Unexpected Weaning: Ending My Toddler Son's Breastfeeding

Remember when I went to the Alt Summit Conference last month? I was away from my children for three days and nights, and I knew it might be an opportunity to wean my two-and-a-half-year-old son. I've never intentionally weaned a child before--I'm a strong believer in child-led nursing and my daughter slowly weaned herself at four-and-a-half. But this time was different: I've been breastfeeding children for five years straight, I'm pregnant, and I was ready for a few months' break from breastfeeding before our third child is born. I also knew my son was old enough that he could be weaned without much guilt on my part.

  My son playing at Trillium Lake, Oregon, this past week

My son playing at Trillium Lake, Oregon, this past week

So when I returned and he wanted to nurse as usual at nap time, I told him there was no milk (since I hadn't experienced any engorgement during my trip), I loved him, and I would hold his hand instead. I braced myself for howls, but I also knew that if he was truly upset, I would willingly give up the idea of weaning. He did protest, but not emphatically. What I should have expected but didn't foresee was that he decided not to nap at all if napping didn't include nursing to sleep.

  Playing outdoors with a friend's toys

Playing outdoors with a friend's toys

Nursing my toddlers to sleep has always been a sweet and peaceful path to daily naps, with the child willingly lying down and nursing to sleep within ten minutes. Nursing was a wonderful way to get my infant and toddler to sleep at the same time, and because of it, my daughter continued to nap until she was four. So when my son walked out after I refused to nurse him, I was alarmed to realize that weaning might mean losing out on two years of the naps he needed.

At bedtime, my son stayed put, thankfully. Because he was frustrated but not distraught, I was willing to continue my "no nursing" stance, and so long as he could hold my hand or put his hand on my chest, he was calm enough to fall asleep, especially after we read a few books together.

In truth, it's only been a few weeks since I last nursed him, and he still asks for lolo (or shoves his hand down my shirt) when he's tired. Nonetheless, I believe his breastfeeding days are over. (And regarding naps, he falls asleep in my arms or in the car--some days.) I wouldn't recommend sudden weaning, nor going away on a solo trip as I did. There are far gentler ways of weaning over time. I still believe that child-led nursing is best, allowing the child to develop a truly close emotional bond with mama as he or she grows. The immunity and healing properties of breastmilk in the toddler years are also reason enough to continue breastfeeding. But this experience of suddenly weaning my son (cold turkey, as we Americans say) has helped me realize that there is a time for everything, and weaning can be best for mama even if it's not the child's choice.

  Napping on daddy's shoulder

Napping on daddy's shoulder

If you've weaned a child before, how did it go? Do you have any regrets? Would you start nursing your toddler again if it meant getting him or her to nap in a snap?

If you're looking for more information about weaning an older toddler or child, La Leche League has some weaning FAQs and suggestions here. KellyMom compares child-led weaning to mother-led weaning here, as well as listing signs of stress to watch for in your child. If you love to read, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler can help you weigh out your decision, though I found How Weaning Happens more informative.