I am almost 8 weeks pregnant and I have an 18-month-old. I wanted to wean before I got pregnant, but that didn’t really work out. I was already more than ready to stop, but he was showing no signs of losing interest. Plus he won’t drink milk from anywhere but me. Now I’m feeling nauseous and my boobs are sore and my son is driving me crazy, wanting to be on me all the time. I’ve been trying to keep him to two feedings a day but he’s freaking out. I’m so exhausted, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to say no. Do you have any advice about weaning an older baby while pregnant? Or even just dealing with a needy toddler while pregnant? This is so hard.
– Running on Empty
Dear Running on Empty,
Growing a baby is hard work on its own, and feeding a baby at the same time is extra intense. It’s no wonder you’re exhausted. While your body is playing oven and dispensary, there’s not much left to spare to sustain you. But don’t get down on yourself for not weaning sooner. Your choices were clearly made with great consideration for your child’s needs, and you can move forward with the same kind of sensitivity. It is definitely possible to keep nursing through pregnancy and beyond. This works for a lot of people, and if you’re interested, there’s a wealth of info to help you on your tandem nursing way. We are all for the idea of child-led weaning, IF the mom is game to keep going indefinitely.
But it doesn’t sound like you want to keep breastfeeding. And if that’s true, weaning is the only way out.
Toddler weaning isn’t easy. Those stories about kids just deciding they’ve had enough? They happen. But they don’t often happen with kids this age, especially not ones who don’t drink milk in a bottle or cup. The majority of babies (and toddlers, and kids) we’ve heard of do not take kindly to the denial of the breast without a well-loved substitute already in place. The “freaking out” you describe is pretty much par for the course, though it can take many forms depending on the kid and the age.
We don’t say this to scare you, but to give you confidence: This process may not be easy on you or your older child. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. If you keep breastfeeding when you want to be done with it, you’re just going to resent your older child more. And it probably won’t get any easier when you’re large and uncomfortable.
Having a baby on the way gives you a finite time frame to work with. The time around a new baby’s birth is often particularly stressful for siblings, so if you plan to wean, it’s best to do it sooner rather than later. This is especially true if you plan to go slowly, as gentle weaning often takes a while.
Your body may actually help the process along. By the 4th or 5th month, your supply will dip. The taste and consistency of your milk will also change. These changes can make toddlers lose interest in nursing. But even with the tail winds of pregnancy hormones pushing in your direction, a truly committed nurser will stay hard to his course. He’ll learn to enjoy the new flavor; and if he keeps on sucking, the supply could maintain. Which means you’ll have to guide the weaning.
There are lots of approaches to weaning. Here are some ideas that are specifically tailored to toddlers.
Baby-Weaning Tip #1: Distract and Divert
When your son asks to nurse, offer something fun to do instead. Ideally, something that gets him out of the house or at least away from the surroundings he associates with nursing. A walk, a game, a little TV : you can tailor the options to the time of day and your energy level.
Baby-Weaning Tip #2: Substitute
Your child may still have the urge to suck. A sub (bottle, cup, or pacifier) often fills in for a boob, but you’ve said your boy isn’t having it. He may hold firm to his rejection, or it may be a matter of finding the right liquid to fill the cup. There are a zillion different milks available, and you can also go for juice or something sweet if you’re up for it. (It’s easier to catch flies with Ovaltine). But nursing isn’t just about milk, it’s about intimacy. Try creating another ritual that involves closeness, like reading a book or listening to a favorite song. A really soothing, comforting bedtime routine. For kids, like adults, quitting something is usually a lot easier when there’s a substitute comfort measure ready in the wings.
Baby-Weaning Tip #3: Talk About It
One of the benefits of weaning an older baby is that there is a way to talk to your child about what’s happening. Even when toddlers are not talking they understand upwards of 18 months. When you tell your child “No milk until daytime,” he’ll get it. (This doesn’t mean he will like it.) You can also start explaining to him that milk is for little babies, and now that he’s bigger, he’s going to be ready to stop nursing soon. If you put a positive spin on it, he may start to associate not drinking milk with being a big kid. You can try referring to some bigger kids he knows and likes to help him make the association. We’d suggest keeping the idea that there is a new baby coming out of it for now, though that may come up once he sees the cycle in action.
Nursing ratchets it up a bunch of notches, but what you’re feeling now is similar to what a lot of mothers feel in a second pregnancy: torn, tired and worried about how to manage the needs of two kids at once. Your pregnancy, with its various symptoms, is a foreshadowing of life with your second kid. You don’t have to balance diaper changes yet, but you do have to balance nausea with nursing. And as every mother of more than one learns, it’s not always possible for everyone’s needs to be met all the time. This can be painful (for you as well as them) but in the end, there’s a more important lesson: your son may not get quite as much of you as he did when he was the only one. But he’ll learn that he can live with a little delayed gratification or denial. And he’ll be fine. Maybe even better.
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