Q: Our son is approaching his first birthday, and I am struggling with the breastfeeding/ weaning issue. I am starting to feel myself getting annoyed with his demands, but because it is something he enjoys and a way we bond, I am hesitant to stop it. However, I know it needs to eventually come to an end, so what do I do?
A: Most mamas hit a point where their child wants to nurse more than they want to nurse. It’s often when the child is in a phase of development full of growth, which means he needs more connection, emotional energy and physical nutrition. Nursing is the default because that’s what he’s known. But there are alternate options you can introduce to fulfill his needs.
1. Start experimenting with new ways to connect with him, and give emotional nourishment that isn’t nursing. Play peekaboo, wrestle, sing songs, give big hugs, take deep breaths, swing on a swing, etc. Be together in loving, present ways that are comforting but don’t require your breast. It might not immediately replace the satisfaction, but it will set the stage for what’s to come. He needs your help in creating new soothing habits. It takes time and energy and is totally worth it.
2. Get a little more time to yourself outside the home, so you can fill up and be ready for him when you see him. It will drive you extra crazy to be grabbed at and pulled on when you are exhausted, and it will be harder to tune into you and honor yourself. It’ll be easier on both of you for you to be away a little more and come back ready to nurse or otherwise connect with him.
3. That being said, it’s better for you to say “yes” when you are really OK with nursing and “no” when you are not OK with it. If you feel a clear no, then say, “I know you want to nurse, and my body just isn’t available right now.” Allow him to have the feelings, with support. “I know you want to nurse. I know you are sad I’m saying no. You really want to.” Honoring your body will always feel better than giving in, and this will serve both of you in the long run.
In the short-term it may be challenging—very challenging. He will arch his back, flail about, and probably scream and cry. But he will get through it. You will all get through it. And you will move into new ways of connecting that feel good for both of you. Start imagining what that will look like. Put it out there, so you can all move toward it.
—Carrie Contey, PhD, renowned parenting coach, author, speaker and educator