Q&A: weaning a co-sleeping toddler

Angie writes:

"My question is about weaning from the breast.  I have a 16 month old daughter who I was fortunate enough to breastfeed the whole 1st year (and now past that mark...).

She never had formula, so I made enough milk for her, ironically enough only out of one boob.  My left boob really never made much milk and I was able to "wean" her off the left boob without any problem.  I am interested in beginning to try to wean her off my milk-making boob--the right one--now.  I am not in any big hurry, but maybe by summer would be great. 

Problem is, I don't really know where to start.  She doesn't nurse that much anyway, so I know slowly cutting back the number of nursing sessions is the way.  I co-sleep with her & she nurses before bed (she doesn't always nurse to sleep, 'cause I know that is a bad habit), she nurses when I get home from work and then she nurses around 4-5am so I am comfortable during my day at work, so really only 3 maybe 4 times a day.  I had a bout of mastitis when she was 11 months old and I am not looking to go there again! 

It is at the point of where my husband gives me shit about still nursing her.  When she pulls at my shirt or just pulls my tank top down to get the boob out, my husband makes a smart-ass comment.  He certainly doesn't have any problem when he is trying to watch a movie and she is being whiny and I can shut her up by giving her "booby time".  Anyway, I still enjoy our nursing relationship, and I enjoy co-sleeping with her, but it is getting time to begin weaning.  And like I said, I want to do it SLOWLY.  How do I still co-sleep but wean her?  I don't want her to cry a lot either.  Any advice or suggestions on this PLEASE! Thank you so much!"

So that's the answer to the question "Can you nurse a baby if you only make milk in one breast?" Good for you for making it so far on only one engine.

Before we talk about the waening process, let me mention that there seem to be natural breaks in which kids tend to be more likely/able to wean easily than at other times. 9 months is one of them, as is 18 months. So you're probably starting at about the right time. If you notice a lot of resistance from your daughter to dropping a nursing session, pull back and try again in another week.

Now to the actual weaning process. I don't know which session you want to cut out first. I'd go with either the one that bothers you least or the one that bothers you most. Let me tell you how I think you should cut out each one, and then you decide where to start.

Home from work session: You will have to create a new reunion ritual that she likes just as much as nursing. Maybe blowing bubbles or tickling or something fun like that, combined with a sippy of strawberry chocolate milk and a ton of snuggling. It might only take a few days, or it might take a few weeks to get her to switch, although it'll probably be easier if you switch up your pick-up routine a little. So if you normally nurse in a certain place right after you get home, stay away from that area of the house for an hour or so after getting home from work. If you can keep everything else exactly the same as it was before, but surgically excise the nursing part and replace it with something equally bonding and fun, she should be momentarily confused but not upset.

4-5 am session: You could either do the Dr. Jay Gordon co-sleeping nightweaning plan I referenced in this post, or you might (if you wait and eliminate this session when she's closer to 18 months) be able to just talk about it with her that you're not going to nurse when it's dark out anymore. You should hype the "no nursing in the middle of the night" idea for a few nights before you actually try it. Again, you may want to create a new thing for her to do when she wakes up then, but it should be a more "disposible" thing so you're really just transitioning her to staying asleep then instead. I'm thinking something like a sippy of water or a snuggle with a song, etc. that you can then drop in a month or two (or just leave a sippy of water on the bedside table and she can get it herself if she wakes up). If she's really resistant to dropping this session, your husband will have to deal with her waking up then for the week to three weeks it takes her to drop it. But you said he wants her to wean, so I'm sure he'll do whatever it takes to help the process along. Right? (Heh.)

Before bed session: I don't think there's anything wrong with nursing to sleep in general, but it probably is going to be easiest to drop this session since it's not an essential part of your bedtime routine. (Since it'll probably be the easiest to drop, do you want to do it first or drop it last? That's totally up to you.) Again, it's going to fall to your husband. He just puts her to bed every night for a few weeks and she'll be totally out of the habit of nursing. If it's too difficult the first night, you may have to arrange to be out of the house for her bedtime for a few days in a row.

Again, I think you'll figure out what she's willing to do now and what might be more difficult for her. If your idea is to be done weaning by the summer, I think starting now will give you plenty of time to do it slowly so she's really OK with it as you do it. If you sense a lot of resistance or fear from her after a few days or trying to cut out a particular session, stop pressing to wean from that session, wait a few days, and then try a different one.

I also think that since you've had mastitis (I'm getting chills just thinking about it) and are afraid of getting it again, you might want to try to slow down your production while you're cutting out a particular nursing session. So if you decide to start with the home from work reunion session, you could drink some peppermint tea right before you leave work or on the way to get her. Mint slows down milk production (how much depends on how your body reacts to it), so if you get in the habit of having some mint an hour or two before you'd normally nurse you might find your supply naturally slowing down just when you want it to. (If mint doesn't do the trick, try brewing some fresh sage leaves and drinking the "tea" that results to slow down your production.)

Since your husband is so eager for you to wean her, maybe it'll help the process if you sit down with him and ask him for his input on which session to eliminate first. Since he's going to be the one doing the weaning from the to-bed session and he may have to do some middle-of-the-night work on the 4 am session, he should be able to help you make your game plan. If he helps make it, it'll also help get him on board with having to participate in the process.

Good luck. I hope it goes smoothly and easily for all three of you.