extended breastfeeding weaning

This post is half about Arlo’s obsession with routine, and half about extended breastfeeding. I could have split this into two posts, but as the two things are most definitely not mutually exclusive, it made more sense to bung all my thoughts into the one post.

Arlo is three years old and routine-obsessed. There are tears if his routine goes out of place, or if sudden changes are made.

He spent the preschool Christmas party in tears because the routine had changed – instead of outside time, everyone was indoors having party food and playing games, but he just could not get over the fact that he couldn’t go outside even though it was technically the allotted time for playing outside.

If you give him a snack but tell him it’s any time except for 3 o clock, he will cry and refuse to eat his snack, even though he’s been asking for it for hours and he really wants to eat it. Because 3 o clock is snack time, not any other time.

If you try and get him out of bed before his gro clock has changed to the sun, because he has woken up and is asking for you, he will get tearful and refuse to move. If the sun is there, it’s OK.

The other day, after dinner, there was a hysterical meltdown because he got down from the table before I’d managed to get to the TV and put it on In the Night Garden. 64 Zoo lane was on, and everyone knows that 64 Zoo Lane comes on before In The Night Garden, which meant waiting an incomprehensible 20 minutes before In The Night Garden, which is when Arlo is officially allowed his bedtime milk.

He obsesses about his set times ALL DAY. It takes over his whole life, and thus it takes over my life too. Not just his set times for milk, but snack time, dinner time, etc. If I say “We’re doing X, and then it’s time for bed”, he will reply with “No, we are doing X, and then it’s book, brush teeth, last wee, and THEN bed”. Everything has an order, and that order has to be adhered to.

Back to the breastfeeding – I have been employing a set times policy since he was a year and a half, but given his current obsessiveness with routine, breastfeeding only seems to be encouraging this obsessive behaviour. Or rather, I have inadvertently encouraged the obsessiveness by having to be so strict with the set times. It began innocently enough – in order to mark a clear distinction between the end of dinner time, and his set time for bedtime milk, I introduced a rule that he could only have milk once he was in his pyjamas and In The Night Garden was on. Previously, he was rushing through dinner and eating hardly anything in an attempt to make bedtime milk happen more quickly. Now, everything has to happen according to a strict set of consecutive events.

He talks about wanting to breastfeed ALL THE TIME. Every five minutes he asks. He asks at times he knows are completely impractical, and where we’ve never had milk before – like in the car, whilst I’m driving. He asks no one in particular, he speaks his thoughts aloud, he jibbers his word for breastfeeding in a tourettes-like-manner all day. He says it when I give him a kiss goodnight, he says it when he looks at me, he says it when I’m not in the room, he says it when he’s playing with his cars. Every few minutes. Sam and I have started not mentioning breastfeeding at all. We don’t acknowledge it. We keep it as low key as we possibly can. It makes absolutely no difference. Arlo will not shut up about it at the moment.

I want to cut down his breastfeeding, ideally I want to stop altogether. So, I decided to start with the easiest one to cut out, the one that used to not even be a set time, but that somehow snuck back in when he started preschool – the afternoon milk.

Stopping breastfeeding isn’t the simplest of things, due to the fact that it involves me directly. The rational me thinks: what would I do if Arlo was similarly obsessed with a dummy, or cow’s milk, or anything else, and I’d decided it was impacting negatively on his life? I’d take the steps to gently stop. But the emotional side of me knows that breastfeeding is something we’ve always had. From day 1. It’s shaped our whole relationship, every day. It comes with emotional strings attached. If Arlo was asking me for a cuddle 10 x an hour, would I be telling him no? Would that make me an awful mother?

When he happily decided to swap his afternoon milk for a chocolate coin, with eagerness and no regrets, I thought perhaps it would be easier than I thought. But apparently Arlo thought it was just a little milk holiday. “When the chocolate coins run out, then I can have milk again!” He said gleefully. I hated telling him that no, there would be no milk forever now. Even when the chocolate runs out. And his response wasn’t good. It’s been 3 weeks and he still tells me “I don’t want chocolate. I never want chocolate. I just want milk.” That is hard for me to deal with, on an emotional level. It makes me feel sad, but I’m sticking with it.

I googled “Stopping extended breastfeeding, child hungry ALL THE TIME” and found nothing. I don’t know whether it’s a growth spurt, greed, or a simple need to replace the calories that the afternoon breastmilk provided, but Arlo is constantly asking for food. He eat a massive lunch and straight away says “I’m still hungry, what can I have now?” “Is it time for a snack?” “What do I have at 4 o’clock?”I’m hungry, I’m hungry, I’m hungry. Food, food, food. Etc. He will also sometimes tell me “I’m hungry just for milk” – With Arlo, I’ve always tried to keep talk about breastfeeds as a completely separate subject to food and sustenance, but since Rory came along, and since the first year is about breastmilk being food, Arlo has made that link by himself and will repeatedly claim that he is “hungry” when he really means that he wants to have milk.

Because I didn’t want to associate food with milk, I’ve steered away from using milk as a method of discipline – “You don’t want to eat any dinner? You can’t have any milk then”. Sam started down this path at one point, but it didn’t sit comfortably with me. I don’t want Arlo to develop an unhealthy association between food and milk. But at the same time, the fact that he doesn’t eat well is perhaps closely linked to the fact that he still has breastmilk. He has morning milk and bedtime milk, and as a result, his tummy is satisfied with something, even if he decides to forgo a meal completely.

We are at a stage where I’m strongly considering coming down quite hard on him with his eating, I’d like to try a “You don’t like that? Don’t eat it then” approach, until he gets hungry enough to start eating his meals and realising that he does like the taste (which he would, if only he’d just try it!!). But whilst he is still having morning and evening milk, he is never going to be hungry enough. The boy would exist on milk alone if he could (and sometimes does for around a week during periods of illness). If I come down hard on him with food, I have to cut out the milk too – and I haven’t quite decided yet whether I want to do this. This is another little complication associated with extended breastfeeding that never would have occurred to me when we started out our breastfeeding into toddlerhood journey. Breastfeeding a preschooler is a whole different game, it’s more psychological, you have to tread more carefully.

I’ve definitely crossed the line between waiting for him to self-wean, and leading the weaning process. As I said in my last post on the subject, breastfeeding beyond toddlerhood has been far from the gradual lessening of interest that I’d imagined. It’s about time I helped him on his way to weaning. If I could have predicted Arlo’s current attitude to breastfeeding, I would have led a long time ago, when he was less interested. The way things currently are, it just does not seem healthy, it interferes with most aspects of his life, it’s ever-present in his thoughts, it affects his diet massively, and feels like a huge burden to me. Something I could have played better.

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13 comments

  1. Gosh, this sounds tough. Thanks for sharing.

    I’m bfing a 12 month old at the moment (longer than I bf my first) and am entering that new world where she can lift my top when she wants milk and will scream in the night if she wakes I don’t feed her (but my partner can settle her if I’m not here). You start to feel a little bit grabbed at… though I do find feeding her totally wonderful too!

    Hope you can work through this…

  2. Wrote a ridiculously long comment & lost it! Anyway the gist of it was have you thought of finding your local La Leche League? I have been to two groups & they have both been friendly & welcoming, & there are women with a wealth of experience on extended feeding (amongst other things). Might help to be able to explore this with women who understand feeding a pre schooler? I also wondered how having a sibling who feeds whenever he wants plays in to this?

    1. I might look in to the La Leche League – have been a bit put off by my assumption that most extended feeders might be militant “let them self wean” types, and I’m moving more and more away from this viewpoint after my experiences with Arlo. Regarding Rory, he never gets jealous when Rory is having his milk (thankfully!) but it does play into it – for example, I could never imagine weaning Arlo against his will whilst Rory is still feeding, it would seem really cruel and I don’t think Arlo would understand that.

  3. Oh Chloe I don’t know what to say. I sort of know how you feel as Harry was SO milk obsessed that it was starting to make me feel a little, well I’m not sure of the word, almost sometimes like he was invading my own space I suppose. Everytime *EVERYTIME* I sat down he assumed it was so he could have “gilk”.
    I’m not even sure why I stopped him from having it, I think just to see if I could. I regretted it for a while, and still do but he has changed a lot. It took him a month to stop asking for it, he would get really upset, as would I. It was really really hard for us both.
    Oddly he now gets comfort from sitting with my husband and sticking his hand down my husbands top. He will do that anywhere we go.
    “….feels like a huge burden to me. Something I could have played better.” If I’ve read this correctly, don’t feel like you’ve done anything wrong. We make choices as we go along not knowing how they will turn out.
    You need to be happy too xx

    1. That’s useful to know that it took Harry a month to stop asking. I imagine it will take Arlo a long time to stop asking. Definitely feeling that my space is being majorly invaded, but it’s been that way for so long that most of the time it feels normal, I suppose. And yes, sitting on the sofa is a sure-fire cue for Arlo to start pestering me about milk!

  4. It sounds like it is not going to be an easy journey for you both, the routine seems to be a major issue for him. A lot of boys do go through a “routine” phase around this age. Have you got a supportive Health visitor who may be able to give you some advice ? (I know not all health visitors are supportive of extended breastfeeding)

    Alternatively the advice about the LLL group is a great idea – they also have a helpline and a forum where you could ask for some support
    http://www.laleche.org.uk/forums/mother-mother-forum
    Hope all goes well for you and don’t blame yourself for anything. xx

    1. To be honest, I’m doubtful that a health visitor would have much knowledge on the subject, I haven’t had the best luck with speaking to HVs who ‘get it’ in the past – but maybe I could speak to them about the routine thing as a whole.

  5. You’ve done so well. I struggle with just feeding J as he is obsessed with milk and would feed all day if he could. Cherry does do the asking for food thing all day though, it’s like she’s never full up. She eats so much for breakfast then asks for a snack five minutes later. I guess they are growing a lot at this age, I’ve had to put it down to that! I don’t really have any advice but I have found with anything that I never thought would get sorted, it always did in the easiest way. I hope you can find a solution that everyone is happy with soon x

    1. Yeah that’s true, looking back at other things that were once difficult, they have eventually sorted themselves out in an understated way – hoping it will be the same for this!

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