Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

This Is What Weaning Was Actually Like For Me

My son August had recently turned 4, and I was still nursing him. I had previously told myself that I wouldn't breastfeed any of my sons after the age of 4, but I didn’t mind that I was still nursing August — that is, when he didn’t grab my breast, or do weird things with his mouth, or when he could remember how to move his lips and tongue in concert, the way he was supposed to, to extract milk. I knew he was only nursing because his 2-year-old baby brother was, and he wanted the attention. But I also knew that he was too old to need that kind of attention anymore. It was time to wean him.

I knew this would be difficult, because August had become accustomed to nursing as a form of emotional support. When he was 3 years old, he desperately needed to know he was as loved as his brother, so when he got overwhelmed, usually when he was in crowded or loud places, nursing was a safe place for him to go to. Whether we were at an open gym or a busy playground, nursing August helped prevent him from spiraling into bad behavior, into hitting or biting or worse.

But part of parenting is helping your kids grow up. Part of parenting is taking away those training wheels and letting your kids wobbily travel through the world on their own. So I decided to wean August when it started to hurt to breastfeed him.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

August has always acted younger than his age: Even now, he’s five, and doesn’t know his letters well. But all things considered, as the son of two attachment parents, he wasn't that old to still be breastfeeding. According to CDC data, while most children in America have been weaned off the breast by 6 months, the average age for attachment parents to wean their children is 2.5 years old (or 3 years old, if they're trying to wean their youngest child).

August didn’t need to nurse anymore. I didn’t want him to: it didn’t feel good, and he was forgetting how to do it.

August didn’t need to nurse anymore. I didn’t want him to: it didn’t feel good, and he was forgetting how to do it, which isn’t uncommon among older children. He also didn’t nurse at night, which would have made the situation more difficult: we had night-weaned him when I got pregnant with his brother, and he was about 15 months old. It took about two weeks of my husband trying to get him to go to sleep for it to work. It took a lot of tears and sleepless nights on my husband’s part, but we managed it.

So I told August we were finished. I have a picture of one of the last times: him curled up against me, sick and nursing. Once he felt better, I began. When he asked to nurse, I said yes, but only for the count of ten. He’d latch on, and I’d count out the seconds, until I said, "All done!" August would glare at me and keep nursing, so I’d have to reach down and unlatch him the way you unlatch a sleeping baby. He didn’t like that, and would often cry in frustration.

After some time of counting to 10 and unlatching, I started telling him, "You can nurse later." Most of the time, however, later never came, and his nursing dropped off sharply. Sometimes, he'd inform me it was now later, and he wanted his milk, please. Then I’d nurse to the count of ten and pop him off. As time went on, he got less and less angry. Very soon, “later,” became “not now.” He threw some epic tantrums, but eventually they were fewer and fewer. Soon, he stopped asking to nurse.

I'd be lying if I said not breastfeeding August didn't make me sad, because breastfeeding was something special we had always had together. There's a deep intimacy in breastfeeding, a kind of non-sexual love and trust, and it hurt me deep down to lose that with him. But I knew it was necessary. Plus, I had another child at the breast at the time, August's two-year-old brother.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Broadbent

As my youngest turns three, I feel the sting of the impending loss of breastfeeding. He nurses more at night than he does during the day, and I know that once we night-wean him, he’ll effectively be finished, except for maybe a session or two in the morning.

It already makes me sad to think about weaning my youngest son, especially when I consider that every time he asks for mama's milk could be the last. And since my husband and I don't plan to have another biological baby, it's likely I'll never nurse another child. It hurts to realize that, and to know I'll never be needed in that particular way by one of my children. I’m not ready for that yet. But luckily, neither is my youngest son.