how to wean a toddler, part one.

June 4, 2015

Okay, so as you might have been able to pick up on by reading this blog, I breastfed Lavender. I breastfed her a lot. In fact, ’til she turned two, she breastfed on demand. Breastfeeding was a wonderful experience, even though in the beginning, it suuuuuucked. Sucked so hard. Oops, that’s a pun, isn’t it? Anyway, point is, it took about three months after Lavender was born for me to not feel like my nipples were being sawed off with a dull butter knife every time the kid latched on.

Still, breastfeeding is something I’m passionate about. It’s something I loved doing, and something I hope to do for each of any future children I may have, inshallah. My goal for each of them is two years, just as I was able to breastfeed Lavender for two years, alhamdulillah.

Two years felt like a reasonable cutoff point for us. Some moms (or kids) aren’t ready by then, and of course, that’s absolutely fine. I have zero issue with moms who breastfeed well into toddlerhood–in fact, I wish more who want to would, especially in public. As Lavender approached the two-year mark, I became increasingly worried that nursing her in public would bring awful attention and confrontation (like what happened to these poor women), and so, even though I swore I would never, ever do it, I ended up nursing my toddler in two different women’s restrooms. The best one was a private women’s restroom at a Red Robin in St. Louis, where I unfolded the diaper changing table and let her stand there and nurse. She seemed cool with it. Like she was just chilling out, smoking a big, fat cigar.

Ahem. Anyway.

I’m rambling here (and really, are you surprised by that?), but the truth is, by the time Lavender turned two, I was ready to be done with this round of breastfeeding, even without the added stress of nursing in public. Nursing Lavender had become less nursing and more, “Let’s see how far I can get Mama’s boob to stretch before the nipple actually pops off. Hmmm, can I reach my alphabet puzzle from here, without letting the nipple out of my mouth? Will the boob stretch that far? Let’s try it. Oh, never mind…it’s more funny to bite her and watch her yelp. Then when yanks me off the nipple, I’ll grab my alphabet puzzle while I’m laughing and then go back for more milk. Yeah, that’s the plan. Ready, CHOMP!”

So after Lavender’s second birthday, I got serious, even though my method was actually pretty simple.

You only need two things to make it happen. Or at least, this is how we did it.

1. A current Farmer’s Almanac.

2. A couple of boxes of Band-Aids. Bonus points if you get ones that your kid is already familiar with.

“What is a Farmer’s Almanac?” you may ask. Good question, especially if you’re not from the Ozarks or another part of the States where life has a tendency to revolve around agriculture. It’s a booklet that lays out the best times during the year to do certain things, based on lunar cycles and other prediction tools. The Farmer’s Almanac can tell you which are the best days in the month for planting and harvesting, among other things…including livestock castration. I kid you not. It will tell you which are the best days to cut your hair if you want more hair to grow quickly, and the best days to cut your hair if you don’t want your hair to grow quickly. It will tell you the same thing for cutting grass. It will tell you the best days to dig post holes (if you’re building a fence). It will tell you the best days to ask for a loan or buy a house. It will tell you the best days for potty training. And it will tell you the best days for weaning…for both farm animals and human babies.

As I mentioned before, these predictions are all based on the lunar cycle. In other words, it’s basically astrology with some math thrown in. Even though I like to read horoscopes, I don’t give them much weight in terms of decisions about my life. But the Farmer’s Almanac is different. I swear, there is something to it that science hasn’t figured out an explanation for yet.

I discovered this on the road trip that Lavender, my mom, and I took to California a few months ago. On the drive out to California, Lavender was content in her car seat practically the whole way. When she wasn’t napping, she was happy as a clam as long as we kept her fed, hydrated, and distracted with her crayons and paper, her iPod, or a story. I was amazed that she never fussed or otherwise indicated that she wanted to nurse. When we stopped each night on the trip, I had to encourage her to nurse to relieve the pain of having my breasts overfilled with milk. This was my first indication that maybe, just maybe, Lavender was getting ready to wean.

But the return trip was a disaster. Lavender threw a fit every few hours, and we had to stop and let her nurse. Nothing could distract or console her when she wanted milk while we were on the road.

On a phone call, I told my dad about this. “Well, sis,” he said, “I bet when you were driving out there, those were weaning days.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Weaning days. In the Farmer’s Almanac,” he said. “I remember when you were a baby and your mom was trying to wean you…she tried once, and you just were not having it. It didn’t work. You just screamed. Then Aunt Lorene told your mom to look up the weaning days in the Farmer’s Almanac. She did, and she tried to wean you on the weaning days, and that was it. You didn’t put up a fight at all.”

By the time we got back to Missouri, my dad had picked up a copy of the Farmer’s Almanac for me at the local farm store. I checked out the dates; sure enough, the days when we had been on the road on the way out to California had been weaning days, according to the Almanac. So I made sure to pack it when I went back to Saudi Arabia, for when I was ready to really start weaning. Even though I have a hard copy, you can get it online now, as well. Here is where you can get the Best Days calendar.

The second tool of the process, Band-Aids, were essential for when I chose a set of weaning days to start this uphill battle. I got this idea from a friend of mine who mentioned it to me as having tried it with her own toddler. I used Hello Kitty and Spongebob Squarepants Band-Aids, because Lavender was used to seeing them on her own bumps and scrapes. On the first morning of weaning, I placed a Band-Aid over each of my nipples. When Lavender woke up and pulled at my shirt, requesting “mik” (milk), I showed her the Band-Aid over one of my nipples and said, “No milk. Milk has ouchies.”

She nodded solemnly and repeated, “Mik a ouchies.” Then she turned away and went off to play.

Magic, I tell you! For the rest of the day, every time she reached for my shirt, I would remind her that the milk had ouchies. She would nod, point to my breast, and repeat, “Mik a ouchies!”, and then she would go about her business. This worked beautifully until bedtime, when she would not accept that the milk had ouchies. She needed milk to sleep. So I gave her milk to sleep. I figured that weaning her off the breast except for naptime and bedtime was a pretty big accomplishment.

But as we neared end of the weaning cycle designated by the Farmer’s Almanac, since things were going so well, we decided to go ahead and proceed with trying to night wean. We figured we were already on a roll; might as well go with it.

Now, of course, I recruited Mr. Mostafa for help with this. To my kid, I smell like milk. Always. I’m food. I get that. And to her, that food means sleep. So we planned for me to leave the apartment when it was time for Lavender to go to sleep at night, and Mr. Mostafa would attempt to put her to bed…something he had never done before.

Our ground rules were that I would come back immediately if I heard her crying in a seriously distressed way (because one thing we agreed on wholeheartedly throughout this process is that we didn’t want weaning to be a stressful or upsetting experience for her), or if two hours passed and she still hadn’t slept. He had zero confidence in  himself, and as soon as I closed the door and sat down on the steps, I figured I had about ten minutes before I would get a “WHY ISN’T SHE SLEEPING COME BACK I CAN’T HANDLE THIS” text. But about 40 minutes after I went downstairs, I got the text, “You can come back up. She is asleep.” He had rocked her, laid her down in bed once she got sleepy, rubbed her back and her tummy, and sang to her. And she fell asleep calmly and contentedly, without a single tear.

I was tremendously proud of both of them, and we decided to continue with this new routine. But the next night, it just didn’t work. She would not go to sleep. She kept asking for “Mama” and “mik.” The two hours passed, and I had to come back because she was still awake.

We were frustrated. We couldn’t understand why it didn’t work this time. Then, of course, we checked the Farmer’s Almanac and discovered that the night it worked had been the last night of that particular weaning cycle. Duh. We were out of the weaning days.

So right now, I nurse Lavender to sleep, and that’s all. She’s fully off the breast during the day (except for the occasional naptime). When the next weaning days roll around, we’ll go back to working on night weaning. I’ll post an update about that later. (In case you’re curious, the next weaning days are June 28 to July 6.)

And after that, we’ll be consulting the Farmer’s Almanac for the best potty training days. Woot!

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