Saturday, August 22, 2009

How I Weaned my 3 ½ Year Old

A Weaning Story:

When my daughter was born I made a commitment to nurse her until it felt right to wean. I expected that would be somewhere around her first birthday, as that seems to be the conventional wisdom around these here parts. But as I learned more about nursing and came to care less about conventional wisdom around these here parts, our nursing relationship went beyond her first birthday, survived a strike caused by a chipped tooth when she was learning to run, past her second birthday, throughout my second pregnancy, and well into the infancy of our new baby. It went until she was 3 and a half (which is the point in the life cycle of a girl in which she begins to adamantly insist that she is not a baby, but a big girl, and also at which she’ll begin to count half birthdays as highly relevant to her age.)

It was partly her big-girlness that led me to think she was ripe for weaning – she was the only nursing preschooler we knew for miles and miles around – but it was mostly my own surliness. That’s right. With two of ‘em crawling on me, pawing at my bosoms, and yanking at my blouse, I was getting a bit surly about it.

Hmmm, says I. I’ve begun to resemble one of those farm dogs that snaps and growls and yips at her whelplings as they wrestle for position on her myriad-nippled chest. This is NOT my nursing vision.

Then a third, way-ahead-of-schedule-surprise! pregnancy entered the picture and I decided it was time to wean. Get this – I was nursing two and preggers.

My first instinct was to make #1 go cold turkey but I could tell her heart would be broken and I didn’t want to end a beautiful relationship that way. I was a bit gun-shy because leading up to her third birthday I’d been strongly suggesting that she would give up nursing all on her own when she was three. I thought these “suggestions” would either be totally ignored, like most of my suggestions, or actually work, so why not? What harm?

The asinine way I did this was to question all her 3 year old friends about whether or not they still drank their mommies milk and then laugh with them about how absurd it would be for a 3 year old to do such a thing.

What happened was she got really stressed out around her birthday and after being potty trained for the better part of a year began to have accidents from refusing to go to the toilet until she was bent over in pain from holding it. Then she got a urinary tract infection. My mommy senses told me to lay off the stress around nursing and let her have her fill.

“Look, Kiddo,” I told her, “some three year olds don’t drink mommies milk but you do, and that’s okay.”

The potty problems went away.

So six months later, when life had calmed in the wake of the birth of #2, but I was definitely feeling like yipping and snarling when she wanted to nurse, I had another go at weaning. I began n by limiting her to one feeding a day. It wasn’t hard. She had been down to one or two feedings for quite some time but then had enjoyed a nursing renaissance when the super-rich newborn milk came in again after the birth of baby #2. Boy did I love her nursing when I was engorged. But boy did I not when the newborn was cluster-feeding.

She chose an early morning slurp when I was nice and full and relaxed after a long sleep and she could cuddle in bed with me. How to get her to give up that one feeding without a fight, though, I had no idea.

Then I ran into a friend of mine at the farmer’s market and she happily pronounced that her three and a half year old was officially off the boob. Oh dear, thought I. Most of my nursing mom friends had weaned their kidlets at one, according to conventional wisdom around these here parts, and she was the one mom friend who I’d sigh about and think, at least we’re not as crazy with the nursing as those two.

Well, said she. I was starting to get surly about it. I’d want to push her away when she asked to nurse and I thought, “this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.”

“That’s how I feel!” said I. And then I asked how she did it.

Well. They were in a toy store and her little girl started whining for a dolly stroller and she was like, “Nah, strollers are for mommies. You’re not a mommy, you still nurse. But tell you what – if you give up nursing, I’ll buy it for you.”

So her girl thought about that but didn’t take the bribe for another couple weeks.

But it totally worked.

So I decided to give it a go. I waited for her to whine for something. It took a whole week. We were on our way to the vitamin store when she started to rally for those Yummy Bear Vitamins I’d been saying NO WAY to for the past year. They look and taste like candy but contain medicinal ingredients! I’ve always considered them one of the dumbest kid’s products ever. But then again...

“Vitamins are for little girls who don’t drink their mommies milk. You drink mommies milk every morning so you get all the vitamins you need. But... if you think you’re ready to take vitamins instead of drinking mommies milk... I will buy them for you.”

She thought about it for less than one second and then emphatically said, “Okay, sure!”

Then a million daggers pierced my heart and I was bowled over by the keening grief that assaults one when one realizes their gift of mother’s milk can so flippantly be traded for a bottle of Yummy Bear Vitamins. Then the grief passed and I was flooded with relief.

“Deal,” I said.

“Shake on it?” she said.

“Shake on it.”

It totally worked.

The La Leche League’s Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, the informational bible for extended nursing, tandem nursing, nursing while pregnant, and weaning toddlers, calls what we did “weaning on contract.”

The beauty of it is that because she was ready and because I was ready we were able agree on a satisfying conclusion to our nursing relationship.

The fateful morning that was the last time she nursed she came to me in bed and my first instinct was to yip and snarl and hurry her off. But it occurred to me that this might well be the last time and so I should be gentle with my beautiful girl.

So I pulled her close and stroked her hair and let her decide when she’d had enough. And when she did she sat up, smiled at me and said, “Thank you for the milk, Mommy.”

Other Weaning Stories:


  1. What an incredible story! I think your parenting wisdom is abundant!

    Visiting from SITS, and I love your blog. I'll be following and I very much look forward to reading more.


  2. I often have moments where I wished I hadn't "set the date" and followed that conventional wisdom. I miss nursing. All four of mine are off the boob and have been for about 2 years now and I wish that I'd bucked the system, like I often do, and let them continue. It's SO great to see a mom doing this. It's not a social thing, weaning. It realy is about the relationship, the nourshiment of body and soul. BTW you are a GORGE pregger chick!

  3. I'm loving this story. The yipping dog thing, I get it. Even sometimes just with one.

  4. After not being able to nurse my son, my daughter has been breastfeeding for 11 months. She's never used a bottle or drank a drop of formula (by her choice, not mine). Now I go back to work on Tuesday and I'm petrified because this will be such a huge change for both of us. I've got her down to three feedings a day (morn, night and one midnight snack) and my heart breaks because I know we could keep going. The problem for me is that with her being my second, everything has been so easy; been there, done that. Except this.

    Thanks for a great entry. I'll remember it if I'm still nursing in a couple of years. I came over from SITS and I'm your newest follower!

  5. What a gorgeous story! I'm going to try the contract thing with my nursing too. She's 2.5 years old and I expect she'll nurse at least 6 more months but she's still nursing 7-9 times per day. Anyway, just found your blog through Cave Mother and I have to say I think yours is my new fave. I love your writing. You can find me at Breastfeeding Moms Unite!

  6. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. My 21 month old still feels three times a day and when other Mums of toddlers find out, I often feel like a science specimen, "You what?"

    That being said, I actually now feel ready to wean but my lil Miss shows no interest at all at giving even one of those precious feeds up.

    Your words of wisdom bring me hope that I will not be nursing a teenager.

  7. Thanks for sharing.(hugs)
    I am still nursing my twin boys 3yrs 4.5 months.
    Only twice a day and I have no idea how to wean them.
    I've felt a bit snarely lately because they fight (about who is touching the others side) and prod and push one another , plus hurt me in the process.
    It's given me something to think about.I want to end our BF relationship nicely.
    It's been hard come by. One twin didn't start BF till he was 5 months. I expressed exclusively for him (his twin kept my supply going).
    I don't know anyone IRL feeding at this age...well one lady was her daughter was irregularly a few weeks back she disclosed to me at playgroup.

  8. aww... the ending almost made me cry, i got teary. I am nursing my 3 year old and I'm sure nobody really knows about it cuz I do it privately but it just feels like society is going to say enough is enough,plus she will be in school soon so I just feel it should be sometime this year.

  9. thank you for this. i am really struggling with my little girl who nurses all night long. its the only way she can go back to sleep and we are all tired and cranky. she will be 3 at the beginning of July. I've talked to her about weaning, but she just cries and cries about it. We tired the 'contract' last night, but I'm not sure she really gets the concept. Doesn't matter I guess, because she wasn't interested in the gift when she woke during the night. Oy, it is so hard. I just want her to decide and to be done with it, but at the same time, it makes me teary eyed thinking of the day when it will end. Ohhhh motherhood

  10. Thanks for sharing your beautiful story. It really did bring tears to my eyes! Then my 2yr9 month old asked me what I was reading so I told him it was a story about how to wean a three year old off the boob. He just laughed gaily and said "I want some lots!" I had to chuckle. He is obviously not ready even though I am the snarling dog quite often. Oh well, in time he will get there I guess.

  11. Love this! And I love knowing I'm not the only person to have been nursing the older two while pregnant with the third! That was just too much, and we pretty much forced my oldest daughter to go cold turkey when she was about a month and a half away from her - wait for it - FOURTH birthday. Yep, I totally get the dog reference. Even I find it strange as I'm sitting here thinking how much I can't stand nursing anymore, yet I've been doing it non-stop for over 5 years!

  12. Hi, I loved your post! Thank you so much, I thought I was almost alone in the world.. I stopped feeding my girl a couple of months ago, right after she turned three. No contract, no agreement - I tried but she would have none of it, it was just a lot of tears and crying. Instead I took advantage of her leaving with dad on holiday for a few weeks. I told her that after that, it was likely that there was no more milk, and for a few weeks after they came back she seemed to be okay.
    But now and then she gets so sad an grieve her loss so badly (And so do I) I do not go along with her pain but I am there for her: I listen to her and often make space just to be with her. I am letting her know its okay to be sad. I wonder if I can do more to help her get past it..

    Nursing this long was fantastic. My daughter was a tiny tiny baby born 11 weeks early. Now she is a strong and very happy person -I know my milk and nursing for yrs gave us both strength and peace.

  13. I'm still nursing my three year old, and I've tried to wean her a couple of times but she really loves - and I mean loves - her "boobas". She tells them she loves them, kisses them, cries for them, and won't go to sleep without them. Honestly, I've only tried to nurse her because of pressure from my mother-in-law (who breastfed until her daughter was three and a half, go figure), but I just decided to tell her that my girlie is weaned and keep breastfeeding "in the closet" so to speak to keep from all her comments about it. Your story got me all teary-eyed, and it was so comforting to read another mother's story so similar to my own. Thank you.

  14. Correction, I only tried to WEAN her LOL

  15. I LOVED this story. Thanks so much for sharing! My b/g twins just turned three. Neither one is potty-trained, and my boy is technically weaned but asks every few days for milkies. It breaks my heart. My husband thinks we'll be regressing if I let him nurse now and again, but I don't agree. And so I'm left with wondering what to do, plus a broken heart every time I tell my little boy no as gently as possible. I might have to do the contract thing...or a weaning party...

    Thanks again for sharing your story. 💜

  16. my wife is tired. almost 3 years now. our daughter is not tired. she takes mommy's milk at bedtimes, sleep interruptions and waking up times.

    the days have been eliminated, but mommy is still too tired and frustrated with the night time routines of waking 3 to 4 times, and latching.

    i don't know what to do.

    my wife won't do any research, and so here I am.

    i am very sad. very sad.

    we planned for baby to wean on her own. now, it's like an emergency. every night is becoming pretty bad. baby cries, mommy is frustrated, and daddy is there wondering what to do. should i just shut up and let them deal with it?

    i want to find a way to help them stop, because it's not a pleasant thing to have mommy all upset in the moments.

    actually, i wish they could go forever, but it's not so pretty anymore, to mommy.

    i am super stressed. i like this contract idea. i think ours is able to reason at that level. i will try. in the meanwhile, i should do more research and see what other good ideas are options out there.

    i feel sad.

    i just want the best for them. i never thought weaning would be a challenge this way.

  17. this is so encouraging to me to find other Moms have 3 year old that LOVE to nurse. I just weaned my 3 year and two months, it was the hardest thing EVER - it was pretty anymore he was nursing so much during the night all through out the day and eating more was like snacking... I finally after a lot of prayer to Jesus and tears had to wean him cold turkey, we were trying for two months to do it gradually but it was like he would have none of that.. now he has not nursed in 2 weeks , nights are STILL hard he still get up and is looking for the comfort and I have to say it still tempting to not try to see if I have any milk left. I just keep telling him I love him over and over again BUT last night when he woke up crying and I was so tired I got angry... who knew weaning could be so so hard.

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