We’re going to talk about Gentle Toddler weaning and why it didn’t quite go as expected for us.
I know a lot of you have heard of “Baby Led Weaning/Feeding”. So what is Gentle Toddler Weaning? This has nothing to do with food. It’s more getting off the nursing train.
This piece isn’t for the moms who stopped nursing or baby stopped themselves around the 1 year stage. This is for the moms who continued to nurse to sleep well into the toddler years and are looking for a way out of what may seem like a never-ending ride. And I’m not talking about nursing for nutrition; it’s more like nursing to sleep.
I entered breastfeeding with no knowledge of how to start or end it, and also knew that all babies are different. When I was pregnant I did a lot of research on the benefits of exclusively breastfeeding and on demand feeding as well as what to do when it’s time to end. I noticed a lot of groups that leaned more towards organically letting things come to an end were saying “gentle toddler weaning” was the way to go, when it came to ending nursing.
The reasoning behind it was that it gave the toddler some form of control to decide when to end nursing since it’s normally a “crutch” or their “comfort” at that stage of life. Also, cutting cold turkey might create some sort of “trauma” in the toddler as it adds more stress and anxiety towards going to bed.
I understand the stress and anxiety part of going to sleep as we’ve decided that gentle toddler weaning wasn’t working for my mental health and we needed to start ending things soon. I decided to cut naps and middle of the night feeds for now. Not having “mama’s milk” as my toddler calls it has caused a little bit of bedtime anxiety as he knows that he won’t have that time to fall asleep on the boob. He will fight me or my husband until the bitter end (usually ending in big tears and hiccups) as he falls asleep.
It is very heartbreaking to have to go through this process. Especially as he cries out or screams out for me when my husband takes over or if I’m by myself he’ll cry and keep his eyes right on me like “Why aren’t you doing anything to help me?” I offer holding my hand, singing, or rubbing his back as an alternative, but none of that holds a candle to nursing to sleep.
I do have to say the middle of the night wake ups have gotten tremendously easier as he stopped getting upset over the lack of nursing to sleep and will be okay with cuddles from either mom or dad. Some nights he’ll even stay in his bed the whole time with zero wake-ups.
But naps have become a whole two-hour affair to go down. Sometimes I just have to plop him in the car to let him fall asleep and then put him in the bed to finish out the nap. I know it’s not the best solution, but he needs a nap. I can’t just let him go through the day without a nap, it will only make going to bed ten times harder. He’s been pushing his nap times later and later as he tries to prolong the inevitable. Which in turn makes his naps shorter and shorter as I will not let it go past a certain time of the day.
In the past, I would give in and just let him nurse to sleep, which is how I got into this madness at 27 months. I originally wanted things to end at 18 months, but then it turned to 2 years… then 3 months past 2 years and we were still going strong… I told myself that it needed to end.
I looked into other weaning processes and how to start the conversation with a toddler. I found two books, “Nursies When the Sun Shines” by Katherine Havener and “Booby Moon” by Yvette Reid. These both talk about weaning off the boob/nursing through the night (Nursies) and eventually saying bye-bye to booby milk (Booby Moon) altogether. This has been a great source to start the conversation of weaning with my toddler. He references the Booby Moon book daily as he keeps reminding me that “mama’s milk” hasn’t gone to the moon yet and it is “still awake” (that’s the Nursies book reference).
We read that we need to let this conversation occur over the course of three weeks to help transition into saying bye-bye for good. We are almost on the third week and I am sad, but ready to end this journey for us.
My toddler isn’t though. Which makes this whole situation a really hard one to go through as I really don’t want to make this a traumatic experience. It’s not so much that he will “remember” this time, but more so that his brain will relate stress and anxiety to going to sleep. That worries me.
Especially today as I walked away from a stressful time of putting him down for a nap. My frustrations ran a little high and we both were screaming at each other. I apologized and reminded him that “it’s okay, mommy isn’t mad at you just at the overall situation, and I will stay with you” until he falls asleep.
We’ve also been going through a weird phase of “mommy’s gone” anxiety that I’ll probably write about another time. So I have to remind him that I’m always close by and I’ll always come back. I think this helps him ease his stress as he slowly goes to sleep. I want to add that I don’t like seeing him cry to sleep — this was the very thing I wanted to avoid his whole babyhood — and it’s very difficult to sit there and hear it as I’m doing my best to comfort and soothe in other ways other than the boob.
I realized, I (and my husband) probably created this situation as we always used me to soothe him whenever things get overwhelming. If I could go back in time and tell myself something, I would say — find another source of comfort and stick to it. While I’m grateful for the connection it has created for us and the bond we share, I knew that when it was time to end it all, it would be a very difficult transition.
While Gentle Toddler Weaning might work out for some families, it didn’t work out for us the way I wanted to. I really wanted this to be my toddler’s idea/choice just like it was for the potty training.
I feel the ultimate mom guilt for putting myself first… But sometimes as a parent, you have to do what’s best for you. Your mental health matters just as much as your children’s.
And… I think overall we’ll be okay.