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.
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.