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Weaning a Toddler – and Failing

Boob Induced Sleep
Boob Induced Sleep

I’m hesitant to write about this because I’m so afraid this will be misunderstood. I’m really not looking for judgement, or criticism. I’m feeling a little fragile, so I don’t think I could take it right now. But I feel like I need to write it,because it’s what’s going on in my life right now and it takes up a lot of my time, my thoughts and my energy.

 

It’s a lot easier to write about breastfeeding a 3 year old from the perspective of someone who’s confident and comfortable with that decision. When I’ve written about breastfeeding my toddlers previously I’ve prepared for negative feedback – and I could have taken it. I’ve heard it all before. When I’m totally secure in my decision to continue to breastfeed and all the reasons we’re happy to keep going there’s not really much anyone could say that would bother me.

It’s different now though, because I do actually want to wean her. I’ve said before that breastfeeding is perfectly fine for as long as both mother and child want to continue, but what happens when the mother wants to stop – and the child doesn’t?

What worries me about writing this is people won’t understand the dilemma because breastfeeding a 3 year old is so uncommon, that weaning a 3 year old is also not something most people are familiar with. So I feel like it’s hard to talk about because I don’t know that people will understand the issue.

And I get it… I mean, she’s over 3. She’s had a bloody good run of it. She doesn’t “need” it anymore. Why can’t I just say no and be done with it?

I guess the best way I can think to explain weaning a toddler is imagine a toddler who has a dummy – and they need that dummy in mouth to sleep; to fall asleep, get back to sleep, and some nights even just stay asleep. Imagine they also have pretty much unlimited access to their dummy during the day as well.

Now imagine you can’t get rid of the dummy. You’re going to wean your toddler off the dummy, while the dummy is tied around your neck. All the time. Even if you tuck it into your top so it’s out of sight, they know it’s there.

Now imagine that dummy is made of chocolate – or whatever your toddler’s favourite food is. And drink. It’s like chocolate milk and ice cream in a constant stream from that dummy around your neck that you can’t get rid of.

But it’s not chocolate or ice-cream. It’s actually really really good for them. It’s not only nutritionally good for them, it supports their immune system. So you’re not saying “no” to chocolate, you’re saying “no” to brussel sprouts.

And finally the kick in the guts. It’s not just a healthy chocolate cake smoothy dummy around your neck 24/7. It’s also you. It’s very literally a part of you that you’re saying they can’t have anymore. It’s how they’ve experienced and communicated love their entire life. Obviously it’s not the ONLY way we communicate love. Obviously we will continue to bond and connect and love each other forever. But right now this is all she knows. If she wants to feel loved, cared for, protected, comforted she asks for booby. It’s that simple. It’s not just food and drink, it’s a big part of our relationship.

As her mother, as an adult, as a parent who’s previously weaned a toddler I KNOW there’s life on the other side of this. I know weaning a toddler is possible. I know she’ll be okay once it’s over, and I know we’ll still love each other when she’s weaned – but she doesn’t know that.

She’s scared. And angry and frustrated and worst of all – rejected.

By me.

And I want to be totally, completely, absolutely clear with this – her behaviour is perfectly normal and appropriate. There’s nothing wrong with her still wanting to be breastfed. It’s totally natural for 3 year olds to breastfeed, and continue to breastfeed. Some kids happily breastfeed until school age and beyond – and that is fine.

So, what’s the problem?

I’m experiencing feeding aversion. Every single feed makes my toes curl, my teeth grit, my skin crawl, and I want to run screaming from the room. It probably doesn’t help that she has a chipped tooth, so it’s also very painful sometimes to feed her.

I feel like crying when I think about it.

Because I feel so trapped. There’s no easy way out of this.

I feel like I’m failing because I haven’t weaned her when it seems like it should be an easy thing to do – everyone else is able to stop breastfeeding, so why can’t I manage it?

And like I’m selfish because I’m trying to wean her and if it’s upsetting her so much why can’t I just suck it up and stop putting myself above her emotional needs?

Neither of those things are true, or at all fair to myself. But it’s how I feel right now.

So, anyway. That’s where I’m at. I’d love to write a awesomely helpful post titled “How to Wean a Boob-Obsessed Toddler.” But I can’t, because I just don’t know where to go from here.

If you happen to know where I could find something like that though I’d love to read it, or if you have any advice, tips, ideas, hugs or wine to offer me, I’d accept them gladly!

***UPDATE*** It’s been two weeks since I wrote this and I thought I should just add that we’ve had some success with cutting back feeds. Counting backwards from 10 to shorten feeds has really helped. Most of the time she’d even unlatch before I finished counting down and the last few days she hasn’t even asked for a day-time feed so *touch wood* that continues. This means I get a solid 12 hour break from breastfeeding during the day at least.

Night feeds are still a major pain, and while I’m not feeling the aversion quite so intensely, I still can’t just sleep through feeds like I used to. So, I’m tired because of super broken sleep, but with this little win I’m feeling like there’s a way out of this. Like, there’s hope. Hope is good. 

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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32 comments

  1. Oh Rach I feel you. My guy is 2 in a couple of weeks and while I’m happy to continue feeding for now I know there’ll come a time when I’m completely over it, and I really feel it’ll be before he’s ready. He might surprise me and self-wean over the next few months but I seriously doubt it! I have no advice honey, just empathy (and if you find some good advice please share it haha!!). X

  2. Oh Rach I feel you. My guy is 2 in a couple of weeks and while I’m happy to continue feeding for now I know there’ll come a time when I’m completely over it, and I really feel it’ll be before he’s ready. He might surprise me and self-wean over the next few months but I seriously doubt it! I have no advice honey, just empathy (and if you find some good advice please share it haha!!). X

  3. Arianwen Harris

    So tough. I found counting helpful. Saying ok you can feed for 10 and counting to 10, others use the abc’s. I’ve heard of people doing a bye bye ceremony too. Good luck.

  4. Arianwen Harris

    So tough. I found counting helpful. Saying ok you can feed for 10 and counting to 10, others use the abc’s. I’ve heard of people doing a bye bye ceremony too. Good luck.

  5. Tracey Corbin-matchett

    Hugs to you, weaning at any ange is tough on all parties involved! Distraction helps… Look for her feeding cues, “tired/upset/bored/hungry/cuddles” and try and get ahead with an alternate food/drink that she likes in her fav cup or bowl and read to her or play a game with while she eats or drinks them, with as many cuddles as you can manage. Dropping the least favourite feed of the day to her, first and gradually building up the other feeds to drop over a few days might help than just going cold turkey might lessen the impact on you both as well. You’ve given her a great start and that is awesome. Good luck super mum xx

  6. Tracey Corbin-matchett

    Hugs to you, weaning at any ange is tough on all parties involved! Distraction helps… Look for her feeding cues, “tired/upset/bored/hungry/cuddles” and try and get ahead with an alternate food/drink that she likes in her fav cup or bowl and read to her or play a game with while she eats or drinks them, with as many cuddles as you can manage. Dropping the least favourite feed of the day to her, first and gradually building up the other feeds to drop over a few days might help than just going cold turkey might lessen the impact on you both as well. You’ve given her a great start and that is awesome. Good luck super mum xx

  7. Sam Munn

    I just went through a HATING breastfeeding stage too.

    I had a chat with 3yo R about how I would love to keep breastfeeding her, but needed her help to make it more enjoyable. Namely, to stop doing things that annoyed me: no swapping from side to side incessantly, wriggling around while feeding, waving her foot in my face, poking me in the eye or trying to pick my nose. To my surprise she has done everything I asked and breastfeeding is still happening and much more enjoyable now than it was a few weeks ago. She now even asks nicely for booby rather than demanding it or pulling it out herself. I guess she must have really seen that I was serious about stopping if it wasn’t going to be enjoyable for me, and continuing to have booby is really important to her.

  8. Sam Munn

    I just went through a HATING breastfeeding stage too.

    I had a chat with 3yo R about how I would love to keep breastfeeding her, but needed her help to make it more enjoyable. Namely, to stop doing things that annoyed me: no swapping from side to side incessantly, wriggling around while feeding, waving her foot in my face, poking me in the eye or trying to pick my nose. To my surprise she has done everything I asked and breastfeeding is still happening and much more enjoyable now than it was a few weeks ago. She now even asks nicely for booby rather than demanding it or pulling it out herself. I guess she must have really seen that I was serious about stopping if it wasn’t going to be enjoyable for me, and continuing to have booby is really important to her.

  9. Margaretha Ferrell

    I’m here right now. Tandem feeding and contemplating weaning a boob obsessed 3.5 year old because I still have aversion. But I just can’t bring myself to do it.

  10. Christine Chua

    BIG HUGS Do you know how lucky your child is to have you and do you realise what an overwhelming succcess you are as a mum? Persisting through breastfeeding aversion, now that is pretty impressive expression of love. Be kind to yourself xo

  11. Bec Clugg

    I also recommend counting, it introduces a predictable limit. When I needed to stop I used to say “what would you like me to count?” and my daughter would give me a topic, then I would count to 5 of those things. Sometimes the topics were really hard so it was also a good distraction for me to try to think of five things that suited, and sometimes it became funny. She always hopped off happy at the end of the count.
    Lately I’m more lazy and desperate so just say “one more minute” and thankfully she doesn’t seem to know how long a minute is, but by some miracle she usually hops off straight away and says “thank you” because we have had a lot of arguments about attitude.
    Great post by the way, you’re not alone in all those feelings. I’ve recently cut mine back to just the mornings, which she accepts, but I hear a lot of “is it still the morning?”. Doesn’t help that her little sister still gets it on demand and I can’t use the “because she’s a baby” excuse, because she’s almost one and a half!

  12. Sindy Gita Ratri

    I know that feeling. My daughter is 22mo now and still breastfeeding. Actually she’s mixed fed with breastmilk, formula and cow milk currently. Only breastfeeding before sleep time at day and night. She just can’t fall asleep without sucking my boobs first. My boobs functions as her dummy (she knows no dummy and never uses any). I don’t feel comfortable with breastfeeding anymore and I plan to stop after she’s 2. I know I won’t be able to stop all at once, so I wean her step by step, started when she’s 18mo.

    First I let her taste other milk (I don’t use bottle, I use sippy cup. She never uses bottle). I gave her a little bit of formula and cow milk everyday. I mixed it with a little bit of chocolate powder since she loves chocolate flavor, then removed it gradually everyday until she could drink the milk without chocolate. Every morning I give her formula milk. She’s now used to this everytime she wakes up and stop asking for boobs in the morning.

    She was also used to demand ‘boobs’ anytime anywhere she wanted. So everytime she asked boobs, I tried to make her understand and distract her by cuddling her, carrying her, playing with her, then substitute the breastmilk with the cow milk (because it’s easier and quicker than making a whole batch of formula milk). Everytime she demanded boobs, I did this and promised her that she would get boobs at sleep time. After a few days, she understood and stopped demanding boobs unless it’s a sleep time. She always asks for cow milk at day.

    The next step is to stop breastfeeding at sleep time. I plan to do this after she’s 2. I know there will be lots of crying. I’ve already tried this some nights. I sometimes don’t breastfeed her when she’s awake at night and let her cry until she falls asleep by herself (I was beside her all the time she’s crying). After a few tries, the crying duration is shorten. I’m pretty sure by the time she’s 2, she’ll be able to live without my boobs anymore :).

    Well that’s my story. I hope it helps some mummas out there.

  13. Grace Woodbury

    Take a holiday, leave toddler with grannie and a bottle…easy!

  14. Grace Woodbury

    Take a holiday, leave toddler with grannie and a bottle…easy! It is your body after all.

  15. Jessica Middleton

    Leaving bub with someone else isn’t easy that’s probably more traumatic for both parties and bub will latch straight back on for comfort….

  16. Oh no! That sound sooo hard! My 9 month old is getting harder to feed, she’s got 4 (almost 6 teeth) and its starting to get painful, but she’s also starting to self wean a bit, she’s down to 3 feeds a day and sometimes doesnt want her afternoon feed. I think I’ll have to wean her soon, it makes me a bit sad though. I hope it gets easier for you!

  17. Oh no! That sound sooo hard! My 9 month old is getting harder to feed, she’s got 4 (almost 6 teeth) and its starting to get painful, but she’s also starting to self wean a bit, she’s down to 3 feeds a day and sometimes doesnt want her afternoon feed. I think I’ll have to wean her soon, it makes me a bit sad though. I hope it gets easier for you!

  18. Amy Wallenborn

    I ended up in hospital for nearly a week a 4 months ago with pancreatitis, my poor little man , he was so sad , he had his daddy put him to bed each night and not me, by the time I got home he was weaned. Not the way I wanted to wean him, but I had no choice. I was very ready to though, just wasnt sure how to lol

  19. I am slowly weaning my two year old at the moment for the same reason – I just can’t do it any longer. I managed to get rid of the night feeds by getting him out of bed, distracting him (let’s count the stars together), and giving him other options – a glass of water, singing a song.
    Daytime naps – no dice. He’ll sleep for anyone else, but not me, because he KNOWS. If he falls asleep in the car, I feel as though I’ve dodged a bullet.
    Morning feed – distract! Distract! Day 5 and we seem to have progress; he didn’t ask this morning.
    I know exactly what I could do to cut out all feeds in the tallest way for both of us – who’s up for a kids free week away? 😉
    Until then, I’ll keep chipping away, one feed at a time.
    Good luck!

  20. I am slowly weaning my two year old at the moment for the same reason – I just can’t do it any longer. I managed to get rid of the night feeds by getting him out of bed, distracting him (let’s count the stars together), and giving him other options – a glass of water, singing a song.
    Daytime naps – no dice. He’ll sleep for anyone else, but not me, because he KNOWS. If he falls asleep in the car, I feel as though I’ve dodged a bullet.
    Morning feed – distract! Distract! Day 5 and we seem to have progress; he didn’t ask this morning.
    I know exactly what I could do to cut out all feeds in the tallest way for both of us – who’s up for a kids free week away? 😉
    Until then, I’ll keep chipping away, one feed at a time.
    Good luck!

  21. I am slowly weaning my two year old at the moment for the same reason – I just can’t do it any longer. I managed to get rid of the night feeds by getting him out of bed, distracting him (let’s count the stars together), and giving him other options – a glass of water, singing a song.
    Daytime naps – no dice. He’ll sleep for anyone else, but not me, because he KNOWS. If he falls asleep in the car, I feel as though I’ve dodged a bullet.
    Morning feed – distract! Distract! Day 5 and we seem to have progress; he didn’t ask this morning.
    I know exactly what I could do to cut out all feeds in the tallest way for both of us – who’s up for a kids free week away? 😉
    Until then, I’ll keep chipping away, one feed at a time.
    Good luck!