What “No Offer, No Refuse” Looks Like With Our Not-Yet-Verbal Toddler

IMG_1017Shortly after B’s first birthday we started the weaning process.

And I’m not just a little emotional about it.

1908375_829926384259_2910733781350585337_nAs I’ve written before we approached breastfeeding with an eager optimism and an open mind. My husband and I took a breastfeeding class before the baby was born* and decided that we would give breastfeeding an honest effort and see if it worked. If so, great! If not that’s just fine too. Breastfeeding was something I had desperately hoped to do, so before he was born that’s just how we talked about it — as a hope. And I got my wish. Bless his heart, my precious boy has been crazy about nursing.

I’m not going to lie, we had it fairly easy. B latched almost immediately after being born and has been an ace ever since. As most everyone does I needed help in the beginning, but advice from my mom, a couple wonderful lactation consultants and a fair bit of reading had me feeling confident within the first few weeks. Because of this, whenever issues did arise (plugged ducts, milk cysts, fluctuating supply, etc) we powered through and kept going. I’m not a special kind of martyr and it’s not — and I can’t make this clear enough —that I had reservations about giving him formula. It was that I had made a choice; a choice that was important to me, and a choice that involved some work. I knew all of this going in to breastfeeding.

And so for a year, B has been my little nursling. I had sworn I would be done nursing by now, but that was before I met him. Before I knew him. I’ve nursed him through fevers, Roseola, and croup; I’ve nursed him through falls, shots, hospital stays and meltdowns; I’ve watched my child in sensory and emotional overload slowly come back to center, simply by connecting with the first experience he ever made in this world. We’ve nursed through hunger that seemed as deep as it was sudden, and moments of tears that were both his and mine.

And now he’s a toddler. And now we’re weaning. And now we’re ready.

So what does weaning look like?

Because I’m trying to still meet his needs and we’re not in any particular rush (and it does’t have to be guerrilla warfare) we decided to day-wean B first, using a “no offer, no refuse” approach. Simply put: I would nurse him in the morning and at night before bed, but during the day we would simply offer him bottles or cups of milk (breastmilk or whole milk) and food. However, if the situation warranted it and he needed to nurse during the day he could (“no refuse”).

The challenges we’ve had

Reading his cues — B has always been on the fussy side, and prone to random outbursts of crying. I’m learning a little better each day which crying spells are just typical, run-of-the-mill upsets I can cure with hugs/snuggles/distraction and which ones indicate he really just needs mama milk.

Though he can reliably say “hi” “dada” and “mama” he’s not yet verbal enough to communicate his needs clearly. Especially if this need is an overwhelming, immediate one. Yes, he might be thirsty but water or milk in a cup would suit him just fine. He might be crying and reaching for me, but some hugs and love might do the trick.

Being aware (and respectful) of “nursing associations” — Of which we have made plenty in this first year of life. Basically this means it’s not fair of me to carry an already upset child to the spot on the couch where’s he nursed every day for his whole life and expect him not to want to nurse (I’ve learned this the hard way). If I pick him up in the middle of the night and rock him in the same rocker I’ve nursed him back to sleep in countless times I should expect that he’s going to want to nurse, and be sensitive to that.

Figuring out the “no offer” part — I think I may be struggling with this most. In the past year B and I have become nursing pros. So when he needs milk, it’s in my nature to offer and his nature to accept. Most of my clothing I’ve acquired and still wear is made for nursing. And because he’s only a year old, his need for milk is still great. And I still have milk to give. And nursing makes him happy. (Are you seeing where I’m going with this?) I feel this will eventually get easier as he drinks more from a cup, – which he’s doing now, with great enthusiasm. But we’re not at a point yet where his excitement for drinking from a cup outweighs his very visceral need and excitement for the comfort of nursing.

What’s working for us

Changing up our routine — The nursing pillow gets put away now after the morning nursing session and doesn’t get brought back out again until bedtime. And though it sounds elementary, I’ve also changed the way I hold him. He is quickly growing out of the cradle hold anyway, and I find that he’s more comfortable now with his head resting on my shoulder. He likes it and he doesn’t associate it with “milk now please.”

Offering variety — He LOVES drinking from a cup, and we’ve experimented with a bunch of sippy cups. We’re fortunate in the fact that he seems pretty indiscriminate about what we put in it. Milk(s) and water are both enjoyed, making the options for thirst quenching plenty.

Removing one feeding at a time – This is less for baby/toddler and more for mama. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding and you wean cold turkey, or drop feeding drastically you may run into some complications due to the abrupt shift in supply and demand.

Being realistic — Having realistic expectations of your weaning, non-talking toddler can be hard. There are going to be tears, mixed signals and moments of frustration because you feel like you’re not doing the right thing (or you don’t even know what the right thing is!). But I try to remember that this process isn’t meant to break either one of us, and so long as I’m trusting my instincts both he and I are going to turn out fine and no worse for the wear.

Don’t overthink it — I think it’s ironic to say this at the end of a lengthy post, but oh well. It’s not warfare. It doesn’t look the same in every house, there’s no clear-cut “right” way to do it and so long as you’re respecting your child’s needs the only wrong way to do it is beating yourself up over the process. Set-backs and regressions aren’t the end of the world, and if it doesn’t feel right and you need to change something try not to stress. People who are not raising your child don’t get a say in what happens in your house, so try not to give the opinions of others during this time too much headspace.

I do have to say I really do think we’re ready. Both of us. But for night now, we’re in no rush. Right now my only “goal” is to keep us both happy and healthy.

*It’s worth noting that due to my son’s early delivery this was the only class we took in preparation for B’s arrival. And if I had it to do over again, and choose just one of the wealth of classes offered to expectant mothers and parents (including childbirth classes) I would choose this one every time. 

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