Monday, September 09, 2013

Mommy Mondays: Weaning from the Breast

The saying "it takes a village to raise a child" is very applicable to breastfeeding.  Now, I'm not referring to an idea that a woman should be nursing her neighbor's child, but breastfeeding information has long been passed down orally, from mothers to daughters.  From community elders to young mothers.  And somewhere along the way, that got distorted.  Changed.  Determined to be the province of medicine.  Somewhere along the line, women were told that what they were producing to feed their children wasn't good enough.  They were told what and how by doctors instead of their community.  And as more formula was used, the secrets of breastfeeding stopped being passed down.  Which leaves many women without a place to turn to ask the questions that plague every new mom.

It seems as though breastfeeding is some complex, difficult, isolating process, when in reality, the truth about its difficulties just isn't part of our common cultural knowledge any more.  Knowing that others are having the same struggles, facing the same battles, that "normal" doesn't necessarily mean "easy" is something that has been lost along the way, but makes all the difference to most of us.

The entire process of breastfeeding seems so secretive and elusive, from the latching to the pumping to the eventually weaning.  It's hard to know if you're doing it right! My weaning journey hasn't been anything I would have anticipated, and I share it here because it's important for us to share our experiences with each other, to try and bring back that community of knowledge.

My initial plan, back when I was pregnant, was to stop breastfeeding when Thatbaby got teeth.  Because teeth meant a baby was ready for real food (obviously) and because teeth + nipples sounded terribly scary.  I was so naive. Because teeth having nothing to do with eating solids, and Thatbaby was never a biter.  Besides, Thatbaby didn't get his first tooth until he was 10 months old.  At that point it seemed silly to quit, when I was so close to a year. 

When Thatbaby turned a year old, it was a milestone in our breastfeeding relationship.  It was also at the beginning of flu season.  It seemed so arbitrary to breastfeed one day, and the next just decide we were done.  So I figured we would continue until he was 18 months and flu season was over.  At that time, we started with "don't offer, don't refuse." in other words, there were no set nursing times.  I didn't nurse him immediately upon waking, or right before meals.  I nursed whenever he asked for it.  And that first month he asked for it, a lot.  More than he usually did.  Meaning, growth spurt! And I was glad I was still nursing since I could provide him with so much of what he needed to grow!

But at that same time, I did wean from the pump.  At 11 months I was pumping on my way to work, twice at work, and once before bed. When Thatbaby turned one, I dropped those sessions, one a week.  I started with the before bed session, then I worked my way "south" dropping each session in order.  That way, any engorgement I felt was relieved by the subsequent pumping session.  (So I didn't pump at 8, but it was only a couple more hours until 11!)  At the end of the month, I had completely dumped the pump.  No pain, no engorgement, no worrying about "drying up."  In fact - I was still able to nurse Thatbaby when we were together, even though I wasn't doing any nursing or pumping during the workday.

Between 12 and 18 months, Thatbaby dropped all but 2 of his nursing sessions on his own.  He just wasn't interested/was interested in solids instead.  So he was nursing first thing in the morning, and last thing before bed.  At 18 months I decided we should start getting rid of those sessions, beginning with the morning one.

It was a disaster.  I naively thought I could just offer him something else instead.  That didn't work.  There was crying.  Demanding to nurse.  Throwing of bottles.  It didn't get any easier for weeks.  I asked all my mom friends who offered support, but no advice on how to make it easier.  Because it isn't easy for any relationship to end when one party isn't ready for it!  By the end of April, we had gotten rid of that first nursing session.  AND then he got sick.  So I reintroduced that nursing session so he could have the extra immunity.  Which was worth it to me to put up that fight again.

And yet, by the end of May, he had dropped that morning session on his own!  Like magic!  No crying, no begging, no throwing of bottles.  Which made me realize how much easier it is to let them self wean.   Not that it dissuaded me from wanting to wean that last, evening session!

We put that off, due to Thatboy being gone for most of June and July for his dad's illness, death, and then his surf trip.  But once Thatboy got back, and life got back to normal, we went into dropping the evening session.  That one was much easier.  I was lucky that Thatboy has been involved in bedtimes from the beginning.  So Thatbaby was just as happy being put to sleep by mom and her breasts as he was by dad and a bottle, then sippy of milk.  So Thatboy just took over bedtime.  Thatbaby didn't even realize there was weaning going on, just that bedtime went back to being "boy time."    And the end of our nursing relationship was easy and amicable on everyone's part.  


  1. Thatbaby has let you know when the time is right for him. There is no right or wrong way, too much time or too little time. The parent dictates or the child, whichever comes first. So many more milestones ahead.


    P.S. I sent you an email about the mango trees. I grew up in Miami. There are definitely no mango trees in Tallahassee (laugh).

  2. Thanks for sharing. Seriously. So helpful and I like your outlook and philosophy. I have a feeling weaning may be hard for us, mainly because my guy refused solids for the longest time and even now, he's picky mcpicky and will only eat certain purees (chewing is not happening, despite four teeth). But then again, pumping means I get a personal mini fridge at work, so minor victories

  3. You are so right about how nursing has changed -- leaving moms in the dark and wondering about so much. When I had my son, I felt so alone about it as I dealt with his inability to latch and eventually just exclusively pumped because I wasn't sure I would ever be able to get him to eat enough. It would have been awesome to have elders to guide me.

  4. From what I've heard about nursing, there's this charade that it's so easy and just instinctual and actually it's not at all! I'm so glad you're shedding some light on this before i need to go through it myself. If only everyone were so honest!

  5. I remember when I stopped breast-feeding totally, I feel that I re-gained my freedom!!! I reckon the immunity part of breast feeding only helps in the first 6 months... afterwards, it's all about comfort rather nutritiously useful.

    1. Actually, the immunity INCREASES as a child gets older! One of the crazy magical parts of breastfeeding. And we've got to experience it first hand. Thatbaby has managed to stay healthy, even though his classmates are always sick. In fact, the one time he managed to catch the stomach virus from his daycare, he was better in 8 hours. They were sick for 72 hours! And he's managed to remain healthy even when both Thatboy and I have been sick. No ear infections ever, and I can count his high fevers on one hand.

      As for the nutrition, that also continues long after 6 months. At 12 months, 448mL of breastmilk provides 43% of a toddler's daily protein requirements, 75% of their daily Vitamin A requirement, 36% of their daily calcium requirements, 76% of their daily folate requirements, 94% of their daily vitamin B12 requirements, and 60% of their daily vitamin C requirements!

  6. Amen! I loved reading these honest thoughts and I can relate to so many of the things you shared. We're a ways off before weaning, but I can already anticipate it is going to be a difficult process. It helps to have woman like you share their experience. Thank you, sweet friend!