Friday, December 12, 2008

Weaning a toddler

Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers!

So at 20 1/2 months Selena has weaned. When she was born I knew I was going to breastfeed but I didn't know for how long. I really didn't even know how long a baby would minimally need to be breastfed even though I did some reading about breastfeeding before (a baby needs breast milk or formula for at least a year). I had read that it was hard, but I didn't really understand what made it hard. It seemed like if you could get a good "latch" then it wouldn't be that hard.

Well I have inverted nipples and Selena was born early and thus her suck might not be as strong as a completely full term baby, so the lactation consultant/birth assistant gave me a nipple shield. She didn't really even give me a chance to try without it, but the shield did make it very easy to get a good latch. I experimented getting rid of it a couple days after Selena was born and she did pretty well but it took more maneuvering on my part. And then my milk came in... that was not a pleasant experience for me. My breasts swelled to the size of grapefruits and were rock hard. They squeezed against each other and made it so I couldn't put my arms together out in front of me. Apparently this sort of engorgement is not common and happens in less than 10% of women. But it happened to me and I did not like it. Even when Selena nursed I got just the barest amount of relief and only on one side. Since she didn't even empty one breast she wouldn't take the other one. Because my breasts were so hard the nipple shield became a must. Advice in my books and online was conflicting. Sometimes they said to pump a little to get some relief, but then it said if you pumped it would just cause you to make more milk. I decided to avoid the pump as more milk was the last thing I wanted. But things subsided in a couple days and while I was still engorged the discomfort was manageable.

But nursing was still hard. Selena was kind of a lazy nurser and would nurse for at least an hour and only give me an hour to an hour and a half between feedings--which meant I was literally nursing all day long. Consequently I was perpetually thirsty and hungry. The big appetite was actually kind of cool. I've never been able to eat a lot of food at once, but after she was born I could and needed to eat a ton. I went from barely being able to eat a whole hamburger to eating a double patty hamburger plus some. As soon as Selena weaned, my appetite immediately diminished, even though I'm pregnant I once again get full fast. Nursing was physically and emotionally draining, and very time consuming. I then understood why it was considered so hard, and I can totally understand why so many women give up. But everything I read said it got better at around 6 weeks so I decided I could persevere for 6 weeks and reevaluate then--and six weeks came and it was immensely better.

I continuously tried to get rid of the nipple shield as it was kind of messy (as in milk leaking everywhere), a pain to keep clean, and hard to nurse discreetly while using it. Around 3 months old Selena decided she might not need it anymore. There was a week or so where she would use it, and then cry, and I would take it off, and she would nurse without it, and then she would cry. She couldn't make up her mind whether she wanted it or not. But by 3 1/2 months she decided she didn't need it anymore. Ironically my engorgement problems pretty much disappeared when we stopped using it. Most of the literature says that a nipple shield can possibly cause a decrease in milk supply, well mine had the exact opposite effect. Selena also became an extremely efficient nurser at this time. She went from taking about 45 minutes to eat, to about 5 minutes. Nursing was really easy at this point. I could nurse in public discreetly, it didn't take that long, I didn't have to wash anything. It was pretty great, and well worth persevering through the difficult parts.

So Selena got to be 6 months and things were going smoothly. We introduced solids and she loved them and has always been a great eater. She didn't really cut back on the number of times she nursed a day. At least I don't think she did, I never really kept track, I just nursed whenever she seemed hungry. Some days she nursed more than others, but on average I think she stayed the same. I assume she just drank less milk during each session. When things were hard, I had considered weaning at 6 months, but when 6 months arrived there didn't seem any point.

When one year rolled around she was eating a lot of solid food including table food, but she was still getting at least half of her nutrition from breast milk and she didn't seem inclined to stop so I figured I would wait a while longer. We went to Hawaii when she was 15 months old and I was kind of hoping she would cut back due to all the action, but she did the opposite and nursed more frequently. Probably because it was too much stimulation, and she needed the calming, predictable action of nursing. Well around this time we were thinking about getting pregnant again, but I still hadn't started ovulating--which I honestly think is one of the greatest perks of breastfeeding. But right when I was getting a little concerned about how nursing was affecting our plans I ovulated.

My supply diminished when I got pregnant and this upset Selena. She often would wake up in the middle of the night to nurse and then go back to sleep after 5 minutes. While this wasn't the most ideal situation it worked pretty well. Well when my supply decreased she wouldn't go back to sleep and she would want to nurse and nurse and nurse until more milk came in, usually an hour later. This was not okay, and one night I had enough and told her she couldn't have anymore till the morning. She cried and I comforted her, but I wouldn't give in--and that was the end of our night nursing. She handled it pretty well at night after that. She would ask I would say wait to the morning and she would go back to sleep. But during the day she would ask and ask and ask to nurse all day long. She would cry if I let her and there wasn't any milk, and she would cry if I didn't let her--I was crying too because I felt bad. It was like she was in a panic that the milk was going to disappear. It took us about two weeks to get her down to nursing 3 times a day, and then we were both happy. My supply could handle that and so could she. Logically I really wanted to wean. I was afraid that she wouldn't wean and I would end up nursing two, which I really didn't want to do, but every time I thought about it I would get all teary. But from what I read, a pregnant woman's supply really disappears in the second trimester, and this is when most nurslings will wean, so I decided to see, and not force the issue till I got to the second trimester. This period of night weaning ended up being the hardest part of the whole process. Every once in a while I would mention that the milk would go bye-bye soon and she would say "no mama, no."

Sure enough when I was about 14 weeks pregnant my supply pretty much disappeared. Selena was maybe getting a few drops. She didn't seem upset about it though. But then I got what is known as a pregnancy aversion to nursing. I had read about it, and thought it sounded really weird and didn't make any sense, but sure enough every time Selena tried to nurse I did not like it and did not want her near me.

I figured Thanksgiving would be a good time to wean, since we could let her nap in the car and thus miss her pre-nap nursing and if we left late she would fall asleep in the car on the way home and miss her pre-bedtime nursing. So nine days before Thanksgiving we started talking about the milk going bye-bye in nine days (9 is Selena's favorite number). We didn't talk about it around the time she normally nursed. Just in the middle of the day. After a few days she started making stories up about the milk going bye-bye. She said it was going to put on it's shoes and go "vroom in the car." I added that it was going to find a new baby. So on Thanksgiving morning she nursed the last time, and right before we left to family we said good-bye and I got in the car and drove around the block to take the milk to the bus stop. As predicted she missed her first two would-be nursing session by falling asleep in the car. But even when she woke up the next morning I reminded her we said bye-bye and she pouted a little but fell back to sleep. Asked again when she woke up for good, but was okay when I said it went bye-bye. She asked every time for about 4 or 5 days but never cried when I said it had gone bye-bye. A couple weeks later she still talks about it going "vroom in the car", and sometimes even pretends to nurse, and will point to me and say "milk, mmmm" but she hasn't really complained. Overall I am really happy how it went. I had a lot of anxiety over it, especially after how stressful night weaning went. I think it helped that she really didn't get much milk for the two weeks before we weaned.

So while it went smoothly and I was definitely ready for weaning I still feel a little regret. The more I researched when was a good time to wean, the more I decided that humans are supposed to nurse for a long time, probably 5-7 years. While the majority of cultures in the world do not do this, most non-Western cultures do nurse for 2-3 years. So I can't help but feeling like she is missing a key component in the natural biological maturation of a human and thus her immune system might not be as strong as it could potentially be. While I wasn't a mom who absolutely loved nursing I do think breast milk is really cool. It is naturally antibacterial so it can be used to cure all sorts of random ailments like acne, warts, sties, and is also being researched as a cure for cancer. I loved how if Selena would decide that she would only eat cheese all day I could still feel like she was getting adequate nutrition because she was getting the best "vitamin drink" available. I also loved how it was like a magic potion. I could get Selena to fall asleep immediately by nursing her. If she was getting whiny I would nurse her and she would become a happy child again. If she got hurt, nursing would make it all better.

So we are done and I am happy, and I have a few months before I will do it all over again. Once again I am so glad that I have prior experience to draw from as I have so much less anxiety. This time I know it might be draining in the beginning, but will get better. I know some tricks to try to avoid using the nipple shield, but if I need to I can use it. I also will research some ways to avoid the crazy engorgement I had before.

Here are links to other people's stories for the Carnival of Breastfeeding.

Weaning a toddler

Sticking with it - our breastfeeding story

Life, Death, and Nourishment

The Story of Hannah's Weaning

Flying Breastmilk

GrudgeMom: Breastfeeding Failures and Success

Baby Carriers Down Under

Ben's Story

I told you so

Breastfeeding is not easy

They said the latch was fine

Can Early Public Breastfeeding Sightings Shape One's Future Breastfeeding Practices?

Zen Mommy

Nursing after breast reduction surgery

Nursing in Public

Found Memory


instinctparenting said...

I loved reading about your nursing experience!!!! Congrats for 20+ months, that's GREAT!!!! We surely need to catch up (in person someday) as you're right, we really do have SO much in common! Congrats Laura!!!

Cheris said...

That was a fun entry to read. Because I am still nursing my 22 month old son. I am anxious to wean, but I'm afraid. It's like his favorite thing in the world! Congrats on your new little one on the way. Selena is beautiful!

Desiree said...

This is such a great story -- you did a fantastic job.
I love nursing SO much -- but it was so hard for the first three months. Gretchen is now 4 months old and I'm SO HAPPY that I stuck with it.
Congrats on the new little one on the way -- I hope things go very well with him or her!

Lori T said...

I'm part of the Carnival, so I saw your link in the email. I'm glad I came by. Your story sounds a lot like mine: horribly engorged, pain, and wanting to quit. But I'm glad you stuck with it! Congratulations on your experience.

Anonymous said...

I used a nipple shield in the beginning, too. And we used it until my daughter was 3 1/2 months. Although I used it for different reasons, I can relate to that.

And I will be honest and say that I don't really love nursing either. But I'm very glad that I did it. It sounds like you are too. :)

Crystal Gold said...

Congrats on doing such a great job and good luck with the new one! Weaning is such a roller coaster! I have a blog post that I will probably use in the Carnival sometime, but you can read it here now. It is about the weaning of my son. He was 29 months old when I wrote it and was fully weaned about a month or two later. I think you will really relate to it. Thanks for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

Would love to post the last two paragraph of this weaning blog to my blog with your name and blog site. I'm on my 19th night of night-time weaning! That tells you how this is going...not! I've only been blogging for about 2weeks, to voice my joy and frustration!