Child-led Weaning: They Aren’t Going to Nurse Forever

A little more than two years ago, I wrote about my experiences nursing a preschooler. At the time I discussed the fact that my nearly 4-year-old daughter was still nursing and how I never planned or expected to be nursing a 4-year-old, yet it just happened.

“I didn’t set out to nurse a preschooler, but somehow along the way my sweet little baby grew from an infant to a toddler and eventually blossomed into a preschooler in what now seems like the blink of an eye. I am confident this won’t go on forever and when I look back on this time when she’s 10 or 20 or 30, and I look at the young woman she’s become, I am hopeful that I will feel good about the choices I made and have no regrets.”

As I suspected, it didn’t “go on forever.” I never blogged about it when Ava weaned, but that milestone occurred almost four months after my post. She was 4 1/4 years old. At that time I was also nursing my son – her younger brother. From what I can remember, she and I had talked about weaning and being done with mama milk for a while. I felt like after a long, mostly* wonderful nursing relationship with Ava, I was comfortable with the idea of her weaning. Although she wasn’t excited to wean, I felt like Ava was pretty ready too.

I remember one night she went to bed without nursing (which is the only time she would nurse at that point and had been since she was 2 1/2). After all of the discussions we’d had about weaning, it seemed to me like the perfect stopping point. The next night as we cuddled to go to sleep, she asked for “na-na” and I explained to her that she was done having na-na. She cried a few tears that night, but we cuddled and she went to sleep without na-na. The next couple days she continued to ask for it before bed and sometimes cried a bit or was sad, but I never felt like it was unbearable for her. If I had felt it was absolutely unbearable for her, I would have put off weaning longer, but I never got that impression. Yes, she briefly mourned the loss, but the transition went well.

After several weeks had passed and I felt fairly confident that she had lost the knack of suckling, she would – once in a while – still ask for na-na and at that point I would let her try. As I’d suspected, she couldn’t figure out how to get milk out any longer. It was a little frustrating for her, but I think it was comforting that I let her try rather than just tell her “no, you don’t have na-na anymore.” Letting her try seemed like a gentle way for her to discover on her own that she had, in fact, weaned.

While I wouldn’t call what I did with Ava exactly “child-led weaning,” it felt like a pretty gentle transition and was what I deemed best for our family at that time. After nursing two kids (although usually not at the same time) for a year and a half, I was ready to go back to nursing just one child.

And that brings us to the present, when my now 3 3/4-year-old son is still nursing. ;) This time around, however, it didn’t come as any surprise to me that I’m nursing a preschooler. He seems like he might wean before Ava did, but I’m not holding my breath. Lately, he will go a few days at a time without asking for it so I think we are heading in that direction. He went five nights without nursing while I was at BlogHer this year, but when I got home – sure enough – he wanted to nurse before bed. Most recently he went about four or five nights without asking to nurse while I’ve been home. I thought he might be done altogether, but then asked to nurse again. I talked to him about possibly being done and he insisted that he was NOT, so he nursed before bed. But then the past two nights, he did not.

I’m not in a big hurry for Julian to be done. I know it will be bittersweet just like it was when Ava weaned and perhaps a bit moreso since I’m fairly certain I’m not going to have any more children. However, I also see this as a milestone and a door opening to the next chapter in our relationship. Yes, we’ve had several years of a great nursing relationship, but I also look forward to what lies ahead.

I’ll repeat what I said before, but this time for Julian. I am confident this won’t go on forever and when I look back on this time when he’s 10 or 20 or 30, and I look at the young man he’s become, I am hopeful that I will feel good about the choices I made and have no regrets.

Related posts I’ve written:

Related posts from other bloggers:

  • From Lactation NarrationChild Led Weaning
    “Munchkin is 4 today. If you had told me when she was born that she would still be nursing now, I wouldn’t have believed it. My original goal with her was to nurse for 6 months, yet here we are. My goal now is for child led weaning.”
  • From Not a DIY LifeTransitions
    “At 31 months old, Ladybug weaned herself. It didn’t happen quickly. It was very gradual. But accompanied with all the other big girl things that she’s doing, it does seem sudden. … I am so thankful that we were able to wean this way. It was gradual. There were no tears on her part or on mine. We were both ready.”
  • From Raising My BoychickA Day Without Nursing
    “I likely won’t know the last time, won’t pause and study him and strain to memorize the moment like I did that morning. It will just not-happen one day, and then another, and then I will realize it is has been days, weeks, and the moment I’ll want to remember forever I will already have forgotten.”
  • From AnktangleChild Led Weaning
    “I plan to practice child-led weaning, not just because breastfeeding is a public health issue, but because intuitively, it seems like the gentlest way for me to parent my child through this early part of his life. But more than that, I plan to do whatever works best for us as a family in each moment.”
  • From Code Name MamaThe Joys of Breastfeeding a Toddler
    A collection of stories from moms nursing their children past infancy

Learn more about Child-Led Weaning:

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29 thoughts on “Child-led Weaning: They Aren’t Going to Nurse Forever

  1. My kids chose when to wean, although my older two chose it much younger, around 18 months. So easy and pleasant!

    My youngest is 19 months and showing little inclination to stop. We’ll see how this all goes.

  2. How funny, Amy! We are so on the same wave-length. I wrote a related post just today about how I felt about my girls nursing past infancy.

    I think it is so interesting that when Ava asked for milk after a weeks without nursing, she had lost the knack for it. When our younger daughter was born, my oldest would often ask to nurse, and I always let her try, but she would just giggle as she realized she didn’t know how. Every now and again my youngest likes to pretend like she is nursing. I think that instinct and desire to connect with mama like that lingers on past weaning for many little ones.

    Such great thoughts, Amy. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I’m trying very hard to enjoy every minute of my 2 yr old nursing, but truthfully it is absolutely excruciating now that I’m pregnant again and I just want him to STOP. I’ve managed to get him down to a couple times a day by telling him my boobies are broken – which prompts him to ask every doctor or person with a tool set he sees if they can “please fix mommy’s boobies, please?” That’s both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time, but I will not feel bad about it because the pain is truly unbearable, and I think I should get a say in this matter. I’m all for CLW and I hoped that’s what we’d do, but I just don’t think I’m going to be able to handle this much longer, and I think that’s perfectly fine. I have gone above and beyond.

  4. No, they don’t nurse forever. I watched my oldest run across the football field today with a bunch of other little boys. So big, so far removed. Two weaned, one left, what felt like such a long time is nearly over in a flash.

  5. I think I took a similar path as you, although a bit earlier, with my daughter. I would say that I ‘gently encouraged’ weaning. She was a little bit sad about it, but actually much less sad than when I told her she couldn’t have a cookie at snacktime. That told me that while she enjoyed nursing, her need was not the same as it had been.

    I think that every kid is different, and at the end of the day what matters most is that you are both reasonably satisfied with how things go. You both have needs, and respecting those needs is important. It sounds like you did just that. I hope I am, too.

  6. Just wanted to say to TheFeministBreeder, nursing while pregnant does get easier. It takes a long time though, maybe 6-7 months you get past that extra nipple sensitivity. I found the advantage was that my nipples didn’t need to be broken in (as such) with the newborn, which was a big help.
    I’m still nursing my 32 month old but I think she’s getting to the point where she is forgetting how to nurse. Lately when I let her she will try very briefly then say ‘there’s nothing in there!’ when I know there is. :) But once in awhile she will still nurse, get milk and fall asleep at the breast. It’s bittersweet. I had no idea how long I would end up nursing, and had no goal in mind. Now I’m nursing two!

  7. This is exactly how it seems to be going for me. I do think Gray would have nursed longer (until almost 3) if I hadn’t had so much pain and dehydration in my pregnancy with Ivy. Ivy is almost 2 and still going strong- it’s funny how it just happens and you don’t even pay attention to age. It just feels so normal and natural. On top of the fact that I think it’s very healthy for both of us as well as sometimes the ONLY time she will sit still and snuggle and I love it. :)

    Steph

  8. If my pregnant self could see me nursing my 32 month old now, she would be in shock :) But nursing Kieran has been one of the greatest ongoing joys of motherhood. Thank you for sharing your story of breastfeeding a preschooler – I’ll be joining your ranks in a few short months.
    (And psssttt – I’d be honored to include a story from you in the Joys series!)

  9. I wonder if any of you have advice for me? I nursed my daughter until she was three and don’t regret any of it–almost. I did lead her weaning, letting her know we were going to stop and giving her about four months to prepare. By the time we did stop, she was excited about the milestone.

    However, she is now five, and is still fascinated by my breasts. We can’t cuddle without her trying to reach her hands under my shirt to fondle me. Whenever she sees me change clothes, she always comments on how “cute” my nurses are (what she still calls them). I don’t know how to get her to stop. Telling her that since she’s too old to nurse, she’s old enough to leave my breasts alone isn’t working. Any suggestions?

  10. Thanks for this. I had another talk about finishing up mommy milk with my 3 3/4 year old while he and his 2-year-old little brother were nursing tonight. 2 years of tandem nursing is starting to wear – I really needed the reminder that it won’t last forever. Pretty much the story of my mothering lately – I really need these reminders to savor the moment and stop wishing for the next whatever!

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  15. I nursed my son until he was about 2 when he self-weaned. At that point we were just doing night nursings. I absolutely LOVED nursing him but I’m not sure how I would feel about nursing past age 2. Some of my friends and family were already starting to give me a hard time about it. I would love to nurse my next child as long as he/she needs it but I don’t know if I could handle all of the criticisms I know I would receive.

  16. I wasn’t able to nurse my oldest long at all. A month, maybe. With pumping. She never got the hang of latching on (pretty sure it was cuz of medicated labor and the fact that the nurses whisked her off for several hours before I could nurse her for 1st time. I didn’t know any better then). And I never produced much for her cuz I couldn’t get hte swing of pumping.

    Anyway. I had mini-goals for our youngest. I wanted to make it past a month. Then nurse exclusively for 6 months (made it to 7 before she had her first taste of food!). Then nurse for a year.

    Here she is, about a month away from turning 2 and we’re still nursing!! At the very least, every night before bed (been this way for quite awhile now) … but sometimes she’ll want to during the day as well.

    I NEVER thought I’d be nursing this long … but we (yes, WE. My husband is FULLY supportive!) love it. Truly. It just seems natural. To all of us.

    Both of our families, though? Think we’re out of our dang minds and doing some sort of damage to our child. Ha!

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  24. Hi Amy, as you know I’m still nursing my almost 4-year-old. I love nursing him, and since he is most likely going to be my only child, I’m not looking forward to him weaning. Like you, I never anticipated to nurse him this long, but I’m glad I am. Reading your account of telling your daughter that she is done makes me sad, I just know how hard that would be for me.

    Dagmar

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  26. I am so grateful to have found this on my google search “breastfeeding age” first I was happy to find the who recommends 2 years and more, and then I found the crunchy domestic goddess and laughed a little. My son is only 16 months and my mom is afraid he is too clingy and I dont know anyone who is okay with this except two of my friends. I feel like I am secretly partaking in a sexual taboo, so reading all thecomments is really helpful. I can nurse in secret as he gets older. The secrecy and social unacceptability will probably help him decide… I don’t like how unsure I am and how I flip flop between openly letting him nurse and drawing a line. We will see… I am going to blog about this :)

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