Apr 30, 2008

Thinking about weaning . . . how do you know when it's time?

The first time I was breastfeeding, the decision on when to wean came easily. I was pregnant again and I wanted some time off before I had to start all over again. This is obviously a personal preference. One of my friends has a son who's one month older than Alex and a daughter who's four months younger than Tyler, and she never stopped, meaning she's been nursing for over three years straight now! She's content with her choices, and I'm content with mine.

I think weaning gets tricky when Mom and Baby have different wants. Sometimes Baby seems to lose interest in nursing before Mom is ready to give up - I've been assured by my lactation consultant that this is something Mom can work through and Baby will start nursing again (at least if Baby is less than a year old). I wouldn't know, since I have the opposite problem. I'm pretty much ready to quit nursing but Tyler still loves it. It may be in part that he's simply used to nursing first thing in the morning and last thing at night as a matter of routine. But sometimes when he wakes up from a nap screaming, nursing is the only thing that will comfort him, which makes me hesitant to stop. (I otherwise don't nurse him during the day anymore.)

I had planned to nurse Tyler until he is 18 months, which is a little more than month away. But over the weekend, we went to the beach (it was 100 degrees) and I wouldn't go past the edge of the water because I was wearing cropped jeans. I was thinking that I really ought to wear shorts, but I can't because my legs bear ugly scars from the pemphigoid gestationis that developed when I was pregnant with Tyler. I have been looking forward to using self-tanner to minimize their appearance after weaning Tyler. (There probably isn't any harm, but I just wanted to be one hundred percent safe and make sure no unnecessary chemicals got into my breastmilk.) So since this past weekend, I've been thinking about weaning a lot.

A review of articles on weaning on authoritative web sites like Babycenter, Kellymom, and La Leche League yields what common sense already told me: weaning is least traumatic for the child if his lead is followed, and should be done gradually. (Breastfeeding.com seems to suggest that a mother should nurse until her child is five or six years old, when the first permanent molars appear and "infancy" ends. My reaction: No way!)

The simple fact of the matter is that I am ready to start cutting out those last nursing sessions. And I'll try to do it as painlessly as possible. In our case, it will mean offering food (usually cereal) when Tyler wakes up in the morning. And Marc will probably take over bedtime with Tyler - they can do books, and then Marc can put Tyler in his crib. In the meantime, I can start Alex's bedtime routine.

How long will it take? I'm not sure. Unlike the last time, I don't have a definite timetable (back then, I wanted six months off so I had a hard deadline). And of course, I have mixed feelings about this. Nursing really is a special bonding time. But I'm ready to have my body back to myself!

What are your experiences with weaning?


Meredith said...

I only made it to 15 months with Elise, though she would have nursed forever if I'd let her.

(Attachment parents start booing here!)

With both my children I had to stop cold turkey, practically. Since they were primarily nursing for comfort, dropping feedings just wasn't working for us. It was a behavior issue at this point.

But neither of them skipped a beat once I told them no more and happily (and quickly) found other things to eat and other ways of comfort.

Whew! I know it's an emotional time for both of you.

sherri said...

I weaned my first child at 22 months because I was pregnant with my second child and couldn't take the stimulation.

With my second child I weaned at 3y. We were down to night time/consoling nursing only. It may have been too long, but not by much. I can empathize with your need to get your body back. Although I strongly advocate that mothers try to nurse to 12 months if at all possible, nursing is a family issue and shouldn't be driven entirely by the needs of the child. Do what is right for all of you so you don't resent the activity in the end.

Rachel said...

I wasn't able to breast fed by twins and I was upset at missing that closeness and bonding. However, I can sympathise with you too. I go to a twins group and one mother is still feeding her 2 year old at times just for comfort and she seems to want to stop. With no experience I do not know what to suggest but I know that moving through these stages does seem like it will be traumatic for the children but they are very forgiving and seem to soon forget.

JLP said...

YOu know it's time for sure when your kid walks up to you and says, "I'm hungry."

I'm joking but if I remember correctly, I think it ranged from about 9 months to 1 year for our three kids, which was about the time when they started eating solid foods.

Of course two of our three kids are older, so my memory may be failing me.

I think you just have to go with your gut. You'll know when the time is right.

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

I'm still nursing my 4 yr old! She nurses at night, and, very rarely (maybe once a week) during the day. I think it's important to keep your needs in mind as well as the little one's--if you're not happy, that's just as important as little one's happiness.

FYI, I've never heard of a risk to breastmilk from self-tanners. If you're concerned, a LLL leader should have an answer or know where to find out.

good luck with your decision!

Kelly said...

I'm on baby number three. My first only nursed for seven months- I had horrible problems breastfeeding him, and then I got pregnant with number two. I was bound and determined to make a success of nursing baby two, so he nursed until he was 2.5. I was ready to quit well before that, but not him. Now my daughter is 6 months old, and I'm already having thoughts about stopping! I won't, because I think bottles are a much bigger pain then nursing is, but I have a feeling I won't let her nurse as long as her brother either...

Allison said...

I weaned when my son was 8 mos, which is different than weaning at 18 mos, because they are completely on solid foods, so I can't really offer any advice. I just gradually cut his nursing sessions and it was not a big deal for either of us.

Ugh. LLL. Personally, I had a horrible experience with LLL - I found them to be critical of my 4-hour feeding schedule (which was wonderful!) and my desire to night wean and have my son try to sleep through the night. In front of 30 women, the leader told me that I "should" be nursing every 2 hours and basically implied I was a bad mother for my decision to be different than the others in the room who I guess were serial breastfeeders and nursed their kids until they were 5. Not for me!

JLP said...

Clean Clutterfree Simple,

I'm sitting here watching my nearly-4-year old run around and I can't IMAGINE my wife nursing her. Personally, I think you need to set 'er free. What are you going to do when she starts school next year? Four years old jsut seems way too old to be still nursing.

That's just this guy's opinion.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. It is a timely read for me. My son is 10 and 1/2 month old. I am thinking of breastfeeding in the morning and at night only when he reaches one year old. Since I work full time, it takes quite a bit effort to keep the pumping sessions going every day. The plus side is that he can drink from bottle.

Anonymous said...

I ended up weaning both of my daughters just past their 3rd birthdays! With my first child, I felt I was supposed to wean her around her 1st birthday. She strongly resisted my weaning attempts, and, since I am a SAHM, I didn't see the need to pressure her. I relaxed with my 2nd child, and they both naturally weaned themselves. Mind you, when I say that my girls weaned at 3, they didn't nurse every few hours as a newborn baby does. Rather, they willingly gave up their one bedtime nursing session (really more a comfort thing). Actually, a break in that bedtime routine (like a vacation) can distract them long enough to wean them of that last nursing session. That's how I did it with my 2nd child.

Anonymous said...

BTW, extended nursing was great for whenever my girls were sick and couldn't keep food down. Breast milk was the only thing that they could stomach and could keep them hydrated.

And both girls spoke in complete sentences by their 1st birthdays. No lies! I've heard suckling helps develop the mouth and tongue for speech.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me, Cathy! One last comment: when I told a woman about my struggles to wean my first daughter, she said: I've never met anyone who regretted nursing their child for too long, but I know plenty who regretted weaning too soon. That was the point when I decided to relax and let me my daughter wean when she was ready.

Chief Family Officer said...

Thank you, everyone, for sharing your experiences! It's been enlightening and very helpful.

@Meredith - Thanks for the empathy!

@Sherri - I agree that 12 months is the magic number to hit, so to speak. At this point, the nursing is more for comfort than nutrition, and I'm ready to provide comfort by cuddling, not nursing!

@Rachel - I'm sorry about the disappointment of not being able to breastfeed your twins. That must have been a difficult time. Thank you so much for your empathy, and for reminding me that children are resilient!

@JLP - Thanks! Parenting is largely instinct, isn't it?

@CCS - Oh my! Wow, 4 years - I'm speechless. Not so much that you've nursed for this long, because I know more than a handful who have, but because I can't imagine nursing 2+ years more. Thanks for the LLL tip - I'm just so cautious when it comes to these things that even if I were told there's no harm, I wouldn't believe it, you know? I feel like research hasn't quite caught up ... silly of me, perhaps, but I haven't worn nail polish in the last five years either, since I first started trying to get pregnant (well, except for the that one week when I went to that bridal shower last month).

@Kelly - I certainly understand how you feel! And I totally agree that bottles are a bigger pain. Plus I just felt that breastmilk would be better than formula, so I was committed to nursing for at least 12 months. That helped me keep it up for the first year, maybe it'll help you? Especially given how expensive formula is! Good luck!

@Allison - I have heard both good and bad things about LLL. I'm sorry you had a bad experience with them. I do wish these lactation experts would realize that an all-or-nothing approach turns women off more than anything else they could say!

@anon - I definitely sympathize with the pains of pumping and can relate to your eagerness to nurse only at home, when it's convenient. I can't remember exactly when I stopped pumping at work, but it was definitely months ago! Good luck!

@Yune - The last thing you said is certainly one reason I'm on the fence - I don't want to have any regrets! On the other hand, I am ready to be done. I want my body back, I want to be able to do whatever I want to without having to think about the impact on my breastmilk. So ... for us it will be sooner rather than later I think. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for participating in this week's Carnival of Family Life, hosted at Write from Karen! Be sure to stop by on Monday, May 12, 2008, and peruse the other wonderful articles included in this week's edition!