unexpected weaning. (yes, i’m writing about breastfeeding!)

dudes (if there are any of you), its about to get really girly around here.  just so you’re aware! 🙂

generally, women fall into two camps concerning breastfeeding: “a year is too long/long enough” and “let the baby/toddler/preschooler wean at their own pace”.  i’m somewhere in the middle — i don’t think i ever thought i would breastfeed a three-year-old, but have always had 18 months to two years in my mind for breastfeeding.  i haven’t made it to that mark with any of my babies, though.

jones weaned himself at 14 months.  he was just done and over it — at almost 5, this fits his personality well.  he’s independent and feels most alive when he’s doing things without my help. one of his favorite activities of late is to ask me to drop him off a few blocks from our house and let him walk home at his own pace — it always takes him forever, but he comes home radiant at having done something without me!  with his weaning, the fact that he started teething at 2 months and already had a full mouth by 14 months (minus his three-year-old molars) might have had something to do with it — he wasn’t in any pain and had better things to do.  i felt sad — i wanted to continue, had that 18-month mark in my mind, but i remembering thinking i wanted him to (somewhat) lead things, and his thoughts on the matter were pretty clear: “I’m DONE.”  besides, i would have more babies.

ezra nursed great and i weaned him purposefully at 11 months. looking back, i wish i would’ve continued nursing him, because he woke at night frequently until age 2 — nursing would’ve been a great way to get him back to sleep!  but at the time, i was newly pregnant with a VERY busy 3-year-old and an 11-month-old baby, and even if i could’ve had a chat with myself today, i don’t think the jamie-back-then would’ve been convinced. i was tired and sick and saw weaning as my ticket to a full night’s rest. (HA!)  weaning him was rough and i don’t think i’d be able to stick with my guns if i was doing it today — oh, ezzie’s sweet baby cheeks and big blue eyes.

harper just turned 9 months on saturday.  and she’s done nursing.  (she’s doing a bottle now, for nutritional reasons.)  totally NOT what i expected, as i had in my mind that i would be talking sweetly to my baby at the breast for another 5 or 6 months.  i’ve been struggling a lot with the emotions surrounding this, which seems silly because i know she’s healthy, i know its okay and no one from la leche league is going to come beat down my door — but weaning is still an emotional, hormonal thing.  and after wading through puzzling emotions for a few days, i decided it would be better to just write about it.

about a month and a half ago, we had just made it through the flu, all five of us.  it was a harrowing few weeks, as the bug lingered for 9 or 10 days for each of us.  i was worried about my milk supply, but caring for everyone and for myself, with little sleep for the parental units at night, pumping was the last of my thoughts. i drank tons of water to keep up with the fever and harper’s needs — then i just supposed she would bring the supply back up after she got better.

i’m not really sure if that ever happened, and she started to get fussier about eating — i know babies tend to be too excited about the world around them at this age to nurse for very long. i tried the “dark room” thing to no avail, and eventually resorted to walking around with her while she nursed so she could watch her brother’s play and look at things on the wall.  we did this for about a month, and she still didn’t seem to take in very much at all.

about a week ago, she and i took a trip to visit our new friend lucy in utsunomiya on the tail end of a cold for her, and that apparently just did us in.  she went into full-on strike mode — “i WILL NOT nurse anymore.”  i knew the signs for a nursing strike and was hopeful it would end.  8 days later, still going strong.  not even in the middle of the night could i get her to nurse for longer than a few seconds.  she just kept pulling off and getting angry with me, and i felt more and more helpless.

bryan, of course, was the voice of reason.  what’s the big deal? she can be done nursing.  we can just do other things if she needs extra calories.  but for some reason, this was just really hard for me to accept.  had i done enough?  this wasn’t what i was expecting.  did i do something to make her stop?  should i pump for the next few weeks to see if she’ll make it through and want to nurse again?  in my mind, this is what i thought moms who were truly committed to breastfeeding would do.

and yet, i didn’t really want to pump for the next few weeks. and the thought of building a supply back up after the flu and colds and a long nursing strike, with her 2-year-old brother feeling a bit needy lately and her 4-year-old brother as active as ever, sounded like WAY TOO MUCH to me right now. and actually, having my body to myself after three-years-straight of pregnancy and breastfeeding sounded kind of nice — to drink caffeine without regret in the wee hours of the night! to be able to take allergy meds without worrying. to not constantly be thinking of when i could leave her and when i couldn’t. to get a BREAK after all the emotional things that have been happening lately.  logically, this sounded like what i needed — but i thought i was committed to breastfeeding, and now do i have to take all of that back? how do i mother a baby without breastfeeding? and truthfully, i’m still feeling guilty, even though a growing part of me feels like this might be just what my family needed.

right now, harper is taking a bottle two to three times a day and eating a TON of food at her meals. (and i’m learning a lot about bottle-feeding and reading cues..) she’s still a pretty petite baby, so i’m not quite sure where it’s all going, but i can see that my supply wasn’t really up-to-snuff for her needs, as she’s been sleeping a lot better (thank you Jesus!) since she started a bottle.

i’ve read that weaning suddenly could be an emotional process, and i’m certainly learning this truth right now.  on the other hand, i’ve read some weaning stories on the LLL website, and my honest reaction was, “oh please! it’s just breastfeeding, not the end of the world!”  perhaps my other half would benefit a little more from that perspective.

ps -i’m learning through this that there is a lot of advice out there about parenting and babies, but it tends to fall into two camps: parent-centered (do what you need, and baby will adjust) or baby-centered (always do what baby needs, no matter the cost to yourself).  i don’t tend toward the parent-centered camp because i do think children are persons deserving of our respect, and their personalities and needs (physical, emotional, and otherwise) should matter and factor hugely into our decision making as their parents.  i don’t tend toward the baby-centered advice (unless its the early stages of infanthood) because it can tend to make already guilt-prone mothers feel even worse when they aren’t willing to give their bodies (etc) over to one child for three to four years.  there are only a few places where i have found family centered advice, that helps you take into account your emotional health, your marriage, where your family is headed, siblings and their needs, etc.  i wish there was more of it! any moms want to chime in some of the latter???

8 thoughts on “unexpected weaning. (yes, i’m writing about breastfeeding!)

  1. Hear, hear, Megan! Jamie, thanks for sharing! It is such an emotional thing–I’m nervous about the prospect of weaning Rebekah soon…I’ll probably be calling you to commiserate! Love you, dear friend!

  2. Oh my, Jamie. I have so many thoughts on this topic . . . where to begin? I read this first in the middle of the night last night (up with Clara) and then dreamed that we had a long talk about it while you were driving me around Shizuoka. Wish that were true. 🙂

    Clara has a cleft palate and can’t nurse (she can’t create a vacuum and so can’t pull milk from the breast), so she has a special bottle that makes it possible for her to eat at all. (She will have surgery to repair it this summer, when she is six or seven months old.) I pumped for the first month and then chose to give it up for her sake, my sake, Jason’s sake, the boys’ sake. Best decision ever in terms of being the right one for our family but so, so, so hard. I still struggle with it, not because I think I could have/should have made a different decision but because, among other things, breastfeeding has been something that has been just such an “automatic” part of my mothering experience.

    After a really rocky start, Simon nursed until he was 18 months old and weaned quickly and easily and on his own when I was 14 weeks pregnant with Ian. Same with Ian — nursed for 18 months and weaned on his own when I was 15 weeks pregnant with Clara. Of course, I assumed that Clara would follow much the same pattern (minus the pregnant with the next one part; I’m pretty confident that we’re done). I still sometimes think if I just had worked harder, it would have all worked out. In this case, that’s just not true. No matter how much I may have wanted it, pumping was the only way to get her breast milk, and pumping was not working for the family as a whole.

    I realize now, with the benefit of perspective of a few weeks and with hormones that at first tanked and are now back to new normal, that many of the reasons I was so committed to breast feeding were more about me than they were about Clara. Man, there is a lot of rhetoric out there that says, “Look what I can do! I make milk! I can sustain a whole human being with my body!” and I totally bought into that. I had a lot of pride even in pumping (look at the sacrifice I’m making! I’m giving my baby the best possible nutrition!). And while it may have been true that “breast is best” in terms of nutrition, we were all suffering. I could barely keep up with basic needs, mine or the kids’, much less be a happy mommy. I wasn’t remotely “present” with Jason or the boys or Clara.
    The guilt is considerably less now because I do see what a good decision it has been for our family.

    Sheesh, I didn’t mean to hijack the comments, but you see what I mean that I have a lot of thoughts on the topic. I couldn’t agree more that there are just a ton of emotions. Be encouraged that you are making a good decision for Harper and for your family as a whole. You are one seriously amazing mama.

    And, good heavens, I MISS YOU!! I love you, dear one.

  3. This is a bit timely for me too, in that I think Adeline is weaning…or weaned? I went away this weekend (two and a half days), and I’ve been home for a day and she hasn’t nursed or asked about it that whole time. So we are done? Maybe? We’ll see if she remembers it and asks in the next few days, but I honestly think she is ready to be finished. (Was mostly just nursing before bed, when I’d ask her if she wanted to, and occasionally in the morning.) So it’s nice to hear some other mommies’ thoughts on weaning. And a good reminder about the hormonal shifts that accompany it – something for me to be on the lookout for.

    I am super pro-breastfeeding, but I think there are so many valid reasons not to breastfeed, and you should not feel guilty about them. Like Renae pointed out too, you have to take into account what is best for everyone in the family. I think low supply/pumping/nursing strike craziness would be SO SO HARD, and I absolutely don’t blame anyone who supplements with or switches entirely to formula. I don’t think I could do the whole pumping full time thing, even with only one child, let alone several.

    I also feel a bit gratified to hear that weaning didn’t automatically make Ezra a good sleeper, as I feel like that is the common conception – your breastfed baby doesn’t sleep through the night b/c they’re breastfed. There were so many times during Adeline’s early ‘bad sleeping’ when I thought “oh if only she were on formula maybe she’d sleep through the night” – so I feel strangely comforted to know that is not necessarily the case. 🙂

  4. hi Jamie… it’s been a long time. I found your blog once on fb trying to check in on how things are going in Japan and I love it 🙂 I am so thankful to hear the things you share. We’ve got a 1 year old (15 months) now, and parenting is the most difficult thing that I never could have imagined until I became the mom. We’ve got a 6 yr old foster son and a 13 yr old foster daughter too. It is a challenge.
    thanks for sharing with us.

  5. Ok Jaime..I’m not trying to over simplify..but I’ll pray that the Spirit would give you peace, release from guilt and give insight into Harpers needs in the moment by moment.(remember our drop the books conversation:) I’m serious..Jesus has never failed me in giving me generous wisdom in a crazy variety of obscure needs. I loved your thoughts on family centered advice. I never thought about all those three choices and ignorant to all the “takes” and “insights” BUT I think i’d go with family centered advice as well.

    Hoping to see you when you are back in the states


    we are having our fourth girl ..c section somewhere between the last 2 days of May and first few days of June..love reading your blog..helps me retrain my mind for baby stages! Also..was so hoping for a Harper pic at the end of your post

  6. Pingback: crickets: on loneliness. |

  7. Just a brief comment (well, I hope to make it brief, but you know how that usually goes :)); regarding parent-centered vs. child-centered vs. family-centered. I do think that you have to take into account your particular family and its needs. God creates each family differently. Are there some basics that are good for all of us? Yes, perhaps. Will your family do everything the way that Family X or Family Y does it? No, definitely not. And that’s okay. Don’t compare (it’s SOOO hard not to, it seems) your family to the others you know. And especially don’t compare to those whom you may not even know in actuality–you only know them from how they CHOOSE to reveal themselves on the internet, through their blog or article or what-have-you.
    Another thing–you are not going to be the exact same parent to your second or third or fourth child (etc.) as you were to your first child. Because you are a different person now! You have grown and changed and thought through some things, and perhaps changed your mind about how to handle situations. And your child is a different child–Harper will never know what it is like to not have two older brothers, whereas Jones’ experience is different, having been the only, then the oldest of two, then three, etc. So her experiences will differ in some ways from her brothers’ experiences (not only in this experience of nursing/eating), and you will be a “different” parent to her. And to Jones and Ezra, for that matter, as they grow older.
    I hope this makes sense. God “grows” us parents, too. (Thank God!)

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