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When my baby was born, he was quickly placed into my arms and I was encouraged to try breastfeeding shortly after that magical moment. Breastfeeding was one of our first interactions together. I imagine that from my baby’s perspective, it clarified our relationship. My baby understood I would provide him with milk, comfort and connection. When I nursed him, we were connected closely together. Nursing my baby helped him feel safe as he adjusted to living his life outside of my body. 

Nursing my baby helped him feel safe as he adjusted to living his life outside of my body.

As my baby grew, nursing became even more meaningful to him. When he began to understand more about the world around him, he experienced new and complicated feelings. If he was sad, angry, hesitant, or feeling disconnected, he wanted to nurse. Nursing was part of our bedtime routine. I nursed him when he woke up hungry or in need of support during the night. As a mother who was able to breastfeed, I felt that nursing my baby was one way I could communicate that I was there for him, that I was listening.

When he became a young toddler, it was easier for me to truly see how nursing gave him the support and reassurance he needed to get through the new and sometimes overwhelming moments a young toddler faces throughout the day as he grows and learns.  

Nursing my baby was one way I could communicate that I was there for him, that I was listening

With all of this in mind, we can imagine why weaning can be so difficult for both toddler and mother. When we need to fully wean, or decide to fully wean, we often have to initiate it without the approval of our toddlers. Our toddlers have not yet decided that they would like to try a new type of milk, comfort and support. Breastfeeding is what they have known from the very beginning. Mothers are challenged to help them accept the end of this natural, instinctive form of nurturing. This is a significant change for them, a loss. 

However, our goal is to help them continue feeling loved and connected. When weaning, we are not taking love and connection away from them. We are continuing to love them as we offer different forms of nurturing.

Ideally, we can help them accept this new option in a slow, gentle, and supportive way. Young toddlers can understand much more than they can verbally express. We can tell them what to expect and how their emotional needs will be met. While we may not see our desired response and acceptance, we can feel good knowing that we communicated with them and acknowledged their feelings about this transition. An age appropriate conversation about weaning can help toddlers process their feelings and fears while helping them to see how love and nurturing will continue. 

When weaning, we are not taking love and connection away from them. We are continuing to love them as we offer different forms of nurturing.

Please visit my website www.jessicaelder.com for more information.

Jessica Elder, LMSW, LCSW-NY is the author of My Milk Will Go, Our Love Will Grow, a book to help mothers talk with their toddlers about weaning from breastfeeding (available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in February of 2020).

Photo by Nicole Leann Photography

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