I’ve done a lot of things I never thought I’d do as a parent. Fed my kid hotdogs more often than, shall we say, occasionally? Check. Gave in when one of them wanted to wear the same dirty T-shirt three days straight? Yup. Ignored screen time limits on nightmarish days? You bet. But the weirdest has got to be the time I wore Band-Aids on my nipples.
After a rocky start to breastfeeding, I was still nursing my second son, Leo, at 22 months. I loved our cuddles, his sweet face looking up in adoration. And because I had not successfully breastfed my first son due to supply issues, I was especially grateful when feeding started to go well the second time around (thanks to a repeat prescription for Domperidone).
You could almost say it was going too well, though, because as Leo approached two, he showed no signs of losing interest in the boob. We’d walk into the house after daycare, and he’d practically tackle me. “Noorse!” he’d yell, placing his pudgy hands on either side of my face and looking me right in the eye. If I dared not comply with my 25-pound dictator, a monumental tantrum would follow, guaranteed. Unwilling to face the endless shrieks, I’d end up with him attached to my boob, immobile on the couch for an hour. Start dinner? Forget about it. Tend to my older child? That became the iPad's job.
But I knew it was time to stop. I was starting to get impatient with his breastfeeding requests—I’d snap at him, then feel terrible. It wasn’t a mutual choice any more, and I needed to show Leo that there were other ways he could have my undivided attention.
Beside the tantrums, what scared me about weaning was the threat to my sleep. I regularly nursed Leo till he was completely out, only then laying him in his crib. And when he woke during the night—which he did, every single friggin’ night—I’d bring him in my bed and nurse him on and off until morning. He slept, I slept. What would happen to our precious shuteye when I couldn’t shove a boob in his mouth?
At a total loss, I googled, “how to wean a boob-obsessed toddler who bed shares.” I immediately found some ideas, but most of them were elaborate plans that involved weeks of effort, and instructed me to stop nursing during the day first, then move on to nights. I couldn't get on board with it. I felt like it would confuse Leo more if my boobs were only off limits sometimes. I wanted to stop 24/7. But I didn’t want to just say, “No.” How could I explain this life-altering change in terms my little boy would understand?
After a bunch more digging around online, I eventually I came across moms swearing that you can wean a toddler by covering your nipples in Band-Aids and saying you’ve got an owie. I rolled my eyes. My kid's too smart for such a silly stunt, I thought. As if he’d ever fall for that. He'd just pull off the bandages! I felt doomed.
A few weeks later, desperate for a plan that didn’t seem insurmountable, I thought, what the hell. I bought a jumbo-sized box of the largest Band-Aids on the shelf, measuring about the size of the palm of my hand, and plastered several over each nipple (figuring there was no way he’d be able to rip them off).
I picked Leo up from daycare and held my breath. Weirdly, he didn’t ask to nurse. (Go figure: the day I come prepared, he’s not even interested.) But later that day, I got my chance to try out plan. After I’d gotten him into his diaper and PJs, we settled into his rocking chair, where we'd normally nurse. I lifted my shirt and bra and said, “Leo, Mama has an owwie so we can’t nurse anymore.”
“No! Noorse! Noorse!” he said, reaching out to touch the Band-Aids. And the tears began.
I settled into the chair, ready to rock him for as long as it took. I was prepared for record-setting, all-through-the-night sobbing. And yep, he thrashed around, screaming, in my arms, just as I expected him to. It was...rough. But then, a huge surprise: After just a few minutes, he snuggled in and quieted down. Within 15 minutes, he was out.
When he was still asleep the next morning at 5:45, I made my husband make sure he was breathing. Never, not once in almost two years, had he slept through the night.
Still, when he woke up, the first word out of his mouth was, “Noorse?”
“Mama has an owie, remember?”
“Leo look?” Obligingly, I let him see. Once he glimpsed the Band-Aids, he moved right on to breakfast. I pretty much couldn't believe it.
These extra large bandages are the ones we used, if you're wondering.
For the next couple of weeks, Leo asked to nurse even more than normal, about 10 times a day, which meant I went through a lot of Band-Aids. I’d sit in my car in front of his daycare at pick up, trying to strategically stick them on without lifting my shirt. (Eventually, I got really good at this.) And every time he’d make a request, I’d remind him of the owies.
He’d unfailingly ask to verify: “Leo look?” I (discreetly) flashed him everywhere we went: daycare, grocery store line up, coffee shop. Eventually, I began to ask if he wanted to cuddle instead of nurse. “Yes!” he started to say, with a big smile. No matter what I was doing, I dropped it and sat with him for as long as he wanted.
As for sleep, I was thrilled (and surprised) when he got on board with the new routine pretty quickly: PJs, books, songs, cuddles. In perhaps the cutest toddler move of all time, as we settle into his glider each night, he now pushes the neckline of my shirt down as far as possible so he can lay his cheek against my bare skin. There are still some middle-of-the-night wake-ups, but I’ve found other ways to soothe him. I never thought it would be possible, but now a gentle backrub does the trick. Overall we are both sleeping a lot better.
Two months after my Band-Aid experiment, Leo never asks to nurse anymore—and I’ve confidently let my bandage stock run dry. Sure, I miss nursing sometimes. But mostly I’m relieved.
Next up: toilet training. Thankfully, my nipples can sit that one out.
The author has requested anonymity.
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