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Weaning My Toddler :: The Joy and Heartbreak

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I never thought the day would come, but I’m officially in the process of weaning my 21-month old, Theo. And I don’t even know how to feel about it!

My sweet baby has been quite the nursing enthusiast since day one. In the hospital, it felt like I was breastfeeding non-stop. My body was sore and uncomfortable. I had my share of bleeding and clogged ducts. In the early months, each nursing session lasted over 45 minutes, and I had 9-12 sessions a day. Theo ended up gaining 4 lbs in his first 4 weeks of life, and had gained back all of his birthweight by his 5-day checkup. This kid loved his milk! In fact, my baby tracker app tells me that in the last couple of years, I’ve nursed over 650 hours. . . That’s 27 days! Almost an entire month! It’s safe to say that “nursing mom” has been a huge part of my identity for the last two years.

As Theo got older, he still loved to nurse and started refusing to drink my pumped milk out of a bottle. We tried 13 different brands of bottles, all kinds of positions and methods, and he still refused. Oh, and for his first 10 months, he nursed almost every hour during the day! I couldn’t leave him for long stretches, and forget about leaving him at night! I felt like I was being held hostage and would’ve killed for just one night of freedom! While I was so grateful and proud that I could stick to my personal nursing goals, I resented how dependent Theo was on me, on my body. I craved some time away, an overnight trip, even a break from the monotony of night feedings that my husband couldn’t help with. It was all me and it was exhausting.

And then as time passed, probably around Theo’s first birthday, everything changed and became infinitely easier. I night-weaned him, and gradually eased into a routine of nursing 3 times a day. Nursing started to feel beautiful and not like a burden at all. My phone started filling up with little snapshots of our nursing sessions, and I started profoundly appreciating the closeness that our nursing relationship created.

Over the next several months, our sessions dwindled to twice and then once a day. And then, last week, I realized that Theo was no longer asking for milk. And for both our sakes, I decided to start the weaning process, just a couple months shy of his second birthday.

It’s crazy to me that I’m relatively at peace with this decision, considering that 4 months ago, I was freaking out when I thought I would have to abruptly wean in order to start a new medication. At that time, it felt premature since it was clear that Theo still loved to nurse. But now, it seems like he’s ready. And I guess I am, too. But it’s bittersweet, no matter how inevitable.

Many before me have written on helpful weaning tips (see here and here) and things you can look forward to once you stop nursing (see here). You can “get your body back,” you can wear what you want, you don’t have to consult the LactMed database (an amazing resource for nursing moms!) every time you need to take even the most common medication, you can parent on more equal footing with your spouse, and you can more easily get away for a legitimate break every now and then. 

But weaning marks both a beginning and an end. To me, weaning signifies that Theo is independent. He’s no longer a baby. One of the major benchmarks of our relationship will be no more. I know I’ll be going back through my phone in the weeks to come, cherishing and shedding tears over what is lost. But doesn’t this apply to so many aspects of parenting? Especially when your kids are young, things are in flux all the time. They’re rapidly shedding their skin and everything is transforming. Changes in the breastfeeding relationship are no different. 

Because I’m still going through the process, I’m not sure how the physical changes I experience will pan out, or how hard the whole thing will hit me emotionally. For some people, it’s really tough. And it might be for me. I’m ready to look and feel different, and I’ve accepted that what results may leave me in unfamiliar territory. But that’s ok.

Nursing was such a beautiful, challenging part of my relationship with Theo, and it revealed to me how much I was able to give of myself for my child. And I’m grateful that I am able to wean gently with timing that feels mutually appropriate. But next to the joy and promise of freedom and growth, there will always be a twinge of heartbreak and loss, and I have to ask: isn’t that just motherhood?

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