Friday, October 7, 2011

Tell me it's okay to wean

It seems like everyone I know nursed straight through pregnancy and then tandem nursed afterwards. (Tandem nursing is nursing two children during the same time period.) I know that isn't true. The ones who weaned during pregnancy just never happened to mention it, because it's the more common thing to do. But as I read my blogs each day, I keep on coming across more and more about nursing during pregnancy and tandem nursing. Assuring me that it's okay. Assuring me that it's normal. Assuring me that it is totally the best thing to do. Articles like this one and this one and this one.

I understand that. It's not as common a choice as it seems from my point of view, and those who do it often don't know anyone else who does. They think they have to wean when they get pregnant, and the fact is, they don't. They can if they want to, or they can choose not to.

You never have to wean as long as everything's normal. Nursing never becomes physically or psychologically damaging. The length of an average nursing relationship is cultural: some cultures, like the !Kung in Africa, do it for four years or more. In Biblical times, three years was taken as pretty standard. And in Mongolia, sometimes the youngest child nurses till six or seven because no one really cares if they do. Sooner or later, whether you do anything about it or not, every child weans. At the very latest, when their permanent teeth start coming it, they lose their latch. No child ever graduated from high school still breastfeeding. So there's no need to worry.

However, sometimes mothers just don't want to wait six or seven years to be done nursing ... especially if they have other children! There are so many reasons why mothers choose to wean. Just the other day a woman was asking for advice online because she had to wean her toddler to get back on medication she needed. Some women demanded, "Will you die without it? Then why are you forcing her to wean?" I don't think that's fair at all. Making the sacrifice of going without a needed medication for a whole year is very selfless -- no need to make her sound like a terrible mother because she doesn't want to do it for three years.

On the other hand, I also don't really like the advice I see where moms are told to just wean cold turkey, along with the not-so-comforting addition, "My son screamed bloody murder for a few days, but then he was fine." Isn't it kind of traumatic to take something that has been a source of nourishment and comfort for a child's whole life and just say, "Nope, you can't have it anymore because you're a big boy"? I've heard that approach likened to taking a child's baby blanket away from him and nailing it on the wall out of reach. "Oh, it's still here. And I could get it for you if I wanted. But you're just going to have to look at it all day and know you can't have it."

So that isn't what I wanted to do. I decided to wean gently, a little a time, and being okay with going backwards for awhile during a stressful time. I've got nine months (well, seven now). I don't have to be done today. For the main part, I feel good about this decision. I think Marko's ready, or will be soon, and that he will be okay without nursing.

But I guess I just wish there was a little more out there that affirmed my current experience. I want a blog post by a mom who did wean during pregnancy -- and had it go well. Some tips might be nice. Some commiseration might be nice. I guess I just want what I always want ... someone else to tell me I'm doing the right thing.

Why am I choosing to wean? Well, a number of reasons. The idea of nursing two is just overwhelming and scary to me. I know it might be okay. But what if it's not, and I hate and resent it? I can't exactly change my mind on a dime here. And it's not that I haven't seen it done -- I have. But the women who do it always seem to have kind of mixed feelings about it. I want to feel good about showing affection to my toddler when I have a new baby -- not touched-out because I'm nursing around the clock. Nursing a newborn is really time-consuming as it is.

I also am aware that most women lose their milk supply at some point in pregnancy. At that time, many children wean naturally. It seems like an easier time to do it than later might be. Though I know nursing my son till he's five would not do him any harm, I just ... don't ... really ... want ... to. I want to be done in the foreseeable future. I never intended to nurse him longer than a year when he was born, so I am aware that I could easily change my mind. But it seems so convenient to work on weaning during pregnancy.

But then when I actually did get pregnant, I felt completely decided. Why? The PAIN. Oh the pain. Some women have no pain while nursing during pregnancy. Some have a little. And some, like me it turns out, have awful, terrible, excruciating pain. So far I am handling it fine. Twice a day for now, and knowing we'll be done soon? I can take that. But I can't imagine how I would deal with it if he were still nursing on demand, and there were no end in sight. I would find myself feeling resentful and angry. I have no objection to mothers "being martyrs" if we want to. I mean, we have to go through labor. It's not like suffering pain for your child is something out of left field. But if you've had enough, and it's driving you crazy, and the amount of good it's doing your child seems to be much less than the amount of harm it's doing you? You don't have to do that if you don't want to.

So, there it is. Marko is fine. He has never "screamed bloody murder" because if nothing else will comfort him besides nursing, he gets nursing. Honestly, though, that hardly ever happens. Generally, the offer to play outside, rock in the rocking chair, or read a book is happily accepted. So I think I'm agonizing over it a heck of a lot more than he is.

Has anyone else weaned during pregnancy? How did it go?


Meredith said...

Sheila, I think you're more than justified in weaning at this point! (Says the non-mom.)

I wish I could be at Homecoming this week. Miss you.

Tawny said...

So here is my experience: By the time I got pregnant this time Lu was only nursing once or twice a day. We had a rough patch when she was about a year old, when she turned into a wild nurser and we cut down a lot then. I never had a set time in my mind that I wanted to wean, but being pregnant again made me want too.

I wanted to fully wean during pregnancy for a couple of reasons. First off I honestly had a really hard time keeping on weight while nursing. It really sucked any fat I had right off of me! So I worried that nursing a toddler and growing a baby would require me to basically eat all day long. Second, I just did not want to nurse two kids at once. I know lots of moms do, but it sounded tough to me. Also, since I knew I wanted to wean Lu before the new one was born I figured earlier was better so that by the time the new one is born she will have forgotten that she used to do that. I thought weaning earlier would help her not to feel jealous of the baby (versus weaning a month before my due date). Finally, I wanted a break between nursing babies. Nursing is wonderful, but anyone who has done it knows that's it also super demanding. It has been really nice having several months off between nursing.

The actual weaning process was pretty painless for us, mostly because I think my milk dried up a few months into pregnancy and after that Lu wasn't very interested. She stopped for good when I was about three months pregnant and she was 18 months old.

So I say if weaning sounds best to you than go for it!

Sally Thomas said...

I never consciously weaned during pregnancy, though having watched friends of mine do the tandem-nursing thing, I will confess that I was pretty determined that I would not do it myself. So I introduced weaning to my oldest (at 2 and a half) before being open to a second pregnancy. Our third and fourth children are 16 months apart; my suspicion is that a real cutback in my thirdborn's nursing at about 6-7 months is why I got pregnant again so quickly. Or else I got pregnant, and something about my milk incited him to taper off completely. Either way, except for my inevitable guilt, because of course he was really too young, it was pretty trauma-free on his end and seems to have had zero lasting effects on him. He had been a happy baby before; he was a happy baby after. He's a complex-but-happy nine-year-old today.

Fwiw, I think that if you're even remotely ambivalent about nursing two, it's much, much better to bite the bullet and wean now, albeit gradually, than to decide that you can't handle it once the second baby is here. If you do it now, Marko won't even remember it -- even my oldest who nursed the longest really doesn't remember my weaning her, or anything at all about nursing. Other things from that stage of her life she remembers vividly, like being in Wales when she was 2, but not nursing.

So it's been my experience and observation that once they wean, it's like the whole nursing experience is wiped from their minds -- they may be curious about it once they see the new baby nurse, but they don't remember how (mine never tried, but I had a friend whose toddler son wanted to, and she let him, and even though it had only been a matter of months, he couldn't do it any more), and the milk doesn't taste good to them (I did let mine taste a drop or so on my finger -- they thought it was gross), and they very quickly lose interest.

Anyway, I think your take is exactly right: gentle and gradual. There are always those phases when they start to be distracted from nursing, when previously you would have worked to keep it going; instead, you just let the distractions and other interests take over. Maybe you even introduce some other routines, rituals, or whatever to help with that -- like a story or a rock in the rocking chair, if he can do that and not want to nurse. It occurs to me that with each child of mine, there was some kind of "weaning" we had to do as part of the preparation for a new baby -- a change to a different room or bed, getting used to not being the one in the stroller, and other things which honestly, to a child's mind, seem to loom just as large as nursing, depending on the age of the child, because you are changing some part of the framework of their world as part of your preparation for a shift in the Big Paradigm. I guess in a way all of this is like weaning yourself away from any habit -- you replace the routines which bring you in contact with it with routines which don't. And you take it a day at a time.

OK, as usual, I feel like Obnoxious Older Mom With Intrusive Advice . . . but I think you're right that if anyone's going to agonize over this issue, it probably won't be your child. :)

Katie said...

It's okay to wean if you and John think that's best for your family. I guess it's easy for me to say - I had to wean Isaac at five months (cold turkey, no less), so I didn't have to make the decision to wean him or not once I got pregnant again. Having to wean Isaac that early broke my heart, but I think the experience taught me something: It really is okay if you can't (or realize you don't want to) follow your ideal nursing plan exactly as you had imagined. I think sometimes as new moms we put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything exactly the right way and we let ourselves feel SO guilty when things don't go perfectly. I'm not saying that the little things don't matter, but don't feel bad because you're not doing things the way someone else did (even if you really admire that person's parenting style), or because you aren't doing things the way you thought you would.

Fidelio said...

You're agonizing unnecesarily. It's ok to wean. Just do it, in whatever fashions makes you not go crazy. Fast, slow, now, later. What-ever.


If you've got a child who's already down to twice a day or less, and accepts social and comfort interaction other than nursing (i.e. playing, book, walk), you have done your mental and physical duty by him with the nursing thing. It's obvious you have a close and happy relationship with him. Just...quit!

Whether you realize it or not, the already-existing pain and exhaustion you're going through is going to have a cumulative effect, which is already hurting you and will eventually surface and hurt the whole family. And you'll remember it for a long time, how much you agonized and how much it hurt and why-doesn't-anyone-appreciate-what-I-go-through. (Irrationality is a symptom of pregnancy...also possibly femininity.)

Like everyone else says, Marko won't remember in the least that he quit nursing, that he ever nursed, or even that (which I think is unlikely in the first place) he had to scream bloody murder once or twice. Vincent never did--I said "no way, Jose" to night nursing, but still let him sleep in the bed, and he said "well, fine, woman, then you figure out how to get those things empty and comfortable" and that was that.


Sheila said...

Fidelio, the reason I haven't weaned completely is that we're trying to solve his sleep problems first, so I'm still nursing him a little before bed. I find a little pain a LOT easier to deal with than an hour-long bedtime routine, and I do have a plan for transitioning out of it. Another bonus is that it seems to be helping my morning sickness, so I figured I wouldn't cut down any further till we're out of the first trimester.

Thanks for the assurance, everyone. I don't know what it is that makes me always want someone else to tell me I'm doing the right thing, but ... it always does help to know that you're not the only one, that what you have in mind has worked for others. It's nice to hear so many people say, "I did it and everything was fine!"

Meredith, I wish you could come, too. I don't think I know of any out-of-the-area friends who are coming this year!

Alecia said...

Usually by the third trimester, my little ones wean themselves. It seems the taste of the milk just changes too much for them....That is your hope! By the way, I nominated your blog for the Stylish Blogger Award. See my blog entry October 10 for details. God bless, Alecia.

I'm a full-time mummy said...

My boy nursed right thru my pregnancy even though my BM stopped at 5th month. I'm for weaning gently so at the moment I'm at the don't offer, don't refuse stage.

I'm 1.5 months into tandem nursing my 31 months and 1.5 months kids, and yes, I have to struggle with some emotional battles at the initial stage (You can read it here:

I've read other tandem nursers who take more than 6 months to get used to tandem nursing, so yeah, tandem nursing is really not for everyone, if you feel comfortable to wean, then by all means do so. The fact that you choose to breastfeed is good enough no matter how short or long the duration is.

Sarah Faith said...

I have ONLY ever weaned during pregnancy. :) Five times. Varying ages (from 6 months to 22 months).
I found it necessary to involve my husband. I started with night weaning by leaving the cosleeping room for a few weeks and having my husband do bedtime and sleep with the child. They never seemed to even mind, as long as I wasn't there - something about not expecting him to nurse them allowed them to be comforted in other ways. I don't know why or if it would work for yours, but it did for all mine. (Sure they cried out for me a few times, but nothing major.)

Then whenever they wanted to nurse in the day I would try to redirect. Offer milk from a cup (one of mine took a bottle from 11 months until she was almost 4 because I felt so guilty for "having" to wean her at that time!) or food or just a hug and tickle. If they would insist I'd go ahead and nurse and then cut them off as soon as it looked like they were calmed down. It only took a few weeks to wean this way and it was painless for both. There were times when they wouldn't nurse at all for 2 days and then ask again once, and then not again.
My favorite part of weaning is just being able to snuggle with the child without being pawed and groped. :) It definitely gets annoying especially at the toddler stage! Ha ha.
I'm totally with you on not wanting to tandem. I agree with extended breastfeeding, but I also like my sanity and I don't enjoy b/f to begin with, so I see no need to martyr myself and be resentful. All the kids adjusted well, even (eventually) the bottle addict. :)

Sheila said...

Thanks for the encouragement, full-time mummy.

Sarah, that's kind of where we are right now. We're only nursing at bedtime, but I'm a little clueless how to cut this session out. Every method of getting him to sleep without nursing is way more difficult, if not impossible. My husband stands up and bounces him, but the kid weighs 25 pounds! I've almost never been able to do this for twenty minutes at a time.

I would totally just let him take over, only he's not always available at bedtime. So I need to figure out a way I can do it myself ... somehow. (Sleep has been getting more and more difficult the past few days, so I'm a little scared just thinking about it!)

But the idea of snuggling without hair pulling and smacking sounds just lovely! I'll set my sights on that.

Anonymous said...

I actually know a few women who weaned in pregnancy. Have you heard of the don't offer don't refuse method? I think it's a gentle approach to weaning book.

I have to say (another tandem feeder here I'm afraid) that I do think it is easier - just to get some rest for me. If I fed them both I knew what they were both up to. They'd more than likely both fall asleep too.

I don't see why you couldn't (if it was what you wanted) try and then stop, change your mind.

But yes if you don't fancy it then of course you should wean. Breastfeeding should be about what is right for both you and your child.

Best of luck.

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