Since I have tried often these past few weeks to remember details of Caroline’s weaning, I decided I should record now what I remember of Elizabeth’s (and of Caroline’s) since I will obviously forget most of it very quickly.
Caroline’s weaning, as I remember it now, more than three and a half years later, was easy. She nightweaned sometime shortly after her second birthday with the help of a late-night banana snack. And I assume we stopped nursing in public at some point, though I don’t remember that. After I was pregnant again (with the doomed pregnancy, not Elizabeth), my milk supply decreased and nursing became uncomfortable. By that time, Caroline was only nursing before her nap. One day, about a month or so before she was 2 1/2, I decided to take the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach. She didn’t ask to nurse. She did not take a nap. That is a tough position for a pregnant mom to be in: Do I sacrifice naps in order to wean? Or do I continue nursing uncomfortably and face tandem nursing?
My minimum nursing goal had always (well, since college, when the idea was what *other* people should do, as I was not planning to mother my own!) been two years old, with my true goal being 2.5. I was fortunate to have Dr. Kathy Dettwyler as a professor for a women’s studies course where we learned about the benefits of breastfeeding and breastfeeding in other cultures. Her cross-mammalian and cross-cultural research puts 2.5 (human) years at the minimum optimum age for weaning. In practice for me, teething is finished by 2.5 and kids are verbal enough to communicate their needs. While I think breastfeeding beyond 2.5 is wonderful if both mom and toddler are willing, I was not willing, in either case, to continue. Now, while I was not willing to continue past 2.5, I was not willing to stop (nor were my children) much before then as toddlers need human milk, too! Major brain development continues in the second and third year of life, and the immune system is still quite vulnerable. Human milk and the process of breastfeeding (the close contact, responding to the child’s needs) promotes coordination and brain development. Many of the challenges of the twos are soothed by nursing as well, and it is a tough decision to take that tool out of one’s parenting toolbox! And while I myself do not rely on “natural” child spacing, preferring the medical interventions of birth control, those who do have to admire God’s amazing tool of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding moms (following ecological breastfeeding, which means no bottles or pacifiers and no ignoring of nighttime needs, i.e., “sleep training”) find that their bodies naturally space their children 2.5 to 3.5 years apart, giving each baby just the right amount of nursing time!
So, with Caroline, I did not quite reach my optimum goal of 2.5, but we were close! After deciding to go with the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach, I realized I was offering to nurse her for that nap each day, due to my exhaustion. She just did not ask again! A few weeks after, she did ask once. I let her try to latch on; she sort of looked, and then went off to play.
Elizabeth will be 2.5 next week. I have felt quite done with nursing her for a few weeks now. Last week, I just decided, close enough! I am done. This time, this was totally mom-led weaning. She did not nurse in public any more, but she nursed much more often than her sister did at this age. I really did not know how it would go. She asked. She begged. But she could be distracted — by a snack, a banana at bedtime, a book. Even now, a week in, she asks to nurse in the early morning, about 6:30, which means we’ve been getting up at 6:30! But, she is sleeping better. She is fine all day. And she can talk to me about it.
I am so thankful that I had the knowledge, even before becoming a mom, about the benefits of breastfeeding and extended nursing. I am thankful I had a supportive (himself a former nursing toddler!) husband. And I am thankful for the like-minded friends I have found who have reinforced for me that this not-so-mainstream parenting choice is the best choice for us.
And now, having spend 24 months gestating and 58 months lactating in the past seven years, I am very happy to be nourishing nobody but myself with my body!