Depending on circumstances, there is a decent chance neither you nor anyone you know will ever wean a toddler. While most women in the U.S. breastfeed at some point, the majority will wean before their baby is 6 months old, for any number of reasons. So, in some ways, it makes sense not to know what to do when presented with a weaning toddler, because a breastfeeding toddler is kinda rare. So, please allow me to fill you in on things moms weaning a toddler want you to know. It's not an exhaustive slate of demands; it's just a couple little tidbits that will make this process less socially awkward and better understood for everyone involved.
I weaned my children at 17 and 21 months. While most people around me weren't used to seeing non-infants breastfeed, everyone was tremendously cool about it (I lucked into some good family, friends, and communities). This coolness made the whole weaning process easier than I think it would have been, which is great because I personally found weaning way harder, on the whole, than actually breastfeeding. Don't get me wrong: the first couple weeks nursing my firstborn was tough AF. I went through so much nipple cream, you guys. However, I found weaning to be tougher, a) because a toddler can, in their own way, fight you on it, and b) while getting the hang of breastfeeding is working hard to achieve something you think is going to be for the best, weaning a toddler is working hard to end something you actually liked doing, at least for a while.
There's a lot to sort through for the mom and kid involved. But for you, the well-meaning bystander who is (I'm going to hope and assume) is relentlessly supportive, there are just a few things we would love for you to keep in mind, including but certainly not limited to the following:
There May Very Well Be A Lot Of Conflicting Emotions In Play
I'm going to go ahead and make an educated guess that those of us who nursed past a year, did so because we had positive breastfeeding experiences. As such, deciding to end said experience is likely bittersweet. Yes, if we're weaning it means we're ready to be finished (so, so finished in my case, you guys), but at the same time that doesn't mean we don't still feel fondly about nursing our children.
So, if we're confusing you by saying "I can't wait to be done" five minutes after crying about how sad we are that we're done, please believe we're even more confused than you in some ways.
Your "Finally" Comments And Jokes About Nursing Until They're In College Are Not Helpful
We get it. Nursing past whatever arbitrary age you've established as "appropriate" weirds you out and you're venting that discomfort/relief by making a joke at my expense.
Please stop. As I mentioned above, this is tough enough without having to carry around your baggage, too.
Pressuring Me To Keep Going After I've Decided To Wean Is A Crappy Thing To Do
On the other side of the "people who are weirded out by extended breastfeeding" coin, are the people who are so into it they don't want you to stop. "Why not let your child self-wean?" they'll prod in a voice they think is empowering but is really just pushy. Then they'll talk about how they're still nursing their X-year-old kid and how wonderful it is and how they wouldn't trade it for the world.
To those people I say, "Good for you, enjoy your choices, but they're not mine and you're kind of being an ass about it." Look, if someone is on the fence and coming to you for your perspective or something, by all means give it. If they've stated they're weaning, trust that they have made up their minds and made their best decision.
I Haven't Traumatized Them By Breastfeeding As Long As I Have
Pop culture has this weird fixation on using extended nursing as some sort of short-handed for, "This child is a maladjusted weakling and their mother is an overprotective psycho." This is not remotely the case.
I Haven't Spoiled Them, Either
At least not with breastfeeding. With books? Definitely. With action figures I bought because I secretly wanted to play with them? You betcha. But breastfeeding doesn't spoil a child.
If You Try To Shame My Kid In This Process I Will Destroy You
Some people, usually the ones who are uncomfortable with the idea of nursing a child past X age (because there's no one solid age everyone agrees on as OK, as I've heard 1 year I've heard two weeks and, yeah, I'm not kidding) will try to speed along the process by trying to convince the child one on one. I once asked moms to share the worst thing they heard while extended nursing and "Lucretia" told me,
"My mother-in-law never said anything directly to me, but she would talk to my son in front of me and say things like, 'You don't want that anymore! Yucky! That's for babies! You're a big boy.' She thinks that once a baby can walk they shouldn't nurse."
Do not be like Lucretia's mother-in-law. Do not try to make a kid feel bad about nursing.
I'm Proud Of Having Made It As Long As I Have
In a line of work where you're getting crapped on all the time — sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively — moms have to grab victories whenever they can. Reaching or even exceeding your breastfeeding goals is certainly cause for celebration and a nice little pat on the back. We don't need those things from you (though we'll take them if you're offering), but in our quiet, contemplative moments we might nestle down with our warm and fuzzy sense of accomplishment.
Please, For The Love Of God, Leave My Sex Life Out Of This
*covering ears* Lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala! I don't want to hear about how happy or unhappy you think my sex partner(s) are going to feel about this. Lalalalala! I am going to pretend this creepy conversation never happened. (Seriously, they're my breasts. Acting as though anyone else lays claim to them at any point is weird AF.)
My Hormones Might Go A Little Nuts
Yeah, I didn't know this was a thing until it happened to me, and hard. It makes perfect sense: your body spends months or years producing extra levels of all sorts of chemicals., and then when the milk factory shuts down everyone's like "WHAT NOW?! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO!? AHHHHH!"
In my case, I was a depressed, irritable, weepy mess. It took a few months (and running) to get me through it, and I appreciated everyone who was understanding and gentle with me during that time.
This Process Might Take A Little While
There are lots of different ways one can go about weaning, and very often it's not something that simply stops overnight. For many, weaning is a process, both physical and emotional. Mom and toddler have to adjust to this big change so, honestly, it might take some time.
In this, and in all aspects of weaning, your support and understanding (or, barring that, just leaving me the hell alone) mean a lot. Thanks!