Monday, 21 May 2012

Memories of Weaning: Unique and Gentle

Welcome to the Carnival of Weaning: Weaning - Your Stories

This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Code Name: Mama and Aha! Parenting. Our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles about the end of the breastfeeding relationship.
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Twice now, it's happened: my babies have weaned.

While my approach has been similar with each of them - partial weaning initiated by me, ultimate weaning left up to them - their two stories are entirely unique, just as the boys themselves are. It's a wonderful thing to watch them grown in their own unique ways, but it's a strange feeling, too, to witness them leaving behind a stage in their lives.

These are their stories of weaning.

Weaning My Oldest: Sweet and Sentimental

At one year, my first son's diet was mainly breastmilk. We had introduced solids at six months, but those first several months of solid food were more for play and experimentation than anything else. Believing in a baby-led-solids approach, he was offered food that he could self-feed. Just as feeding on cue had, this allowed him to follow his natural appetite in choosing when and how much to eat. It wasn't until he was about 15 months old that he began to eat significant amounts of solid food.

When he was 18 months old and no longer relying on breastmilk as his main source of nutrition, I began to cut back on the number of his nursing sessions. Still infertile at this point, I was beginning to resent breastfeeding and knew that it was time to make that change before our nursing relationship was adversely affected. I gradually cut back on our daytime nursing sessions until he was nursing only three times a day - morning, before his afternoon nap, and at bedtime. It was a slow and gentle process with little upset, but it was a difficult decision to make nonetheless. Even in hindsight, I am not convinced that it was the right choice to make, but neither am I convinced it was the wrong one. It simply is what it is.

I was positively thrilled when, 21 months after my first son was born, my period finally returned. I began to truly enjoy nursing my toddler in a way that, until then, had been clouded by frustration over its corresponding lack of fertility. I had love the warm snuggliness of nursing a newborn, the sweet silliness of nursing a happy baby, and the precious bonding of nursing a yearling, but this business of nursing a toddler was something entirely different. There were the breastfed dinosaurs and cars. The sly requests for milk when he knew the answer would be no, and the laughing attempts to latch on anyway. The sleepy cuddles while nursing in the morning. The relief of being able to nurse a sick child who would eat and drink nothing else.

When we found that we were joyfully expecting our second child, I was grateful for each week that my milk supply remained unaffected. I temporarily returned to work full time, and while I was sad to leave my son, it was a good four months of bonding between him and his dad. Because I left before he woke up, he no longer nursed in the morning. For a while he would nurse when I came home for lunch, but it wasn't long before he stopped asking and we simply ate lunch together. As my sensitivity to nursing grew along with my stomach, I nightweaned him, which he accepted with relative ease. In this way, he went from three nursing sessions a day plus nightwakings, to only one nursing session at bedtime. He was a little over two years old at this point.

Then my milk supply disappeared, and the pain while nursing increased. I began to shorten the length of time for which I would nurse him at bedtime, replacing that nighttime routine with other methods of comfort. By the time he was two and a half, he nursed for only a minute or less at bedtime. Then it was mere seconds. Then it was less than a second - not even a real latch on. I joked to my husband that he was just "kissing them goodnight" by that point. One night, instead of wanting milk, he asked to lay on them, leaning against my bare chest for a short while before climbing in bed. Then...nothing.

Not that he ignored them. Not at all! He just seemed to transfer their possession to his yet-to-be-born little brother. He had been aware for a long time that he would have to share mommy's milk with the new baby. Now that he was done nursing, he was content to hand them over entirely. Any mention of them was done in conjunction with the baby. He no longer asked to nurse, but he would occasionally state that when the milk came back after the baby was born, he could have mommy's milk again.

He never did. While he often watched the baby nurse and commented on the baby having mommy's milk, he never once asked to have any himself. It was with both relief and disappointment that I could say it officially - my little boy was weaned.

He was growing up.

Our nursing relationship had been a precious time. Its comfort has now been replaced with other comforts, its bonding has been replaced with other activities, and its nutrition is no longer relied upon. While I still question the limits imposed at 18 months, and wonder how long he would have nursed if not for the pregnancy, it was done, for the most part, on his terms and in his timing.

Weaning My Youngest: Easy and Unexpected

Our second son was born soon after our first had weaned. He, too, had a smooth start to breastfeeding, and I enjoyed the lack of pain this second time around.

With my younger son, I found I had a less romantic and more practical view of breastfeeding. He needed to be fed and I had just the tools for the job. He seemed to feel likewise; unlike my oldest, who would nurse for long sessions at a time, this one was a very "get down to business" sort of baby. And comfort nursing? Don't even think about it. Yet on difficult days, when my nursling and I found ourselves feeding off each other's grumpiness, nursing allowed us to take a break and quietly snuggle and reconnect, walking away a few minutes later in much better spirits.

After passing the one year mark, we became fully entrenched in the typical early-toddler stage of increased nursing. He wanted to nurse constantly. This was an adjustment for me after his first year of nursing only for nourishment, but I soon got used to our new normal. With each passing month, my "not right now's" slowly began to increase. It was less deliberate than the nursing session reduction that I put in place when my oldest was 18 months. By 18 months with the younger one, his main nursing sessions happened at naptime and bedtime, when he would nurse most or all of the way to sleep. During the remainder of the day, I would generally accommodate his requests for milk, but sometimes I would offer a drink, snack, or activity in its place.

For the next few months, the same pattern remained in place. He passed the intense early-toddler stage and then, to my surprise, began to drop nursing sessions all on his own. He nightweaned himself. He stopped nursing at naptime and bedtime himself. He asked less frequently during the day. It was so different than my experience with my first son; I didn't quite know what to make of it.

22 months after his birth, my period returned at last, and soon we were expecting our third child. Nursing became only slightly more painful, a welcome change from my first experience of nursing while pregnant. And still he continued to nurse less with no prompting from me.

By the time he turned two, he was barely nursing at all. Sometimes he would go days without and I would wonder if he had weaned, only to have him ask to nurse again later that day. After a two-week long stretch, I was sure he was done; again he proved me wrong by sleepily snuggling against me to nurse early one morning. I remember kissing his head and inhaling his sweet smell. I remember the feeling of his little body tucked against me, and I remember how heartwarming it felt after its two week absence. I also remember that it was the last time he ever nursed.

He wasn't even two and a half. Although there was again a sense of both relief and disappointment, the disappointment was stronger this time. It had been so abrupt, so different than the long and slow process my older child had taken. I was plagued with self-doubt: Had I turned him down too often? Was it my fault he had weaned? Was it because of me that he had lacked the strong emotional connection to breastfeeding that my older child had had?

Now when he sees my breasts, he talks about how the baby will drink Mommy's milk one day. He never asks for milk himself or suggests, as his older brother had, that he too will have milk when it returns after the baby is born. He's done, and he's okay with it.

And I'm learning to be okay with it too.

Preparing for a New Nursling

Now here I am again, preparing to begin from the start, a sweet little baby to nurse over the next months and years. More darling gazes, more tiny hands patting my side, more lovely milk breath; more spit up, more wet shirts, more laundry; more nourishment, more bonding, more comfort. I look forward to watching the evolution of another nursing relationship, with its myriad of benefits and its own beautifully unique path. I expect that this new child's eventual weaning will be much the same as that of his older brothers, with partial weaning initiated by me and ultimate weaning left up to him, a gradual and gentle process that evolves along with the individual child.

Despite the questions, self-doubt, and second guessing myself, my experiences with weaning two children have also given me a renewed confidence. When someone warns me that my babies will never wean if I nurse on demand, I can think back to my own boys' weaning stories, each one unique in how it happened but equally gentle in its approach. However it happens, whatever their stories, whatever their ages, my babies will one day wean, and we will move together into a new stage in our relationship.

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Thank you for visiting the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Dionna at Code Name: Mama and Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting.


Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (and many thanks to Joni Rae of Tales of a Kitchen Witch for designing our lovely button):


14 comments:

  1. You are the second or third person to talk about the different nursing personalities between #1 and #2, and my experience echoes yours. I wonder if that is partially us - you said it best, that you didn't romanticize it as much as realized it was business. Now I want to take a survey :) Your first story made me cry, by the way - so sweet!

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  2. awww great post. This made me teary eyed. I still remember my children weaning. I thought Zayden (our now three year old) was our last baby and when he weaned it was soooo sooo sad even though I was the one who said no more first. (way too much mastitis and not enough paitence :( ) Zayden nursed for 28 months with very little solids or anything. He just wasnt interested. I never thought I would nurse again. Im so glad God had other plans. :D

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  3. These are such sweet stories. It is so true that they will eventually wean, even when they seem to nurse a million times a day sometimes. The story of you oldest "kissing them goodnight" reminds me of my oldest, even after she weaned she would often put her hand in my cleavage while cuddling, and sometimes ever today she will climb in my lap and tug my shirt down enough that she can rest her head on my cleavage.

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  4. How fascinating it is that two kiddos can be related and yet so different, right? It sounds like, in a way, you had the personality you needed in a nursling at the right time, right? Even with the challenges. Brava for nursing through pregnancy, even when the milk ran dry - that can't be easy!

    (And I loved the delayed fertility that came with nursing - an unexpected benefit that still baffled and concerned my mom and somewhat my otherwise-100%-supportive OB. But c'mon! Periods are a pain if you're not needing fertility and my skin was amazing ;) Ah, the little side benefits of nursing, right? :)

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  5. "If you nurse them too long they'll NEVER wean" doesn't even make sense to me. So, if you don't cut them off by, say, 15 months, that means you'll have to move into their college dorm room and continue nursing them through adulthood?

    Raiden weaned around 15 months, from a combination of working full-time and already supplementing with formula, a little of me saying "not right now" (when we'd snuggle-nurse in the mornings, his feet would always be digging into me, and sometimes I just wasn't in the mood to be kicked at), and a little of him not asking as much. There was once several months later when he was asking about it, and asked if he could put my "nurse" in his mouth, which I let him do, and he just giggled and released it a second later. I thought it was sweet :).

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing your weaning stories. It helps me wrap my head around the process we are beginning now. I wish you much joy as you nurse your next! :) ~sheila

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  7. What wonderful, and different paths your sons took. I love how your oldest took to "kissing" them goodnight.

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  8. Such beautiful stories! I love the way that you three responded so lovingly to each other throughout the whole process. <3

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  9. I loved reading your stories and I too got a little teary eyed, especially as you recounted your last nursing session with your second son - so precious!
    I can relate to having feelings of resentment about breastfeeding getting in the way of conceiving.. I had to night-wean my little one before my body would allow the extra tax on it of pregnancy - ahh the wisdom of biology :)
    I just can't imagine the ways in which my second born will be different in personality to my son, looking forward to the adventure of finding out though! Look forward to reading about your families adventures with your new little one too.

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  10. I am nursing baby number 5. They have all been so different. It has been an honor to nurse each one. I wish I had been more prepared with my first. And, I wish I had thought it might be possible that my fifth could have a difficult time. It wasn't even on my radar that I could have a difficult nursing relationship.

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  11. Loved hearing about these self-weaning stories - so different from my children and who knows why?

    http://minimalistmum.blogspot.co.nz/2012/05/6-years-of-natural-weaning-in-5-steps.html

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  12. If every child's weaning was so gentle, what a different world this might be! Yes, each child is unique so their weaning is unique, but I love your gentle reassurance to other mamas that "whatever their stories, whatever their ages, my babies will one day wean, and we will move together into a new stage in our relationship." Thanks for a beautiful post!

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  13. I also appreciate these unique, gentle weaning shares. It sounds like you experienced a blend of honoring both yourself and your children at the same time. And certainly take that clarity into your next breastfeeding experience. It will lead the way. :)

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  14. I really needed to read this posting, as I am in the phase of weaning with my 21-month old. Your stories allow me to feel good about the continued nursing relationship on her terms (with input and direction from me, of course). I hope that one day I also can write beautifully about her final nursings and my feelings as this special phase comes to an end.

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