Feeding this daughter of mine has been quite a journey (as I’m sure it is for most parents). From being sure I would nurse her to transitioning to a bottle at 10 days old (due to lack of both education and support), to learning how to bottle feed in the most loving, AP way possible, to navigating the world of baby-led solids and well-meaning family members who would love to shower her with sugar and processed foods — and most recently to weaning her from beloved baba.
Throughout her two-and-a-half years I have consistently challenged myself to feed Bean in the most loving and healthful ways possible. Plenty of research and a lot of instinct have gone into the process.
When I initially began to think of weaning Bean from her bottle, she was a year old. At the time I was still coming out from under the influence of a lot of conventional parenting wisdom, which was that by one year baby shouldn’t have a bottle anymore.
But the more I thought about it, the more this timeline seemed arbitrary to me — yet another way we try to hurry things along or stick to some sort of schedule when it comes to our children’s development. Bean didn’t seem ready to give up her bottle. If I was nursing I would have continued to nurse her past one year. So what was the big deal?
I did take the step of switching her to goat’s milk instead of formula, but otherwise she continued along her merry way. We still had nighttime wakeups for her to drink her milk (and many admonitions that she was “too old” for that and we should “put a stop to it”). But while it wasn’t easy, I wanted to follow Bean’s lead. It worked for us, and we organized around it — the husband and I taking turns to sleep with her so the other could get a good night’s rest every other night or so.
After she turned two, every so often I’d ask the NPN mamas for advice on bottle weaning — just as something to keep on my radar with no intention of pushing anything. They had some great ideas — things like hosting a weaning party, getting Bean to give her bottle away to another baby, making it some sort of special, mutually understood event. I loved all of that and wanted to do something along those lines — but I still didn’t feel she was really old enough to understand and participate in such a venture, so I figured we would continue to let it lie for awhile.
Then Things Took a Turn
A few months ago, Bean started carrying her bottle around by the nipple in her teeth. She bit through several of them. We bought more. She bit through more, and we went down from seven bottles to one unbroken one in the space of a week.
In spite of my desire to work at Bean’s pace and wait to be able to explain things to her so she could understand, this could no longer continue. I couldn’t get her to stop biting through the nipples and they are really expensive, so we rather abruptly came to the conclusion that there would be no more baba.
Still — there were no plans to just take it away and let her suffer. I’ve never let Bean cry it out and wasn’t planning on starting now, though I knew there would be tears. So how to support her through this?
It Was All About Connection
For the first two days I gently explained to her that most of her bottles were now broken, so she wouldn’t be able to have them anymore. It worked shockingly well, and she hardly asked for her bottle; when she did, I just gave her food and she was content. The first night I even got her to go to sleep without it, though she did still wake up in the night, and I did still give her a bottle at that time. The next night was the same — but after some discussion with other mamas and some more intuition, I felt we needed to break the habit altogether in order for her to truly understand and get past her need for it.
We usually take turns putting Bean to bed and co-sleeping with her; and though daddy is great with her, I knew this would call for some mama intervention. I drew my focus to being loving and patient in helping Bean transition during this time, understanding that it would not be easy for her and wanting to support her as much as possible. I committed to putting her to bed and sleeping near her for as long as it would take for her to get used to being without her bottle.
The first night was, of course, the most difficult. She was crying and asking for her baba so sadly — it just broke my heart. All I could do during that long night was be near her — try to explain, hold her, rub her back, and just love her through this time. It took her awhile to get to sleep, and there were several wakeups with replays of sadness, but we made it through.
The next day she didn’t even ask for her bottle — and the night was easier — though she still woke up and asked for it, there was nowhere near close to the despair of the night before. As the week continued, she did fine through the days, and nights got a bit easier, though it continues to be the only time she asks for her baba and it’s not been easy to get back to sleep right away.
It’s now been a week, and she has fully weaned. She’s eating more than she ever has, though I think she’s still trying to get used to not eating at night. I’ve been so proud of how brave and strong she’s been (and I’ll admit — sad at this new sign of how quickly she is growing up!) and grateful for how relatively pain-free the process has been.
Through it all, the principles of attachment parenting have held us in good stead. Being able to walk through this process with Bean has made it easier on all of us and taught me that saying no doesn’t have to be hurtful or harmful. In fact I feel it has renewed a connection between us, and I’ve been grateful for this time (though I do look forward to the day she begins sleeping through the night).
Now if I can only keep her grandparents from giving her too much junk food…