Nursing & Weaning a Toddler

It’s been about 6 weeks since Aria became fully weaned. It happened suddenly, sort of. My milk had been drying up for a few weeks (since about 4-5 months pregnant) but Aria wasn’t ready to stop completely and I didn’t mind her continuing to try the couple times a day she really wanted to. But one day the milk was just gone – completely and totally – and it became excruciating to let her even try to nurse for a few moments. The timing sucked. We were in the process of moving and Aria was sick – not just the sniffles but a ravaging fever that lasted the better part of a week and could not be medically explained, hovering in the low hundreds during the day but spiking at night, once reaching close to 105. She was miserable and in need of the closeness and comfort and fluids that nursing provides; I felt horrible that I so suddenly could not give her what she needed at a time she most needed it. She awoke crying out for me and asking “Why not?!?” when I tried to explain that there was no more milk and that it hurt Mommy to try to get it. I didn’t have a good explanation but could only cuddle and love on her as much as possible.

Once moved in and a bit more settled, Aria quickly stopped asking to nurse. Only recently – in the last couple of weeks – did she ask a few times, just upon waking. I was surprised as it seemed out of the blue, but it turns out she has a molar coming in that is causing her pain on and off. On the worst days she wants to nurse and can still be quite emphatic about it. I keep explaining that there is no milk, that it is all gone and try to distract her with cuddles. Many times the extra cuddles settle her, though sometimes they don’t. During these more challenging moments I try to distract her with another idea – breakfast, a book, etc – and overall the request passes quickly.

Weaning has been a challenging process for the both of us. Aria was genuinely saddened by this loss, as was I. Nursing afforded us a closeness that does not come any other way. When she was sick, which she has been a lot, my milk provided her with the only nourishment she could tolerate. However, it was not just a source of nourishment but also of comfort and security. When no other thing would settle her down, nursing would. After a fall or in the midst of a tantrum, nursing was the miracle cure. Aria is an extremely active and independent child; her requests to nurse came at moments of shyness or feeling overwhelmed or tired or in the wee hours of the morning when needing the reassurance I was nearby. Though I wanted to wean her before the arrival of the new baby, I did not envision the end to come so quickly or at such a traumatic moment. I would have rather done it more gently and gradually, giving her time to get through the move and certainly the illness.

Many family and friends did not understand my decision to nurse my older child. It is not what we do here in the US, despite recommendations from the WHO and other health organizations. To Americans, nursing long-term is neither convenient nor the norm and so it makes us uncomfortable. When a child becomes old enough to mimic nursing, as mine has done frequently, the sight brings about nervous laughter and raised eyebrows. Nursing a toddler in public is much more scandalous. But what about the health, security and comfort of that child? Isn’t that more important than convenience and uptight viewpoints? There was a time – around 18 months – that I started to get restless in my nursing of Aria; at that point support was hard to find and my girl’s frequent nighttime nursing sessions were frustrating at times. But my attempts to wean were met with such torment that I knew it was best to continue; yes, she’s a determined child, but this was not manipulation, this was real need for connection and comfort. I do not question my decision to continue at all, only wish that it was a more common one amongst those I know – not because they have made a wrong decision, but because every mom wants the camaraderie of a shared experience and the support of loved ones.

In the days to come I wonder now about how Aria will feel about the new baby nursing. The subject came up for the first time a few days ago while reading a toddler-focused book on pregnancy and adding a new baby to the family. Explaining that the new baby will get to nurse but that Aria could not was difficult and I felt at a loss for an adequate explanation. Apparently she did too, as she was not thrilled with this idea. That and another discussion on sharing with the new baby led to a complete toddler meltdown. Subsequent readings of the same book – which she loves and requests often – have been more successful, though, with only the occasional nursing question. She rests her hand on my belly while reading and asks if her baby sister is in Mommy’s belly. I’m hoping that moments and discussions like this, though sometimes hard at first, are slowly preparing her for her new sister. She knows she’s coming and though confused about how the appearance will occur (often looking out the window or asking if a noise she heard is her baby sister coming), talks about it often. Sometimes she’s excited, sometimes she’s nervous and not ready. Thankfully, we have some time. Time for me to enjoy being just Aria’s mommy, time for Aria to enjoy being an only child. Our worlds will change soon enough. When that happens it will be amazing and wonderful in many ways, but we will not be able to get back these moments alone with our first beautiful girl. So, I can wait a bit longer to meet this new little one, because what I have in front of me is just spectacular.


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