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Tuesday, December 28, 2010


A Weaning-Nursing-Weaning-Nursing-Weaning Saga

When I became pregnant with my second baby, I had no idea how it would affect breastfeeding my then-12-month-old Baby T. At that time, he still nursed several times in the morning before I went to work, on weekends, and I think he was still nursing to sleep and for naps. I figured that he would never ever in a million years stop nursing. Almost everyone I knew who had tried to nurse through her pregnancy told me the same thing, though: Her baby had self-weaned at some point during the pregnancy because her milk dried up. I was sure this wouldn't happen to us, though. First of all, I had always had an oversupply. I could still pump 5 oz from each breast in 15 minutes. Second, Baby T loved nursing too much to stop. He was still such a baby.

Around the same time I found out I was pregnant, which was about two months into the pregnancy, I decided I needed to cut back on pumping at work. If I continued to pump throughout my pregnancy, that would mean that I would have spent more than 3 years straight pumping at work when this second baby turned one. Baby T was 13 or 14 months old, and I started gradually switching him from breast milk to cow's milk. I was worried that I would become engorged when I stopped pumping, but I never did. Not even close. In fact, by the time I had limited my pumping sessions to one afternoon a day, I was only squeezing out maybe one ounce per breast. I don't know what I thought, but it never crossed my mind that I was losing my supply because I was pregnant.

Baby T was still happily nursing at home before work and on the weekends. My next step was to night wean. I wanted to tandem nurse, but I couldn't imagine doing it in the middle of the night while working full time. Eliminating the before-bed nursing sessions was surprisingly easy. One night, I read Baby T a book and he didn't ask to nurse, so I said goodnight and put him in his crib, and that was that. I never nursed him to sleep again (until tonight).

He may have finished nursing himself to sleep, but was still nursing 2-3 times after waking in the morning, before I left for work. I never offered; he always asked. Sometimes it felt like he wasn't getting any milk at all and he was just nursing for comfort. Because everyone I knew had weaned by this point in their pregnancies, I felt like I might not be doing the right thing. Was I supposed to stop nursing since there was no milk? Was it strange to nurse a toddler if he was just sucking for comfort? I thought that maybe I really did need to initiate weaning.

I began asking around for more advice, and friends started coming out of the woodwork with their stories about nursing during their pregnancy. There were quite a few who had not weaned during pregnancy. That made me feel more comfortable. I didn't feel like an alien anymore. The kicker came when a friend said to me: "would you deny your child the comfort of a hug if he needed it?" No. "Then why deny him the comfort of nursing?" That really resonated with me. Nursing not only gives Baby T nutrients and boosts his immunity, it's how he calms himself down sometimes. That's ok with me. He's still a baby. He still needs his mama when he feels sick, sad, hurt, or uncomfortable. If nursing makes him feel better, I will continue to nurse him.

But as the months went on, Baby T began nursing less and less. He was a busy toddler and liked his "leche bottle" (sippy cup with cow's milk). He was down to nursing once every morning, then once every other morning, and sometimes once every three or four mornings. He would hold his leche bottle while nursing and go back and forth from the breast to the cup. I knew he wasn't getting any milk from me. I couldn't even squeeze any out myself, no matter how hard I tried. The week after Thanksgiving, he didn't nurse at all. Although it had really happened gradually, I never thought it actually would happen, and I was sad. My little baby was becoming a little boy. He didn't need his mama as much anymore. He was happy with a hug when he got an ouch.

It was a busy week, and I didn't have much time to think about it. Baby T and I were traveling to meet one of my best friends' newborn baby that weekend, and I was busy packing and getting ready. The plane ride with a toddler on my barely-there lap was a little bit trying, and when cranky Baby T wouldn't go to sleep, even after having been up since 5 AM, I offered him some "mama milk." He got excited and said, "Mama milk! Mama milk!" And he nursed.

Nothing is better than seeing your little one's eyes roll back into his head with pleasure and peace while nursing. He immediately fell asleep.

The rest of the weekend, he was sick and cranky and I think he was uncomfortable being in an unfamiliar place. He nursed all weekend. When we came home, he didn't nurse again, though. He was done. Weaned. Big boy. I cried. I had really wanted to tandem nurse. I wanted my babies to bond in a way that most babies don't get to bond. I wanted to have that magic wand that would stop a tantrum in its tracks. I wanted to have a way to keep Baby T's immunity up with a newborn baby around. I wanted to feel that intense intimacy when you know your child needs you and only you. It was all over. I was going to have a two month break before my baby was born. My emotions were bipolar, however. As much as the thought that Baby T had weaned broke my heart, I was a little relieved. Maybe it would be easier to nurse my newborn alone. I knew Baby T was growing up, and there are some things you have to let go of as your child grows. This was definitely one of them.

The week before Christmas rolled around, and Baby T was overwhelmed by presents and guests. He asked to nurse. I nursed him to sleep. When he woke up, he asked again. Then on Christmas weekend, we were off on another plane ride to visit my family. Again, Baby T was a little bit uncomfortable and clingy in an unfamiliar place, with so much Christmas excitement around him. He nursed several times over the weekend. I also noticed that my colostrum was coming in.

Now we're home. And when Baby T woke up this morning, he pointed to the chair where we used to nurse and said, "Mama milk." My little weaner is a nurser again. After screaming through a diaper change this evening with some horrible diaper rash, and trying to catch his breath from crying so hard, he wanted some mama milk again before bed.

Who knows how long it will last? I have come to terms with the fact that things happen on their own time and you can't force nature. Self-weaning can happen abruptly, or it can happen gradually, like it has with Baby T and I. I don't even know if he is weaning anymore. He might never nurse again. Or he might be overwhelmed with happiness when my milk comes in after T2 is born. I have no idea. I'm glad it has happened so gradually for us and had its ups and downs, because with all of these pregnancy hormones, an abrupt cold-turkey weaning would have been harder on me. The way it has happened has let me come to terms with whatever happens next. Because with kids, you never know what will happen next.
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