The tears and triumphs of weaning my toddler

The past three weeks have been incredibly challenging, but I can officially say that Charlotte is day weaned. Yes, just day weaned. That may not seem like much to some, but it has felt like a huge thing for us in our little world. The tears and triumphs of weaning my toddler have been extreme; with the most heart wrenching crying from both of us and wins that have left me both proud and with new challenges to face.

Us

The journey is nowhere near over for us, but I thought I owed you guys an update. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to each and every one of you who have messaged, emailed, commented and sent love since reading my last post on this. There were days I would have given in and given up if it hadn’t been for a well-timed message from one of you. As it stands, it has been 18 days and I have not breastfed her once during the day.

For those of you who don’t know, Charly has been breastfed to sleep since she was around 4 months old. The first 4 months I did everything in my power to never feed her to sleep, but then she started waking hourly and I became desperate to sleep, so I did whatever I needed to to survive.

Charly 4 months

She has never had a moment’s hesitation in falling asleep for naps or bedtime, because we simply cuddled up at our set times, she fed for around 20 to 30 minutes and she fell asleep. Of course, as everybody knows from previous posts – she doesn’t sleep for very long; but settled easily back to sleep with a 2 minute feed. This means that nobody other than me has been able to put her to sleep or settle her back to sleep in almost 17 months.

So this is why I started with weaning her from the day feed. At around noon every day, she has always fallen asleep happily while feeding. At first, the plan was that I would express and my mom would try to feed her expressed milk to get her to sleep. The thought being that it would be less difficult for her if I wasn’t right there with the goods and withholding them from her, and also my anxiety over everything wouldn’t be transferred.

So Monday, I did exactly that. I expressed and headed out to my appointment with “Dr” Rob, leaving my mom to try settle her to sleep. When I got home an hour later, she was still running around like a lunatic; completely overtired. I had massive deadlines to meet, so I had to go back to work for an hour and the plan was my mom would try to settle her again at 3pm before she left.

And the screaming started; she was overtired and she wanted her feed and her mommy and to sleep. My mom tried lying with her and walking with her and rocking her and patting her, but she wanted me. So at 3h15 I gave up on the idea of work and faced the fact that the only way we were going to wean her was if I continued to put her down but denied her her feed. This was something we were going to have to do together.

Day 2

I still feel quite ill when I think back to that first week. To get her to sleep, she sits straddling me, while I hold her softly but firmly and rock her, singing her favourite sleepy song from when she was little. That week she screamed hysterically, she gagged, she clawed at me, she begged, she hit me, punched me, pulled my hair, shouted at me on top of her tiny lungs and then collapsed exhausted, spent and gasp-sobbing against me and passed out cold. She would wake a few times during her “nap”, still screaming as if she didn’t even realize she had fallen asleep and she softly hiccuped and whimpered in her sleep while I lay wrapped around her trying to let her know I was there. As soon as she slept, I cried… a lot.

Monday and Tuesday she was tearful and sad, she wanted to curl up on me and hold onto me and didn’t want me out of her sight. I just wanted to howl myself, but I put on a smiley face and comforted her as best I could. By her bedtime at 7:30 I was beyond finished and wished with every bone in my body I hadn’t chosen this path. After putting her through it though, I knew there was no going back; the only way was forward.

Day 1

Wednesday I was terrified, it was the first day we were alone and I didn’t think I would make it through the day without giving in. She had been awake most of the night breastfeeding and I was so very tired. Just after 11am she asked to go “rock rock”, which has been how I’ve been getting her to sleep. It made me so happy, because it meant that even if she didn’t like it, she understood. Of course it was all a ruse and she started howling for a feed the minute we got upstairs, but it had a different tone. She was a little sad and had one or two angry outbursts, and the 15 minutes it took to get her to sleep were heartbreaking, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the days before.

And then Wednesday night I realised I may have made an error in judgement by transitioning her from feeding to rocking, because in the middle of the night she couldn’t fall asleep feeding and cried to be rocked… Part of me was so happy, realising that she was actually changing her sleep associations, while the other part of me was overwhelmed at having to wake up and sit up and rock her back to sleep every 90 minutes throughout the night.

Thursday to Sunday put me properly back in my place. She fought every nap, the screaming was just plain angry and frustrated now, because there were times the rocking and feeding didn’t work and she was awake for hours at a time in the night and was up for the day before 5 every morning. She has started using a dummy for the first time ever, only for nap time though she does ask for it at night on occasion.

Tears

Then Monday last week she went properly crazy at me, even drawing blood and I called my mom and said she could try to get her down or give up, but I was on empty and just couldn’t anymore. And she shrieked for me while my mom walked with her singing to her while I sobbed in the room next door, and then she fell asleep. The first time she had fallen asleep with somebody other than me since she was 4 months old.

She never showed any interest in drinking the expressed milk, so I stopped expressing which hurt like hell for a few days, and she doesn’t ask for a feed in the day anymore at all. I’ve begun accepting that she isn’t crying because she is feeling abandoned or neglected, she is crying because she is having to learn new ways to fall asleep.

The journey since has been up and down. She fell asleep one night lying holding my hand and talking to me – the first time she has ever fallen asleep without feeding at night.

Sleeping Beauty

Some days she doesn’t nap at all, some days she falls asleep singing on my shoulder, some days she screams and fights. Some nights she wakes and wants to be rocked, others I can settle her with patting and yet others she can only sleep while feeding. She has one longish stretch a night, usually from when she falls asleep at 7h30 til 11ish; and then she wakes her usual 90 minutes. The times she is awake at night are generally longer, because her associations are muddled; but then we’ve had one or two longer stretches, one of 4 hours even.

There has been definite progress, but I don’t know if I would say things are “better”. I think that she is learning other ways to fall asleep and that once she has that down, weaning her from night feeds will be a lot easier, there have even been signs she might do it herself given enough time.

Lying on pillow

“Dr” Rob says I should be proud, because I have stuck to my guns, which is teaching her to do that too. I wouldn’t say I feel proud though, I’m not sure I could feel good about letting my baby cry so much over anything. But it is a necessary step for both of us and I am glad I never gave into the overwhelming urge to just give in; because all that would have meant was putting us both through all of it all over again.

I have put together some tips and advice from this journey so far, which I will post on the weekend.

Thank you again for all you love and support, I can’t begin to tell you how much of a difference it really made to me.

Sending all the love xx

Comments

  1. says

    Hi everyone, I am a new mother and I’m desperately to get my five month little one to sleep through the night. Right now I’m fortunate to have four hours sleep per night. Thanks

    • Pregnant In Cape Town says

      Hi Apryl,
      Wish I could offer something other than good wishes and lots of luck. My Charly is almost 2 and still wakes all through the night. I really believe that they simply sleep through when they are ready developmentally.
      Sending hugs x

  2. says

    Oh my love, this just broke my heart! I can honestly feel the suffering in your words. There is nothing worse than watching your little one suffer and it sounds like it has been one hell of a drain on your emotions! I’m so proud of you for getting through this! The night weaning will hopefully be much easier when it gets to that! Sending you a MASSIVE hug! <3 <3

  3. Helena says

    Reading your previous post on this made me realise it was time to start weaning my 2.5 year old. I loved breastfeeding him, and he loved nursing, so I never felt the need to stop… until I fell pregnant again. First, it got sore. But I was sick, and tired, and it was easier to deal with the pain than to change our routines. Then, the aversion set in. I hated every minute of it. I would cry I hated it so much. I wanted him off me, I wanted him to leave me alone… and that’s when your words resonated with me and I realised, I should have stopped way before I got to this point. We’ve been 3 days now, nursing free. It has been easy, because my milk had been gradually drying up anyway so he’s known for a while something is up. I keep plasters on my nipples and tell him the booboos are owie and broken, and he has accepted it because of course he had realised the booboos weren’t giving him as much milk like they used to. We still struggle to get him to sleep at night, which is difficult considering I’m pregnant and TIRED, but it’s worth it to not feel that resentment and anger. Now when I think back on breastfeeding him, the horrible moments are still all too fresh on my mind, and I WISH I’d done this sooner so that my last memories could have been the happy, peaceful ones. You’re doing the right thing! x

    • Pregnant In Cape Town says

      Thank you SO much for sharing your story Helena. My heart aches for you. Once time has passed, I am sure the nasty memories will fade for you and you will be left with the happy peaceful ones. One of the reasons I have started this process now is we have started talking about trying for another little one next year and I was just too terrified to have to feed while pregnant. Well done you on trying so hard for so long. Sending so very very much love xx

  4. says

    Ahh my heart aches for you just reading this! My one self weaned at about 9 months, which I was okay with because expressing at work seemed to be uneventful… barely got 30ml of milk at a time! But I cant imagine having to force my baba to wean. Thinking about you!

    • Pregnant In Cape Town says

      Thank you so much for your support through all of it. I really really appreciate it. Sending hugs x

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