My Nursing Toddler Might Never Wean from Breastfeeding During COVID

Hello world! Back after a long hiatus. My free time is pretty minimal these days, with all three kids home and limited childcare. Staying afloat with my job and the kids’ virtual school has been the priority, so I’ve had to put this blog temporarily on hold. In some ways, not a lot has changed since my last post in March – but a lot has happened! We spent most of the the spring and summer with my in-laws on their beautiful farm. Then, my husband took Liana and Eliza on an epic cross-country camping trip across the United States this fall. More on both of those later! But I wanted to break my posting fast with a quick post on my experiences with toddler breastfeeding (and weaning) during COVID.

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed this, but I’ve seen WAY more clinginess from my 19-month-old during COVID. Julia was in a full-time nanny share up until March, and she was securely attached to multiple caregivers (me, my husband, and our nanny). But since COVID, she’s been with me pretty much 24/7, and I’ve noticed two things:

  1. She is clingy
  2. She is nowhere close to weaning from nursing

I know these are both personality related, and can vary kid to kid. But I also have to think these behaviors have a lot to do with the fact that Julia and I are essentially never apart! Until COVID struck, Julia (then aged 11 months) would happily go to either my husband or nanny, and she was even starting to wean naturally. Now, she cries/tantrums anytime she needs to separate from me. She’s been also taking full advantage of my accessibility to nurse on demand–frequently.

Julia demonstrating a "nose grab" during nursing. Looks like I need to clip her nails. And wean.
Julia demonstrating a classic toddler nursing move: the nose grab

During COVID, all my weaning strategies are foiled

I loved my nursing relationship with all of my babies and I nursed all of them past 1 year. But my older children were fully weaned by 18 months, making Julia now my longest-tenured breastfeeder (with no signs of slowing down). As she gets older, she is growing increasingly acrobatic during nursing and she now has a mouthful of 20 teeth. Nursing is not always peaceful or comfortable anymore! And while I’d be fine with a sweet little morning or bedtime nursing session, Julia prefers to nurse on demand whenever she wants. Often she is pulling at me and asking to nurse in fully-formed words (“Mommy! Nurse?”) at inopportune times, like while I’m presenting in a video conference call for work. And once attached, she is like a gymnast, flipping and climbing and seeking out the most preposterous angles she can manage.

I’m over it.

Nursing all day long was simply not an option for my older kids. I was out of the house working 5 days a week, and the transition from breastmilk to cow’s milk was pretty straight-forward. We simply laid out the milk we wanted our kid to drink during the day, and our nanny took care of the rest. I also had some good weaning strategies up my sleeve that are not available in COVID times:

#1. I stopped pumping at work

Oh, the end of pumping at work. Such an amazing milestone. I still think about the incredible productivity boosts I experienced when I stopped pumping. Not only did I feel like I was ready to conquer the world, it was SO amazing to drop all the pumping-associated logistics and cleaning from my routine!

This time around, the end of pumping at work was pretty lackluster. Following the national exodus from workplaces back in March, my pump sat unused in a corner for months. Eventually, I unceremoniously packed it away.

In this new work-from-home world, I am not pumping at all. That I don’t mind so much. But I do miss the benefits of weaning myself off the pump during the day, which helped me in the past with gradually tapering my milk supply.

#2. I took well-timed business trips

In pre-COVID times, I traveled for work occasionally: about twice or three times per year. And I really miss it! It was invigorating to leave sleepless nights behind for a few days to immerse myself in my work and reconnect with adult colleagues, all while staying in a comfy hotel and SLEEPING PEACEFULLY THROUGH THE NIGHT. On one trip, I remember the novelty of setting an alarm clock for the first time in months. As someone who never, ever has to worry about waking up by 6am at home, this was such an exciting little novelty! It’s the little joys, folks.

It also so happened that I had a business trip planned right after each of my kids’ first birthdays. This turned out to be perfect timing for kick-starting the weaning process. While exclusively pumping, my supply naturally dwindled, and my being away helped my kids adapt to a new routine (without nursing) at home.

#3. I got pregnant

Obviously, pregnancy was not specifically planned as a weaning strategy! But with my 3 kids each spaced about 21 months apart, my subsequent pregnancies started right around the one-year mark. That was just when I was ready to start weaning. As the new pregnancy gradually caused a drop-off in my milk supply (and possibly a change in its taste), baby’s interest was tempered. This was unintentionally helpful, too.

So what next?

I was a big proponent of the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” weaning strategy with my first two – but I am realizing now that a key element of my success with that method was having some control over my own milk supply. This time around, Julia has shown no signs of losing interest in nursing. If anything, she nurses MORE now than she did pre-COVID! This definitely makes me feel some solidarity with stay-at-home moms, for whom this cannot possibly be a new struggle.

I’m not yet ready to resort to a fully parent-led weaning approach (i.e., with refusal and crying), but there are a few gentle strategies I have been trying. Kellymom has some good ideas, including:

  • changing routines or offering distractions during peak nursing times. I’ve had some success redirecting her by offering walks outside, snacks, or coloring supplies (the big kids’ markers are a forbidden fruit for Julia so this is a good distraction – so fun! so messy!)
  • trying to postpone the nursing session with a verbal “not now, later.” I’ve been experimenting with this to some extent already while on work calls. Much respect to any mom who WOULD do this, but I am just not comfortable nursing my 19-month-old, crazy, acrobatic, breastfeeding toddler on a video call with a bunch of male engineer colleagues unless I can hide her completely out of view onscreen. (Which, I’ll admit, I have done before!)
  • shortening nursing sessions using a countdown or song. I haven’t actually tried this one yet. I think Julia’s language skills are just getting to the point that it might work, but it doesn’t seem like the lowest-hanging fruit.

I’ll be trying to emphasize these gentle tactics a bit more. We’ll see where we are with this in a few months. Wish me luck!