Weaning my two and a half year old toddler was a long, drawn out and emotional process. Not only because weaning can be like that, but because she is the last baby I will ever have.
I breastfed all of my three babies into toddlerhood, making me part of the fourteen percent of Australian mothers who breastfeed beyond six months. Pretty sobering statistic, isn't it. My first-born weaned herself at around 18 months, when I fell pregnant again. Weaning my second-born was much harder work — it was a cold turkey affair, the day before his third birthday.
As for my third-born, it was not long after she turned two that I seriously started thinking about weaning. I had been feeling so tired and run down for so long that I knew I had to do something. My terrific toddler kept going through long phases of wanting to be attached as much as she possibly could. This was especially true when she was teething. I'd tell myself that I could get through her increased demands to be attached, helping her with a difficult stage. But the phases never seemed to end.
With the demands on my body, a total of four kids in the house, and a business to run which had a massive backlog of work (as work from home parents would relate to) I was exhausted and stressed.
While it's with much sadness to say that my seven year breastfeeding journey is now complete in this lifetime — forever — I am focusing on the positives of hanging up my maternity bra. Because if I didn't focus on those things, I am sure I'd still be an over-emotional and tired mamma. And I am so very tired of being her.
Why I'm Happier Now My Toddler Has Weaned
So, here are the 5 things I am focusing on to get me through the ‘post-weaning forever' phase of my life:
#1: I'm Enjoying Cuddles SO Much More
Cuddles are no longer a battleground — because sadly, that's what they had become. They're no longer:
HER: “Mum, cuddle….”
ME: “Awww I'd love a cuddle with my amazing bubba”
HER: [Oh yeah, boobies! I'll just help myself]
ME: [Wrangling her octopus hands out of my top, followed by desperately trying to just get a cuddle]
Rinse and repeat… day and night.
Before I weaned, I actually felt jealous of my partner. Why? Because my daughter would never snuggle and relax into me like she did with him. He could enjoy her little arms around her, kisses and snuggles, without having to give anything in return (aside from the hugs and love of course).
Now, I get the best cuddles I could have ever imagined. Her cuddles are saying to me, “Mum, I want to be close to you, because there's nothing quite like my mamma's cuddles.” It feels like she's swapped the admiration and love of my boobs to the admiration and love of me. She wants to come to me because she chooses to be in my arms.
She's interacting with me in a whole new way, and I love it. I'm so glad I have this special time to enjoy her while she's still little — and my last baby. These heart to heart cuddles mean the world to me.
#2: She's Sleeping SO Much Better
For the first few nights after we ended our breastfeeding relationship, it broke my heart… she'd wake in the night and just want to lie on top of me, to be close to her beloved boobies. Sometimes I would be so tempted to offer it to her and sometimes I would cry, feeling awful for taking her boobies away. After all, it's all she ever knew from the very moment she was born — it's gotta be tough to completely lose that. Alas, I knew I couldn't send her mixed messages and it was time. So, for about two or three weeks, she'd spend some of the night lying across my body while she slept. I must admit, it adored those nights. Feeling her cuddle me for genuine comfort brought tears to my eyes — even now. Touch is my love language, so it's heavenly for me.
My daughter quickly transitioned to waking only once or twice in the night. Now, just weeks later, she's having nights where she'll sleep through on her own — including the night before I wrote this. In fact, she often sleeps in until 8-9am now. On the nights she stirs, all that's been needed is a bit of reassurance that I am still here, and it's fixed within minutes.
It's so nice to have a bit more me time, rather than going to sleep and waking up with a toddler. Doing that is very draining because all you seem to be doing is attending to the toddler… or finding a way to explain to her that mummy has had enough boobies, so not now.
#3: I'm Feeling SO Much More Human
I have a great deal of sleep debt to repay after having three children, so while I am still feeling tired, I no longer walk around like a bear with a sore head, all day, every day.
I didn't want to be touched, jumped on, talked to or anything else that required physical or emotional effort — from anyone. I was incredibly drained from being woken more times than I care to remember. Every day felt like those newborn days — and they are HARD. I simply couldn't keep it up, and for that to be over, I am so grateful.
#4: I'm More Like The Parent and Partner I Want To Be
No matter how hard you try — if you're sleep deprived, have sensory overload from all the touching and grabbing, and are run down, you can't serve anyone. When your tank is empty, your mind is fixed on survival, and you can't even manage to do that very well most of the time either.
The constant feeding — or attempts to feed — was depleting the low amounts of energy I had. There was nothing for myself, my partner or my other children. Around the time I realised I really needed to wean, I felt like a troll under a bridge, that the family didn't want to upset. I didn't want that for them. I didn't want that for me. Breastfeeding a toddler shouldn't come at a cost to everyone else around you — and yourself. But now, I feel much more patient (as I have always been known to be with my kids), relaxed and in control. A little more sleep would be icing on the cake!
#5: I Feel Less Resentful
Needless to say, not breastfeeding means I feel less resentful about my toddler's demands and breastfeeding. I was doing it for her, at the cost of my own health and wellbeing. Thinking about it now though, was I doing it for her, or for me? Was I holding off to feel like I was being a “good parent” or because I didn't want to upset her by weaning? Maybe part of me didn't want to let go. Something to ponder.
When our babies are little, we tend to push through the hard stuff as best as we can, because they're little. But I had a toddler who was bigger, and relying on my breasts for not only frequent comfort, but a food replacement (meaning she was hungry often and didn't want to eat or drink as much as usual). I admit that I started to feel resentful. I wanted some space from the constant body jumping and trying to get down my top in public — or at home. I wanted to feel like I was a separate being to be respected.
Toddler's don't always understand, “No boobies.” I tried so hard to create a win win situation and set boundaries, but it didn't work. Now, I look forward to her launching herself at me for a cuddle. Because I know she wants her mamma, and nothing else. She wants to just lie, sit or snuggle with me, which is my favourite thing in the world to do with her. She's no longer on the lookout for her next hit of boob, but instead, she's happy to play and do her own thing. She doesn't fret if she can't have me, or the boob. My toddler has become a content, happy little being.
One other thing I am grateful for: right before we weaned, and unknown to me at the time, my eldest daughter happened to take some snaps of my daughter and I passed out on the bed, still attached. She thought it was super cute and couldn't help it. They were the last photos I have of us breastfeeding and it's very special to me. The actual day that feeding stopped (within one or two days of that night) was actually a surprise. I hadn't decided it would be the day, but things fell into place and it happened, which took some adjusting to. If you can get someone to take some photos of you both… please do it. Something to treasure.
Should You Wean?
Weaning isn't easy. Nor is breastfeeding a toddler — but it's SO worth it.
Despite the hard times, I don't wish I had weaned earlier, because I know I would have regretted it. I would hate to be saying, “I wish I just … ” But I did what I could until I was done. My toddler and I both needed to go through this journey together.
I am very happy and proud of myself that I have been able to give her nearly three years of breastmilk — studies have found a good quantity of nutrients well past the first year. My daughter has been a very healthy and happy girl, and I know that breastfeeding made a huge difference. Besides, even if some of it was just for the comfort, it was worth experiencing the magical powers of the breast. Seeing that my own body could make her sigh in relief after a hurt or have her eyes rolling into the back of her head when she was tired, they were moments I will never forget. I gave that to her. And she gave so much to me.
I haven't written this to encourage people to wean. But, for those who are are well and truly ready to wean and are worried about how you'll feel. Or, if you're feeling guilty about taking the breast away from your toddler for the sake of your own wellbeing — know that it's not all bad. It's the end of an emotional chapter, but the beginning of a new one.
Take care of yourself mamma, and please be aware of the possibility of post-weaning depression. Know that time makes it easier, as does seeing all the positive changes in your life as a result. Focusing on what you love doing and being around people you love helps immensely. As does acknowledging those fleeting moments of sadness. Don't try to stuff painful emotions down. Feel it, and be kind to yourself. Tell yourself you did an awesome job and have so much to look forward to with your toddler yet! Because, the only way to get anywhere or make any progress is to go though it.
You rocked it — a virtual high five from me to you, mamma.