My last baby is officially weaned after 3 ½ years of nursing. To tell the truth, I can count on one hand the number of times she has nursed in the last month or more, but she still asks often and is easily redirected. This seemed to be a poor way to end our beautiful nursing relationship – me saying "no" over and over until she gave up. So we agreed to stop when she was 3 ½. The half birthday came and went and even though she had bought into the concept, in tired moments she still would ask, so we decided to have a "Goodbye to Mama's Milk Party."
Weaning parties, end-of-breastfeeding celebrations, or whatever name you choose to give them, are a great way to celebrate the end of nursing for mother and child. For children old enough to understand and be a part of the weaning process, a party provides a sense of closure and helps to reframe this momentous occasion as a celebration rather than a loss.
The character of a nursing party is personal to each family. It can be a private moment between mother and child, or involve more family members. The event can be a quiet observance at home or can be a party out and about. In our family, we went out to dinner and shared a dessert (my daughter had decided there had to be cake and candle, the hallmark of any celebration when you are 3). Before dessert, I shared with my daughters how much I had loved nursing the two of them for our total of 5 years and how much it meant to me to share that with them. We did "cheers" with our spoons and dug in, celebrating together.
When we returned home, the girls got into their pajamas and Ali came out to nurse for the final time. I'd been getting over a cold for several days prior, and had resorted to a decongestant (known to negatively affect milk supply, especially for those in the extended nursing period), so she wasn't really able to find any milk. That was a little sad… I was hoping she'd be able to nurse at least a little, but I think it served to really show her that there was no milk to be had anymore. We took photos of her final time nursing to use in the nursing book I am making for her of the pictures we have taken over the course of our nursing relationship as she has grown.
We spoke once more about how even without Mama's Milk, she would always have Mommy whenever she needed me, and instead we could snuggle close and if she wanted she could still lay like she was nursing, but we wouldn't actually nurse anymore. She said "bye bye Mama's Milk" and she was off to bed. What was surprising was how hard it was on her older sister to watch – she weaned at 18 months, more or less voluntarily, and never had such a "ceremony." She seemed struck both by being slightly left out of this moment as well as by the tangible proof that her baby sister was growing up. Afterwards, she asked for some alone time with Mommy reading before bed.
The next days and weeks will tell if my little former nursling continues to ask to breastfeed. In sleepy moments, she may revert to her requests, I suspect, but I think it will be much easier to remind her that she said goodbye to Mama's Milk at our celebration with a sense of finality, and eventually, the conscious knowledge will invade her subconscious as well.