Friday, December 11, 2009

Thoughts On Weaning

In my last post I discussed how upset I was when my doctor told me I might have to wean my fifteen month old baby to allow me to take medication. One thing that really came through to me from the comments was the wide range of emotions that people have in relation to weaning.

Some comments implied that I would feel guilty about weaning; others simply that I would be sad. In reality, my anxiety stems from the prospect of changing the whole manner in which we look after our daughter: weaning would mean changing the way we sleep; the way we achieve calm after upsets; even the way we chill out when both of us need a little break.

For me, guilt doesn't come into it. I know my daughter has had a great start, and I know that she could manage perfectly well without any more breastmilk. I really hope that other people are not made to feel guilty when they wean. I believe that babies deserve to be nursed for as long as their mothers can manage, and after that they should be weaned with love and patience. For many people, modern life just isn't compatible with long term breastfeeding. Sometimes you just have to wean. Maybe you're going back to work, going on to medication or having another baby. Maybe you just want your breasts back. If it's a good enough reason to wean then you shouldn't be feeling guilty. Let's face it, if you choose to wean off the breast at six months, your baby will have been receiving breastmilk for longer than 97% of the babies born in Britain. You can't feel too bad about that.

Though I wouldn't feel guilty about weaning at fifteen months, I can't say that I feel a great sense of pride for making it this far. I have had it so ridiculously easy. It is the people who have battled cracked nipples, thrush, mastitis and pumping regimes that should feel proud - I just happen to have a baby who loves breastfeeding. I feel a bit uncomfortable when people congratulate me for nursing for this long. I've not done anything special. All I have done is what nearly every mother in the history of mankind has done.

Before I finish, there's just one caveat I have to put on this "Weaning is OK" message. I have never understood why breastfeeding mothers feel the need to replace their milk with formula at a certain age (often six months). They don't wean their babies off milk per se, but for some reason they think that their babies are too old to breastfeed. I watched several people with babies the same age as mine go through this, and I never figured out why they did it. Why spend money on powdered milk when the stuff that comes free out of your breasts is much better? Well OK, I think I know the reason really - they have read too many books that say you need to get babies off the breast early before they get used to it. God, don't you just hate western parenting "experts"?

All this is academic, because we are not weaning. But I would hate anyone to think that I disapprove of other people's decisions to wean, just because we have chosen to continue breastfeeding for an extended (or shall we say natural) length of time.


Lisa - edenwild said...

"This was what had me crying all day. I can't do that to my baby."

I guess I was one who thought weaning would make you sad! I'm sorry if I misunderstood you.

Cave Mother said...

Hey, it would have made me sad - sad because my daughter wouldn't have understood why I was suddenly changing the way I looked after her, and why I would suddenly be refusing to allow her to feed. I felt sad and anxious.

Jessica said...

It's interesting, this whole weaning thing. Are you considering formula in lieu of breastmilk or would you just switch her over to an animal-based diet? When my son weaned (himself) at 14 mos I had him drinking some soy milk (not a lot), then switched him to goat's milk. But honestly, he didn't really care about any of it. Water's always sufficed for him and he gets his calcium and other vitamins from other foodstuffs.

Anyhow, I'll be eagerly awaiting to hear about the next phase of this.

I hope you're feeling better physically with the new meds, if that's what you're doing.

Hobo Mama said...

We keep wondering what Mikko will do all day if he's not nursing. It's half a joke, and half reality. As you said, it would change so many aspects of our current routine: sleeping, soothing, relaxing. Sam likes to say that breastfeeding is Mikko's hobby.

But people who have weaned said that you do find other ways to fill the day, and actions to take the place of nursing in those scenarios, so I trust that that's true.

I didn't comment on the original post, but I would be one of the ones who gets sad just thinking of weaning. I hope it seems right and natural when the time comes — no regret, no sorrow, certainly no guilt. Thanks for this post.

cartside said...

I was probably one of those who implied this too. I know exactly what you mean and it's definitely about the parenting tool that breastfeeding is (and oh so was for me). Yet, when I weaned it was quite easily substituted by other things which I value now equally. Especially that night time book, the last long cuddle before she falls asleep, so lovely for both of us. Just as good as nursing and still very attached and cuddling.

Michele A. Kay said...

I weaned my son (now 3 1/2) at about 20 months also due to medication that I needed to go on. Not taking the medication wasn't an option. I explained what was happening to him and he seemed to go along with it just fine. I had made the decision but had made sure he understood why. It really didn't seem to phase him. I was surprised by this as he had been such an avid nurser (as many of you noted - it was a way of caretaking not just nourishing.) But really, he just went along with the "new" routine and now we have different ways of being together. I also think that my son was ready - he's a very independent fellow - so the timing was simply right for us. Looking back I think I did feel guilty at first but I think I was feeling guilty because I thought I was supposed to feel guilty. Once I let go of expectations from any direction that too passed.

Cave Mother said...

I still don't want to do it, but it means a lot when similarly attached, previously breastfeeding mothers say that they were able to happily substitute other things for breastfeeds. I guess if it had to happen, we would get through it.

But I am still going to do everything in my power to avoid it.

Alice Phua said...

I weaned my little boy when he was about 14-15 months old simply because he chose not to suck from my breasts anymore. At that time, whenever I put him at my breast, he seemed to want to wriggle himself free, he even protested! Well, had my little boy not protested, I would still be breastfeeding him till now. I myself feel sad that I have to stop breastfeeding him already (I was already so used to that routine), but that sadness is now at the back of my mind already! He is now 20 months old.