I have no business posting any advice for how to wean your child. The only advice I really have is how to stop breastfeeding Shira, because that's what I did. Four and a half weeks ago. Thirty-three days ago. Thirty-three missed naps ago. Six hundred tantrums ago.
Can I tell you a secret? Shira is completely fine. I know she misses her milk but she's coped, well, like a child who was ready to stop breastfeeding. It's sort of how I imagine I'll feel when I finally curb my sugar intake. I have no true desire to stop eating sweets, but once I get them out of my system I
Can I tell you another secret? I am not completely fine. I miss breastfeeding Shira so much. So much that I want a support group. I listed all the reasons I love breastfeeding Shira here and here, so I won't bore you with the details of my feelings, except to tell you that I miss her with my entire body. I feel a magnetic pull to sneak her into bed and nurse. I would not be lying if I told you that more than one night I *almost* woke her up in the middle of the night to breastfeed her just one more time. For Pete's sake.
So while I can't really offer any definitive how-to lists on how to wean your toddler, I will offer you a few things I learned along the way, since some of you have asked. If anything I'm here to tell you that there are many ways to stop breastfeeding, many reasons for doing so, and many, many feelings you will probably experience along the way. And so this is parenting.
Try and try again
I actually tried to stop breastfeeding this August when I was heading out of town for a wedding. I knew we were getting close to the end of breastfeeding, and since I was going to be away for three days and two nights, it seemed like the perfect time. Turns out we weren't close yet, not even really in the same neighbourhood. Or city, even. Shira was fine while I was gone and then collapsed in some combination excitement/horror/judgement, weeping for milk when I walked in the door. So we continued.
When the time came for us to try again (this was around mid-November), I began talking with her about it. She continued nursing five, six, or seven times a day, but we'd talk in between about how my body made milk for her when she was born, but now she had grown and grown and finished all my milk! Once I chose the day that would be our last nursing together, I got right to it. Shira, I told her gently, Mama's milk is almost gone. You ate it all up! You have grown and grown. She pouted a bit, but agreed. She continues to accept that I no longer have milk, though sometimes she still accuses me of having milk in my breasts. One day she even claimed to smell it, asking me where I put it. If only she knew that when she wasn't looking milk was actually spilling out of me.
Not breastfeeding feels kind of terrible for awhile
At least it did for me. Some mothers wean more gradually than I did. I went from constant nursing to nothing. I never claimed to be very smart, but I will say in my defence that Shira would have none of that nursing only before bed business. I tried that for weeks, in fact, it was part of the reason I decided to stop completely. Shira wanted milk all day, all the time. Had she reduced the number of breastfeedings to one or two a day I'd probably still be nursing her. (Sob.)
My drastic weaning meant that I was faced with some very uncomfortable weeks ahead of me. I expected to feel engorged for a few days, but obviously I was delusional and still drunk on my last breastfeeding high. The first few days were actually pretty easy, breast-wise. They grew in size and defied gravity a bit more, but otherwise just a little sore. Then came the plugged ducts, self-expressing, hot showers, and tears. This lasted a week. I would also leak in my sleep and whenever Shira spoke. But after two weeks most of the pain and discomfort went away, along with a cup size.
It's a great excuse to buy a cute toy.
We decided to give Shira a special stuffed animal to help her with the transition, and I think it worked out really well. I found her a red corduroy puppy (she has a thing for puppies) and I let Alyce give it to her on the last day I breastfed her. Alyce explained to Shira that my milk was going to be gone the next day and that if she ever felt sad about its disappearance she could squeeze her new puppy. Shira agreed to the new arrangement and called it Milk Puppy. I think it's an excellent name. And she squeezed the daylights out of it for the first three weeks. Now he's usually invited into her crib at bedtime, having joined the ranks of her Backyardigans and Pink Puppy.
Not everything will suck
When I stopped breastfeeding Alyce I felt as though I had lost her. Of course I didn't really, but for a kid who only snuggled with me while nursing, not nursing meant few, if any, opportunities to shower her with hugs and kisses, or simply just to look at each other, quietly, for a few minutes. Matt quickly took over morning and bedtime routines, something he hadn't had the chance to do in two years. I know I was still important to her, but I felt left out. I dreaded this happening again. Dreaded with all my heart.
Matt tried to tuck Shira into bed for the first two nights, but she was devastated. For more than two years I had helped her transition to bed and now what? No milk and no Mama? That hardly seemed fair. I had just assumed that me putting her to bed would be too difficult and confusing for her, troubling for her because I would only be offering my smile and not my milk. She had nursed to sleep every night of her life and I was afraid she couldn't handle my sudden withdrawal. I assumed, wrongly it turns out, that I would be left out of the bedtime equation for a long time.
Fortunately for me (because this is about me, let's not kid ourselves), she still needed me. Unlike Alyce who processed the whole experience a bit differently, Shira wanted everything else the same, just minus the milk. She was happy to snuggle in bed with me before heading into her crib, snuggling and singing and talking about her day, just like we used to. The only difference now was my shirt stayed down. I have to admit, it was a lovely development. Unexpected, but desperately needed.
This is all I have for now. Like I said, I'm not really happy with all this. I reluctantly admit that we're all doing well, that I have a happy and healthy little girl who is learning new ways to cope with the demands of everyday. While she used to turn to breastfeeding for comfort and solace, now she's learning to rely on other things.
Plus she has Milk Puppy.