Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! I’m glad you’re here. Be sure to check out the other contributors, whose links are at the end of this post.
A few months ago I shared my daughter Hannah’s breastfeeding story. You can read it yourself, but the summary is that she was premature and taken to the special care nursery, and I had health complications of my own. Suffice it to say that we had a rough start. The good news is we eventually overcame that rough start, and went on to have a long and successful nursing relationship.
There were many days during that nursing relationship that I couldn’t see any end in sight. Sometimes that made me happy, sometimes not. It was a question I wrestled with a lot. How would I know when I was ready to wean? And more importantly, how would I know when Hannah was ready?
The World Health Organization and the Canadian Pediatric Society both recommend that a healthy infant should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. They also both recommend that breastfeeding continue for 2 years and beyond, as long as it’s mutually beneficial for mother and child. So until Hannah’s second birthday I didn’t consider weaning. I placed some loose limits on nursing as she got older – if we were out of the house I tended to offer snacks and water, for example. But for the most part nursing continued unrestricted.
But then, I decided to have another baby. By the time Hannah was 2 1/2 we had been trying to conceive for some time and hadn’t been successful. Information I read, coupled with tracking my body temperature, suggested that my progesterone levels were low. This can be caused by breastfeeding, so I decided to count how many times I nursed Hannah during a typical day. On a workday (there were three of those each week), I nursed her 4-5 times a day. On a day when I was home with her it was more like 7-8 times. Cutting down on nursing seemed like an obvious first step.
I was very, very torn about the decision to take serious steps towards weaning. My biggest fear was that it would somehow damage my relationship with my daughter. I recognized that there were no guarantees I would be able to have another child even if I did wean Hannah, and so I was concerned that pursuing weaning might cause a lot of grief and not have the intended positive effect. At the same time I wasn’t really enjoying nursing as much as I had (can you say toddler acrobatics? 😉 ). I was deeply conflicted.
I decided to limit nursing to three sessions during the day. I chose first thing in the morning, once in the afternoon at nap time or when I came home from work, and last thing at night. I spoke with Hannah and got her buy-in, or at least as much buy-in as a 2 1/2 year old can give. I thought that if it went really badly, I could always abandon the project after a few days. I would give it just long enough to make a fair evaluation.
Limiting nursing ended up being really great. There were a few hairy moments when Hannah hurt herself or was upset and I had to learn to comfort her in different ways. And there were also hairy moments when I had a bored or cranky child and I had to learn to entertain or otherwise occupy her in different ways. There were a lot more hugs and cuddles, a lot more games and crafts, many more hours spent outdoors.
A month or so into our limited schedule Hannah dropped the morning nurse on her own. Our relationship showed no signs of harm, and my daughter showed no signs of psychological damage. In fact, on the whole it was much easier than I expected. A month or so after that we dropped the afternoon nurse at my request, and again things assumed an equilibrium. By that point I was no longer nursing her to sleep at night, either, since she would generally nurse for only a few minutes and then decide to play some more. Finally, on December 22, 2007 I nursed my daughter for the last time. She was 34 months old.
There were some times when Hannah asked to nurse and I declined, and she was upset. I offered her alternatives, which varied with the situation. However, her upset at being denied nursing was always mild compared to her upset when I turned off the TV or denied a request for a cookie. Before weaning had even started it was common for Hannah, at that age, to have several daily meltdowns. Like many parents of toddlers we often couldn’t even uncover a reason for the outburst. During the weaning process I kept in mind that emotional upsets were normal behaviour, and that she almost always moved on quickly and bore no lasting damage. Had she been unusually upset or showed other signs of not being ready I would have backed off the weaning. It was important to me to meet Hannah’s needs, just as it was important to me to meet my own needs.
I eventually did conceive a second child. In fact I was nearly 6 weeks pregnant the last time I nursed Hannah. However, the weaning didn’t help my fertility. I saw a naturopath and used a progesterone supplement after I ovulated, and then throughout the first trimester. If I found myself in the same situation I would probably pursue the supplement as the first option before weaning, but I still don’t regret the weaning. For us, I think it was a good time to move on, since I wasn’t terribly keen to nurse throughout pregnancy. I enjoyed the short nursing break before my son Jacob was born in August 2008.
There are a lot of myths about weaning. Some people claim that weaning will help a child to become more independent, allow a child to be comforted by other adults, make a child a better eater, or help a child sleep better. There are others who claim that weaning can damage the mother-child bond, cause regression, or cause a loss of independence. Perhaps premature weaning can do those things, but in my experience the only major change with weaning was that my daughter didn’t nurse. Period. She still wanted me when she was upset, she still woke at night with the same regularity, and she still turned her nose up at most of the food offered to her. Our bond remained as strong as ever, our attachment as secure as it had always been.
The thing about parenting is that there are no easy answers. We are all just doing the best we can. So it was with Hannah’s nursing relationship. I look back on those days with some fondness, a few regrets, and a lot of pride. I prevailed through the early days, and I did it! And so did she. At the end we worked together and found a happy conclusion. I think it was mostly good, or at least as good as can be expected. It is my hope that I will one day be able to say the same thing for my son, as well as any other children I may have.
Now check out these other great breastfeeding stories. You will be very glad you did!