This post is in participation with the “Blog About Breastfeeding” event hosted by Mothering.com!
There are sure to be a number of wonderful blogs about breastfeeding, so check it out!
It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and if you like the same pages that I like on Facebook, surely you have seen more photos of babies breastfeeding this week than at any other time during the year. Or, at the very least, you’ve seen more articles and informational photos with breastfeeding statistics and facts. Breastmilk truly is an amazing thing, and is the perfect food for babies. After all, it is created specifically for each mother’s individual baby, changing as they grow, and providing antibodies for whatever specific illness the mother and baby have been exposed to.
I could go on and on about the amazing benefits of breastfeeding, the beauty of milk-sharing, and the gift that is breastmilk. I could talk about some of the common challenges associated with breastfeeding, such as low supply, mastitis, and difficulty latching. I could also talk about the health benefits for mom–like reducing the risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and more. But I’m certain there have been plenty of those articles floating around, and you’ve probably heard it all. Even if there was a new study about some amazing benefit of breastfeeding that had just been discovered, it probably wouldn’t surprise you.
So when what AM I going to write about today?
Self-weaning. But not the typical self-weaning story where mama patiently continues to nurse until her child decides to stop at his fourth birthday. No, I’m going to talk about the natural parenting and breastfeeding advocate (me) whose children decided to stop–on their own–before even the WHO’s recommended two years. This, my friends, is the story of my daughters weaning before *I* was ready.
First children are an adventure. Everything is a new experience. From the newborn scent and adorable little toes peeking out from under the pink ruffled gown, to the night-time feedings and trying to figure out why she’s crying, to the plethora of bodily fluids, at which you can’t help but be amazed that so much came out of such a tiny being. First-time parenting is also full of second-guessing, asking lots and lots of questions, reading everything you can on a subject, and realizing that sometimes there are no clear answers, and you have to rely on your gut to make it through the day.
My first-time breastfeeding experience was wonderful. Sure, there was pain at first, and it was an all-day event (she loved to nurse for short periods, but almost every hour), but it was still wonderful. I enjoyed nursing my daughter, and I was proud that I had made it to a year without any supplementation. I was stubborn and, having had a relatively easy time of it, couldn’t imagine giving up.
Now, as was our plan, we decided to go ahead and try for another baby when our first was a year old. After all, I wanted to ensure she got a full year of me all to herself before another baby was added, and I thought it was the appropriate time for me to be recovered and ready for another pregnancy. We weren’t getting any younger, and if we were to stick to our four-child plan, we had better get on it, right? What we meant by “try”, however, involved no charts or thermometers–just simply… not preventing. But silly us, we underestimated our fertility (though conceiving in the first month of trying with our first should have been a clue), and we conceived right away.
As our oldest became more active, and my milk changed with the pregnancy, she became less interested. I remember clearly that one day, when she was a mere 15 months old, I asked her, “Leah, do you want to nurse?”, and she said a quick “No,” and ran off to play. And that was it. She never asked to nurse again. She had weaned herself.
Though I had envisioned nursing her through the pregnancy, leading to tandem nursing with the new baby, she had made her own choice. I was sad. I felt rejected. And I felt that I had done her a disservice by conceiving so early on, thus changing my milk and encouraging her weaning.
I’ll never know if she would have kept going if I had not gotten pregnant, but really–does it matter? What matters is that I tried. What matters is that I was still able to give her that liquid gold for her first year of life. What matters is that ultimately, whether influenced by my choices or not, she made her own choice. Confidently. Perhaps too confidently for my preferences, but confidently nonetheless.
So along comes baby #2. She nurses beautifully, and (again) while there is some pain at first, she is a nursing champion. I’m talking hour-long sessions and latching perfectly almost on the first try. Amazing. After a couple of months, Leah becomes a little nostalgic and asks to nurse again. I think how wonderful it would be for my oldest to get that second chance–to start up nursing again and receive all of its wonderful benefits! But it didn’t work. She had forgotten how to latch and so we settled for cuddling to fulfill her desire for closeness.
But this second time around, we decided to wait to conceive again. There were a few reasons, but one of my own reasons was that I hoped that I could have my second child, Anna, continue nursing to two years old, and perhaps beyond. She seemed like the ideal candidate for extended nursing. She loved to nurse. And I nursed her on-demand, never giving her any indication that there was a time that she could not nurse.
But then she stopped. On her own. At twenty-three months. Just one month shy of two years.
What kind of crunchy mama am I that I would fail to get either one of my children to breastfeed to a full two years?!?!
But it was her choice, you say. And that’s exactly what I told myself. Of course I wondered, “Was it because I was working?” To which I answered, “You only worked out of the house for four hours a week. Don’t be ridiculous.” I tried to find ways to blame myself, but I came up empty. It was another nine months after she weaned that I conceived a third time, so I know it wasn’t because of that. So why had she weaned??
Because she wanted to.
And that, my friends, is what child-led weaning is all about. Allowing the child to decide when it’s time to stop. For some children, it will be at three or four. For others, it may be a year, or eighteen months. But what matters–to me–is that I didn’t force it.
Please don’t get me wrong; some moms do wean their children at a certain age, and that is their choice. A child benefits from whatever length of time s/he nurses. But for me, personally, I am comforted in knowing that my children weaned by themselves, without any encouragement from me. And perhaps that is a blessing. Perhaps because of that, I was able to enjoy that time with them and did not have, as many mothers do, a difficult time in weaning, or a time when they became irritated with nursing. Perhaps it is good that they weaned before I was ready for it, because it made it easier on us both. I never had the chance to get annoyed with it, and so I held it in great regard and remember it fondly.
I don’t know how long this new baby will nurse, but I know it will be as long as he wants–until he’s ready to wean himself. If he’s anything like his sisters, it will be before I’m ready. But this time, I’ll be grateful. I won’t blame myself. I won’t be regretful. I’ll be glad for whatever time I have with him. I’ll be grateful.