Gentle Weaning – My Journey Through Breastfeeding

Weaning begins when your child starts to take something other than your breast milk as part of his diet. For most of us, that is around the six month mark. Weaning for some happens quickly, and for others lasts for a very long time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and continue to breastfeed until at least 12 months. Breastfeeding may continue beyond this point for as long as it is mutually desired by both mother and child. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond.

No matter when you decide to wean, do so with love, kindness and compassion and do so gradually.

When my son was born, I knew that I would breastfeed for at least a year. After a few months, I thought that I would breastfeed for two years. I was lucky in that I had many role models who had breastfed their babies for longer than 1 year. Eventually I thought I would like to let my son self-wean and I had heard so many stories of children that had self-weaned. I definitely thought that was for me.
Breastfeeding, 7 months
Let me start at the beginning. My son was born via emergency c-section and had to be suctioned at birth amongst other complications. He had a lot of trouble latching on and we had to use a nipple shield to finally get him latched. My milk also took FOREVER to come in and my poor little son was dehydrated. After a very rocky first 2 weeks, my son was nursing like a champ! After 3 weeks, we were able to wean from the nipple shield and by 4 weeks he was a great nurser (nursed literally every hour during the day time hours) and a great sleeper (was sleeping 8 PM to 4 AM by the time he was 4-5 weeks old – NOTE: this amount of sleep for a baby this young is NOT typical – I was SUPER lucky). But like I said, my son literally nursed every hour for the first year of his life. Even when he was with his nanny, he would take the bottled breastmilk every 1-1.5 hours. He was a nibbler – didn’t like to drink a lot at once – just liked to drink all of the time! Since he nursed so often, I believe that I have literally nursed in public just about anywhere that it can possibly be done! (but that is another post all-together…)
breastfeeding-7months
At 12 months my son was still nursing 10-12 times per day. By 18 months, we were still breastfeeding in public and he was nursing 8-10 times per day. Right around this time, he was able to understand enough and have enough patience, that I could tell him “when we get home” or “not right now” when he asked to nurse and he was OK with that. It was also around this time (between 18 months and 2 years) that I discovered that my son had several breastfeeding “triggers.” These triggers were places or positions that made him want to nurse. For instance, we had a yellow chair in our living room that we always nursed in – from the time he was an infant I used that chair because it had a very firm, straight back and was comfy for sitting and nursing. I found that whenever I sat in that chair, even if my son wasn’t thinking about nursing, he would automatically want to nurse. I also found that if I avoided sitting in this chair, he didn’t ask to nurse quite as much. So I moved the chair off into a corner of the room and stopped sitting in it. Another set of triggers for my son were certain positions that I would hold him in. By this age, he mostly nursed sitting up in my lap. I found that if i picked him up to hold him and he was sitting up facing me, he would want to nurse. But if I picked him up and he was sitting up facing away from me, he wouldn’t ask to nurse. When he turned two, I also developed a “Don’t ask, don’t offer policy” – if he didn’t ask, I didn’t offer (unless he was having a meltdown, of course!).

It was also right about this same time that he was super interested in his toys and the world around him. So by avoiding triggers and encouraging his natural curiosity for the world, we went from nursing 8-10 times per day at 18 months to nursing only four times per day at age two. For a long time, we nursed first thing in the AM (he would come snuggle in bed with me, nurse and fall back to sleep – my favorite time of day!!), before his nap, after his nap and before bed at night.
nusing_a_toddler
Then Daddy was out of work for a few months and was around the house all day with us. Daddy started going up to get my son from his naps instead of me. This quickly eliminated the “after nap” nursing session and soon my son wasn’t even looking to nurse when he woke up from his naps – even if Daddy wasn’t home. Then, my favorite nursing session of all – the one that I thought would be last to go – the early AM one, was the next to go. It went all on it’s own. My son just started to wake up and ask to go downstairs to play. I would even ask him if he wanted to come “snuggle” in bed and he would say “no” he wanted to “go downstairs and play.” Occasionally he would come in bed, but most of the time, he just wanted to play. This was the part of “self-weaning” that surprised me the most -that he would just give up what seemed to be his and my most favorite nursing session – just like that! So by age 3, we were down to nursing only 1-2 times per day – before nap (if he took one) and before bed.

We have had several conversations about nursing. He knows that not all children his age nurse. He went to visit a friend with a child his age and a new baby and he came home to tell me “Jen nursed the baby, but not Leo.” He also asked questions like “Does Kenny nurse?” (his 13 year old cousin) or “Do firemen nurse?” So he knows that when he gets older he won’t need to nurse anymore. We had even discussed that when he was four, he might not need to nurse anymore – and he “kind of” agreed with that.

My son goes to preschool. One day he came home from school and said “Mommy, not all big boys nurse.” This seemed like a good opportunity to talk about weaning and how he was getting older, so I seized the opportunity. I told him that he was right, not all big boys nurse. I told him that he could nurse as long as he wanted to, but that someday he wouldn’t nurse anymore either. Then I told him that since he was such a big boy now, maybe he didn’t need to nurse EVERY day anymore. He agreed, and we decided that he would nurse every other day instead of every day. So for the next 3 months, we nursed every other day (unless he didn’t ask, which happened occassionally). Every day when I was putting him to bed, he would ask “Do we nurse today” and I would say “no” and he was fine. And on the days when I said “yes” he would ask “why?”

Then one day, we were playing with some of his animals, and he said that one of the animals was the “big brother” and that he was a big boy who didn’t need to nurse anymore. So again, I seized the moment. “That is great that this animal is such a big boy that he doesn’t nurse anymore. You are big boy too. Do you think that since you are such a big boy now, maybe we could nurse every third day instead of every other day?” And he agreed. The first week, he still asked every day “Do we nurse today?” and he nursed every third day. By the end of the second week, he was forgetting to ask and he was forgetting to nurse on the days that would have been his nursing days. He now routinely goes four to five days between nursing sessions. He is now 3 years, 8 months old. This is where we are today. It is a lovely journey from such a small baby to such a big boy! It makes me happy and sad to think that our nursing relationship will soon be over. There was a time when I thought he would never wean on his own and now there are times when I wonder if he will ask again or not.

What is your breastfeeding story?
Did your child self-wean or did you encourage weaning? I like to think that I have done a mixture of both – self-weaning with encouragement. Please leave a comment and tell us about your “Journey Through Breastfeeding.”

47 comments to Gentle Weaning – My Journey Through Breastfeeding

  • Breastfeeding was a huge struggle for me, the entire time we did it, so when the time came to wean, I was sad, but also a little glad.

    Both times, as soon as my cycle returned, my milk dried up and nothing I did helped. I managed to hang on for a couple months, but by the time we weaned (11 months the first time and 9 months the second time), my milk was completely gone and my babies had stopped gaining weight. It was harder on me than on them. I just stopped one day and neither one ever seemed to care.

  • Unlike you Judy I was very lucky to have two children that were apparently born to breastfeed. We had very little trouble other than when my milk came in and the chronic thrush issues we deal with.

    My dd was about 27 months when we stopped nursing. I was about 22 weeks pregnant with my ds at the time. When I got pregnant she was still nursing about 3-4 times a day. Usually when she got up in the am, before and after nap and at bedtime and occassionally if she was hurt or upset. On days that I worked she nursed less because she went to daycare before she was up for the day and she would nurse when I picked her up and before bed. By the time I weaned her completely she was down to just at bedtime. I was having a lot of discomfort while nursing her when I was pregnant. I just decided one evening to tell her that they were broken and the first few nights were rough but it only took a few days before she quit asking. I was fully prepared to let her nurse again after my ds was born if she happened to ask but she never did. If I had not gotten pregnant when I did and the milk changed I am not sure how long she would have kept going. I am also prepared to let ds decide when he is done and I am already sad when I think about the fact that he is my last baby and that will be it.

    Thanks for a forum where we extended nursers can feel comfortable in posting our stories.

    Amy

  • So great to read your story! With my little guy only nine months, and nursing 10-12 times a day, I have a hard time picturing what weaning will look like for us. I fins it so helpful to read others’ experiences. I’ve juat done a post about our own breastfeeding journey: http://kickypants.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/my-breastfeeding-journey/
    Thanks!

  • Mommy News

    Thanks for sharing your story Lindsay! What a time you have had. Good for you for sticking with it!! — Judy

  • I had a rough start to nursing. My son was super lazy and just about refused to open his mouth wide, so we did a lot of “nipple feeding” rather than “breast feeding” in the beginning. Of course this caused poor milk transfer, slow weight gain and torn up nipples, but after about 6 weeks we got it together. It took visiting an LC and watching lots of YouTube videos with Dr. Newman but I am glad I didn’t give up on it (although, for me, that was never really an option).
    My son is now 15 months old and still nursing. I don’t have much milk because he really only nurses for a few minutes here and there. The only time he REALLY drinks is in the mornings. Sometimes we skip a day or two. I am allowing him to self-wean, so right now we are at “don’t offer, don’t refuse.” I still enjoy the time we have nursing in the morning when we snuggle up together. No idea when we’ll stop and that’s OK.

  • I love this nursing story. We finished our nursing at age 3 – life was changing dramatically at our house – we were down to minimal nursing anyway – and my daughter had to spend a week with my parents. When she came back she wasn’t so interested in the milk anymore and by the time she did ask – I just explained that it was gone. There was never a big issue. Occasionally now – she asks me if there is milk in there – it’s been 4 months. I know how blessed I was to be able to ahve such an extended nursing expereince with her and I also know that she will always treasure those feelings as well.

    Anita Kaiser’s last blog post..Canadians Getting Smarter

  • Annie

    I am just reading this and realizing “I think we weaned!” It’s been about three weeks or so since my oldest daughter, who is 3 years and 3 months old, nursed. At age 2 she was still nursing 3 times a day: when she woke up, naptime, and bedtime. After her little sister was born when she was 2 years and 4 months she nursed even more. I was one tired tandem nursing momma. This slowed down after about a month or so probably because I started to limit her nursing and by the time she was 3 she had given up all but nursing in the morning.

    At 3 we had the same kind of talk you had with Javin about “big girls and nursing.” She agreed she was big, so she would just take “one sip” every morning. We went on this way for two months with a “sip” in the morning lastly literally 5 seconds (which was her choice.) A few weeks ago I was sick and so she didn’t get her “sip” two mornings in a row right when she got up. She didn’t ask and hasn’t asked since…Hmmm…it appears that now I’m a nursing mom to only one, my 10 month old and I don’t plan to wean her any time soon!

  • Krista

    Elita, the start to my breastfeeding adventure was much like yours. Finally after a month we figured it out and it finally was comfortable. My ds is just a week away from his first birthday. We still nurse 7-10 per day. I love that time together and he does too. This summer we will be ttc so I am sure it will sadly be ending. I am very nervous about how he will react but we will do it slow and gradual. Thanks for all the personal experiences posted ladies!

  • After a rough stat with nursing, my son became a champion nurser. I nursed on demand until I got pregnant with my second child and went through the nausea phase. I still nursed him quite a bit, but started to put him off. Suddenly, when he was 23.5 month old, he stopped drinking and would just play when nursing. He dropped down to only a few times a day. He gradually dropped down until he eventually stopped asking before the end of my pregnancy.

    I just had the baby and he has asked to nurse a few times, but doesn’t stay on very long and doesn’t really drink. I think he is pretty much weaned and won’t restart.

    I was very happy to have child-led weaning. If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I think he would still be nursing, but stopping was very gentle and his choice.

    mamaseoul’s last blog post..Review: Hypnobabies for Childbirth

  • This brought tears to my eyes. So sweet.

    My 15 month old loves to nurse. He won’t eat solids much but nurses often. I have a feeling he’ll be wanting to nurse as long as possible. I plan to do the child-led weaning, as well.

    We had a rough start, too. I had to eliminate dairy, eggs, and soy from my diet. He had allergic colitis and reflux. His recent skin-prick tests all came back negative, though! YAY!

    Carrie’s last blog post..Food Stuff: Risotto!

  • For posts like this and the one below I have nominated you for an award. You can pick it up at my site. Thanks for writing a great blog.
    Melodie

    Melodie’s last blog post..My First Award and Love Links

  • [...] Breastfeeding Support Kit by Earth Mama Angel Baby®. As many of you know I’m coming to the end of my breastfeeding days with my son, so I asked a local mom with a little one to try out the products and let me know what [...]

  • that brought tears to my eyes. i dread the day my baby girl weans completely. like you, i had my struggles in the beginning. i think the struggles bonded my closer to my baby and to breastfeeding. it’s our special time together, even if i’m on the street with a million folks buzzing around us.

    thank you for sharing. i loved how your son learned and drew his own conclusions and slowly weaned himself at his own pace.

    you’re a great mom and your weaning experience is lovely.

    pantrygirl’s last blog post..It’s not easy going green, at least going EZ Pass Green

  • OMGosh I love this post! My little guy was a great nurser, and he nursed until he was about 10 months old (I lost my milk). I really miss it(he’s almost 4) Now, we’re due in December for our second child and I so can’t wait to nurse. But my little guy is obsessed with it! He knows that babies drink from Mommies Boobies, and his cabbage patch doll “needs milk” a lot. I’m a little worried that he will be jealous of baby nursing, not quite sure how to deal with that just yet.

    Thanks for a great post!

    A Busy Mommy’s last blog post..Winners

  • Thanks for your comment Jen! Congrats on your baby-to-be. Your son may be a little jealous when the baby comes – the best thing is to involve him in as many activities as possible so that he doesn’t feel left out. Lots of moms will read to an older child while nursing a baby. You’ll figure out what works best for your little man. — Judy

  • Lea

    Love hearing extended nursing stories – makes my heart happy to hear stories of kiddos and parents deciding together – no matter what age. I weaned at a few months short of my daughter’s fifth birthday, and though she’s now seven, I still miss having that easy comfort for both of us. Ah well. Maybe I ought to have another babe! :D

    Lea’s last blog post..Shorten labor, ads, another iPhone app, & more

  • Thank you for sharing this! My son is 2 1/2 and he doesn’t show signs of wanting to wean. He still nurses a lot, which I don’t mind, I love it. I want him to decide when it is time to stop, we’ll see how that goes. You certainly taught me a nice approach with a little encouragement.

    I feel bad for any mother who doesn’t get to experience how great brestfeeding can be.

    Dagmar’s last blog post..Study Finds More Health Benefits for Breastfeeding Moms

  • This is a great story! I encouraged weaning, but I tried to follow my daughter’s cues and approach it as gently and respectfully as possible. Looking back I feel as if that made weaning a very positive experience. Rather than a struggle it was more like a natural completion. A final chapter to a great story. :)

    Amber’s last blog post..The Story of Hannah’s Weaning

  • roze

    im not planning on weaning at all or gentle weaning im going to let him do his own thing he will let me know when the time comes

  • We breastfed 2 years 5 months and we were down to 1 session a day for several months. She has never hurt me during nursing until recently. Her teeth dug into me and she likes to pull on my hair haah. So I encouraged her to stop nursing. She still asks every once in a while for boobie and when I tell her no, she’s fine with it and continues playing. It was more of a comfort thing, I think. She likes to be held close. I’ve realized we need more cuddling sessions to offset the cessation of nursing. :)

    Mama’s last blog post..Kids breastfed longer more likely to be skinny

  • [...] to look at, try out and review. If you have been reading this blog, then you have probably seen my “Journey Through Breastfeeding“ post, which is all about my journey with my son and the methods of “gentle weaning” [...]

  • adoula4u

    I think i am just sort letting him wean himself and when his about 2 i will also encourage him…but do so with love and understanding and let him make the choice.

    we live in a culture where breastfeeding is so icky and taboo it is really sad!! I do still breastfeed in public with people giving me dirty looks..but hey if he is screaming and crying i will get dirty looks just as well..LOL

    I will use the same method of helpful encouragement and self-weaning….for now Jonathan and I are perfectly happy and i think i would be sad not to be breastfeeding anymore. it would be like a end of a wonderful chapter to a the best book ever written in a mothers life! ok im making myself cry….LOL and yes i am following you on twitter!! and facebook!!

  • [...] This post was Twitted by MommyNews [...]

  • This is an awesome story! I love how the weaning process became a joined, collaborative experience between the two of you, and that it wasn’t upsetting or traumatic for anyone. Thanks for sharing this!

    @SweetWifey

  • Wow! what a great story! I love reading about relationships moms build with their children while breastfeeding, and this post about weaning is interesting to me! It’s also so interesting to see how for so many women breastfeeding is ENJOYABLE for THEM too! I had no idea! I can’t wait to experience that bond! Thanks so much for sharing this post! I linked to it on my blog! :)
    .-= Future Mama´s last blog ..Breastfeeding Post Contest Winner! =-.

  • I have always wondered about the length of time that is recommended for breastfeeding. As my family welcomed our 1st one very recently, this is child raising gold, as every answer I had gotten has been different.

    Thanks!
    .-= mike@401krollover´s last blog ..Great Stock Market Crashes | The Dot-Com Bubble =-.

  • Dusk

    Wow. What an amazing story.. You make weaning sound sooo simple.. My Gracie kinda sounds like your son. She still at 2 yo nurses at least 10 times a day.. Im not even sure at this point if shes getting anything, but I know alot of it is for comfort and I so love the bonding! It just sounded so simple they way it happened for you.. I only hope its simple for us and not a long battle. I have a friend that is or was weaning her daughter, and it didn’t sound pleasant… So, im hoping when it happens its smooth!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day. :)

    I have no desire to stop now and think it would be psychologically better for me if the baby self-weaned. But, I know that I won’t be doing it at 3yrs. I think 2 will probably be my cut-off.
    .-= Stefany´s last blog ..My thoughts and feelings about The Shack by William P. Young =-.

  • [...] Finally, before bed that evening, I was able to coax my son to nurse by lying down in a dark room with him. For about a week, this was the only way I could get him to nurse – by lying down in the dark. Luckily my pump and luggage showed up the next day and my son went back to his old habits and nursed like a champ for a long time! [...]

  • [...] has been nearly 10 months since my son weaned. You can read our full breastfeeding/weaning story which I wrote a few months before he weaned. His weaning process was a compilation of gentle [...]

  • Thank you so much for this post. Before I became pregnant with my first child I knew I would probably nurse my children into their third or fourth year. I have always hoped the weaning process would be gentle but wasn’t exactly sure what it would look like. Your story gives me a framework for which I am very grateful.
    .-= Mommypotamus´s last blog ..Breastfeeding Myths Part 2 =-.

  • Tracy

    Judy, thank you so much for sending me the link to this post… it is beautiful! I am so happy that you had such a successful nursing relationship with your son (despite the slow start). And what a perfect weaning — slow, gentle, loving and honest. Thank you for all of your insight, information and support.

  • Thank you so much for your kind words Tracy. I hope that our journey will give you some ideas for gently weaning your daughter. Best of luck to you! — Judy

  • [...] nursed my son until he was nearly 4 years old. You can read about our journey here and [...]

  • When I started nursing I had an over abundance of milk and a slow eating baby. He’d only take 2 ounces at each feeding. He is now 2.5 years old and doesn’t want to stop nursing. Now I am having trouble with him wanting to eat regular food. He loves cookies and all that junk. The only thing I can get him to eat is cereal bar and a mayo sandwich no meat. He nurses before he goes to bed and because he sleeps with me, he nurses in the middle of the night and in the mornings.
    Like I said in another post I get comments from friends and family about it and I just ignore them. It is annoying. He’s rarely sick, maybe 3 times a year, so I think I did him a favor.

  • Yes, I was just having an argument with my sister about extended nursing and weather or not it is “gross”. I told her I used to think the same way she does – until I did it myself – and there never seemed to be a time when weaning was “necessary” – she doesn’t get it – but that’s OK – I am proud of how long I nursed my son and that I was able to give him such a wonderful gift and such a great start in life! — Judy

  • I loved reading your story! My son, Cody, is 11 months and we are still going strong on nursing. I don’t see him weaning anytime soon, and honestly the thought is a little emotional for me. When he was born I told myself a year would be the cut-off, but I am not ready! After reading your story, I know that it’s okay to not be ready. Thanks again for sharing! :)

  • Thanks for your comment Lindsay – I’m glad my story was able to inspire you! I hope that you are able to wean when both you and your son are ready. Congrats on reaching such an important breastfeeding milestone!! — Judy

  • Thank you for sending me this link! I automatically knew self weaning was for me as soon as I saw that after a year I was not going to be able to just wean cold turkey!

    Like I tweeted, my son is about to turn 21 months and I am 23 weeks pregnant. We went from nursing whenever he wanted to at nap time and at bedtime and a few times in the middle of the night. Sadly I don’t think I am producing enough milk and bfing has gotten a bit painful. It is easier now that he understands a bit and I can tell him “we will nurse later or let mommy take a break.”

  • Thanks so much for your comment Melisa! And congrats on nursing your little one till 21 months – especially being pregnant!! That is awesome. I have some great articles on here about tandem nursing and nursing while pregnant that you can look at as well. Here are some links for you.
    http://blog.mothersboutique.com/nursing-through-pregnancy-an-unexpected-bonus/
    http://blog.mothersboutique.com/tandem-nursing-taking-care-of-mom-is-key/
    http://blog.mothersboutique.com/tandem-nursing-radical-or-just-another-form-of-mothering/

    Congrats on your pregnancy!!
    – Judy

  • [...] feel very lucky to be part of family with a breastfeeding history. I breastfed my son until he weaned, just shy of his 4th [...]

  • [...] to write about, I couldn’t come up with anything. I have already told you about my own breastfeeding journey. I have written about how it felt after it was over. I have written about extended breastfeeding [...]

  • [...] Soon, I decided that I would nurse until my son was “at least” two. I really wanted him to self-wean. I had heard stories of other children weaning all on their own…and that is what I wanted for us. I never dreamed that this road would lead me down a path that many might consider “extreme.” For us, it was just “normal” – and there never seemed to be a time that forced weaning was necessary. My son weaned all on his own sometime during the month prior to his fourth birthday. I don’t know exactly when – it was so gradual, I really can’t remember. But our journey was a beautiful one. [...]

  • [...] many of you know, I nursed my son for a very long time. We kind of just followed his cues – with a little nudging along the way. Some of my favorite [...]

  • Shayla

    Nursing my 3 month old has been a challenge. My 1st born, wouldn’t latch at all, so I was an exclusive pumper for him. My 2nd latched but our nursing relationship was rocky – she had severe Jaundice and I could only get her to latch for about 3 weeks. She was always sleeping and was really hard to keep awake. I ended up pumping for her and bottle feeding. My 3rd, my now 3 month old, I was determined to make it work. He wouldn’t latch at birth, my milk took forever to come in, so he was really cranky about it. I ended up giving in and supplementing two small bottles of formula while in the hospital with him. From that point on it was breastmilk though once it came in. I figured out at 2 AM in the hospital why he couldn’t latch – he was tongue tied. After struggling to find a place to snip his tongue, and a week of healing, he finally latched at about 6 weeks old! It was like we never struggled at all. He knew what he was doing instantly. Now, we weren’t too graceful about it, but it worked. My 2 year old (#2) now has interest in nursing as well. After some thought I decided to not turn her away and so we are exploring tandem nursing, following her cues. I never thought I would say that I would nurse a toddler past 2, but – I guess I am…

  • Hi Shayla, thanks so much for sharing your story! It sounds like you are doing the right thing for you and your babes. I’m so glad that nursing your 3rd baby has turned out so well and I think it’s great that you are letting your 2-yr old do a little exploring of her own. — Judy

  • That is a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it!

    Both my babies are nibblers, seems like I am just nursing all day :) My daughter weaned at 24 months, when I started to have pain while nursing (I didn’t know at the time I was pregnant with #2), she gladly cooperated when mommy told her it hurts, just a few tears shed, but mostly a peaceful weaning process. Then I held her hand at bedtime for the entire 9 months until her baby brother was born. He is 14 months and I am contemplating self-weaning with him (to the dismay of most relatives)

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