When I first began our breastfeeding journey, I never anticipated, well, really anything. I had no idea what it was going to look like. I certainly had no idea how long it would last. I expected to nurse each child about a year if all went well.
Then I learned about the benefits of breastfeeding (I had decided to breastfeed because it was cheap and I had heard it was best, but that was pretty much all I knew in the beginning). Then things snowballed. I learned about child led weaning. If all these benefits were true, how could it suddenly stop at a year? (They don't stop, of course). At about the same time that I was studying child led weaning, we also shifted to a radical trust in God's design and our relationship with our children. I accepted that just as my children would learn to hold their heads up, to sit up, to talk and meet every other milestone in the right time, that they would also know when they no longer needed to breastfeed.
I was very blessed to have spent time in cultures outside of the US, as well. My own father in law breastfed until he was seven years old, and that had only affected him in positive ways. Even so, the idea of breastfeeding an older child seemed strange and outside of my comfort zone. I simply couldn't imagine nursing a child older than a toddler. But each day they were only one day older than the last time that they nursed. More than that, I could see how much this was nourishing them, both physically and emotionally.
Although we have practiced child led weaning with all four children (and the younger two are still breastfeeding), my oldest weaned regretfully at four because she hated the taste of colostrum when I was pregnant with her little sister (it didn't phase her at all during the pregnancy with her brother, so I accepted that this was also an indication of her readiness at that time). My son was also quite critical of the changes during pregnancy. At first, he merely commented sadly that it was really yucky, but he didn't mind. Then, as it changed to yellow from the colostrum he was fascinated and slightly suspicious of the color. At one point, he pulled off very quickly while making a face. "Mami, I think it is pink. Or maybe purple. Anyway, it tastes terrible!" He asked to try the other side and started gagging. Pobrecito. He skipped it altogether for a couple of days, then tried again for a split second. "It is still yucky, I'm done," he sighed. A few days later, though, he was nursing normally and told me that it was yummy.
He continued breastfeeding when our youngest was born, so I was actually breastfeeding three kidlets--a four year old, a two year old and a newborn. I wrote a post about breastfeeding an older child then to dispel some of the misconceptions people have about full term breastfeeding. By four years old, of course, his nursing pattern was much different from theirs. He usually nursed once a day or once every few days. That kept spacing out longer and longer. For the last year or more, he was only nursing once every couple of weeks, until he started going once a month.
There were several times the last year when I thought that he had weaned, only to have him ask again a week or so later. However, last night we talked about it and I finally feel comfortable saying officially that he is done. Interestingly, since the last time he had nursed he has reached some of the physiological markers that Dr. Kathy Dettwyler had uncovered as readiness for weaning, including his first permanent teeth.
His four year old sister also seems to be nearly done, and even the baby has finally started skipping some nights and days so that she is only nursing once every day or so. I was discussing this with Carlos and he told me with concern that she is too young to wean. After all, she is only two and a half! Of course, the truth is that we trust her just as much as her older siblings to wean when she is ready, whether that is at two or seven or whenever is right for her, although part of me hopes that she waits until flu season is over! But can I just say how deeply grateful I am to my husband for encouraging our breastfeeding relationship? Having him fully support child led weaning has been wonderful, and I have seen him grow through this, too, as he watched his children thrive. When our oldest was a year he asked about her weaning, although he didn't pressure me to stop. Yet as time went on, he was fully supportive of nursing a six year old.
A year ago, I speculated as to what child led weaning would look like for us. I have my answer now. It looks like peace. Ripeness. Contentment. I don't feel any regret or even the bittersweetness that I know is part of the process for so many. It just feels natural, like it did when he learned to roll over. I am happy for him to see that he is ready.
There is a verse in Psalms that I have always loved because it seems to sum up this picture of what child led weaning looks like: "Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me." ~ Psalm 131:2 Our breastfeeding days have turned to cuddle-leche now, but our souls are quiet and at peace.