I have written about my now 3-year-old son Fred, and his nursing rhythms before. To recap: Fred nursed for a solid 12 months with no supplements, no solid foods, and not even a sip of water. He got the hang of eating solids around 18 months, but continued to nurse all day (with bottles of pumped breastmilk when I was at work), and on demand all night. A typical night involved no less than four wake-ups and sometimes six (every 2 hours on the clock for 12 hours of bed time was not unusual). This went on for almost 3 years.
I have never had any desire to wean Fred besides a few sporadic threats directed at my husband when Fred was cutting molars and he literally woke up every 20 minutes on and off for weeks. I believe I may have said something along these lines to my surprised husband in my outside voice: “I SWEAR, MARK MY WORDS, I AM NOT KIDDING THIS TIME: I AM DONE DONE DONE NURSING THAT CHILD OF YOURS ALL NIGHT! YOU BETTER GET SOME REST TONIGHT BECAUSE IT’S GONNA BE A LONG ONE FOR YOU, BUDDY!”
Threats aside, I believe in child-led weaning, and as Fred rounded the 2 year mark, I was still experiencing a milk let-down, I was still leaking, and since I had a child with some food allergies, I was fine with continuing nursing. I loved nursing and so did sweet not very verbal-at-all tender gentle mellow cuddly Fred. I loved nursing Fred. Around 2 ½ years old, though (about 6 months ago), I started wanting a little bit less of loving nursing Fred.
I spoke to my La Leche League leader and to other women I know who nursed into the 2s and 3s, and the first thing I did was that I stopped pumping. I was pumping about 3-4 ounces a day, so this did not lead to a huge shift in demand. I made sure to watch for engorgement or plugged ducts (which some women experience when the demand shifts), hand expressing as needed to relieve pressure.
Fred’s demand for milk in the day started to shift when I stopped pumping, and I gently (unbeknownst to Fred) instituted the “no ask no refuse” policy for nursing. This means that I stopped offering to nurse before I headed off to work, and my husband was committed to being prepared for Fred sometimes asking for milk and crying for me once I was 15 minutes away from the house. Fortunately, this only happened a few times, and Fred is now effectively day-weaned, often lasting until 5 pm before asking to nurse, which I am happy to do (that’s the “no refuse” part of the equation).
Fred has taken to wanting water in a bottle a few times a day, which I am not thrilled about but seems an okay transitional step which we may end up having to wean him from at some point. My trepidation about bottles is that in the past, we only wanted bottles to contain breastmilk, since that’s what we think they are for.
At night, Fred nurses to sleep (which takes about 20-30 minutes on average) and he still wakes up at night, but since the day-weaning, he has started sleeping longer stretches at night, partly because he is drinking less and, thus, needs to pee less. We practiced Elimination Communication and since he was about a year old, if Fred wakes up because he has to pee, having no diaper to use nor desire to pee in his bed, he will not go back to sleep until he has peed in the potty.
And I also think he may simply finally be ready for a shift in his night needs. Some nights in the past few months, we have had “only” 2 wake-ups, and on those nights I find myself still waking up 2 or 3 more times, wondering if I should stay awake because he’s going to wake up soon anyway; or maybe he won’t wake up, I think, so I go back to sleep. Sometimes he does wake me 10 minutes later, and other nights, I get to sleep another 2 hours.
I never ever believed that I would be nursing a child over the age of 3. But now that I am, I believe when he is done, he will be done. I believe that he will not need to nurse before he walks down the aisle to greet his bride under the chuppah, and I believe that nursing is natural and beautiful and wonderful. I believe in being conscious of where I nurse my toddler and I also believe that there is nothing wrong with nursing Fred.
This is not a linear process. There are weeks when Fred asks to nurse in the middle of the day, and days when he takes a big fall and cuddles up next to me as he sobs, gazing at my breast and then at me, silently asking if it’s okay.
“Vilstu milky?” I ask, half in Yiddish and half in mama-ish. Big blue eyes soften as a 3-year-old sized head bobs up and down.
And I nurse Fred. And I nurse Fred.
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