From the time you start breastfeeding, everyone wants to know when you plan to stop. Three months? Six months? Ok, not more than a year, right? Some of us “militant” mamas are committed to extended breastfeeding but I certainly would never want an eight-year-old under me asking for “nursie”. The Islamic ideal (as well as the World Health Organization recommendation) is two years, which has always been my goal–long enough to give a little person a generous helping of nursing comfort, nourishment, and immune support before they’re nutritionally independent. I feared an abrupt weaning initiated by my frustration with our nursing relationship or Lil’ Z reaching the age of two. The child-led weaning dogma often echoed in my consciousness, so I wondered “How can I help Lil’ Z wean on her own before the age of two?” It’s probably a hyperbole because of the “before two” clause but somehow, with prayer, a plan, and Divine success, Lil’ Z and I shared a gentle and mutual weaning that we both seem to have a lot of peace about. Here’s how it all started.
Lil’ Z was happily nursing her way through infancy- on average, every two hours during the day and every four to five hours at night. At 11 months, a former lactation consultant asked me how often Lil’ Z was nursing, to which I nonchalantly replied “every two hours”. She seemed shocked, saying that every two hours is a demanding schedule for an eleven-month old and I started to ponder if it really was. As we mentioned previously, we introduced solid foods to Lil’ Z towards the end of her eighth month, wanting to avoid potential allergies and let her little organs bask in as much pure mama-milk as possible. But at 14 months, we realized Lil’ Z wasn’t a strong eater and we wanted to intervene. At that point, I started spacing out Lil’ Z’s nursing sessions to motivate her to eat. Sometimes, I had to employ distractions like reading or outings to get her ripe and ready for food. On a whole day outing, I realized how well Lil’ Z can eat while out and that she wasn’t too keen on asking for milk in the company of strangers. By around 16 months, every two-hour feedings became every four-hour feedings: wake-up, naptime, afternoon, bed time, with one to two night feedings. Eventually, I replaced the afternoon nursing with a snack and the wake-up nursing with a swift trip to the kitchen (skip the potty time) for fresh fruit and warm tea. Before summer break, we were down to nursing to sleep at naptime, bedtime, and the middle of the night.
We were hesitant to make any sudden changes while away from home; but once we returned to Oman, I realized that we were getting closer and closer to 24 months. The clock was ticking! By rocking Lil’ Z on a pillow or holding her close, we were able to drop the naptime feeding and, surprisingly, the middle of the night feedings too. Whenever a nursing session was dropped for several days consistently, we never went back. Instead of saying “No”, I would focus on positive language: “You CAN have milk at night-night time”, “You CAN have “big girl” milk now and mama’s milk later”, etc. But, there was that lone bedtime feeding that Lil’ Z held on to. I would always offer to rock her on the pillow first but eventually, she ended up nursing to sleep.
On one surprising night, Lil’ Z accepted my offer to rock her to sleep on the pillow and she drifted asleep without nursing. We alternated between rocking to sleep and nursing sleep for a week or two. But at 20 months, while sick and stuffy-nosed, Lil’ Z nursed a little but paused intermittently to breathe through her mouth. Realizing that she was spending more time not nursing than nursing, I offered her the pillow and that was the last she asked for milk, nearly a month ago.
A few key points and milestones that helped along the way:
- Spacing the nursing sessions to motivate Lil’ Z to eat food
- Being confident in Lil’ Z’s nutritional intake (healthy, varied, and adequate)
- Establishing a healthy relationship with immune-boosting foods like garlic, honey, lemon, herbal teas, etc.
- Introducing a multi-vitamin, DHA supplement, and daily source of probiotics
- Finding a “big girl” non-dairy milk that she loves and offering it when asked for milk
- Approaching nursing as Lil’ Z’s right until the age of two but realizing that delaying and declining nursing are not the same
- Using positive language and offering non-nursing comfort and affection generously
Now that Lil’ Z is completely weaned from nursing, she sleeps soundly through most nights and has a big girl-ness about her. She’s taking her pottying much more seriously (but that alternates between her leading and our leading) and her independence continues to blossom- she actually has her own songs, jokes, conversations, games, ideas, actions; even her own language!
As a dear sister friend told me, “weaning is bittersweet…you miss it”. It’s true. I was in shock for the first few days, not saying much more than half-pout, smirk faces to Urbndervish. I wasn’t sure how to feel: Relieved? Replaceable? Reassured? Nursing had such a huge role in our relationship but it is comforting to know that our forged bond is lasting and much greater than nursing ever was, is or will be.