Breastfeeding: Weaning an Older Child

With Hercules weaning earlier this year, I have been meaning to write about my weaning experiences with both boys for some time now. Because of the unique bond between mother and child, every weaning experience is different.

Weaning Aristotle

When I was breastfeeding Aristotle, I always had this idea that I would continue nursing him until he was ready to wean himself. In the end, I made the decision to wean him at 3.5 years – roughly six months after Hercules was born (we practiced tandem nursing for a period of time). There are many reasons why a mother might choose to wean a child rather than wait for her child to self-wean. While I agree that the best would be for a child to wean when he is ready, I do not believe a mother should continue nursing her child to achieve that end if there are reasons why she is uncomfortable about it. Children are extremely perceptive and if Mum is feeling resentful about nursing (for whatever reason), her child will feel it even if he doesn’t quite know why. That, I believe, can be more damaging than choosing not to continue breastfeeding.

I chose to wean Aristotle because I felt he was at the level of reasoning that allowed me to explain why he should stop and he was capable of accepting it. He no longer appeared to require the nursing comfort and was only interested in drinking the milk. Once my breast was empty, he would complain that there was none left and that his brother had drunk it all. Since he was equally as comfortable drinking fresh milk, it was relatively easy to make the switch. Weaning Aristotle was a fairly quick and simple process. No distracting tactics were necessary and it was, overall, a painless process.

It was interesting to note that there was a morning when I woke up with breast engorgement and Hercules was still fast asleep. In my desperation, I asked Aristotle if he would like some breastmilk and he nodded. However, when he tried to nurse, he told me that the milk wasn’t coming out. It couldn’t have been more than a month that he had stopped nursing but he had already forgotten how to draw out the milk.

I am glad that I was able to practice tandem nursing for a period of time to help Aristotle adjust to the arrival of his baby brother. If I had to go through it all over again, I would still choose to tandem nurse. What I wish I could have done differently was to continue nursing Aristotle for a bit longer. Nevertheless, I am glad that the process of weaning him was smooth.

Weaning Hercules

Unlike Aristotle who was a high needs baby and toddler, Hercules was a pretty easy-going baby. He never caused me even a fraction of the grief Aristotle gave me when he was little. Everyone who saw him remarked what a happy, contented, and quiet baby he was. He was happy to be carried by others and immediately demonstrated an early independence that Aristotle never had. Because of this, I had always assumed weaning Hercules would be easy. I figured he would probably self-wean before I felt the need to let go first. That was what appeared to be happening as Hercules went through a phase where he was constantly reducing his nursing time. He was about 3 years old when this happened.

Just as I was beginning to think that this process was too easy, he did an elastic band recoil. One day, he realised that my milk supply had depleted so much that he suddenly grew fearful of losing it altogether. All our nursing sessions would end in distress as my milk would “finish” before he was done nursing. Since milk is produced on demand and his demand had been tapering off, my body was no longer producing quite as much as it did previously. Hercules realised this and was extremely frustrated by it. Instead of continuing to suckle – which would have told my body there was not enough milk – he would stop once the milk was finished and throw a tantrum that both breasts were empty.

When the tantrums continued without us making any headway in gaining some resolution, I felt it was time to wean because he was no longer getting the comfort from nursing. It was ending in frustration and tantrums which, I confess, I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with since offering the breast was my one stop solution for calming him. Now, offering an empty breast was clearly provoking him rather than calming him.

Unlike Aristotle’s weaning process, weaning Hercules was painful. There were a lot of tears and distress and that troubled me but I felt there weren’t many choices since there were tears and distress even if I had chosen to continue nursing. The only thing I could do for Hercules to lessen the trauma was to provide emotional comfort in other ways whenever I could. Aha Parenting offers 10 habits to help strengthen your relationship with your child that I found to be very helpful (read the article for further detail):

  1. 12 hugs a day
  2. Connect before transition
  3. Play
  4. Turn off technology when you interact with your child
  5. Special time
  6. Welcome emotion
  7. Listen and Empathise
  8. Slow down and savour the moment
  9. Bedtime snuggle and chat
  10. Show up

Thankfully, Hercules is the sort of child that bounces back pretty fast once he gets used to an idea. The pain of weaning lasted only a week. Although he would still ask to nurse from time to time after he was officially weaned, he no longer fussed or cried when I explained I had no more milk left. Now that both boys are weaned, I have found it of greater importance to ensure that I remember to connect with the boys in other ways. For instance, previously, the boys would be the ones to come back to me for nursing time (aka cuddle time). Now I must remember to seek them out for cuddle time.

Hug Child

There are no hard and fast rules for weaning a child because every parent-child relationship is unique. There are, however, underlying themes – such as the importance of maintaining your bond with your child through other means now that the bond of nursing is no longer there. By being emotionally available to support our children through this phase, we can help to ease the weaning stage when we choose to wean before our child chooses it.

What are your weaning experiences? Would you like to share them in the comments below?

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Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding: Weaning an Older Child

  1. Thanks for sharing this.
    No bond like the nursing bond. I am now starting to believe that self-wean is the best methd. My daughter is now 16 months old and I haven’t weaned her yet-hope to nurse her till she is 2.
    However I have stopped her middle of the night feeds. It was getting just too much for me more so since we don’t co-sleep and I am unable to lie down to nurse. She kept waking up -explosion of milestones I suppose; talking walking teething- and I had to fetch her, strap on my pillow, nurse her to sleep then hold my breath and transfer her to the cot. Every other hour!
    Now past 1 month she sleeps on the floor on a mattress next to our bed and does not demand milk between 9pm and 7am. I used our India trip to sucessfully break the habit without her having to shed a tear.
    Let me know if you would like to know how I did it, this is hardly the forum,
    But thanks for sharibg your experience.

    Like

  2. Sorry why I say self wean is best is because I felt that with just that middle of the night feeds weaning something has changed between us. 😦
    I suppose I need to offer her more milk during the day.

    Like

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