Q&A: 20-month-old weaning

Emily writes:

"I have a problem that I'm not sure how to approach, and I think I needyour help splitting it up and looking at it from different angles using your (soon-to-patented, I hope) Moxie Method.

My son is almost 20 months old and, with all the usual nostalgia and mixed feelings about it, I'm ready to wean.  We've been down to just a morning and an evening feeding for months now, so I decided to start by dropping the morning feeding and take it from there.   It turns out that my son was quite willing to drop the feeding and doesn't usually think twice about it provided it is my husband and not me who gets him out of his crib in the morning.

 After a week of nursing once a day, however, my milk supply seemed to drop off precipitously.   I've long suspected that the two feedings we have left are more about comfort and cuddling than nutrition, but now that there's really, truly nothing left at the end of a feeding, nursing often becomes very uncomfortable and unpleasant.  Despite this, my son doesn't seem at all inclined to drop the bedtime feeding.  It is quite ingrained in our bedtime routine -- I nurse him after a story and then put him more or less awake in his crib and sing a song -- and, well, I don't know how to proceed.  I quickly went back to the morning feeding to try and salvage my milk supply, and I'm wondering what the heck to do now.

Do I drop the morning feeding anyway and figure he'll eventually lose interest in the bedtime feeding if I really do lose my milk, and in the meantime just put up with the discomfort?  Are there mothers out there whose babies kept nursing even after there was little or no milk left, and how long could they stand it -- urrrr -- did it go on?

Do I keep the morning feeding and wait... for what?

Do I try and wean him completely?   On the rare occasions I'm out for the evening he goes to sleep relatively easily with my husband or my mother-in-law (sometimes with some tears, but then again he sometimes cries when I'm putting him to bed, too).  But I suspect I'd have to leave our apartment for this to work, and that feels like weaning by desertion to me.

Do I try to explain to my son what's going on and rely on him to understand somehow? 

Breastfeeding has been such a positive experience, I want to bring it to a graceful and satisfying conclusion for both of us, I'm not sure how.  If you have any advice, I would so appreciate it."

Weaning is hard. Some of it is logistics, but mostly it's the emotional stuff that's hard.

I think that in order to wean without causing yourself a ton of regret and guilt, you need to get to the place where you understand that nursing isn't the only way your child gets the ultimate comfort, and that weaning is a natural and healthy stage that can increase your bond with him, and his bond with other people.

If you're reading this and thinking, "No way!" then you're not at that place, and it's not the right time for you to wean. If you really need to wean for one reason or another, then start working on your feelings to be able to get yourself there. Otherwise, instead of feeling just the normal weaning-guilt all of us feel (whether we weaned after one feeding or 5 years), you'll be really torn up about it for awhile, and that's not good for you or your child.

I have not experienced personally discomfort while nursing with low supply, so I can't tell you what to do about it. I'm hoping that maybe some of the readers may have experienced it and can comment.

It does seem like this discomfort with one feeding a day is forcing you into an all-or-nothing situation. So, at this point, you just need to decide if you're ready to wean or not. I think there's this myth that the "natural" way to wean is by mutual decision between mother and child, and it all happens peacefully and one day the child just stops and the mother is exactly ready for it. That's bull, IME and from observing every other weaning situation I've known the details of. One of you always wants to wean more than the other one does. My mom is still upset that I stopped nursing sooner than she thought I would, and I'm 36. And I definitely pushed both of my kids into weaning when they would have gone on for longer. I've never heard of a single nursing couple who just stopped together with neither one pushing the agenda. (If this happened to you, please comment!)

So when you're ready to wean, whether it's now or in another week, or month, or 9 weeks, or whatever timeframe you set, you'll wean. You'll talk to your son about it for a few days before the last day (who has a ton of receptive language, and will be able to understand that there's no milk anymore, even if he doesn't understand why or how). And then you'll stop in the morning the same way you did before. And if he still wants to nurse at night, you'll leave the house for bedtime for a few days. It's not "weaning by desertion" unless he's actually deserted, and being with a loving father or grandparent who is happy to comfort him isn't being deserted at all--it's just a different kind of comfort than nursing is.

You'll probably find that once you've weaned you do more snuggling and talking and other forms of comforting. (Your son will also probably get sick at some point in the next month, and you'll blame the weaning and feel guilty about it!) But this is all part of the process. It's good for both of you to stick together through this stage, and you'll come out of it fine. But part of that is your being OK with the decision. So if it feels wrong now, wait a little while, and when it feels right you'll be ready to commit.

I just want to remind anyone reading this that if you're doing 3 or more feedings a day, don't go cold turkey if you can help it because it can throw you into PPD and give you mastitis. Instead, drop one feeding every few days so it's more gradual on your body.

Comments? Tales of weaning?