I weaned Oliver’s morning feed a few weeks ago.
I don’t regret that I did it; but I do regret how I did it.
Back in January I was seriously contemplating weaning, but then we started potty training, and J and I decided it would be best to let that settle before implementing any other major transitions. Potty training is a huge developmental milestone. In a certain way it’s also a period of loss: loss of babyhood, loss of the comfort and security of diapers. I didn’t want to compound it with the loss of something as significant as our breastfeeding relationship.
Not two weeks after we’d started potty training, we had an “out of routine” morning, where Oliver slept in until 9:30. J, who is usually responsible for getting Oliver dressed in the mornings, had already left for work. I was up and dressed, whereas normally I would have been in bed waiting for Oliver to come and have his morning feed. The disruption to the usual sequence of events was enough that Oliver completely forgot to nurse. I was thrilled. I interpreted this as a sign that Oliver was ready to give up his morning feed.
The next morning, while J was getting Oliver dressed, I got out of bed, got dressed, and went to the kitchen to start cooking breakfast. The idea was that if Oliver asked for milk, we would offer him food instead, but as soon as he laid eyes on me, he began clinging to my legs and wailing, “Milk, milk, milk…” It was obvious that he wasn’t going to be easily consoled, and breakfast wasn’t ready yet, so I breastfed him.
We repeated our plan the next morning, except that J kept Oliver in the bedroom until breakfast was on the table. It worked, to the extent that we managed to skip the feed, but I could tell that Oliver was out of sorts. He knew something was different.
Over the course of the next few days, we continued with this strategy, and Oliver became increasingly whiny and clingy — especially around the time of his evening breastfeed. Most nights, I had to cut him off after a half hour of nursing, to great protest and tears.
Everything came to a head about a week and a half into the process, when Oliver got sick and was awake and screaming during the night.
As I sat there rocking my inconsolable child, I suddenly understood that he was feeling completely insecure because this feed, which he loved and had come to expect every morning, had disappeared without warning. How, then, was he to know that the same thing wouldn’t happen with his evening feed? Or any other comfort ritual or object, for that matter?
And then I was angry at myself: angry for assuming that my 18-month-old — who doesn’t miss a trick or forget a thing — would simply not notice the removal of his morning feed; angry that I hadn’t shown him enough respect to give him fair warning of the impending change; angry that I hadn’t weaned this feed at a more appropriate time, and in a more gentle and respectful manner.
So I apologized to Oliver. I told him that Mommy had made a big mistake; and that I was very sorry. I told him that it was not fair of me to have taken away his “milkies” in the morning without telling him first. I explained to him that while he could no longer have “milkies” in the morning, he was still free to do so in the evening.
And he stopped crying and listened to me, and I felt the tension leave his body.
A hard lesson learned.
We are now at one feed per day — just the evening feed before Oliver goes to sleep — and I’m okay with that. For the most part, I enjoy having that special time together at the end of the day, even if I don’t enjoy having smelly stuffed animals shoved in my face. If I have to work in the evening, I feed Oliver his milk before supper, and he has no trouble going to bed without it. I don’t know how long we will keep this last feed. For now, I’m in no hurry to get rid of it.
We’ve had enough big transitions for the time being, and I think what Oliver needs most right now is a period of relative calm and stability. And when I do decide that it’s time to wean completely, I will do it differently; more respectfully. Or maybe if I’m lucky, we will simply reach the point where Oliver makes the decision for himself.