Shropshire, Great Britain
From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 6, 2008-09, pp. 22-23
My recent experience of weaning has been unexpected and, for a short time, traumatic for my son and me.
Jacob suckled on cue as a baby and pretty much without limit until around two and a half years old. At that point I realized that we were relying on daytime nursing for the convenience of its immediacy, but the flip side was a total lack of any routine. We introduced a schedule of regular meals and wholesome snacks, which has enabled us to relax and do more activities. Over time it has been a process of partial weaning -- gradually reducing opportunities to nurse, setting limits on where to nurse, and trying to offer food and drinks before nursing in the day time. The last daytime nursings to go were the occasional ones for "big bumps."
I also discovered that I had to ensure my son had a wholesome supper as he was waking so often in the night to nurse, up until about the age of three; but it wasn't satisfying him and we would end up getting up in order to make food in the middle of the night! My son gradually cut down on nighttime nursing to just nursing to sleep.
I am now pregnant. I knew about getting tender breasts and nipples and we managed to cope with this during the early stages of the pregnancy. But what I had not anticipated was the taste of my milk changing.
At first, my son mentioned this about the side he nursed from less often. He focused on nursing on his favorite side. But a few days later he said that also tasted funny, as if it had blood in it. I had no symptoms or concerns of infection so could only presume that this change in taste was due to my changing hormones in pregnancy. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding does say that the taste of the milk can be affected by the mother's diet, and I did wonder if the pregnancy vitamin supplement I had started taking could have had such a dramatic effect.
My son felt deeply upset because he wanted to nurse but objected to the taste of my milk. That was upsetting for me to see. I have also felt disappointed that weaning has happened this way. After having had our ups and downs through our breastfeeding relationship, I had intended to let him decide when he was ready to wean completely.
His upset peaked at the time we had Grannie and Grandad to stay with us. He was enjoying playing games with Grannie and wanted to stay up later and later to play some more. He became distraught and I was struggling to cope, knowing that he needed to sleep but not knowing how to soothe and settle him. My husband and I were having to dig very deep in ourselves to maintain a loving approach and, coupled with this, I felt embarrassed that my son's grandparents were witnessing a distressing bedtime, which is definitely not the norm in our family.
It turned out that my son's distress was not really due to a desire to play games with Grannie but due to his real unhappiness at not being able to nurse to go to sleep. He suggested that he cuddle in my arms and this has been his way of falling asleep ever since.
I have since read in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding that your child may wean himself early in the pregnancy when a few little ones notice a change in the milk. In trying to determine when the milk will come back not tasting "funny," I have also found out that lactogenesis (milk production), the process that starts with the breasts preparing for making milk, begins about 12 weeks before the birth.*
I think in the back of my mind I may have known that a child may self-wean during pregnancy (because of the milk supply dwindling around the middle of pregnancy) and thought this would be a simple way for my son to wean.
Although I feel sad that my son has not made his own decision when to wean, what I need to remember are all the lovely, cuddly, warm feelings that we have shared through breastfeeding and the strong and loving relationship that this has forged between us. Before having a baby I had thought breastfeeding was just about nutrition. It is only by having persisted through the early struggles that I have had the opportunity to experience the delight of growing closer to my son through the breastfeeding relationship.
With the end to breastfeeding, even just that nighttime session, I have noticed a dramatic change in my temperament. I feel sure the hormones of early pregnancy have also contributed to my feeling irritable, short tempered, less tolerant and loving. I have been making a conscious effort to find ways to be cuddly and affectionate with Jacob. Now that things have settled down a bit, we can look forward to our new baby arriving and all those cuddly, warm, loving feelings that breastfeeding will bring.
Adapted from a story in LLLGB's Breastfeeding Matters
* Editors' note: During pregnancy many mothers find there is a reduction in milk production associated with hormonal changes. Some mothers notice their milk production declines substantially.