My youngest daughter E is going to be six years old soon. Time has just flown by.
The other night, when my husband went out for a while, little E and I sat on the couch talking. She was on my lap and I was holding her in my arms.
She said to me, “Mama, remember when I nurted?” Nurting was her word at 3 for nursing. And she started crying. Every time we talk about her nursing days, she cries, which is why I have learned to never ask her if she remembers.
She said she was “sad when there was no more milk”. I had to wince a little bit at that, because she wasn’t ready to wean, but I was. I had a lot of difficulties with nursing my first two daughters, and so when it came time to nurse my youngest, I was met with the same struggles, I was challenged to stick with it and not give up after the first two weeks like I almost wanted to. Partly out of pure stubbornness, I made it work, and I not just achieved but exceeded my goal of one year of nursing.
I said to her, “Yes, E, I remember it very well. You nursed the longest of all of you girls. You nursed for 3 whole years and one month.”
I asked her if she missed nursing, and with more tears, she nods her head. I asked her if she missed the milk, or if she missed the comforting. She answered, “both”.
She looked at me with tearful eyes and said, “How many days did I nurse?” After a bit of calculating, I told her “Eleven hundred and twenty five days”. And she said, “Wow!” and then, “How many days did M and K nurse”. I told her, “120 days for M and 210 days for K”. I told her I wasn’t able to nurse them as long as her because I was working, but when I nursed her, I stayed home.
But by year three, I was done. Truly done*. It became a little more than uncomfortable for me to have her demand it as much as she had (distracting her was a tad bit difficult). She was a huge comfort nurser. Anytime she needed it, no matter where we were, she’d tug on my shirt. And I did my best to meet her needs, despite some nasty comments from my own sisters that E had ‘had quite enough of that’.
E, however, was not as done as I had hoped and believed. Three years after weaning, she still brings it up from time to time, she still cries about missing nursing.
I thought nursing was just a habit for my child, not a true need. I just found this from La Leche League International on Weaning and Mother’s Feelings.
Needs vs. Habits
Mothers sometimes wonder if nursing is just a habit for their child, and if he might be just fine if he were weaned. Occasionally, this could be the case. In the book The Child Under Six, James L. Hymes Jr. offers this classic definition of how to determine the difference between needs and habits:
If it was easy to break, it was a habit. If you run into any major difficulty at all, beware, you probably are not dealing with an old worn out habit. Chances are that you are tampering with a need. Habits fade away with a little counter-push. If you ignore basic needs, or try to block them, they shoot sky high. If you treat needs as if they were habits, all you do is to make them go on longer and stronger and more powerfully than ever.
One way to decide if your child is nursing out of habit or need is to try some gentle weaning techniques, carefully observing your child’s reaction. You will notice quickly if your child balks or becomes distressed. This may indicate nursing is still a strong need. On the other hand, you may be surprised to find that your child is ready to wean and just needed a little assistance from you. In either case, looking to your child will give you the information you need to decide.
Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing. But I know that a nursing relationship is just that, a relationship. Both individuals of the nursing dyad ought to benefit from it for it to work in a healthy way. That thought gives me some comfort.
I reminded her about something I’d read in other places about the guilt a mother might feel about weaning before a child might fully be ready to self-wean…that there are OTHER things that a mother can do to comfort a child besides offer to nurse.
I reminded her that any time she needed comforting, or hugs, or closeness, she could just ask me and I’d help make her feel better.
She seemed content with that, and hugged and kissed me and nestled into my arms.
I thought to myself, sometimes I get this mothering thing right.
(*though six months after weaning, I missed it terribly).
for more information on weaning, see Kellymom.com’s Weaning: How Does It Happen