Friday, March 27, 2015

Weaning: my hows, whys, and whens

Sometimes when I get a mailbag question, I can't believe I really haven't ever written on the subject before. This was one of those. I've written about breastfeeding (those posts always spark quite a discussion) and getting babies to sleep (conversation AND, um, insults on those posts) but, somehow, I've yet to share how we handle weaning around here. Thanks to Amy for asking!

The Question:

Hi Kendra,

I hope you are well!  I just got my baby down for a nap, which took 30 minutes, and had an "I should ask Kendra..." moment.

My baby (first one) is 16 months old.  I've read a lot of your parenting posts, especially on breastfeeding and other food related posts, so I know that we have similar approaches in this.

I feel a little bad about this, but I'm kind of ready to stop nursing -- at least the daytime nursing.  The morning session seems to be phasing itself out.  The pre-nap session is harder. That said, I did just get him to go down for a nap without nursing but it took a half hour for him to settle himself enough to sleep.

All that said... how did  you go about "weaning" your babies?  When did they totally stop? Did you let them lead the process?  Did some take longer than others?  Did you ever nurse while pregnant?  (I'm not... I don't think... but sometimes I wonder how that would work.)
Amy

The Answer:

Great question Amy.

I've been able to exclusively breastfeed all of my babies, and to nurse them for over a year, which has worked really well for us. I'm awfully grateful for the ease and convenience of it, and it has always fit
really well into my lifestyle.

Figuring out nursing was a bit emotionally taxing and physically painful for me with the first couple babies, but then it got pretty darn easy with all the rest (until I got a silly nursing injury with Lulu, my seventh, and spent a few days fighting back tears every time she had to nurse). But I'd say, mostly, I've been very fortunate and have really loved breastfeeding. I'm happy to nurse my babies pretty much on demand, whenever, wherever, and let them start solid foods on their own as they're interested in them. However, for most of my babies, figuring out solid food hasn't translated into not wanting to nurse. I've only have one baby wean himself (it was Frankie, of course). For all the others, at around fourteen months or so, I just start feeling a bit spent on it all. I'm usually pregnant again by that point, and ready to be able to share nap and bedtime routines with my husband (or now with my big kids) and have my body back to myself a bit (as much as that's possible for someone who is pregnant).

I know there are lots of schools of thought on this, and lots of passionately held opinions. So, I'm going to put a quick disclaimer in here saying that I realize that there are many legitimate reasons that a mom wouldn't be able to exclusively breastfeed for as long as I have (thus far) been able to do. I also understand that many moms choose extended nursing, and that that works well for them and their kids.

I haven't felt like extended nursing was something my babies so far have needed, and it hasn't been something I felt like I wanted or needed to take on. And I have found that, for my kids, there has been kind of a magic window between thirteen and sixteen or seventeen months, when they don't really NEED to nurse anymore, but they're not quite aware enough to have the process of weaning be all that traumatic. I only nursed one baby to eighteen months, because we were postponing pregnancy. And the process with her was definitely more stressful than it has been with my others. She could talk about nursing, and she remembered it and wanted it, even if we had already skipped a day or two. It was harder than I think it needed to be on both of us.

That experience with Anita convinced me that I either want to wean by sixteen or seventeen months, or be prepared to wait until past two, when they are a bit more reasonable.

The way I approach weaning is pretty much just what you've been doing.


I start by not offering during the day, and providing baby with snacks and water or milk in a sippy cup. Instead of pulling baby into bed with me in the morning to nurse, or snuggling down in a chair to nurse (and watch TV) after naps, I just get us going right away. We have a snack, and we do something active, so baby doesn't really think about nursing. In that way we get down to just nursing before naps and bedtime.

I co-sleep with my babies for six to nine months or so, then transition them to a crib in conjunction with sleep-training, that still involves some nighttime nursing. I've always sleep-trained my babies before I wean them, so they are already familiar with sleeping in a crib on their own, and with soothing, <cough -or sometimes crying- cough> themselves to sleep, on days that they don't nurse completely to sleep. I have no idea how people wean while co-sleeping. I suppose it's possible, but I can't wrap my head around it.

During the weaning process, daddy takes over the bedtime routine for at least a couple of days. Baby isn't expecting to be nursed by him, so that seems to go more smoothly than me trying to just put a confused baby down with no nursing. After a few days of that, then I am able to substitute reading a book, or singing and rocking for a bit in the baby's room, for nursing, then I can just lay him down in the crib and leave.

For my babies, this has worked very quickly (a day or two) and with only a little unhappiness and no trauma to the baby.

I just try to be really upbeat, and consistent about it. I think if I acted worried about it, my babies would sense that, and I think giving in and nursing every once in a while would probably make the process take a lot longer than if I just go ahead and do it, once we're down to only a couple sessions a day, anyway.

My two outliers have been Frankie and Anita. Frankie flash-weaned himself at twelve months, he just flat out refused to nurse. So that was that. And, like I said, with Anita it was a longer, more difficult process that involved a lot of unhappiness and attempting to reason with and explain to a baby who wasn't really able to understand. But even with her, the whole process only took a couple of weeks. And then she was fine. So perhaps I'm making too big a deal of the age on this anyway.

Like everything with parenting, a calm but firm attitude, having age-appropriate expectations, and being really consistent, seems to make everything go more smoothly.

Anyway, I hope things have been going well with it. You can do it. And it's okay to want to.

Good luck!

Cheers,

Kendra

Some additional reading . . . 


Breastfeeding posts:

Lactivism, aka I'll Teach YOU How to Feel About Nursing

I Want it All: a Nourished Baby AND Good Manners (also superpowers)

Solid food posts:

Starting Baby on Solid Foods for Moms Who Don't Have Time For That Sort of Thing

I Do Not Cook Two Dinners: how we avoid mealtime battles

These two are about sleep training, which isn't what you asked, but mom-lead weaning might well include some crying oneself to sleep for the baby, and I really, really think that's okay.

Have a Baby They Said . . . It Will Sleep Like a Baby They Said

How I Changed My Mind About Sleep Training



Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.

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20 comments:

  1. I've had the same experience with weaning -- 14 to 16 mos has been my magic window as well. Also nursed one to 18 mos or so and he was fine but he was easygoing anyway. Also two outliers-- one weaned at 12 mos, one went to a bottle at 4 mos. (not my choice!).

    It's interesting to hear what works for a family! :)

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  2. With all mine, either they have stopped asking and I've stopped offering around 12-14 months and they've stopped themselves entirely at 15, 15, and 16 mo. My worst trouble was with baby 2, because I got pregnant at 9 months and refused him at naptime younger than I would have preferred and he was unhappy. But my current baby is 17 months, and I've gotten her off naps and miscellaneous but she's clinging desperately to bedtime and first thing in the morning, and I'm super conflicted about whether to pull the plug. I'm only 4 months pregnant, so I've got time before this next baby comes alone, but I'm pretty touched out and still sick (WHYYYYY?) I'd like her to stop herself, but I also want her to stop. I'm sure this was fascinating ha.

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  3. Fourteen months was about when I decided my daughter was done, too. The last one we had was the morning meal, because if I fed her in the morning she'd go back to sleep for another couple hours! She didn't seem bothered; I agree that there's a window where they're not quite aware enough of what's going on to protest all that much. Take advantage of it! :)

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  4. Ha! You realize in this post that you referred to a two-year old as reasonable, right? You are hilarious.

    I've never had any luck nursing my four children. It was nothing but exhausting and painful and by 4 or 5 months, they weren't getting enough milk. The worst was with my third. We were exclusively nursing like champs until about 3 months when he got increasingly fussy and had very few wet diapers. I suddenly stopped producing milk, because I was pregnant again.

    Although my nursing experience differs from you, I think the most helpful thing you mentioned with weaning is getting dad (or at least not mom) to take over for a bit. When we switched to bottles with all four, dad had to be the one to feed the baby. Then, when I took over, I had to lay baby on a pillow and hold the bottle. I could not hold baby in my arms with a bottle. He would squirm and fuss and make a huge mess.

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    1. You know, I actually prefer twos! Ones are old enough to get into trouble, but don't have much self-control, and threes are SO EMOTIONAL. With my kids, given consistent boundaries, I find twos quite manageable: Why I Love the Terrible Twos

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  5. Don't worry, though, Amy, that so many are saying 14 months and your baby is already 16 months...weaning went very well for us at 21 months, so when you are ready, you will be able to make it happen!

    For us, a few things really helped:

    - Gradual weaning (dropping 1 feeding every few days -- helped me be physically more comfortable, too!)
    - Distraction at former feeding times (kiddie pool!)
    - Disassociating feedings from their previous associations (we slowly moved her last nursing from right before bed, to right before a book right before bed, to right before a bath before a book before bed...and then the last night I pulled out an exciting new bath toy and she jumped right in the water, forgetting that she hadn't nursed. That way we didn't have to drop the feeding while it was still immediately before bed, which would have been a lot harder).
    - Not saying "No" when she asked, but rather saying, "Well, we'll do that after lunch" or whenever the next feeding that we were still doing was going to be. At the end, when all feedings had been dropped, I would just say, "well, we could, but why don't we do X SUPER-FUN thing that you never get to do."

    Good luck! And don't be worried if you get a little emotionally crazy while it's happening and just after. That's normal (and chemical) and it will pass. Drink lots of sage tea with milk and honey after you drop that last feeding! It really helps your milk dry up.

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  6. Kendra,
    I just really appreciate how you explain how your family does something without making others feel bad about the way they do something. It's quite refreshing.

    I nurse my babies for a year (5 so far) and then I'm done. I just can't any more. I do feel bonded to my baby and I don't dislike nursing, I just need the space and I think for me it makes me a better mom. I think when I say that out loud it makes me sound selfish, but it's what works for me and my family and so far my children are turning out fine.

    Your post didn't make me feel like a bad mom, we just do things a little different and that's ok!

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    1. Thanks Angela! That's what I was hoping for. :0)

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  7. I found it easier for my first (and hopefully soon with the second) to night-wean co-sleeping because I could comfort them by being close. But we also don't do much in the way of sleep-training and they have many wakeups (not the first anymore, thank goodness) so it's easier if they are close and not in a crib. They actually both started co-sleeping right when most people usually try to get them more in a crib (9/10 months) because we all get more sleep that way.

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  8. I do about the same, around a year I gradually drop afternoon nursing sessions and replace with a sippy cup and snack. Then I drop the first thing in the morning and bedtime sessions last.

    So funny that Frankie was your early self-weaner. Peter was mine, the nut self-weaned (refused to nurse despite me trying for over a week) at 10.5 months. Little butthead ;) I always attributed his weaning to reflux but maybe it's part personality too.

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    1. Yep. That's what I'm thinking. Frankie just started gagging at me when I would offer nursing. Loudly gagging. So charming.

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    2. Ha! That so seems a Frankie response! Peter would scream like I was ruining his life by laying him down to nurse. He also screamed if given fruit, brought outside if it was less than 70 degrees, or made to do anything mildly unpleasant. So yeah...fun times!

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  9. I was just wondering if you introduce cows milk or some other kind of milk during this time? My little girl is almost 13 months so weaning has been on my mind. When you drop a feed do you replace it with a sippy cup of milk or something? My daughter hardly drinks any other liquids besides breastmilk, so I'm worried that when she weans she will hate cows milk (we haven't given her any yet) and then never drink anything.

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    1. I do. I offer them water or whole milk in a sippy cup. They've all taken to it pretty easily, but I do often have to try a couple different types of sippy cups to see which one that baby manages best.

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  10. I weaned my babies just after they turned 2, it went fine, no tantrums or trauma that I can tell. But by the time they are 1 they only nurse before naps/bed and upon waking in the morning.

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    1. Thanks! This is my plan/hope with my first, and that's where we are at right now, at 15 months.

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  11. Thank you, Kendra! I've enjoyed reading everyone else's experiences in the comments. We're plugging along with it and down to only nursing before bed. So, we're getting there! It's so funny, I felt like there were lots of resources about breastfeeding and I was generally very lucky with it - but stories and information about weaning were harder to find. So, I am very grateful to those of you willing to talk about it a bit.

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    1. I'm glad to hear it Amy, and thanks for the question. :0)

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  12. I wrote a somewhat detailed comment, but then a technical glitch whisked it away, so I am here posting just a key part of it. My toddler is 13.5 months old - a girl - and I am 14 weeks along with the second baby. She still nurses at night, before her big nap of the day, and sometimes once in mid-morning (lessening this one actively right now). There might be other times, but this is a general description, which includes times she wakes up but is not ready to get up (usually two to five minutes). The main challenge for me is the hunger, which translates to nausea and falls downhill to throwing up. I have to eat every hour to two hours to stay ahead of it. This post gave me a cue toward decreasing nursing with confidence in the next month or so. Thank you!

    I was wondering what other people's experience is with nursing while pregnant and food.

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  13. I love that a nursing relationship is just that a relationship with negotiated boundaries and everything. In fact, it's the very first relationship with boundaries that a person usually experiences. I encouraged weaning of my oldest at 3 and a half years after I'd been tandem nursing him and his brother for 7 months. I wanted so badly to let him self wean at his pace, but nursing him, with the strong aversion I was experiencing, was interfering with our relationship outside nursing as well. I think every mom knows when the relationship is time to end, and while I generally advocate shooting for the 2 year mark if possible, as that's when baby's own immune system starts to kick in, I honor everyone's choice (or unchoice, when it's a situation where nursing isn't a choice), and I appreciate that you do too.

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