The Unconventional Way I Weaned My Toddler

Those who know me, know that the nursing relationship I shared with my daughter, was something incredibly dear to my heart. After she was born, I became a ferocious advocate for normalizing breastfeeding, opting never to use a cover and to nurse wherever and whenever I pleased. If my baby was hungry, I didn’t care what your level of comfort was, I was feeding her!  Although  nursing wasn’t something that came super easily to us in the beginning, once we established healthy breastfeeding, I thought I would nurse her forever! My nieces once even bought me a picture of a bare-breasted mermaid holding her baby nursling mermaid and said “Look Auntie Erin it’s you!” As they knew, my two favourite things in the world were the water, and nursing my sweet baby girl. But as we crept closer to my daughters second birthday, those joyful feelings slowly began to morph into what’s known as nursing aversion and I knew, in order to preserve my sanity, something was going to have to shift.

The very first latch!

I had heard about nursing aversion before. In fact, my former partner in Mommy Connections had experienced it while pregnant with her third baby. But like so many aspects of motherhood, it’s not something that I think anyone can fully grasp until they’re in that position. With every latch, I began feeling sick to my stomach. Previously, my child twiddling my free nipple while nursing from the other one was something that I wouldn’t even notice, but it now felt similar to that feeling in the back of your neck when you hear nails on a chalk board. Worst of all, in all of this discomfort, my child began to nurse more frequently; it’s like she knew I was thinking of calling “LAST CALL!”, and she had to get her money’s worth.

Finley had always nursed on demand. To be clear, she’d nurse when she was thirsty, hungry, needed comfort, was injured, sick, or really whenever the mood struck her. As a parent, I had never been huge on setting a particular feeding schedule and because we bed-share, nursing has also always been my tactic to get her to sleep. So when I made the decision to start cutting her off, I knew it had to be slow and gentle. The first thing I tried was distraction. She’d come asking for it and I’d point to something amazing at the other end of the room, or ask her to play a game with me. This would usually work for about one minute until my headstrong lady would remember her mission for milk, and come marching back. Simply denying her would usually result a red-faced, on-the-ground, arched back meltdown, that my heart just couldn’t handle. Because we weren’t on any kind of schedule, dropping a feed  (as the experts suggest) was also out of the question. I started to lose faith and thought “maybe I should just suck it up and be uncomfortable for the sake of keeping the peace”. But then I remembered what I preach to the moms in our programs. We as moms are important too. We matter and so often we lose sight of ourselves as we mother these amazing little people, and it’s important to teach boundaries, respect and self worth. Most of all, I was desperate to not want to look back on my nursing journey with resentment.

One year anniversary!

Two weeks before W Day (weaning day), I started to tell Finley that Mommy’s Milk was getting OLD. She had tasted sour milk from a cup once and knew exactly what this meant. I explained daily that when we turn two, the milk gets old and no longer tastes good. This was usually met with a “ya ya, give me the goods” type response. We celebrated Finley’s second birthday with family and friends and because I knew what was coming, the day was filled with mixed emotions for me.

Tear stained face after her first nap without nursing. Have you experienced mom guilt? It’s awful.

One week later, after a particularly long and painful morning nursing session, I pulled the shoot. I walked downstairs by myself and rubbed Apple Cider Vinegar and Lemon Juice on my nipples, and then I waited. A few minutes later, Finley came over and asked for boobies and after explaining the milk was old, I allowed her to latch on. After not even two seconds, she JUMPED back with the most disgusted look on her face and yelled “MAMA’S RIGHT IT’S OLD! YUCK!” and simply walked away and carried on with her business. “Ok” I thought, “That was too easy. How is this going to look when it’s nap time and there’s nothing for me to offer other than a sippy cup?” An hour later, we laid down in bed and wrapped our arms around each other. I whispered in her ear how strong, smart and brave she is and she simply rolled over and went to bed. For the first time in two years of being on this earth, my little one did not nurse to sleep! Though she was content, I was A MESS! Did I make a mistake? Am I a terrible mother for denying her something so simple? Am I selfish? Maybe my discomfort wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be! Am I truly ready for this to be over? All I can say is that mom guilt is a very real thing, and in that very moment it hit me…hard!

Over the course of the next few days, I continued to apply my vinegar and lemon juice concoction to my breasts, on the off chance that she wanted to give it another go, but she never did. We talked about the old milk, what this meant for her and how proud I was of her being such a big girl. She cried and during those gut wrenching moments, I had to navigate tears sans breastmilk. But just like every other parenting challenge, it came and went and we figured out our new normal. I continued to reassure her that she was loved and valued and that this was all simply a part of growing up.

I had some criticisms for taking this route but I know in my heart that it was the only thing that was going to work for us. She is such a strong-willed individual, that I needed it to ultimately be her decision to wean. There were no melt downs. No denying her. No leaving her side to let someone else put her to bed. In this circumstance, SHE simply decided that she no longer liked the taste, and was ready to move on. I am confident in my decision and know without a shadow of a doubt, that it was what was best for me, her and our family.

The weeks that followed were not easy on me, but I’ll save that for another post. For the mama out there that’s thinking she’s ready to have her body back, you do what you need to do, when you’re ready to do it. Don’t let society tell you what’s right, even if your methods look a bit different. I had never imagined that lemon juice and vinegar would be my chosen path, but at one point I also never imagined feeding my daughter sugar… as we all know, plans change 😉

If you had told me before I became a mom, that my child would be eating a lollypop the size of their head, I’d have said you were nuts!

 

We’re Human

Written By: Karli Marshall

Are you tired? I’m tired.

I’m also disappointed in myself.

Motherhood is a tough gig. So often it is a largely isolating and independent role. Late nights, and the responsibility for building, improving, and shaping lives.

I have always had anxiety, but becoming a mom amplified it. Constantly trying to navigate the pressures of motherhood on top of crippling self-doubt, led to some pretty low lows in my life.

I’ve learned with my second to be gentler with myself, but I still need reminders that I’m human, and I’m going to make mistakes. “Go easy on yourself” is not a new phrase, but for some reason, like our ability to glaze over the memory of childbirth, we often forget that we need to give ourselves a break.

This morning my four year old needed me, and unfortunately I responded with frustrated fatigue.

But even though it’s not okay, it’s still okay.

She bounded in at 4:30am after I had already been up twice with her sister. Each time she moved, spoke, or mentioned she was hungry, I angrily snapped at her to stop. What finally prompted me to haul my furious butt out of bed was her beginning to genuinely cry. For the last 90 minutes, she had felt unheard. It broke my heart and my mom spirit. She’s four and she needed me because I’m her mom. Tears soaked my cheeks, too.

I once read a great piece of advice and have borrowed it: on days she is struggling I often say to her “It’s okay, let’s just turn it around” so she knows we can always start over. As she was eating her cereal, us on opposite sides of the table, I was silently berating myself for being such a bad mom. She looked up at me and said “It’s okay Mom, let’s just turn it around.”

And so we did.

I’ll just be sure to love her up tonight when she is tired and grumpy and needing me to understand that she is human, too.

 

When Karli isn’t chasing cats or changing butts, she is writing, painting, and losing herself in History. She has two strong daughters, a four year old Joan Jett (world’s biggest fan), and a 10 month old cheeky monkey. She has been an Educator in rural Alberta for the last five years and is now lucky to call the dynamic Ottawa region home.

Building Our Community

 

I was trying to think of all the moms I have met through my involvement in Mommy Connections. There have been so many. I have met moms who are all about fitness and moms who are into cloth diapering, moms who have an incredible knowledge of nutrition, or development, or ones that are teaching their kids letters in a way that looks like incredible play. All moms come with their own skills and knowledge. I have said it before, but it is so true that the moms who I have come to know have taught me so much. It makes me feel rich to see things from many perspectives. Which I believe makes me better at understanding, empathizing, and actually caring for the moms who sit in our program circle or walk by me in the mall.

Regardless of background, one aspect of working with so many wonderful new parents has always brought out one of my parenting insecurities. We all have one area, or many that we struggle with from time to time. Something that makes it hard to admire rather than compare. That makes us feel like everyone has it together, but us. For me, it is the way that all parents seem to be in touch or in tune. I hear my friends describe what is likely bothering their baby, or predict when they are going to have a hard day, and I am in awe. They are so in touch with feeding, mood, routines and napping, that I wonder why I am not. I wonder if amongst the busy days and long nights I may miss something. What if after all these years teaching families about attachment and responding versus reacting, I am missing some important signs of my own children?

I had a mom recently tell me kindly that she thinks I know my children so well. An amazing sense of relief came over me, which further reinforced this notion that perhaps I am not sure of myself in my ability to cue in to my child’s every needs. I think so much about it, but what if that thought doesn’t always translate into action? Research supports the fact that it is the pattern of response vs. individual response that will be most impactful. But when it comes to parenting; research, education, or work experience goes out the window. Sometimes it feels like nothing can ease our minds when we feel as though we are not offering our children all they deserve. We constantly talk about judgement, but it seems as though many of us are our own worst critics. Insecurities are different for everyone, but I do think we all have them.

We are so tough on ourselves to get it all right. We are expected to have every skill of each of those moms I described to have met. Pressure to be fit, considerate of nutritionl, have great sleep, well thought out behaviour responses, and have your child spotless, seem ever present. Then on top of it; our own experiences lead us to put extra focus in particular areas. Whatever area you feel the most pressure, there seems to also exist the most insecurity. But what if that also leads to judgement about others and perpetuates this high pressure culture? Maybe if we were more confident, we would fully support others’ decisions, and respect difference.

If we could forgive ourselves for not noticing a poop has been there for 20 minutes, or the McDonalds dinner, or the temporary “loss of cool”, maybe we would have more space and time to learn; rather than worry. If we can simply admire others parents rather than compare; we may all be better for it. We could learn something from each parent we meet and really pump each other up. Maybe  help them see their strength. I always notice at least one thing about each mom I meet that I admire. I think I am going to make a point of saying it a bit more often out loud, for the benefit of both of us. I challenge you to do the same!

Expanding your Family, (sort of) Guilt free!

Pretty much as soon as a baby enters the world, people start asking when(not if) the next one is coming. Well, it can feel like that anyways. For me, it was not so much my unhealed body, sore breasts or severe tiredness that made me cringe at the thought of immediately working on number two. It was the most intense guilt I felt when I even thought of the affect a new baby would have on number one. I had enough insecurities about whether I was royally messing my kid up or doing ok, the last thing I needed was bringing something or someone into the equation that I was sure would mess him up for good. I remember thinking that “terrible twos” and the tricky parts of toddler behaviour must all be derived from that particular age often having younger (replacement) children coming into their families. Like so many other things I initially thought I knew as a parent, I was pretty far off. There were so many contributing factors to my intense aversion to having a second child. I felt it was good to get them out there, in case others share these.

I noticed a few things that happened when second, third, or fourth babies were born, and many of them I feared. I noticed that no one got as excited for subsequent pregnancies. I overheard moms talk about how they did not really think a shower was necessary, as it was not their first. What the??? I may be weird, but I love me a good baby shower! The attention is all about that mama, and usually includes lots of women, lots of food and lots of excitement about a new life. I remember taking a mental note, that I will now toss in the garbage, that I “should not” celebrate any future babies in any way. Because it was viewed as somehow excessive. The other thing that I noticed happening was that the older child(ren) no longer gets an identity outside of one in relation to the baby. Before baby, strangers would remark on how cute the toddler was, but following a sibling, they would get all starry eyed looking at the infant, and only ask the older child if they were a good brother/sister. Again, what is this? What kind of message is this? I know that if I went to a work function with my husband and the only thing asked was if I enjoyed being a wife to Greg, I may have trouble keeping my game face on. The last thing that I feared was that I would forget. I would forget that my little one was just one. And that he was our whole world. And that it would be so very hard to share that space regardless of what a good guy he was. All of those point made me feel pretty sick about the whole thing in all honesty.

When we found out we were pregnant with our second, I felt more than a bit sick and my face went white as a ghost. My heart was thumping, but not in a good way. We had been trying, so it was not out of the blue that this happened. We discussed it, and I did some reading, and I concluded that my feelings/worries were rather ‘normal’ so we went forth. But when I was actually pregnant, I was pretty frightened. That the world would not be as excited to greet this baby, and that they would not notice my first baby, and that he would feel unnoticed, invisible, and replaced. I kind of freaked out. A lot. I spent the next 9 months developing plans to support my son through the process. For round one, I read to my baby in utero a lot, and sang him songs, planned his nursery. For round two, I focused only on my big kid. Often I ended up awake at night worrying if this was all going to be ok. I remember one night I sat up in bed, where I spent most of my pregnancies at nighttime because of crazy heartburn. We had just had such a great day with my big guy and I was saddened by the thought that when baby came, we would change him for good. He would no longer feel special and confident. I was convinced he would lose his sparkle.

Today, my son is about the furthest thing from invisible, and his sparkle is so apparent that it now shines.. This is not because of the plan of action we put in place, though I will share what we did to prepare. He is just fine, as everyone promised he would be. My mom guilt still lingers from time to time, when Greg and I are deciding who gets which kid if we are pairing up for errands. Because taking a super easy going 1 year old is preferable at times than a rambunctious 3 year old. And that feels like favoritism. I feel super bad when I realize one kid, or the other is trying to get my attention but my focus in that moment is on whatever crazy antics the other is doing is holding it for a few second too long. I get worried when they “argue”, wondering if I am supporting their relationship.  But mostly, it is actually the coolest thing we have ever experienced. Seeing these two kids learn, and play together. Seeing them love unconditionally even though, particularly the younger one can be quite annoying to her big brother when she knocks over an amazing block tower he built, or causes us to stop on the way to something awesome for another round of nursing. They really do love one another. When any stranger so much as looks at my baby, my big guy shouts proudly, “That is my sister Julia, and if you clap she will clap back”. He is helpful and wild, and drives me just nuts at times! No one has taken away his individuality.

In school, we learned a lot about sibling relationships, because they are the longest relationships humans tend to have in a lifespan. They are important because of shared experiences, and perspectives, and being able to validate one another’s narrative in a really unique way. I am happy to have resisted the urge to avoid having a second because of my own fears. If we had, there would be no Julia. And there would be no Cohen AND Julia. Together, they are pretty cool pair. For our family, this was the right decision, regardless of how torn my heart was at first. I do not love them the same, but the unique way I love each child is something that only makes sense now that I feel it. And I am glad I do.

This post is in no way supposed to add to the pressure that moms already have to add another child to the mix, if they are not yet planning to have one, or do not plan to have one at all. I see a lot of people talk about the frustration they feel when people begin to ask about the “next” baby shortly after the first comes into this world. I do talk to people I meet and am friends with about their thoughts about this. Not because I think it is important to know the answer or that each family needs multiple kids. I open up the conversation at times simply because I want moms who may plan on this to know that it can be a scary prospect, and that whatever they choose will turn out just fine. Having a second, or third child is not always an easy choice. Having one is not always an easy choice or one at all. But if we can be honest about our journeys, maybe we can support eachother through these tricky feelings and let someone else know they are not alone.

Here are some of the ways we supported our big kid through the transition:

1. Have a Birth Plan that includes planning for your older child’s comfort: My husband stayed with our first when I went into labour, so that the first night he would have away from us would not be the same night that a new baby came into the world. I was able to focus on doing “my thing” knowing that he was in the BEST hands, and my big kid was able to maintain as much normalcy as possible.

2.Regular Routines: This is tricky, especially financially, but if the older child is engaged in their own activities, it is excellent to have continuity following the birth of a younger sibling. Whether it is daycare, school, or baseball, keeping their thing going is great!3.

3.Communication with Family/Visitors: Close family and first visitors were asked to engage with my big guy first, prior to the baby, for the first time. If a friend always gave Cohen a high five and played cats with him when they saw him, we asked that they try to do this even when they came to see the tiny squish.

4. Making Your Big Kid a Priority out Loud: For the first many weeks home, we would both ask the baby to wait, we were helping our big kid with something, as we knew he would hear the reverse often and wanted him to know he was still a priority too.

5. Set Strangers Straight! When strangers ignore your big kid  to ask only about the baby (which MANY do) I would work him into the conversation, this is ____ AND THIS IS ___.

6. One to One: This is another tricky one at times, but having one to one time with each parent, even for five minutes a day is so helpful. I notice still that my older child’s mood and behaviours are improved if he has a bit of special time with me each day. I call it that too. I ask my big guy if he would like to go to the store/for a walk/read a book just the two of us, and when he asks why our baby is not coming I tell him because it is important for me to spend time with just him.

 

I would love to hear your ideas around transitioning a new child into your home! The best information always comes from all of you:)