Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Weaning Baby, Weaning Mama


I was going to start this post by noting that breastfeeding has been in the news a bit lately, what with the tragic suicide of Katy Isden but then when I thought about it a little more I realised it has been in the news for ages. It is always in the bloody news! Breastfeeding is one of those topics that always draws a crowd and usually an opinionated one at that.

For as long as I have been reading parenting magazines and perusing parenting/childbirth Internet forums I have found the term Breastfeeding Relationship a little hard to swallow. I can't quite say what it is about it that I dislike, but it really annoys me. Not as much as Birth Rape though, that is one term that really gets my goat. I'm getting angry just thinking about how much I hate that term. Don't get me started! Another concept I have never really grasped is the ABA Meeting. I don't feel the need to attend a get together with a bunch of mothers who breastfeed. It seems off to me, like we should also have meeting for mothers who push red prams, or others who feed formula or mothers who don't eat meat. I don't know, it irks me.

My little Tinker is now 16 months old and still breastfeeds. Well, that was the case until I got sick last week and discovered that 2 days of vomiting not only dehydrates a person but it also stops lactation. My daughter has never been a good eater, so she is quite attached to her 4 daily breast feeds. I had no intention of weaning her, my plan was to allow her to self wean when she was ready. I had guessed it would be from around age 2 but I didn't really know.

Now that I have had to wean her all of a sudden I have had to face some unexpected feelings. Guilt is one of them, of course. I think mothers are just programmed to feel permanently guilty aren't they? Feeling bad that the child tripped and fell, feeling bad that the nappy wasn't fastened correctly so it pinched her skin, feeling bad that the garden still isn't finished and the child doesn't have a lawn to run on yet, feeling bad for parking the child in front of Teletubbies so Mama could have a shower alone... It goes on. Feeling guilty wasn't a surprise but what was surprising was my grief.

It wasn't because Tinker was throwing herself at my chest 20 times a day yelling "mama please, mooolk? all gone mama? mooolk all gone? Nooooo!" because that was sad and it did break my heart but I think the sadness that I felt at the loss of... dare I say it... our breastfeeding relationship was actually real and it wasn't felt in response to her being so upset. I felt sad for me. I felt sad that I could no longer be the ultimate comfort for my baby and I felt sad that I couldn't allow her to gradually stop doing something that came naturally to both of us.

Being of average emotional intelligence I can't put my finger on why it is so important to me, but it is. All the other overwhelming feelings you get as a new mother were not surprising to me. I was not surprised at the protective lioness I became nor the completely irrational sleep deprived nut case I became after a year went by and I still didn't have my baby sleeping through the night. However this grief about having to wean her, and wean me has been a real shock.

I'm torn between getting medication to kick start the lactation again or just persevering with this weaning process. So far I have managed to get her to a point where she isn't hysterical about not having the breastfeeds in the day time but she is still hanging on to the 7pm and 7am feeds. For now there is a small amount there but it won't last so I guess in a few days it will be gone and I suppose she will then have to accept that she has weaned. And so will I.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this topic.


  1. I understand the heart ache that comes with weaning. I breastfed my two youngest children until one was 24 months and the other was 15 months. You worded it all so perfectly! I had problems with people judging me for breastfeeding as long as I did. Like I was doing something wrong. It makes me so angry. I don't see all these parents taking away the bottle at 12 months.

  2. I can relate. I had to wean my son at 7 mos suddenly because I wasn't producing anymore due to being pregnant again!! Both were suprises to me and both gave me suprising emotions. Now with my daughter, I weaned her at a year, just because after almost three years of not having my body to myself I needed it. I even experienced grief with that. It is a part of your life you won't have back. However, it is in the past now, and we move forward and celebrate new momentous occasions. In my heart and mind I will always cherish those breastfeeding moments with both my babes.(Except for the biting times...not gonna look back fondly on those. :) )

  3. If you are worried about your milk supply, try Mothers Milk tea, it helped me, and I know its helped a lot of other people. Its a natural way to up the milk supply. Just drink 3-4 cups in a day and you should be golden. Hope this helps. I can't imagine having to do that when you were totally not prepared!

  4. I fully hear you. I was surprised at the emotional investment required to be successful at breastfeeding. And the overwhelming sense of failure when anything went wrong- plugged ducts or cracked nipples or thrush. That my body was failing.

    I did grieve when my first weaned. And I felt sad when my second weaned. The second was easier than the first- mostly because he was less dependent and more laid back than my first.

    One thought is that if you keep offering the breast when she asks, you might kick start lactation. Or, she will get the hint that nothing is there. Or, she will realize there is very little there and be satisfied with that.

    With my daughter, I had to stop. We were down to one session- at bedtime. I was pregnant and nearing my second trimester and my nipples were so abused. Tender and cracking and on fire (turns out I had a fungal infection that wasn't thrush). But after an exhausting day... I couldn't bear the thought of fighting through the pain. So I offered a cup of warm milk instead. She tasted it. I pointed to my breasts and said "All gone." Held out the cup again. She shook her head, laid down, went to sleep. Never asked again. So I guess she was ready.

    Hang in there. It will get better and you have done fantastically to have nursed for this long!!

  5. It is a special experience that is truly up to the individual. I know that once my kids hit the one year mark I was ready to be done as I was ready for a little more independence. Didn't want to always have to be home to nurse them before bed, that sort of thing. A lot of stopping is hard because that means they are becoming less and less of a baby every day, so that means more things to protect them from, to worry about... it just goes all to fast.
    But it seems like this sickness might be forcing you to make this decision, so try letting go and just enjoy everything that is yet to come. Since she is a girl, she will always be your little baby to some extent :)
    Good luck

  6. Being a mother IS so hard sometimes! You're right, it's constant guilt. One of the hardest things for me was weaning each of my children at 2 months old as I was going back to work and just couldn't keep it up. I'm sure it's much more difficult when you've had 16 months of this beautiful relationship.

    Considering how difficult (and sudden) this weaning has been for both of you, my thoughts are that it would likely be better to continue to let nature take it's course. Would you want either one of you to feel the trauma you've both felt now again at a later date (maybe only a few months away?)

    Then again, if you did take a medication to stimulate lactation, you could enjoy a few more precious months of that special relationship and wean on your own terms when it is naturally time.

    Whatever decision you make - it must be the one that you feel from deep inside is the right one for you.

  7. Breastfeeding is kinda personal and I think all mothers need to choose what is right for them. I nursed my son until he was about 16 months old. Then, work and bottling my milk got too much to handle and I quit. I felt sad at the loss of our nightly feedings though. I do not really know why either. I think it is attachment...

    Also, WHAT is birth rape? Eeew!

  8. I hear ya. My daughter is 20 months old already and when I asked her to stop breastfeeding, she just went ballistic and had been too clingy for a week. So my policy now is don't offer, but don't refuse, which is working out perfectly for now.

    Poor Tinker! Just do what you feel is best in your situation. Only you can know whether to wean her or keep on breastfeeding.

  9. You could go ahead and get the medication to make you begin lactating again, but wouldn't that just prolong the inevitable? When you finally do wean her, you're still going to feel guilty and she's still going to have to get used to it. It seems to me that your half-way there...why turn back? You have breastfed her for 16 months and that is admirable! Most mothers do not breast feed for that long, so you don't actually have anything to feel guilty about. It's just a normal part of moving through the developmental stages of your child's life!

  10. I have four darlings that I have breastfed and each of them weaned when they were ready...anywhere from 15 months to two years. I suppose that if she is having to struggle through this weaning unexpectedly it may be harder on her to go through it again if you do something to kick start your production. Maybe this is just the way it will have to be? I found snuggling up with my little ones with a bottle, holding them in my lap like they were nursing seemed to take away some of that sadness.

  11. My daughter was about 10 months when she was introduced to cow milk because she wasn't gaining weight. She self weaned very quickly just because that stuff was so much yummier than mom's milk. We still have mandatory cuddle time though. She demands "I wonchoo" and we sit still and cuddle, even if only five minutes between chores or pots boiling. The older she gets, the fewer of these sessions we seem to have, but I'm still here and still her ultimate comfort. In fact, I've been known to give the "I wonchoo" command because I'm the one who wants the cuddles.

    Good luck. You'll get through it. I felt a lot of the same emotions at our time as well. You are not alone. It was brave of you to share.

  12. Breastfeeding really is one of those topics that people have strong opinions on, one way or another.

    My little girl is not a quite a year old; she's 11 months, give or take a few days.

    She's been weaned for about a month and a half now.

    She weaned herself, for the most part. She really wanted to start eating big people food, and so I fed it to her. As she ate more and more solid food, she wanted breastmilk less and less. I started producing less and less, which only made her want more solid food.

    In the end, it was my decision to cut out the last of her breast feedings (bedtime). And I did it for selfish reasons. I didn't want her dependent on me for either bedtime or bedtime food; I wanted someone else to be able to put her to bed, so that I could (maybe?) have a bit of a nightlife again.

    I've had people tell me that I'm sort of a terrible mother for that, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. She did most of it herself.

    We're still just as close, though. I still snuggle with her whenever she would have been feeding, and I still hold her the same way, even.

    In the end, as with everything in life, it is what you make of it. Even emotional reactions can be understood intellectually.

  13. I felt a very similar pull to my inner emotions when I had to stop breastfeeding my oldest. He was only 10 months and I was pregnant again so I had to stop in order to allow my body to give the needed nourishment to the new baby. But my baby was still a baby! He was just fine about it, but I missed the warm cuddly feeling and the sensations of love between our bodies during this time.

    However it infuriates me that so many people are so insensitive to those who cannot breastfeed or just plain don't want to. IT'S OK! It is everyone's individual decision and nothing should be forced on anybody! This is true in MANY different things - and when there is so much pressure, things like this suicide happen and it's devastatingly avoidable!

    I do feel your pain and hope the best in your efforts whether it's weaning or trying to continue. However there is a time and season for every purpose. Sending my cyber-hugs your way! :)

  14. I have emailed you a (long) response.

  15. I get you on this, and I sympathize. I had a forced weaning with my first child--he was unable to digest my milk, so 16 DAYS into motherhood, I was a complete failure. And he was so wee and so weak and I had been for months prior to his birth convinced that I could not possibly nuture a child. He survived and grew strong and is now 35 and a new father of a strapping one of his own, and I survived and grew strong and, after twelve years, decided I might hazard the maternity path again. Protected myself a bit by being very mature and businesslike in my decision making ("I shall work up until I cannot; I shall nurse for the six weeks I have leave to give my child a 'good start;' I shall not pout if this one finds my milk too rich.") He, too, thrived. There is poignancy in motherhood--take joy in that, too.

  16. Hello. I completely understand your grief. I was in absolute pieces when my daughter at nine months stopped breast feeding suddenly and didn't want to go near me again (I'm convinced it was down to me eating a spicy curry for the first time in such a long time. I thought she'd be ok as she was older....but, no, I was wrong)! I felt desperate, like a piece of me was missing....and of course I was still producing, so was walking around with a very painful chest area for days! Always thought I'd go on and on with breast feeding, and I certainly wasn't ready to stop...but hey worked out ok in the end. I had to accept it (even though I felt rejected...and yes, full of grief...and hormones everywhere). With my next baby (when I have another) I hope things will be different as it'll be second time around etc etc....Hope you both get through this period ok.
    (Very long comment, sorry...but felt the need to waffle on as it rang home with me)! Have a nice day.

  17. I breastfed my son until he was 16 months old and loved every minute of it. But by that time he was ready for it; I think we hung on so long because I wasn't ready! I worried I'd miss that link, but he's still just as cuddly with me, and I've found other ways to comfort him. I totally understand what you mean about feeling sad for yourself.
    By the way, I love your blog! I started following you after you were a Blog of Note.

  18. Oh I hear you. This has brought back so many memories for me. Like you, I really grieved for the loss of the special connection I felt between myself and my baby when he was feeding. So much so, that we went back to breastfeeding. We'd had a terrible time with stubborn thrush and all sorts of latch problems at the beginning, so I thought I would be relieved to give it all up at 6 months. But I wasn't. It made me want to cry. I did cry. I felt wretched and a complete failure as a mother. So, with a bit of perseverance, buckets of fennel tea (apparently helps lactation) and some luck, we cranked up the breastfeeds. In the end we kept it going for another 6 months and I cherished every single feed. When the time came to wean properly, it didn't feel quite as painful (he'd been doing some serious biting on my poor nipples and the pain was too close to the pain of thrush!) and it felt more...normal? natural? less stressful anyway. Don't know if that helps you, but I'm sure you'll figure out the best way for you. xx

  19. I can appreciate your feelings on the whole Support group thing, it is an area I have never quite understood myself. Do we really need a group of others who thing like us to be "cheer leaders" for living a life style that we know is right?
    As for the sudden weaning thing, I am sorry for the disruption in what really is a beautiful time in life for mother and child. There are so few people out there who understand that self weaning, when it comes to breast feeding, truly is a healthy way to go. There are so many alleged"enlightened" people in the world who have what seem to me to be rather odd opinions on the subject, that it's no wonder there is a rift between mothers and children nowadays.
    I honestly have no children yet myself, but I do plan to breast feed and allow my children to wean themselves. I am not sure what I would do in your situation, other than consult my husband. I am not a fan myself of taking a drug to cause hormone changes to make my body do what I want it to, but I would also not want to take away my child's chance to grow into their own in that area. Good luck on your journey for answers.

  20. I don't have any input here. I'm pregnant with my first and have started lactating. I plan on breastfeeding and letting my little one self wean. I feel bad for you though. I couldn't imagine not being able to breastfeed my little one. It's what I'm looking forward to most.

  21. 16 months old? You deserve a medal in my book!

  22. If you're not ready to wean yet, why not just offer more often? Breast milk production follows supply and demand. The more she demands from your body the more it will make. Even if you've "dried up". If it was me, I'd offer when ever I could and let her nurse as much as she wanted to.

  23. Exhaling a huge sigh. I never expected to feel sadness when my youngest was weaned. She was the only one of three I nursed and I also hadn't expected breastfeeding come so unnatural at first! I too felt a sense of grief when weaning her. Perhaps a natural mommy feeling - one of the many firsts in a scattering of "letting go" events throughout their lives. Of course, I am no expert and am overly emotional at this time about my children and especially the youngest who I weaned four years ago starting kindergarten in the fall. sniff..sniff..

  24. I suddenly have a great desire to wean before my son can talk, I don't think I could handle hearing that. I would be a sobbing mess. I had originally planned to let him self-wean but due to how busy and unpredictable life has gotten this last month, he is down to one nursing, just before bed. So far, I'm just avoiding making any decision and letting it play out.

  25. I had to stop breastfeeding under similar circumstances. My daughter was 9 months and actually liked the bottle better. After about a week, I realized how much easier my life was and I felt really guilty. (Night feedings were harder with bottles because of the prep work, but you probably don't have to worry about that.) After about 6 months, I went out and bought new bras and got over it already. Some of my friends would say how disappointed I must be, but frankly the only disappointing thing was the $$ we had to shell out for formula.

  26. I don't read parenting manuals or magazines so I have never heard of breastfeeding relationship or birth rape (no clue on that one!).

    I guess what's most important right now is how you feel. Your little one doesn't physically NEED breastmilk at this age, and won't be mentally harmed by stopping either. But do you want to stop? If you feel a little bit relieved and are glad that something's forced you to make a decision then I'd stick with the weaning; if you genuinely feel grief and regret then get onto the fennel tea and flapjacks lady! Whichever decision you make is the right one for YOU.

    I never breastfed my two girls so I can't fully appreciate how you're feeling but I know that horrible sickening tug when you're not sure if you're doing the right thing or not.

    Hugs x

  27. As ever, you express yourself so beautifully. Average emotional intelligence? Not likely.

    Before becoming a mum, I looked askance at breastfeeding mums. I didn't understand the bond they felt, I didn't know how comforting it can be to both mum and baby. I didn't know how hard it can be.

    I also didn't know that mums can feel guilty about almost anything: a "failure" to breastfeed as much as a "failure" to wean.

    I didn't know we can be so sure that our instincts are right, and at the same time so unsure about the decisions we make.

    I was sure a month ago that we had only a few weeks left, and yet we're still sharing breastfeeds once a day. Part of me longs to wear a proper bra, while part of me already grieves for that loss of closeness.

    I understand a squeemishness about the term "relationship" in relation to breastfeeding, and yet it is an intimate bond between mum and child.

    I guess it's not over til it's over. I might never know which feed will be our last.

    Mothering as much as breastfeeding: rarely black and white.

    I suffered over supply for 10 months, with aching distended breasts dispite all efforts to reduce supply. And yet here we are at 15 months with milk coming ONLY at a once-daily feed time. It's all a mystery to me!

  28. You and I are in almost exactly the exact same place. My L will be 17 months on the 11th. I never thought I'd still be breastfeeding her - because her older sister quit on me at a mere 10 weeks. So I'm filled with all this awe and appreciation that we're still doing this thing, that she's still giving me the opportunity. I know it's not about vital nutrition now; and I know it never really was, since her sis ended up a formula baby and is now quite the sturdy 3 year old. But of course it's partly about that, about doing the best by her, about avoiding any emotional trauma on her end or on mine. She still LOVES to nurse, as much as she can get. My supply is just really dwindling at this point - and yes, I drink fennel tea, I eat oatmeal, I swallow fennel herbal supplement pills, too. I'm not sure how we'll proceed. My milk supply doesn't seem to be disappearing, just maintaining at a very low level. So I think she'll keep wanting her little snacks for as long as I offer them, which means, of course, that the ball's in my court. I think for now the plan is to have no plan, and go day by day. I know I'm feeling more and more ready to be past this, though, but I also know I'll miss it terribly once it's over.

  29. and a quick PS: don't feel it's a decision you have to make to wean altogether vs intervene to increase supply. Take each day and feed as it comes: you may find as I have that mysteriously your body adjusts to a one-a-day feed for a few weeks so far and counting

  30. Breastfeeding is one of those things about motherhood that is just so emotional.

    You have done a wonderful job.

    Having fed MR D until 2.5 I can say that weaning an older child can be hard as they can express their displeasure in a trageted fashion that really plays on the mother guilt you are already feeling. Let alone the hormonal changes the accompany the weaning process.

    I was incredibly distressed to have to comp feed mr C, even though I tried every trick in the book to get my supply to 100%. When he weaned himself totally at 12 months I was devastated but it was easier having him wean himself.

    Miss Tinker is obviously very advanced and she will cope with whatever you decide to do in regards to the breastfeeding. She has loving parents who will support and nurture her.

  31. noteverstill: you write so beautifully, too!

  32. Wow, reading through these comments makes me so sad! Unfortunately for me, I was forced to stop breastfeeding my son when he was two months old. A former friend was staying with me & my husband and she failed to mention that she had walking pneumonia, bronchitis, and some sort of nasty flu (we had specifically asked if she was sick/around anyone sick and she lied) and of course, I became ill. Not being able to feed my son was devastating to me and broke my heart because he would turn to my breast and look at me with his big blue eyes that were just so...sad. I was very lucky that my son took well to the bottles & formula we got. We were concerned that the formula would greatly affect his stomach but again, we were so fortunate that the brand we used agreed with him. He's now four and a half months old and thriving but I still miss having that connection. When we cuddle, he still turns in but as soon as he sees a nipple, he gives me his 'are you serious?!' face..

    I cannot wait to have another baby; I'm just hoping the next time around that no one gets me sick! And I'm positive your Tinker will adjust in time..just be sure to savor the remaining time that you will have while feeding her.

  33. I TOTALLY understand. My milk stopped at about 3 months. I always had trouble breastfeeding him but kept persevering until I fell sick as well and it pretty much stopped altogether.

    I also understand the guilty feelings. I wrote a blog post about the guilt I felt a couple of months ago: PROMISE things will get better. You've done an amazing job to breastfeed for 16 months and you can still have lots of cuddle time with your daughter.

    If I fall pregnant again, next time I'm going to stay in hospital until I can breastfeed successfully. Each time I saw the lactation consultant she would help me and it would work for a little bit but then my son would get lazy again and not attach properly.

    The guilt I felt was enormous and watching other mothers breastfeed didn't help. I'm not happy to be having to carry around bottles of water, formula, teets etc with me. I just have to keep reminding myself though that I gave it my best shot for as long as I could.

  34. Wow, thank you all so much for these amazing comments. All of them so heartfelt and so personal. Thank you also for the emails, I have thoguth about each and every post and I decided that I'd go back to demand feeding her today in the hope it might bring the supply back up. Unfortunately there wasn't any milk left for her last feed of the night and she is still wailing. Poor thing. Her Papa is in the nursery now trying to soothe her. Shame! Poor little Tinker.

  35. I think it is important for parents to never need their children more than their children to need them. Be strong and let it go; don't feel guilty. She is probably the independent type and that will serve her well in the future. Just my opinion. No judgements. There are so many stages at which we have to figuratively 'let them go'. Weaning, presschool, driving a car, never ends, lol!

  36. If only that was true Vanessa, but with my poor girl throwing herself on the floor sobbing "moolk please mama please moolk" all day I don't think she is over it at all. Hopefully tomorrow will be better and I will continue the demand feeding to get the supply back up for her.

  37. I ended up writing my own post about this for next weeks Thursday Thumps at the Daily Drop. Drop by to see it next Thursday if you can. Hope things turn for the best for both your sakes soon.

  38. Ady, the term "birth rape" is what the left wing crazies use to describe a birth with medical intervention. It is so disturbing to read their perspective on this. Here is one such article:

  39. I loved BF so much, and I can even cry seeing another woman do it. Beautiful stuff.

    Keep trying if you can for the next few days. But don't let the guilt get to you if it doesn't work. I felt so hurt when E weaned a morning feed at 11 months! I was in tears. But I eventually worked trhough those feelings and looked forward to breastfeeding another baby hopefully soon.

    I think also a part of the toughness is knowing they're growing up. And that can be a little hard to see wizz through so quickly.

  40. Oh my, I am so with you and understand your worries and sadness. I am a proud mother myself, my wonderful son is 10 months old, and one of the things that can really up my milk supply is eating a mixed portion of nuts every day: almonds, walnuts and raisins combined, and also eating peanut butter (in some countries there are hesitations towards eating peanuts when pregnant/breastfeeding, but it is also being discussed that it might actually prevent peanut allergy...). This really does the trick for me. I don't know if this is useful to you, but I just wanted to share it with you, in case you wanted to try it for you and your little Tinker.

    Good luck, hope it all works out.
    And thank you for a great blog - I really enjoy reading your posts :-)

  41. Hi Stepford Mum!

    I just read your post on Mamamia and it reminded me that I wanted to leave a comment here ...

    I read this post last week and I found it wonderfully illuminating. Breastfeeding and I never agreed with one another - although I wanted it to.

    Most of my friends breastfed/feed their babies until beyond age of 1 and I have nothing but admiration and a bit of envy for them.

    I was not able to breastfeed my son beyond 8 weeks and my daughter past 4 and my friends showed me nothing but wonderful support and they were aware of how especially sensitive I was about the topic in the face of quite a few dogmatic "authorities" who showed disapproval at my stopping early. (Even though, once I stopped I didn't dwell on it at all).

    It was really interesting to read the stress experienced by the women who can feed for considerable months. I never realised and I'm glad I now have this insight.

  42. Hi Natalie thanks for visiting my blog! I'm sorry you came up against idiots. I know some of my friends and my own mother had similar experiences when breastfeeding just wasn't going to work for them and it is wrong indeed. I'm glad my post was interesting and not upsetting for you. It is such a complex topic, one I never ever expected to be so emotional.
    I'm glad to say that the milk came back and my Tinker is back feeding again and has returned to her happy little self. Happy baby happy mummy.

  43. Yay! I am glad you are both happy again. I wanted to chime in late. I was only able to breastfeed my son for 6 months, and the emotions it brought were surprising! Part of me was relieved to not be literally attached at the breast to my son, but those feelings made me feel awful guilty. I did love the closeness of breastfeeding and the fact that he relied on me. When I switched to formula he took to the bottle right away! Part of me hoped he would cry for me a little, so I knew he missed me, but nope! He went to the bottle and never looked back so that made me kind of sad.

  44. Thank you for this post. I just googled weaning and grieving and found this. It was so comforting to read everyone's experiences. I have felt so alone as my milk has dried up (my daughter is 7.5 months old) despite the fact that I have tried every natural method in the book to keep it going. This happened with my first child too.

    You are right about the guilt, and you are right about the grief and the loss. It has been an extremely difficult process for me, one that I was hoping I wouldn't have to repeat again after my first child.

    Thanks for providing a platform for women to support each other! It helped my day immensely!