By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com
Q: My two-year-old had almost completely weaned himself a few months ago. Then I got laid off from work and he began nursing all over again. Now he demands to nurse every two to four hours and will hold on to my boob saying he “doesn’t want it to fly away.” I put a limit of nursing at nap time and bedtime, but I’m not sure if he will re-wean himself. And, I’d really like to resolve his apparent fear that they are going away, or to somehow find a way for him to console himself with something other than the breasts.
A: This is a sweet misunderstanding between you and your son. He didn’t almost wean himself, and his fear that “they will fly away” is valid; he is sensing your intent to take breastfeeding away from him.
Children tend to go back and forth with their graduation schedules from anything and everything. My oldest, at age two, would stay with his favorite uncle for a couple of hours and my husband and I could go out. By age three, he went back to needing me with him at all times. I supported his process. I didn’t think that just because he was able to be without me before, he must stick to this ability. It is not a contract. In fact, if we tie a child to his new stage of development and not allow him to try and retreat, he will be afraid to grow and try new things. In order to have the confidence to move on, a child must know that he can safely return to where he was before.
Most likely, your son did not almost wean himself. And, if he did, well, that was then. Loving is being in the present. In the present, he is breastfeeding. Trust him. By nature, a two-year-old does not usually wean himself unless we offer a bottle, a pacifier, or the mother is not present at all hours of the day.
A child can increase and decrease breastfeeding in response to his interests and the mother’s availability and attitude. He can go through a period of hardly nursing because of a new passion or having a new friend. Or, in your case, your son could have accommodated himself to the fact that you were working and therefore not always available. As soon as you stopped your job, he went back to what he really wanted and needed.
Children communicate clearly. You toddler says, “I don’t want it to fly away.” Why not listen and respond to him? Why evaluate his communication as “wrong?” Instead, realize that it is your interpretation of his former “almost weaning” that is an innocent mistake.
Your child is well bonded and therefore feeling deserving to get his need to breastfeed met. He is guarding his treasure and declaring his intent. He needs to breastfeed. He didn’t mean to wean himself. If I could translate his communication, he would say, “Mom, I didn’t mean to wean. I am still a baby. I still need to breastfeed; don’t take it away.” He needs it emotionally and physically. Your child gives the answer to your question, and you can count on him to keep guiding you clearly.