Eli Shafak, The Fort Rules of Love
Did you know that in mystic thought forty symbolizes the ascent from one level to a higher one and spiritual awakening? When we mourn we mourn for forty days. When a baby is born it takes
forty days for him to get ready to start life on earth. And when we are in love we need to wait for forty days to be sure of our feelings
I have always wanted to write about our breastfeeding journey, but it has been too personal a bond, that writing about it seemed like sacrilege. However, after 40 days, today I feel differently.
At the outset, let me clarify that this post isn’t intended to belittle any parent’s personal choice about weaning-when and how. That is a personal choice every parent makes. It isn’t intended to make anyone feel superior or horrible about how long or short a time one breastfed for. However, if you are contemplating, letting your child self-wean and wondering if it is possible, this is to let you know that it can happen. If you are going through sleep regression with your child or in the terrible tantrums stage, this is to assure you that there is a silver lining after all! Because, exactly 6 months back, when she was nursing round the clock like a newborn, I would have killed to read or feel that it is possible.
We believe in gentle weaning or letting our toddler self-wean, simply because breastfeeding is a relationship between 2 people and ending it should be decided by one or both the parties mutually. And since it meant more to her- physically, emotionally and partly nutritionally, I decided to trust her to let go when she is ready.
How it happened
Baby V was nursing like a newborn between 20-24 months and I was at my wits end. It was a very frustrating period. However at some point after 2 years, she did start dropping day feeds. Then she breastfed only before her naps and one fine day, that stopped too, on its own! Obviously, if I had it my way, I’d have loved to night wean first and then day-wean, but oh well!
So anyhow, sometime in November after the Diwali festivities died down, I had had a bad day with a low pressure attack due to too much work. Baby V saw the whole of it but said nothing. And that night, when we went to bed, the sweet little thing said “Amma, you’re tired no, I think I want to hear some stories and sleep tonight.” Just. Like. That. I thought it was a one-off incident and didn’t give it much thought, until the next night she said she preferred cuddling me and listening to her favourite stories and lullabies to mumum. Who was I to protest?! And before I knew it, before I had time to prepare, without warning, my little baby had weaned herself.
What we did
Well, it wasn’t a complete shocker, but still, these are the things we consciously did to support her, from the first day we felt weaning was going to happen soon.
1. Slowly slowly slowly, said the sloth
It is a long and gradual process. I think it took us 6 months for this to happen, and Im told this is relatively quick in general. We were prepared for it to take about a year and I’d like to think, somewhat, patient.
2. Don’t offer don’t refuse
I followed the “don’t offer, don’t refuse policy”. There were exceptions for terrible meltdowns, but overall after she started dropping day-feeds, I never offered her breastmilk. When she came and demanded or felt it was time to nurse, I never refused either. This was just an exercise to help her be a little more aware of when she ‘needed’ mumum.
3. Feeds out of boredom
There was a phase when V used to nurse simply because she was bored. Setting up a lot of outdoor and structured activities helped us both. She got to channelise her energies and I got to play with my girl a little more than usual. Of course, there were times in between play, when she would ask to nurse too, when I wouldn’t refuse.
A lot of times, she would nurse was right after a meltdown or tantrum or when she would hurt herself. We used plenty of words. We never substituted mumum with words, but I made sure to give plenty of hugs, kisses and words of comfort before and during nursing. This was again to help her differentiate between the comfort offered from both.
And finally, coming to how I feel.
Although the WHO recommends breastfeeding for two years, I hoped I would have the strength and resolve to nurse for a year. That we got to bond this way for 2 years and 5 months is a feat in itself, considering how clueless I started out.
I’m in awe of my mammary glands. Nursing has helped us both. Apart from meeting her nutritional requirements- exclusively until 6 months and partly until she was weaned, it has helped me maintain my sanity. Nursing offered me a way out- a way to co-sleep and get my minimal hours of shut-eye, a way to sneak in those cuddles when either of us needed it the most, a way to calm her down when the emotions overwhelmed her and a way to handle her tantrums.
It is with gratitude that I look back at our breastfeeding journey, and I’m glad she has fond memories of it, until the very end. I’m glad I decided to trust my little girl and that she got to choose when she would wean. I’m thankful that there were no tears (from her side, there were buckets from me) and we had a good run.
I do not have the qualification or experience (I have only one toddler who communicates well), but I will end with this. There are plenty of ways to wean a child, some say cold turkey works, some swear by the Jay Gordon method, some say breaking the nursing to sleep association first is important and others say gently talking to your child helps. Whichever you choose, make sure it is the best for you and your child. And until then, especially on hard days, remember that it gets over in the blink of an eye.