honest (me needing to say no), no guilt and all instinct.

Ellie Beck Petalplum boy in the grass afternoon lightEllie Beck Petalplum Grasses in afternoon lightEllie Beck Petalplum - from baby to boy - the process of weaning

3 thoughts on “our weaning story

  1. I loved this post. My little Levi weaned while I was in Florida for a work trip, at about 23 months. I was engorged and swollen the whole trip, and gratefully nursed him in his sleep when I returned in the middle of the night. That was the last time, as after that he would ask and try but then just giggle as though it was suddenly a foreign activity. He still reaches down my shirt a lot, but we are all done. Now I just have to break him from the bottle!
    I hope River settles in to weaning for you. It’s a sweet slow process. I liked that quote/definition you provided.

  2. Ellie, I just finished a really excellent book called ‘Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives’, an examination of women’s health from the perspective of evolutionary medicine. That might sound a bit dry, but it was honestly one of the best books I’ve read – if you want to explore more about the toll of ‘maternal depletion’ and the way things (e.g. societal support) ‘should be’, I can highly recommend it! I’m 6 months pregnant with baby no. 3 and it feels important to work out how to look after myself better this time around…

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