Let me just start this post by saying that having a kid named Major really opens up your world to a lot of great blog post title opportunities. LOL. But in all seriousness, the drama has been at high levels the past ten days in my house and it has gotten REAL. Why? My fifteen month old baby decided that he was ready to completely wean himself off of formula, milk of any kind, and bottles in general. Out of the blue. And as my last baby I will ever have, this “baby led weaning” has thrown our routine in to a tailspin, turned up my anxiety on full blast, and had me mourning the completion of a major baby milestone without any fair warning. I’m kind of devastated. When I shared the ordeal in real time on social media, I had so many Moms reach out to me and tell me about their own stressful experiences with weaning their child (off of breastmilk, or formula, or bottles) that I realized it might be a great thing to talk about it depth here on the blog! Today I thought I would share an account of what Major has been going through with this milk and bottle rejection, what we’ve been doing to support him in this decision, and my overall feelings about it (give me all the tissues.)
So, this saga all begins with the dreaded step of weaning my formula fed baby off of formula and on to milk after his first birthday. I wrote a detailed post about my breastfeeding journey with Major, but I ultimately ended up switching him to formula at three months old– and loved the formula we used. You can read all about that in the breastfeeding post! Because we had to order lots of boxes at a time, I ended up stockpiling it– and after Major turned one we still had about eight boxes left. Since my pediatrician encouraged us to switch Major to milk at a year, I figured I would just do it once the formula ran out. I had done it this exact same way with Marlowe– and when she had the last bottle of formula, I filled up her bottle with goat milk, heated it up, and she guzzled it just like she always had. Easy peasy. I just figured Major would be the same, and it literally did not even OCCUR to me that anything besides this easy transition could ever happen. What a mistake.
When his formula was almost out (there were six scoops left), I thankfully had the common sense to “try out” a bottle of goat milk to see how he liked it. He took one sip, started hysterically crying, and hit it out of my hands. He was so offended I had tried to give him anything other than formula that he had a full on, tantrum-style meltdown that lasted thirty minutes, and is to this day the most upset I’ve ever seen him. (Even more than when he was dropped on his head and his skull cracked. To give you some context. ) I was absolutely shocked, and to be honest, really scared. I was just so thrown off. Was he really rejecting goat milk? Why?! He had goat yogurt all the time! I just didn’t get it at all. I thought maybe I should try again. So after his nap I tried again– with the same results. That night I tried with cow milk. This time he spit it out in my face AND threw the bottle at me. HE WAS PISSED. Now I was panicking. I was so used to Major drinking 20 oz of formula a day, in addition to water from his sippy cup. It made me nervous that he had gotten so many fewer ounces of liquid that day than he was used to. As far as I knew, milk was also really important for his nutrition at this stage, what was I going to do if he kept refusing it? Now, I’ll mention here for context that Major’s diet has been very balanced and robust for a while now. He eats everything that we eat, in epic amounts (He took down a bowl of pasta the other night that was the same size as Kyle’s bowl of pasta. This is not an exaggeration. ) He eats a ton of protein, fruits, veggies, grains, and lots of yogurt and cheese. He definitely isn’t lacking nutritionally when it comes to the food. But for some reason I was so hung up on the liquids of it all.
The next morning, I thought I would use my Hail Mary. I made a bottle of formula as he was used to (using the last of the powder!)– but I added a dash of milk to it. I figured I could start slowly introducing a bit more milk every few days until the bottle was at least mostly milk. I heated it the same way I always did. I went to give it to him– he took one tiny taste, screamed, threw the bottle, pushed away from my body, and lay in the corner of the room with his cheek to the floor, sobbing. My heart just broke right there. He was NOT going to drink milk in his bottle. Not even a few drops. So I went to the kitchen, poured what had been in to the bottle in to a sippy cup, and put it on the counter. I went over, calmed Major down, put on Sesame Street, and distracted him for about half an hour. Then I tried again with the formula (with tiny bit of milk) in the sippy cup. He took one sip and spit it out all over the place. Then I tried cold milk in the sippy cup. He refused. Then I tried mixing cold milk with strawberry kefir. Then I tried strawberry kefir in bottle. I even tried mixing it with some organic chocolate milk. By bedtime I was exhausted, depleted, and anxious beyond belief. I tried another bottle at bedtime and he wouldn’t do it. He just lay in my arms and sobbed like his heart was broken. It was the worst I’ve felt as a Mom in long time. All I wanted was to make him feel comforted, and full, and warm, and it was absolutely killing me that he wasn’t drinking his bottle and that he was so upset. I had overnighted Toddler formula (by HIPP organic also) and I was holding out hope that once it arrived, he would be fine again. I would just mix up a bottle of pure formula like he was used to, and all would be OK. I had ordered it on Saturday, and Monday was a holiday, and by the time it came on Tuesday afternoon, Major had been off of bottles for five days. He had been drinking only water during the day (from a sippy cup), and we had gotten to the point at night where he was a bit restless without the bottle, but no longer upset or sad. He was staying awake for about twenty minutes (which is abnormal for him) but after tossing and turning a little he was putting himself to sleep without crying. Aside from the fact that he was drinking no milk at all, things were starting to even out a bit.
When he woke up from his nap, I was giddy to give him his “classic” formula bottle. I mixed it up perfectly. The new toddler formula looked, smelled, and tasted (yes I tasted it) just exactly like the old one! Problem solved! He was so happy when I got him from his crib. I brought him down, snuggled up on the couch, and offered him the bottle. First he held the bottle in his hands and looked at the formula inside. He slowly put the nipple to his mouth and took a very brief taste. He took the nipple out of his mouth, looked at me, and handed me the bottle. He shook his head “No”. He climbed down from the couch, and walked over to his toys to start playing. He was done. He just didn’t want it anymore. I put the bottle on the coffee table, walked around the corner in to the dining room, and sobbed. I realized I had been putting so much hope on this working that I hadn’t even thought about how I would feel if it didn’t– if he was just over it all. And I realized that I didn’t feel ready. I still WANTED to give him a bottle at night, I still wanted to snuggle up on the couch with him in the mornings listening to those little gulps, and I still wanted to smell his milky breath. I didn’t want that bottle phase to be over before I was ready for it to be over. But he was. He also was NOT feeling the milk thing, and no amount of tricking or mixing or cajoling was going to do it. I just felt so, so sad. That night I tried again with the formula in a bottle and even tried a backup of the formula (cold and hot) in two different sippy cups. Nothing worked. I cried in to my wine once he finally went to bed.
The next morning I called his pediatrician to explain the situation. I still didn’t know if it was “OK” for Major to be done with milk. Did I have to give him some kind of vitamin now? Was he getting everything he needed without drinking milk daily? I had so many questions. The pediatrician asked me some questions about his diet and water intake, but seemed very unconcerned. He told me to make sure he was eating other dairy products, and to watch his fluid intake. Otherwise, he said Major didn’t need to be drinking milk at all. I was relieved to hear this, but still sad. Knowing Major is our last child, milestones with him have always been really bittersweet. There was something that felt so heartbreaking about this huge milestone happening without me even having the time to prepare myself. He’s walking now, interacting with us so much more, speaking lots of different words and coming in to his personality faster and faster. It’s clear that the baby phase is over– and as I tossed all the baby bottles in to the recycling bin for the last time, that fact stung. I still feel the same about our family plan– two kids is right for us– but now is the first time that I’m realizing and feeling the true sadness that comes from leaving a phase behind and looking towards the next.
Yesterday, Major actually sucked down an organic smoothie pouch (banana strawberry flavor) and that was an awesome positive– but he still won’t drink milk. He’s been drinking a ton of water, and eating as much as he ever has, and seems as happy as ever. I know that this transition is going to be a bigger one for me to process than it is for him. But last night, I put him to bed and something so special happened. I turned on his sound machine, shut off the lights, closed the door, and sat with him in his rocker. He had his lovey, I sang to him and rocked him, he snuggled his head on my shoulder, and the mood felt calm and intentional– not like the absence of what our routine was before. Suddenly, he lifted his head up and faced me. He took his two hands and put them on my cheeks. He looked at my right in the eyes, leaned in so tenderly, and gave me the sweetest little kiss. Then he lay back down on my shoulder. My eyes filled with tears as I realized that something like that could never have happened if he was holding his bottle– there are and will be moments of such pure beauty in this next phase of our relationship that I can’t even anticipate. So I’m finally leaning in to this change, accepting that my son is who he is and wants what he wants, and trusting him to keep communicating to me what he needs going forward. I’m so overwhelmed by how well this little guy knows himself already!
Did you feel very stressed or emotional when your child showed signs of weaning or not accepting milk? I’d love to hear what helped you process and accept the change!
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Photographs by Carter Fish