How To Connect With Your Toddler Emotionally While Weaning From Breastfeeding

I had been nursing my daughter for two and a half years and my mind and body were giving me signs that it was time to wean. My heart was torn. 

On one hand, I felt depleted, tired, and missed the taste of the freedom required to visit my girlfriends, have some me-time, or date my husband without having to be home by 9 PM. Dare I even mention an over-night date? On the other hand, I loved these small bonding moments of holding my child and giving her life through the power of my own body. For years, this is how we connected …  how she comforted when sleepy or gotten a boo-boo or just needed extra mama-time.

I felt a mix of emotions at the thought of weaning. I felt scared of losing our close relationship. Would she still seek me? I felt nervous. What would I do with all of her big emotions around this transition … or any time she got sleepy or fell or wanted extra mama-time? And I felt clueless on how to actually wean. The guilt was on thick, and I felt trapped. 

As I sat in all of my thoughts, allowing them to play tug of war, I had a visit from a friend. She was a nursing mama like myself. As our children were playing and we were chatting it up, she mentioned that she was night weaning. I found myself leaning in a little closer to hear her secrets. How was she doing it? I was all ears. 

Noticing my expression, she further explained that she was given medication for her arthritis and she knew that, in taking the medicine, her milk would not be “safe” for her son from the hours of 10 PM to 6 AM #pumpanddump. And then it hit me … I needed to put myself on a prescription! Ok, not literally but figuratively. From the hours of 10 PM to 6 AM, I would set a boundary that my milk was off-limits. It was this mind shift that evolved it all. 

Parenting is a relationship and relationships are about balance. We tend to think the highest and best parenting practice is to meet all of our children’s needs at the expense of our own. But you can’t give oxygen if you don’t have any and you can’t pour from an empty cup. As infants, our children depend on us for survival, and we respond by giving them all of our time and energy. And naturally, as parents who adore our children, we stay in these roles. But at some point, you have to come up for air. At some point, we must recognize that our health – physically, mentally, emotionally – is just as important as our child’s, or anyone else’s for that matter. 

The highest form of parenting, then, is when a balance exists between you and your child’s needs. But how do we get there? Here are some tips: 

  • Let go of perfect. This can be a hard one, but it is a great place to start. In order to set boundaries, we must shed the guilt that we sometimes carry. You know what I am talking about – the mama (and papa) guilt … the “shoulds and have tos.” You are enough. In fact, you’re more than enough … you’re rockstar status. And if you don’t believe me, just look at the beautiful human you’ve given life to … yea, you did that. You are the manual for your family so listen to your intuition. It will be your best guide.
  • Set a boundary and remain consistent. 
    • Set a boundary with yourself. What do you want your nursing relationship to look like? Do you want to wean at night, during the day, or both? Get clear on what you want so you can ask for what you need. 
    • Set a boundary with your partner. Have a discussion with your partner and communicate your boundaries, letting them know how they can best support you and your child during this time. 
  • Wait until the time is right. Start this new transition in a time when you know you can be consistent. So, if your child is sick, or you are going on a trip, or there is a big shift in her daily routine, pause. Start when the time is right for your family.
  • Be with your emotions. This may be an emotional time for you, and this will be your growth. In order to co-regulate with your child surrounding this transition, you must first sit in your big feelings and love for her. It is then you can help her regulate.
  • Be with your child’s emotions. Your child will likely have some sort of feelings regarding weaning. Hold space for her emotions, releasing any goals that may cause any extra stress (ie for her to be happy/not sad). She is allowed to feel mad, sad, frustrated, confused … whatever she is feeling. Her having big emotions doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, or that anything is broken. Let her feel, go there with her, validate her feelings, and offer support through new connection rituals. 
  • Adjust. It can be challenging for adults and children alike to adjust to new things. Here are some things to try:
    • If your goal is to wean at night: When she wakes, comfort her with a back rub or hand pat; separate yourself with a thicker shirt or blanket so your chest is less accessible; or enroll your partner in the ritual. If you co-sleep, maybe your partner is willing to switch places with you in bed or is willing to lay in another bed with your child to help break the cycle, or maybe your partner is willing to offer a bottle in replacement for the breast when she wakes.
    • If your goal is to wean during the day: You can use distraction, redirection, involve another family member, and shift routines that often lead to nursing. While your milk itself is nourishing, nursing is also a sensory experience that involves touch, eye contact, and smell. This is an opportunity to explore new ways of connecting, filling her sensory needs, and her love tank with child-led play.
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Whatever approach you decide, be consistent so your child knows what to expect. Attachment is a two-way street, and there are many ways to be responsive to your child’s needs while also being respectful to your own. Transitions are an opportunity to grow, and you can choose to celebrate your child’s development by adding in new things that continue to build your relationship. Dose up on affection, cuddles, and time together. Above all else, know that your bond has been established and will not go away with the removal of the breast. And lastly, celebrate. Celebrate your nursing relationship, the bond you share with your child, and this new journey you will enter together, one day at a time. 

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