It was a bitter sweet moment when I gave Luca his last breastfeed and closed the chapter on my tandem feeding journey. That was nine months ago now. Like my older daughter, Laura (now 12), I decided to wean Luca when he turned three. In the last couple of months leading up to their third birthdays I’d felt uncomfortable continuing to breastfeed Laura and Luca in public and took this as an indication of a desire to end the breastfeeding relationship. I’d always held the belief that so long as it was a mutually enjoyable experience for my child and myself, I would continue to breastfeed (note, though, that this does not include the difficult days/weeks/months of establishing breastfeeding which were, quite frankly, torturous with my first-born). Furthermore, three years felt like a decent innings and meant that my children were of an age where they could understand the concepts of time and reasoning a little more.
In the weeks leading up to Luca’s third birthday I began to prepare him for what was to come and did my best to make it into a positive experience for us both. I explained that because he was turning into a big three year old he would no longer need breastfeeds like younger kids do, and that we’d have lots more ‘big love cuddles’ (as he calls them) instead. Despite my initial concern that he’d find it hard that
Jonah was still allowed to feed even though he wasn’t, this turned out to be a positive in Luca’s eyes. I think he was proud and excited to be the big brother who no longer needed feeds. In fact, on a number of occasions post-weaning, Luca would tell me, “Mum, Jonah needs a feed,” if Jonah was hurt or upset, but rarely asked for a feed when he was upset.
Overall, weaning Luca turned out to be a very similar experience to weaning Laura, even though the circumstances were quite different with Laura being an only child and Luca having a breastfeeding brother. Both Laura and Luca quite happily accepted the cessation of breastfeeding and only grizzled for the breast a handful of times in the first few weeks following their last feed. This made it all so much easier for me – I don’t know how I would’ve managed had they shown any degree of emotional trauma, quite possibly I’d have reneged and allowed them to breastfeed for longer. It’ll be interesting to see how Jonah (and I) copes when I decide to wean him.
For now though, I continue to breastfeed my two-and-a-half year old, Jonah. He still LOVES his feeds. Earlier on this year he went through a stage of being so demanding around breastfeeding that I felt compelled to put him on a breastfeeding schedule, of sorts. Every time he wanted a feed (which would sometimes be three or four times within the space of an hour!) he would moan at me and be physically pushy about trying to ‘get to the breast’. No amount of distraction or cuddles or offers of food or drink would suffice, he threw every ounce of energy he had into ensuring his desire for a feed was met. It was exhausting - physically and emotionally - for both of us, no doubt. So when Mark asked me if I’d consider weaning him, it opened my eyes to the reality that something needed to change. I was, by no means, ready to completely wean Jonah, but I was also not prepared to have things continue the way they were. My solution was to only allow him to feed first thing in the morning and prior to his daytime and nighttime sleeps. Initially he was not a happy chappy about this! But one week later he had well and truly got the message and accepted the new regime without further battles.
Of course the new feeding schedule still has leeway for periods of increased need for breastfeeds. When Jonah was sick on-and-off over the winter months I reverted to feeding him during nighttime wakes, and at other times when he was particularly sore or miserable. I recall a Monday at work (relief teaching at a high school) following a night of much wakefulness and breastfeeding, where I suddenly became aware of how engorged I was and that I wasn’t wearing breastpads. During the first break I rushed into the student health centre and asked the nurse if there was a room I could express some milk off in. She found a room for me and gave me a plastic container to hand express into. What relief! My body was doing such a great job of increasing my milk supply to meet the growing demand, but I’d completely forgotten to factor that in when I left for work that day. I had to have a little giggle to myself when, at lunchtime in the staffroom, I noticed my right black boot was completely covered in milk spray!
Jonah is still completely obsessed with fiddling with the moles on my body while I feed or cuddle him. I have two on my neck that are his favourites and touching them seems to have an instant calming effect on Jonah when he is upset - much like other children’s ‘comforter’ dolls or blankies, I guess. There’s something I find quite reassuring about my son having a part of me, rather than a lifeless object, as his go-to source of comfort. It has been this way for all three of my children - for Luca it was playing with my hair and for Laura it was rubbing my arm with her little hand. A funny related story... at Playcentre one day I was playing the guitar and singing with some children when a four-year-old girl, Keira, came up to me, touched the moles on my neck and said, “I like your moles.” Her mother explained that Keira used to obsessively rub a mole on her chest while she breastfed - just like my Jonah.
I feel proud and at peace about the ways I have chosen to breastfeed and wean my children - although challenging at times, breastfeeding has been such an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable part of motherhood for me. It feels strange to consider that this time next year my breastfeeding days will be over... more than seven years of my life would have been spent breastfeeding!