Friday, January 21, 2011

Thoughts On Weaning

Weaning has been on my mind a lot lately. Not just weaning of Lil Man, but weaning in general. It has come to my mind as Lil Man has begun to decrease his nursing sessions as he has recently become so mobile that he can't be bothered to stop and breastfeed. It is sad, but because of the slippery slope of supplementing, Lil Man has the knowledge that bottles are not only easier and faster, but more portable than Mommy. Nursing during the day is a joke to him, except maybe on a good day, right after he wakes from a nap. I do pump, and give him what I can in a bottle, but, I am one of those women who suffers great anxiety when it comes to pumping, and that effects my output. It has led to an increase in formula, but more in solids. Which, I suppose is good, but it still saddens me.
Luckily, night nursing is still going smoothly. I hope that continues until he is a year old, although maybe slowing down in frequency in a few months would be nice.

The other reason weaning has been on my mind, is I have recently discovered that the normal in this country is to wean at age one. I already "knew" this, but I discovered even in my culture (aka religion) where breastfeeding is the normal path a mother takes- most women still wean their child at 12 or 13 months of age. In a way, I understand, you have now given nearly 2 years of your body to this child- once you account for both pregnancy and breastfeeding- and you are ready to feel like you have a little more freedom. At the same time, I feel that we have forgotten so many of the benefits of nursing past a year. Or maybe we feel those benefits are minimal.
I also understand breastfeeding is a real chore for some women. I really do. Not everyone loves breastfeeding. Even some of the most passionate advocates have stated that breastfeeding is actually not something they enjoy but that they do for the benefit of their children. I sometimes feel it is a chore as well. I don't love breastfeeding 100% of the time. Especially during the rough developmental phases where distraction sets in. I really do understand it.
I also though, think that often times, women let one rough day be the day they decide to quit. I often think to myself, will I be happy with this decision in a few weeks? So often, the answer has been NO, I will not. It has kept me going. So has a supportive husband, friends, and other breastfeeding blogs.
I look back, as Lil Man is now 8 months of age, and think of those first 6-8 weeks. I felt like they would never pass. In all reality, they were so short I don't even remember the heartache I felt during that time. Yet, so many moms choose to quit during it. I hope that with the Surgeon General's new Call to Action that more will choose to continue.
I also feel we need to give women a more realistic expectation of breastfeeding. Women need to understand that breastfeeding may be painful at first, latch takes work, your child may eat all the time at first, and that there will be lots of rough patches, even after the first 6-8 weeks (biting, distractions, etc). I think, in order to help women choose to breastfeed, we have almost sugar-coated it. We make it out to be this natural and beautiful bonding experience (which it is) that has no down side, hard times, or hurdles to overcome (which it isn't). I feel this is where education steers women wrong. Breastfeeding classes do well to focus on the benefits, how to position the baby, and what latch should look like. They don't talk about the common problems, that babies can be attached to you 24 hours a day, and that everything- even latch- is something that must be learned by both mother and child. You are never taught ways to help increase your supply during dips, that biting may happen, but you can teach a child nursing manners to stop it. If women had a more realistic expectation, maybe less would wean during the first rough phase they hit.

With all that said, It is with a very heavy heart that I announce that I, myself, am going to begin to wean Lil Man- for daytime only. He will continue to be combo fed, hopefully until a year of age, but his daytime nourishment will slowly be moved to only solids and formula.
This has not been an easy decision for me to make. I have spent weeks thinking about this, praying about it, and soul searching. The last week has been spent in tears as I watched my supply dwindle as I have had to move to pumping so much. I have sought advice from good friends, one who is a strong advocate, as passionate, if not more, than I am. Another, who suffered many of the same issues I have, and was inspired to wean her little girl (and it ended up being for the best when her little girl suffered an injury that would have made nursing extremely painful).
This decision came after I realized that I could no longer constantly fight to increase my supply. The thought of going back on fenugreek sickened me (and Lil Man no longer likes the taste of my milk when I take it). Pumping after feedings, or more often during the day, sent me into either depression or a panic attack. I was constantly stressing over how much milk was I going to get for each session. Lil Man will not even come to the breast if he is remotely interested in anything else. The fact that he can not only crawl, but is starting to walk, has made it even harder to get him to pause. The day I finally realized it is time to take this step towards weaning was when I realized that the stress of keeping up my supply was effecting me being a good mother to my son. I will always say that it is worse to have a miserable mother, who is depressed and withdrawn from their child, then to have a formula fed baby.
The range of emotions I have felt over this decision has surprised me. This blog, is one reason I felt I could not wean. I felt like I needed to continue, just for this blog. I have been so open with my breastfeeding- I feel I need to be open about weaning. I also felt I could not wean, because I have often felt anger, or jealousy, towards mothers who wean their child when they have no supply issues, and simply do not want to breastfeed, or they just don't want to take the time to get through a short phase of biting, constant nursing, or such. I thought how I am a hypocrite for this. The truth is, I still feel that way when a mother is able to easily provide enough nourishment and has no supply issues. It is still her right to wean though.
I have also felt like I am failing. I look at myself and say "If I can't continue combo-feeding until 12 months and beyond, how do I ever expect to successfully, exclusively, breastfeed my next child." The truth is, combo feeding is hard work. It also has downfalls where a child realizes that a bottle is easier, faster, and portable and Mommy is not. More so then a baby who is breastfed and may get bottles of expressed milk here and there- because they get them DAILY.  The task of the mother, constantly having to worry about supply takes its toll on a mom who already feels guilty about giving her child formula. IT IS HARD WORK TO COMBO FEED. I look back now and realize that I have gone a lot farther than most combo feeders have and I should be proud of what I have done.
Again, I am not completely weaning. Lil Man still gets about 1/3 of his nourishment from his night time nursing sessions. I will continue these at least for a few more months. I plan, around 10 months of age, to help encourage him to sleep a little longer between nursing sessions at night, but hopefully he will not wean at night until at least 12 months of age. I will also continue to nurse him first thing in the morning, for as long as he wants, and if he wakes up after a nap, wanting to nurse, I will not deny him at this point.
You are probably saying, well, then- she really is not weaning. I get it, yeah. I am not cutting him off completely (which, in my opinion is not weaning- it is cutting a child off/denying-weaning means to do it slowly). But, I am no longer going to stress to increase my supply, pumping sessions will decrease over the next month, and I am going to let Lil Man decide if he wants to take the time to nurse during the day. If he prefers a bottle, I will give it to him. I am letting him lead the way, but I am not going to do "extra" at this point.
I pray that others will understand my decision. I did not make this decision on a rough day. I made it over a period of time. I also know that I am armed with much more knowledge now, and hope to exclusively breastfeed all of my future children.



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