Updated: Nov 2
Breastfeeding does not have to be all of nothing. Introducing breastfeeding boundaries does not have to be a harsh or cruel process either - it can be about love, too.
The following advice is recommended for children aged 12 months or above only, as, before this time, breast milk (or formula) is recommended as an infant's primary source of nutrition (1). Please be aware that stopping nursing on demand is likely to have an impact upon your milk supply. Assuming you do not have pre-existing supply issues, your milk production will adjust to your new normal - whatever that looks like.
The First Time I Felt Touched Out
I remember it as clear as day - the first time that I felt frustrated and even slightly angry nursing my son to sleep. How long was this going to take? Half an hour, 45 minutes? I felt guilty for feeling like I could not bear my son being literally attached to me any longer, but with no local support network and a fiancé who worked late at night, it felt like there was no alternative. As a particularly sensitive and 'spirited,' toddler, my son seemed utterly bereft whenever I unlatched him from the breast. The ensuing tantrum felt like more than I could manage in this season of solo-parenting on very little sleep. So, for a few weeks, I did nothing about trying to stop my little boy from nursing on demand, brushing it off as PMS or alike.
After around a fortnight of feeling increasingly angry and even more guilty about the situation, I realised that I no longer enjoyed our nursing sessions in the way that I once had. My heart sank. I did not want our breastfeeding journey to end like this. How could I introduce breastfeeding boundaries without breaking my little boy's heart and damaging our bond? If this resonates with you, read on - the following tips are adapted from my 33 page guide, 'Weaning with Love,' which also includes gentle guidance on night nursing and stopping nursing to sleep.
1) Only Nurse at Certain Times of the Day
If you want to continue to nurse your little one but feel overwhelmed by the frequency and/or duration breastfeeding on demand, try only nursing at certain times of the day. For instance, you may be happy to nurse first thing in the morning, before a nap and last thing at night, but not every half an hour, as your toddler might like. Ease this transition by communicating with your toddler ahead of time and still being a safe, calm space for them at times when you do not allow them to nurse.
2) Limit Nursing Sessions
Alternatively, or perhaps in collaboration with option one, only allow your child to nurse for a certain amount of time. You might be happy to nurse your little one for five minutes, whereas fifteen minutes or more makes you want to tear your hair out. You could introduce a countdown to blast off (latch off!) to make it fun. Again, communicate clearly and in advance of making this change to help your child navigate this transition.
3) Night Wean
For many (myself included for several months), night nursing is the main reason why they want to introduce breastfeeding boundaries - or stop nursing altogether. It is important to recognise that even if you do night wean, this may not necessarily improve your toddler's sleep. Again, communication ahead of time is key here, Reading weaning stories can help with this. If you have a partner, ask them to support your child's overnight wakes too. The 'Weaning with Love Guide,' contains 5 pages dedicated to night weaning and three pages of guidance on stopping nursing to sleep.
4) Insist Upon Daily Me-Time
That is to say a window of time every day when you are able to do something - anything - that is just for yourself. Needing time and space away from your child(ren) is natural, normal and healthy. You are not a monster for not wanting to be touched 24/7! You cannot pour from an empty cup and if you try, that cup may just break. I have a theory that we feel touched out during nursing sessions when we have unmet needs. So, far from feeling guilty about making time for self care, celebrate yourself for being a wonderful role model for your child(ren). Make it happen by leaning on your support network, hiring support if you can and prioritising me-time over domestic duties. Your mental health matters more than the dishes.
5) Focus on Connection
If your little one has been breastfed on demand since the day that they were born, they are likely to be understandably attached to nursing, It has formed an important part of your bond and so if you want to move away from breastfeeding in even a small way, be sure to replace that one-on-one time with another loving activities which help you and your child to connect.
Finally, remember that setting clear boundaries is about establishing when your child can breastfeed just as much as it is about identifying when they cannot. In doing so, you are also modelling how your child too can say, "No," to something that they do not want, even if that means saying no to someone they love.
If you are ready to gradually wean your child off the breast completely, use code: BOGOF for lifetime access to my hour long, 'Weaning with Love Workshop,' and get the accompanying Guide for free, here.
Source: 1) How to stop breastfeeding - NHS (www.nhs.uk)