Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Weaning Process

I had planned to write this for the Natural Parents Network World Breastfeeding Week Blog Hop.  But then I realized that World Breastfeeding Week ended yesterday.  (I can't keep my days straight, since becoming a stay at home mom!)  Oh well!  I figure this is still worth sharing...

I mentioned in my last post that my almost-four-year-old has been talking about weaning, so I thought I'd write a little more about my experience with the weaning process thus far (keeping in mind that it hasn't actually happened yet!)

When I was pregnant with little Gigi, I had a goal of nursing her until she was two. I had read that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended breastfeeding for AT LEAST 12 months, and as long as it was mutually desireable by mother and child, and that the World Health Organization recommended breastfeeding for two years and beyond. I had envisioned her weaning somewhere around the age of two, and definitely before three. I personally knew a couple of people who had nursed past two, but no one who had nursed past 3 (although I had heard that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods nursed till four). Anyway, needless to say, I never thought I'd be nursing an almost-four-year-old.

Up until the time I got pregnant with Emi Lou (right around Gigi's second birthday), I hadn't really ever put any limits on nursing with Gigi.  It was usually really relaxing for me, and I loved the closeness and the cuddle time. During my second trimester though, my milk dried up, which made it kind of painful to nurse. That was when I had to finally start setting some limits with nursing, and I suppose that is when the journey towards weaning began.

I think it's important to keep in mind, for those of us who firmly believe in child-led weaning, that the mother's feelings matter too. The nursing relationship needs to be MUTUALLY desireable and enjoyable, and if the mother is starting to feel resentful of the nursing relationship, then something needs to change.

While I was pregnant and struggling to set nursing limits in a kind and loving way, I was reading Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hilary Flower. The book was a god-send! It was full of ideas on limit-setting, such as nursing only in certain special spots, or nursing for the duration of a short song (like the ABC song) or while you count. Gigi doesn't like it when I count, but prefers a time limit like "only for three minutes" or "one more minute".

I'm not gonna lie... there were some tears when we first started setting limits. She didn't like being told to stop nursing. She had always nursed whenever she wanted, for as long as she wanted. But we talked about how it hurt me sometimes and sometimes I needed a break, and eventually we had fewer and fewer tears.  Now she's so used to me giving her the one-minute warning that if I don't give her the warning before she's feeling done, she'll say, "Hey mom, aren't you gonna tell me one more minute?"

After Emi Lou was born, we had to set more limits. Most of the time, I was able to nurse them simultaneously and everything was great, but Emi sometimes struggled with nursing and needed my undivided attention. She has also always been highly distractable, so there were some times when I would need Gigi to leave the room. That was really hard, and I tried to minimize those instances, since I knew that adjusting to life with a new sibling is such a challenge for little ones and I didn't want Gigi to feel left out or to resent her sister. But the bottom line was that Emi Lou's nursing needs came first.

Gradually, over the past year Gigi has come to nurse less and less. We've learned new ways to comfort her and to put her to sleep. (I usually let her nurse for a couple minutes and then we just cuddle till she falls asleep.) She has also more or less night weaned. Thanks to the beautiful book Nursies when the Sun Shines, she has learned that once we go to sleep, she doesn't nurse again until the sunshines. I thought that would be a hard one, considering the "nursies" are available to Emi all thru the night, but Gigi actually never seemed to notice.

So now we're at a point when Gigi nurses just two or three times a day most days, and usually not for more than 15 minutes total. I feel like she's well on her way to weaning, though I'm not sure it will happen by her birthday. I'm sure it will happen soon enough though, and when it does it will definitely be bittersweet. It's so fun to watch her grow up, but part of me wishes I could keep her my cuddly baby forever!

Reflecting back over the years of our nursing relationship, the weaning process and timeline haven't exactly happened as I had anticipated, but that's ok.  I continually remind myself that every weaning is unique.  Nursing has been an entirely different experience with Emi Lou and I'm sure weaning will as well.  I got this wonderful handout at a La Leche League meeting in Katy, Texas, and I really hope it's ok that I'm sharing it.  (I've contacted the LLL leader who I got it from to find out if she wrote it or if it's an official La Leche League publication, so that I can give appropriate credit.)  It has a lot of great tips and reminders about extended nursing and weaning, and I found it very useful...

For now, we're just doing what is working for us, and I'm happy that I'm seeing gradual progress towards weaning.  People often ask me what I'll do if she still wants to keep nursing at six or eight... quite honestly, I don't know.  As I mentioned earlier, I never thought I'd be nursing an almost-four-year-old but here I am!  I'm going to continue to be in tune with how I feel and to talk to Gigi about she feels, and hopefully she'll be ready to say good-bye to her nursies soon.


liz canaan roberts said...

another great post! i'm so glad you took the time to share this. i love how this stresses the uniqueness of each nursing/weaning experience. i like that you talked about how your original goal was two years and that you hadn't foreseen it becoming four but you followed Gigi's lead and allowed her to show you what her needs are!

recently i started feeling a bit guilty that i didn't nurse Dinah longer. she weaned herself at about 20 months. i was just starting my second trimester pregnant with Maisie and it was beginning to hurt when Dinah nursed. anyway, lately i've found myself thinking "maybe i should have nursed her til she was two, at least". but when i think back i realize that Dinah totally lead her weaning process; i did not encourage her to wean, even when i experienced some discomfort. i do think that the pregnancy probably affected the timing. but i know we had a healthy nursing relationship. i tried to meet her needs and was ready to wean because she was ready.

anyway, reading your words and this list helped confirm to me that i did an okay job of nursing/weaning my firstborn.

also, i think this post would be very helpful in enlightening those who question nursing a three or four (or more) year old. partly because i think people assume mothers who nurse that long have so sort of agenda (like the whole "are you mom enough" title seemed to imply). and that is so obviously not the case with you and Gigi.

just like with birthing our children naturally; it's not about being tough or hardcore, it's about following our inner promptings to do what's best for them!

The Happy Hippie Homemaker said...

Thanks so much for your kind words, Liz! It's so nice to know that someone really "gets" me :)

You're right... this blog isn't about me showing that I'm "tough enough" or "mom enough" or anything like that. It's just about sharing what's working for us... about the benefits I've found of doing certain things (like breastfeeding, baby wearing, and natural birthing) and also the struggles along the way. I'm so glad you shared with me your experiences with cloth diapering. I wish I would have chatted about it with you when I was pregnant with Gigi... I think if I would had more support back then, I would have kept a lot of diapers out of the landfills, not to mention saved a ton of money!

Anyway, my goal in blogging is never to make myself seem better or anyone else to feel inferior, but simply to provide information and encouragement to support others in doing what they feel is best for them and their families.

Janelle Hoxie said...

Thank-you for sharing this! Its nice to know someone is going through a similar experience. I am tandeming a newborn and 3.5 yr old right now and it has brought on so many new challenges I never thought I'd face in this lifetime! He loves his 'nuns' and shows no signs of being ready to give it up, let alone have it taken away at certain times of the day, like at bedtime and morning and sometime during the day when he gets tired and need to reconnect or hes teething (still getting molars in). I am always feeling inadequate because I feel stretched to my limits but I want to give both my babies everything I have. Sometimes I regret parenting this way because he is still so attached to me. I hope that you will update your followers about the weaning so that I can hear how it went! I know it will be different for our situation but its nice to know what others went through.

The Happy Hippie Homemaker said...

Oh Janelle, I feel for you! I doubt there's a strongly attached parent who doesn't sometimes feel the way you do! There are definitely times I've wished Gigi wasn't QUITE so attached to me, but 99% of the time I love it. And there were definitely times I worried that she'd never be able to separate from me and never cut back on the nursing, but I've found that by lovingly and consistently setting limits, she has made tremendous progress. I'll definitely post an update when she finally officially weans :) Also, if you haven't read Adventures in Tandem Nursing, I'd highly recommend it! Good luck!!

Samantha Gray said...

Thank you. this information has inspired me not to push my 16 month old to stop nursing due to family and outside pressure. i want to do baby lead weaning but i feel pressured to stop him now before he gets older and it gets harder. now that i have read this i feel relieved and better about not rushing it because he just doesnt seem ready.thankyou

El Fukuda said...

So I have a 3 month old baby boy now. I have never made milk so I buy breast milk from a great source. I would like to feed my baby BAF; that is his name; the breast milk till he is at least one. But how do you wean a bottle breast milk fed baby? Any ideas? And should I just continue to give him breast milk in a sipping cup till he is older or do I just wean him from the breast milk in the bottle at one?


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