Friday, May 20, 2011

Why Didn't I Wean?


Before I was pregnant with my first child I had known plenty of folks who breastfed, but really hadn't gotten into semantics about it. For all I know they only did it for a few weeks. During that pregnancy I talked to several girlfriends and the longest anyone had nursed was about 10/11 months. She stopped after being bitten. Made sense to me! I thought she was amazing and I immediately set a lofty (or so I thought at the time) goal of making it atleast that far.

When my son was just a few weeks old we went to visit a family member who had her second child about two months earlier than me. Through emails during our overlapping pregnancies I had learned that she was a breastfeeding advocate, so naturally it came up in conversation when I was at their home after the birth of my child. She causally mentioned that she had nursed their older child until she was 4 years old. I wasn't grossed out, but I sure was surprised. I had never heard of such a thing! I talked to my husband about it later that night, and he pondered if the toddler was nursing straight from the breast or if she was just getting pumped milk. I remember feeling like "oh yeah, duh, she probably is just getting pumped milk." Ha ha ha... oh how naive and just plain dumb I was on the whole topic. ::face palm::

When my son's first birthday came and went I'm really not sure why I didn't wean him. We started cows milk, he barely drank any of it. I think had he really taken to it our breastfeeding relationship may have taken a different course. Maybe? Who knows. At 12 months old he was 18 pounds, so still pretty little. Part of my concern was his size and taking away breastmilk made no sense if he wasn't going to be getting fatty nom noms from something else. Also, I was in a parenting class with about five other moms who all had boys roughly the same age and no one else was weaning. I certainly didn't want to break ranks! I did have a handful of disapproving comments from family members, subtle mentions about how they knew someone who nursed their child to an age where the child could basically 'help themselves' to the breast and how creepy it was. I think my motto at the time was "when he can spell it he's too old for it". Oh, and for the record... children can 'help themselves' straight out of the womb.

Once we got past 15 months the thought of weaning was a distant memory. I just nursed whenever he asked for it. It was winter, cold & flu season was rampant. I had read somewhere to never wean a child during cold & flu season. The antibodies help protect them from getting sick and/or if they do get sick the cold won't last as long. Seemed like a good idea to me!

When he was 17 months old we started trying for another baby, and it didn't take much trying. This added a new twist onto things! The first trimester was sensitive and painful some nursing sessions, and others we were just dandy as though nothing was different. Several times I thought we were going to stop, but I kept him on atleast once a day hoping that it would get better and that he'd be around to help me through engorgement once the new baby was here. I know, I'm selfish.

Around 22 months I'm pretty sure my milk was gone, but he was perfectly happy comfort nursing and getting a little colostrum (cat nip for toddlers). I remember thinking that I'd "let" him nurse until 26-27 months to make up for the 2 months he was robbed for the full 2-year minimum recommendation because by then my milk would have returned with the new baby.

At 25 months tandem nursing was introduced into my world. I was overwhelmed and a little touched out at times... but the majority of it was amazing, wonderful, and made our bond even stronger.

27 months came and went... weaning just didn't make sense. 2 years old was the MINIMUM. Right?? Why on earth would I take away my tantrum tamer, booboo fixer, and chill pill at such a fragile time when his world had just been rocked with the introduction of a baby sister?

Now we're 4 months shy of his 3rd birthday and no signs of stopping. I am now in a strong community of friends and family who support me. Chicken Little is now getting in the range when children naturally wean, although I could only be at the halfway point. Only he knows. I'm happy we stuck with it. Was it learning that someone nursed their child to the age of 4? Was it being in a peer group where no one else weaned? Was it just that my son wouldn't drink anything else? Probably a combination of everything I've been through. It might just be mentioning it to that ONE person that changes their breastfeeding relationship forever.

So, thanks to everyone that normalized nursing and full term nursing for me. Look at the monster you helped create. :)

39 comments:

  1. That was really sweet! I remember in the hospital the lactation consultant asked how long I planned to breastfeed. I said "uh two weeks is my immediate goal, then six months, then one year". I had no idea how important breastfeeding would be to me or my daughter. Now I think what a stupid question that is to ask to a first time mother with a newborn. They should just tell you to wait until you love it, then start thinking about "goals"!

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  2. That's awesome! Congrats on approaching 3 years :) My oldest just weaned at 4 1/2 (I'm pregnant and she couldn't get any milk at all anymore and unlike my last pregnancy, she wasn't as cool with it this time around). You know, she LOVED cow's milk (or milk of the cow as she calls it... and goat's milk and almond milk, lol) but it never deterred her one tiny bit from mama milk. She'd have chocolate milk in a sippy and still want mama milk. So that bit about cow's milk being the magic weaning tool? Bunk ;)

    Still going strong with my 27 month old, though she's down to 1-2 times a day thanks to my supply drop (she was never as big on the nursing as her sister, but again, other milk is no replacement to her).

    I remember birthdays coming and going and I just didn't really see a big difference between one month to the next until around her fourth birthday. A couple months after she turned four, suddenly I wasn't as interested in nursing her and she was losing her latch and sessions started dropping. It was gradual, but definite.

    And yeah, she was giving me baby signs for 'milk' the day she was born and could get down my shirt at 4 months. Looong before her body stopped needing my milk as her exclusive food supply!

    I have zero regrets, going as long as we did. I know I'd have deep regrets if I'd listened to society (my family was supportive, even if they didn't agree and I have an awesome group of friends).

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  3. Fabulous! My 5 year old weaned herself at 38 months...Oh how I miss being able to instantly calm her with nursing! I often see other children hurt or crying for whatever reason and I instantly think "aww, they need to nurse!"

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    1. but isn't it also important that they begin to learn how to process those emotions and feelings at that age when that awareness is developing? i don't want someone to just hand me a chocolate bar every time i'm upset! (okay, well, i do want that! but i also want to be able to express my anger or frustration and be understood!) :)

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    2. the kid isn't going to go to college needing to nurse everytime a hardship comes along. a 3 yr old is still very young. boobs make their world infinitely better.

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    3. No, of course not! But that's when that particular understanding of "feelings" and how to express them is developing!

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    4. hmm... if the worldwide weaning age is 4 and many children around the world go even longer... 6, 7 8... one might think, as a species, that was our norm and that is what's supposed to happen when culture doesn't get in the way.

      Drinking from a breast during a meltdown is a way to reconnect with the mother... she is the one who helps the child cope with difficult emotions. Tame the emotion and then talk it out when the child is actually calm and can talk about it.

      http://www.llli.org/faq/advantagetoddler.html

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    5. I remember feeling exactly like you, Hayley... But then, what do I want if I am upset? If someone stopped their activity, gave me attention, and offered me a cup of tea, would it help me feel better? And learning to self-regulate emotions is really, really hard - sometimes I think as an adult, I'm still learning. So if a two year orld, or a three year old, or even older, needs a bit of help learning how to deal with the intensely strong emotions that they are exposed to for the very first time, is that OK? Or should we put them on the naughty step till they've learnt (what) lesson?

      Breast milk isn't like chocolate. Or rather, it tastes like it, but giving a todder a breastfeed is more akin to making a pot of tea and sitting down for a heart to heart. Nutritionally it can't be beaten (so maybe it's chicken soup for a toddler's soul)... it's the best parenting aid you're ever likely to have, and it's free.

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  4. Sweet breastfeeding story. :) My 3 year old just weaned herself last week, and I was surprised (and very emotional). I was breastfed until I was 7, I was sort of gearing up to breastfeed my own daughter that long lol.

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  5. Good for you! My 4.5 yo is still going strong and "says" he won't wean until he is all grown up. Can't you just *hear* the naysayers taking that and running with it - LOL! Some days, he goes all day - other days, he's 4-5 times. We cosleep (no plan to stop that until he is ready, either), so the nursing relationship continues there. Some family are obnoxious about it, others don't say antyhing. Either way - I'm not worried about when other than that it will be a bittersweet time!

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  6. My now 3 year old son was weaned at 5 months and I felt horrible and still regret it. I was a new young mom and working and in school and couldn't seem to keep up. My new baby, lil girl, is now 9 months old and still going strong. I'm not making the same mistake with her. She can quit when she's ready. She's my last baby and I'm going to enjoy my time with her. The best part of going to bed is snuggling in with her and my hubby.

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  7. Wonderful tale! My older daughter self-weaned at 3½. (She is a teenager now.) I have a 2½ year old DD that would nurse all day if I let her. We had a rough go at dry nursing through pregnancy, but made it. My DS is now 3 months. DD only gets to nurse at bed time now, for the most part.

    I wanted to share, though, that DD loves cow milk and always has. It did not have any effect on our nursing relationship.

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  8. I have no problem with extended breastfeeding. I think it's great! The only thing that surprises me is when it is used, as you say, as a tantrum tamer or other emotional substitute. I think it's wonderful for the bonding and nutrition. But I have to say I believe that 2 and 3 year old should be given developmental credit that they CAN learn to experience their feelings and ride them out/calm down in other ways at that age. My kids had pacifiers until 2 yrs but then I felt they were mature enough to handle disappointment or anger in more verbal and constructive ways. I'm sure I'll get flamed for saying it, but I'm NOT discouraging extended nursing. I only think we should always remember to give our older kids more opportunities for emotional learning when having reached an age where they can begin to do so.

    Great post!

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    1. Nursing through a tantrum is akin to hugging through a tantrum or distracting... nursing can even incorporate both of those. There are other ways to help a child through a rough patch... verbally could be a good way for a particular child while physical would be for another.

      All people don't need to talk things out. Some people "music" things out and channel those feelings into song while others may hit the pavement and go for a jog while still others will want to use another way like watching a funny show.

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    2. It is not a "substitute." Many people use nursing to calm the child first, then talk it out once they're feeling more rational. It is not the food that quiets them, it is the close comfort and contact. Have you, as an adult, never been so overwhelmed with emotion that you simply clung to whoever was with you (husband, mother?) and had no words? I know I feel that way sometimes. Some adults want the closeness of sex when they're upset. Some want to exercise hard. If a child isn't ready or able to talk, what is wrong with the closeness of nursing?

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  9. I have studied brain development. By 3, children's brains have tripled in size from what they were at birth. Do you honestly want to tell me that their brain, which is still trying to grow to its proper size (our children are born in fetus like states compared to other mammals so that we can pass them out of our bodies safely, despite our large brains), and which isn't done developing until the early 20s, that we should expect a child at this point to handle things maturely and without a great deal of help and maybe even some comfort crutches?

    Contrary to your suggestion, that is exactly why our children are made to nurse through their toddler years. It's not just about their bodies being healthy, it's about having something so comforting and good for them to help them cope with their world, which is still expanding, when they only have a partly developed brain to work with. It is exactly their emotional/mental health as well as their physical health that breast feeding was designed to assist.

    Why do we insist that a child who has 20 years of physical growth left, including brain development, begin to meet adult expectations socially (such as having a desired outcome without a crutch such as a lovie, a paci, or boob)? This rush to force our children to grow up before they are ready developmentally could explain somewhat why such a high percentage of adults are on some form of SSRI or other brain altering medication for depression, anxiety, etc. The 20 year learning curve should allow for transitional measures towards desired behavior such as, say, in the first quarter of that time, being able to need to nurse or suck the thumb in order to cope with the harsh realities created by an adult controlled world way too big for them to understand.

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    1. While I do understand and recognize these things, I am not implying the child should deal with it exactly "as an adult would". It's a process! I have seen in my own children that at 2 and 3 they DO begin to understand what it is to be told no or get hurt, and lovingly supported through that, while they come to terms with whatever just happened. If nursing is part of the calming, then fine, but I believe it isn't giving the child enough credit to just be pacified with no other emotional guidance, especially if it's a disciplinary situation (ie. child crying because they can't have the toy they asked for or they got in trouble for not sharing, but you nurse them instead). It is just as unhealthy for adults to associate eating with a way to cope with negative emotions as it is to have the anxiety or depression that you mentioned. No, they shouldn't be expected to act as adults, but every way we interact with them teaches them. I don't want to teach my kids they need a snack every time they are upset (this does not include younger babies who cannot comprehend it from this perspective).
      Again, I don't mean to offend, I just think our children are capable.

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    2. Perhaps not being allowed to nurse and comfort themselves that way for long enough leads to adult poor eating habits...

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    3. But Hayley, you are looking at breastfeeding solely from the 'food' aspect and it is so much more than that. Besides, while it's sometimes used as a tantrum tamer, this does not imply that it is used as such with every single tear drop. The kids who are part of an extended nursing relationship are given the tools to understand and develop. They are 'given credit' that they know how to deal with some situations. They do hear the word no and are allowed to cry and are consoled by other means. A breast is not offered at every whimper, it's just another tool (option, if you will), in the breastfeeding mother's tool box.

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    4. I can accept that. Maybe just the way it was described as being the "magic button" to turn off all tears made is sound like a bandaid without addressing the issue.
      I do still think it's important they be allowed to experience the emotions and it's not just being used as a "silencer". If not, great!

      This is a really good article about how to support our children through a tantrum, no matter what the reason: http://www.mothering.com/parenting/a-fresh-approach-to-tantrums

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    5. This is a really interesting discussion. My 22 m/o is still a boob-monster, and I agree with Hayley about wanting him to feel his emotions - both positive and negative. But, as MonkeyMama says, when he's upset, I comfort him, talk to him, cuddle him, let him be upset or angry or hurt or embarressed. If he asks for a boob he gets it (I don't offer or refuse), but he rarely does when upset. Usually some time later when he's calmed down he'll ask me to 'sit' for a nurse. I think this approach (as opposed to the boob-as-plug-for-tantrum) is helping him to develop emotional resources, while still feeling secure and beloved and in control of his source of comfort (as there are so few things a toddler has control over). He loves being away from me at family daycare and with Nanna 3 days a week (barely a backward glance), and makes up for it the days we're together. No idea how long we'll go for, but I hope when he's ready, I am too, or vice versa.

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  10. My now 9yro daughter weaned herself the day before she started school age 5. In her words she was too old to breastfeed anymore.
    Best thing I ever did for her, nursing that long. We had a rocky start and didnt think we would make it to 5 weeks let alone 5 years.
    She is the healthiest child I know strong tall and lithe. She is confident, secure and emotionally-intelligent.
    What I miss most .. the imposed rest time nursing gave us both!!
    We also co-slept until this year now she has upgraded to her own mattress next to my bed haha

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  11. What a sweet story! Thanks for sharing. I'm currently nursing my 25 month old son :) My first son weaned (with a little pushing from me) at 30 mos. This time around, I will not be doing any pushing, because I have become more confident about it. I faced a lot of "you're still doing that?" and "when are you going to quit?" More people do need to remember that 2 years is the MINIMUM!

    As far as "using" nursing for emotional reasons, I don't think it's "using" at all. A toddler/young child coming nursing when upset or having a tantrum is about security. It makes them feel secure, they can depend on it. Then, when they grow and mature, they learn their own security. It's a developmental process. It's just an added perk for moms that it is a tantrum tamer :)

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  14. What I want to know is why is it acceptable for a 2 or 3 or even 4 year old to run around with bottle but not to breastfeed?
    For the record, my first DD bf until 2 1/2, but I FELT I had to stop because my 2nd child had serious health issues and needead a lot of time and breastmilk (I had my own health issues). He (2nd child) bf until 18 months and "self-weaned" (he did NOT want to sit or lay still for ANYTHING! Not even at bedtime. boohoo for me!) My 3rd (2nd DD) is still bf although she appears to be losing interest. She'll be 3 in a couple of weeks. I'm very surprised at this point that milk is still being produced. She is with her father for 3 straight days and is only nursing at naptime and bedtime, yet she still gets SOME. When she is ready - and not a minute before - will our bf relationship end!

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  15. This sounds about how my "goal" has gone so far. :) All I knew is that I wanted to breastfeed. Then it was for one year. Then I decided, well, I don't wanna start cows milk, so I will go for two years to make up for it. But now 2 years is right around the corner & IDK how the heck I am going to get her off the boob! :)

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  16. Such a sweet breastfeeding story! I have to admit it has me a little worried just because im only at 14 months in my breastfeeding timeline and like you were my cut off is somewhere around the 2 year mark. My son is still nursing every few hours so it kind of makes me think he wont be weaning at the 2 year mark! And maybe by that time I wont either. Unfortunately where I live, I'm already a novelty for passing the year mark. I hope I have the courage to go longer if that's what my baby wants and needs. Thanks for sharing your encouraging journey!

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  17. That's a lovely story! I do was niave prior to children. I must admit to feeling a bit "ewww" when I thought about 3 year olds still nursing. And now... my oldest son is 3 years and 4 months old and still nurses first thing in the morning!

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  18. Good for you (and your kids!). I nursed my oldest DD until she was just over 4 years old. Nearly two of those years I was tandem nursing my youngest DD. She was done around 3.5 years old, though I would have gone longer had she wanted.

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  19. My 4-year-old is still nursing. :) She has through two pregnancies, so she does so in tandem with her not-quite-3-year-old brother, and 8-month-old brother. Nothing deterred either through my pregnancies! Although I didn't lose my supply. Waiting on her to self-wean (well, all of them). Kind of curious when that will be. Others mostly regard me with uncertain amusement, if they even know the bigger kids are still nursing. I only knew one person "in real life" who had gone so long with her kids, and it was one of the midwives who delivered my boys. Sadly she is gone now. :(

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  20. Nice! :) My "baby" is 14 months old, and still nursing a few times a day. I always planned to breastfeed. My mother nursed all 3 of us, and her mother nursed all 4 of them. But I planned to nurse til a year (Idk why people think that's the magical number?). Then once I had him, I thought, Maybe I'll nurse 2 years. I hope he'll nurse 2 years, I'd nurse longer if he would. :)

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  21. Your story sounds a lot like mine! I am currently tandem nursing a 2 week old and a 2 year old =)

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  22. We nursed until 3 1/2 years. The other night he was having a hard time getting to sleep, and I wished I could just let him nurse himself out (he's 6 now). But we stopped because his latch was gone, and I'm pretty sure that hasn't changed! :D

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  23. We are a week before my big girl's fourth birthday, and she loves her milk!!!! (I, too, thought I would BF for... err.. oh, maybe 6 months...Pfffff! Don't quite understand how that would workkkk! Fabulous post!!

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  24. My nursling will be 4 in July other than the second child sounds very similar I kinda thought a year then stop the 2 years then errrrmmmm She loves it too much and it's only bed time or first thing in the morning now so hay ho

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  25. i could have written this post, and in fact wrote one that was similar! my goal was to breastfeed for 6 months - i ended up breastfeeding my firstborn til just bast her 3rd birthday - at that point, i had to gently force her to wean because i'd been tandem nursing her and her brother for a year and it just got to be too much - i'm currently nursing my 2 1/2 year old (the brother) - most days i'd be thrilled if he weaned but there are still days when i think it's the greatest thing ever - he would still nurse all day if i let him so i have no idea when he'll wean!

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  26. When I took my newborn daughter to her first doctors appointment I remember him asking me how the breastfeeding was going. I told him it was going good and he replied that she was old enough now that I could stop nursing her...WHAT??? That statement was the wake up call/driving factor in my resolve to stick with child led weaning. Most people I know don't know this but my Daughter nursed until she was seven (years). The only reason we stopped is because it started to affect her teeth (think thumb sucking teeth) She did ask for a sip on her eighth birthday and a sip a few months back (she was disappointed that she had lost the suck reflex and couldn't quite remember what to do)I've heard people who are HORRIFIED that the children will REMEMBER breast feeding. I have to admit that I was a little worried but I was pretty sure that it would just be good memories for her (Why would she suddenly see breast feeding as sexual when she grew up knowing it wasn't)Well her ninth birthday was Saturday and yesterday (as I was looking at the group tandem nursing photo) she came into the room with a friend. She pointed out to her friend that all the kids were nursing in the photo and then proudly proclaimed that she breast fed until she was eight. YEA!!!! I could not have felt prouder. We have such a close relationship and I know that breastfeeding has had a lot to do with it. I would say that it is my greatest accomplishment.

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  27. By the way, she started getting her permanent teeth at four(!!!) and the nursing didn't start to affect them until seven (in case anyone is worried about extended nursing)

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