Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Time to Wean

I mentioned in my Facebook Friday update last week that I had decided to wean Bear. First though, I want to take a minute to talk about why a 27month old is (still) nursing...since that's not a very common thing in this country.

I am not weaning him because I think he is too old to nurse (although obviously I do think that he is old enough to wean...details on that difference in a minute!)
There are great physical benefits to nursing until age 2. For one thing, the brain is not fully myelinized until age 2, and the high fat content of breastmilk helps with the myelinating. (This is why they say to only give children that age whole milk...but even whole cows milk has a lower fat content than human milk...and I do believe in human milk for human babies!). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing "at least 12 months" frankly because they don't think they can talk the average American woman into nursing for longer. However, if you turn to a global group like the World Health Organization, they recommend nursing for at least two years. The world average age for weaning is actually around 4 years old (and considering how many children in this country are weaned before 1, I think that says something!) So I do not think I would consider weaning a child under 18-24months, unless there were some pretty extreme circumstances. However, nursing past that age (and how far past that age) is very much a matter of personal preference.
By the way, nursing a toddler is just plain neat. I have very much enjoyed having a little guy who snuggles up to me with lovestruck eyes and whispers "I love da nurn."

I am not weaning him because I am pregnant.
If I had an objection to nursing while pregnant then I would have weaned him several months ago. Contrary to popular rumor, nursing while pregnant is possible and safe for the vast majority of women (here is a great article on the subject). Some women find it painful, and wean for that reason. Some women's milk dries up, and although some children choose to keep suckling even when there is no milk, most of the time this leads to weaning as well. In very rare cases the mother is unable to maintain her own health (losing weight as she tries to support both fetus and nursling), or increases her risk for miscarriage (this is most likely to be seen in a woman who already needs hormone supplements to maintain a pregnancy). However, the average woman can nurse while pregnant, and many do. Many women also choose to tandem nurse--to continue nursing an older child after the baby is born and begins nursing. Many people feel that tandem nursing helps the older child accept and adjust to the newborn better.

Well, Bear loves to nurse. I mean, he really adores his beloved 'nurn.' He often tells me that he loves it, or that he needs it, and frequently gives it kisses and little affectionate pats. I felt that, between his attachment, and the fact that I had no supply issues and only moderate tenderness (not extreme pain), I should just nurse him right through the pregnancy and then tandem nurse him with the baby. I thought he would cope with all the changes better if he could share his nurn with the baby rather than having to wean. Mothers who have done it both ways report that children who tandem nurse are less likely to be jealous of the new baby, and cope better with the new family dynamic. SO, I was planning to tandem nurse. I figured that Bear would be 3 just a few months after the baby was born, and that he would wean by then...but that there would be those few months of overlap to soften the adjustments.

Well, about a week ago Hubby and I were talking, and he said "you know, I think Bear needs to wean. If we do it now, it will be long enough that by the time the baby comes he will have forgotten about it, so I don't think he'll be jealous...and meanwhile we can help him adjust to a bedtime routine that doesn't involve nursing. Once the baby comes he'll need to be able to go to bed for daddy, so we might as well start working on that now."
I wholeheartedly agreed about the needing to learn to go to sleep with daddy (or a babysitter, of all shocking things!), but I wasn't entirely sure about the forgetting part...he's not an infant anymore, after all. So I started talking with friends who had weaned, and with friends who had tandem nursed, and I was slightly surprised that most of them agreed: toddlers do forget pretty quickly, and 5-6 months is certainly long enough that by the time the baby comes Bear is not likely to remember nursing. Even if he does remember that he did it, he probably will have forgotten how to latch on, so even if he wants to try (and I would let him), he would not be able to get any milk. With the thought in mind that weaning him and not tandem nursing was probably not going to be traumatic after all, I started actually considering that option (something I had not previously done) and realized that I liked it a lot better.

[here I have copied and pasted an excerpt from the post I wrote about it on NaturalLDSLiving]
Prior to birthing and nursing any kids, I felt that i would probably nurse for 18m-2yrs. I really figured that 2yrs was plenty old enough though. But of course, once you're doing it it's easy to just keep doing it...Bear showed no inclination to give up nursing, and I had finally gotten my cycles back (that did take 20m :l ) so I figured the nursing wasn't in the way of trying to we just kept going. I had been afraid that I might have a lot of nipple pain (that was my earliest sign of pregnancy with prior pregnancies), but I was pretty much ok...until about 8wks, then it started being tender after a little nursing...and then around 10wks it started being tender all the time. I'd already committed to night-weaning (honestly I've been attempting that on and off since last summer), but I guess I had been feeling like tandem nursing was this ideal thing that I should strive for, you know? I think that sometimes hanging around in crunchy circles (or, heck, in non-crunchy ones where I feel the need to be an example) leads us (or at least lead me) to make efforts beyond what I really wanted, because I feel like it's what I should do. Does that make sense? A sort of peer-pressure-induced idealism. :hmm
Anyway, I had been planning on tandeming--even though I now realize that I didn't particularly want to--because I felt like it was going to be better for Bear. Now that I've made the conscious choice to wean him this coming month, I feel like a weight is off my shoulders. I hadn't realized how much this had been bothering me, but I guess it had. Now that I've made the decision, I know there will be hard days, but having made the whole decision (to wean entirely, not just cut back) it's easier because it feels like the end is in site. I know he's old enough, I know he's going to be ok, I know I'll probably stress about what he eats for a while (I'd never worried because I knew he could always make up for it with nursing), and this morning he did eat a bigger breakfast than I've seen in a while... But yeah, anyway, I just wanted to share that it's a relief to have made the choice.

I am obviously not opposed to nursing during pregnancy or to tandem nursing. If the spacing between Bear and this baby was closer, I might have made a different choice. But as it is, I feel that a child over 2 does not need to nurse any longer (no matter how much he likes or wants it). I do not think that weaning will do him any physical, emotional, or psychological detriment at this age. So, we are weaning, not because we need to, or because he wants to, but because I am ready...and any relationship needs to be working for both of the people involved or else it's just not healthy.

This post has gotten quite long, so I will hold off a couple of weeks before writing about how we're doing this weaning thing, and how it goes. Suffice it to say that so far so good. He is not thrilled that I am insisting on short nursing sessions, but he is not waking in the night like he used to, and he is not crying when I refuse him the 'nanu' in the night or after we've finished our designated minutes. He generally seems to be accepting of the changes, although it's clear that he's not excited about them. He does know that he still gets it sometimes, and I can tell that that is important to him. The final step of this process will most likely be the hardest, but I have some ideas about how to help it happen like I said, I will post more about all of that in a couple of weeks!!


Mallory said...

I know how you feel about needing the daddy to get the older kiddo to sleep with a new baby. That would be a reason I would consider weaning, too. I know I will struggle with the decision when it comes time for that!

Janeen said...

I will say this, with you moving, just be really prepared for some issues to come up. One of the reasons I decided NOT to wean when Natalie was that age was due to a decision we made that we would move to South Korea during the next six months. I did not want to force her to wean with that big of a move coming up and it HAS been a good thing that we didn't. She did REALLY well the first three transitions and has only NOW been having trouble adjusting, after the actual transition out of the country to South Korea.

She had been night weaned since before a year except for here and there nursing sessions and we also didn't do much nursing in public. While I had cut her to just a couple of times a day while at my sister's, those went back up right after our move but I just didn't want her to have the issues that my younger sister had after our house burned down just a few months before she turned three. No, she wasn't breastfed but she could have used the security, the lost of our home and all of our belongings led her to a HUGE blanket dependency and thumb sucking that she didn't let go of until she was 14. I wasn't going to take any chances!

I will say though, it hasn't been easy and at times I have thought of weaning but ugh, with our situation SO unsettled, I don't dare to, we're already having enough issues with her as it is. But if we end up here for at least another year, then I'll work on the weaning, otherwise, I probably will once we return to the states if it is earlier than a year.

Jess said...

What a great post!!!

I nursed my first... right thru pregnancy and then tandem nursed with the baby for like the first month or so... then my milk changed for the new baby.. and he wasnt interested anymore... it went very smoothly.. and I was thankfu for that as I was worried he would be jealous or have issues about it... he didnt. Both he and my second nursed until about 3 yrs old and then we did self weaning.. as they were becoming more independent... they jkust didnt want it anymore. Now #3 is totally different story!! She is going to be 4 in Aug. and she will not give up the boob! While I do love cuddling and sharing smiles and winks and giggles when its time to burse..(which by the way I got her into only nursing when its drk outside... so she waits till the sun is down and says ok its time to give me a boob!! And she does really good about letting go... she will nurse till almost asleep and I tell her ok let go and roll over and mmommy will tickle your back... and she does.. no worries)... ANyways... we have talked about how she is a sunbeam, and a big girl now..(she doesnt like to be called little) and so she leave momss boobs alone... but each time we talk about it... she point blankedly tells me that she will stay little so she can have a boob at night. lol... While I love nursing my babies... Im getting to the point where Im done... I would love to have them be MY boobs again.. lol..

SO good luck with weaning... I think your hubby has a point in working on getting him to go to bed for daddy.... and whether it involves nursing or weaning to do that process... its still all good.. =)

You should hear some of the things my sil's say about us still nursing... I just laugh and say.. well... If I have to have big boobs and be the one to lug them around forever.. then I might as well get as much use out of them as possible.. lol...

Looking forward to hearing how this goes so maybe I will get some ideas... =)

Destiny said...

I just night weaned my 17 month old and it is wonderful. I couldn't stomach the cry it out method, so my husband started putting her to bed and getting up with her at night. If he was the one to do it, she'd cry a couple minutes (maybe) and go right back to sleep. Now, she falls asleep on her own and sleeps until about 5am.
My husband wants her weaned before we get pregnant again, but depending on how soon that is, it probably won't happen.
Good luck with the day weaning. I look forward to tips.

Brooke said...

You have a very in-tune husband!!! I've nursed until I was 4 months pregnant for two pregnancies... and then I was done. I must lose my milk supply around then because I just can't take it anymore after that :) My oldest was 27 months, and my son was 19 months. I do feel a little bad that he only got to nurse for 19 months, however he was barely eating solid food and had actually LOST 2 lbs (10% of his body weight!!), so something had to change. Once I weaned him he started eating tons of food and regained the weight in two months :) By the time my baby was born, he had no concept of nursing. With my oldest I told her she could try to nurse once the baby came, and she was happy with that... She talked about it up until he was born, but she never asked. Baby #3 is 21 months old, and I'm starting to limit the nursing some. Otherwise she'd nurse all night and day :)

natalie said...

We're right in the thick of having two nurslings- the older of whom needs mama to fall asleep, the younger just needs to eat all the time! (13 months and 2 weeks). For us weaning wasn't an option, but I think that it sounds like a great choice for your family. It would be SO much easier if my 13 month old would snuggle happily with daddy and go to sleep- a goal we're definitely working toward!

Cathryn said...

I relate to what you wrote about kind of thinking you "should" tandem, but then after deciding not to, realizing it wasn't what you really wanted anyway.

Jane weaned around the same age--I night weaned her after getting pregnant, and within a couple of months she day weaned. It was a combination of her being too busy and mostly forgetting about it, and my slightly discouraging it by distracting her at times when I thought she might be ready to ask but I wasn't feeling up to it (you know, pregnancy hormones that make it feel a little weird sometimes). After a couple days like that, she told me, "There's no milk." And I had already told her it hurt for her to suck if there wasn't any milk (it did) and she accepted that and seemed totally fine with it.

However--she did NOT forget about it, still remembers it to this day. She had a couple of times--maybe once a month after weaning, and another time toward the end of my pregnancy, when she asked for it (more with body language than anything else) and I let her, but it didn't last and we talked about how the baby would need nursies when she came, and she's just been absolutely delighted for Mary to have nursies--she even loves to "help" her latch on (which she accomplishes basically by shoving her head into my breast, but anyway!)

There have been NO signs of jealousy or anything but love for this new little sister, BUT Jane did/is having a bit of a hard time after her arrival, just in general. It's nothing abnormal or irreversable, but it's definitely there.

I don't know the feelings of displacement or whatever would have been mitigated had she been nursing still, but I don't regret weaning. Everyone I've talked to that's tandem nursed (including all the ladies in our old Utah group) have reported hating it, and most ended up weaning the older one a few months after the baby came. Personally I'm thinking probably would have been more traumatic than never nursing after the baby came, at least for us.

One more thing--she never completely gave up "holding" the nursies--something carried over from the "twiddling" days. She did that pretty consistently for several months after weaning, and it slowly got less and less to the point of only once a month or so, usually in her sleep. She just did it the other night, actually, But just for a minute. I don't mind, and am happy to give her that. But it's pretty clear she hasn't forgotten nursing!

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