Anxiety about Weaning
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I am a first-time nursing mother of an eighteen-month-old son. We both still enjoy nursing immensely. My problem is that I feel a lot of anxiety and loss when I think about my son weaning. I know that some sadness is normal, but I sometimes feel consumed by fears. Have others experienced this intense sadness? What can I do?
I have two sons, one who is twenty-seven months and one who is four-and-a-half months old. I weaned my oldest, Carlos, when I was pregnant because nursing was so painful. I still am extremely sad about having weaned him; we lost something very precious. So now when I nurse Jose, Carlos sometimes asks to nurse, and I let him. We both enjoy that very much. I believe that your fears and sense of loss speak well to how much nursing has meant to you. I believe that it means you are a good mother.
Roberta Barreda, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA
My twenty-one-month-old daughter, Cassidy, has been weaning herself at a stepped-up pace the past couple of months. She is nursing twice a day now, once in the morning and again later when she's ready for a nap. Just two weeks ago, she decided she didn't want to nurse at bedtime. And yes, sometimes I'm sad.
I believe that the sense of anxiety and loss you describe is normal and natural, given the intensity and the intimacy of the breastfeeding relationship. Nursing is a special time of physical, emotional, and spiritual closeness between mother and child. However, the growing independence manifested through weaning is also normal and natural. If your son is allowed to wean on his own terms, he will move forward with a sense of trust and confidence.
Enjoy the nursing time that you share with your son now; the future will take care of itself. Your child's need for you will not diminish as he weans himself. You are giving a wonderful gift by allowing him to do so at his own pace.
Missy Parkison, Ashland City, Tennessee, USA
I experienced the intense sadness you describe when I thought about weaning my daughter, Livy. I couldn't bear to think about taking away her "nana." But I wanted some freedom--freedom to unwind when I came home from work, freedom to finish my education, freedom to say "No, I'd like some privacy right now." I also wanted to wean to increase my chances of getting pregnant again.
That intense sadness led me to read a book called MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER by Norma Jean Bumgarner. I cried half the time I read it! The author articulated everything I was feeling; at last I had the words to justify my emotions. I found that I could have the freedom I needed and achieve some other goals without weaning my daughter.
The book gave me insights into how I could change my own behavior in order to encourage my daughter to change some of her nursing patterns without weaning. As with all aspects of mothering, creativity is the key. Eventually my period returned, and I finished getting my degree through a Saturday program instead of at night.
Your sadness may be an indicator that you are not ready for your son to wean. Since it sounds as if he's not ready yet either, follow your heart and enjoy the time that remains, however long that may be.
Patty Woods, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
My son, who is two years old, loves to nurse. I remember the first night he chose to go to sleep without nursing. He was twenty months old. I cried so hard! My husband understood that I felt a loss, but also reminded me that our son was learning to meet some of his own needs without me. I realized then that I needed to celebrate my son's growing independence, not mourn it. Although I was sad, I was also proud that he could freely choose how his needs will be met. He continues to nurse, but often goes all day without asking or wanting to.
The bond that nursing helped establish between us is indestructible. I know that our nursing relationship has helped my little boy become the wonderful person he is today. Because I have always accepted that he knew what he needed and when he needed it, I hope he'll always have the confidence to do what is best for him.
Cyndy Glasscock, Helen's Bay, County Down, Northern Ireland
I truly understand your pain concerning this milestone in your son's life. My husband and I have five children who range in age from five-and-a-half months to fourteen years. Parenthood is full of intense pain and intense pleasure. When our children hurt, we hurt. We deeply experience all their frustrations. Likewise, we smile when they do. We thrill at the baby's first tooth and the teenager's first dance.
I can tell you that even though there is sadness in saying goodbye to nursing, you are lucky to have found La Leche League. It is there that I learned about attachment parenting and how to wean gradually with love. How hard it would be to hold that little one in your arms and know it was the last time he would nurse. Baby-led weaning means that I never knew when the last nursing was. So fully enjoy each day with your son. You can't stop time or even slow it down.
Jennifer Feigel, Evansville, Indiana, USA
When I weaned my first child at eight weeks, I experienced extreme feelings of loss and depression. Therefore, I anticipated that weaning my daughter would be equally traumatic. But with absolutely no effort on my part, Juliana weaned herself at twenty-one months. I was surprised to experience a calmness and peace that assured me this was natural and at just the right time. I had looked forward to a long toddler nursing period, but my "baby" decided it was time to move on. Together we entered the next phase of growing as mother and daughter.
Pamela Hedeman, Lynbrook, New York, USA
Since your son enjoys nursing so much, it may be some time before he actually weans. Try not to let your anxiety keep you from enjoying these special days. My son is now four years old and is weaning himself gradually. When I think of this special relationship coming to an end, I, too, feel sadness. This is natural, even as we delight in our children's steps toward independence. I take comfort in knowing that he will be the one to decide when he's ready to give up "nummies" entirely, not some arbitrary date on a calendar.
Andrea Wertz, Pascagoula, Mississippi, USA
Although your eighteen-month-old could wean himself soon, it sounds as if he enjoys nursing and has no plans to stop right now. It is likely that when he is ready to give up nursing, you will be ready, too.
As long as your sadness is not so consuming that you spend all your time worrying about weaning, your feelings of loss are probably normal. It's possible, however, that too many of your own intimacy needs are being met primarily through breastfeeding. My husband's job required frequent travel, and though our marriage was healthy and strong, I was often lonely. I believe that this contributed to the overwhelmingly intense fears about weaning I experienced when my daughter began nursing less and less often.
It is also possible, however, that your fears about weaning simply mean that your confidence regarding relating to your growing child in new ways needs a boost. Spend time with other LLL mothers whose children are weaned. Watch them interact with their children, giving special attention to the little things they say and do to stay connected. Attachment-style parenting often begins with breastfeeding, but takes on new forms as our children grow. The same women who modeled good mothering through breastfeeding can also help guide you through the exciting and equally satisfying stages ahead.
Shellie McGuire, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA