Friday, May 9, 2014

Weaning during pregnancy

Weaning during pregnancy == Hobo Mama
Breastfeeding in very early pregnancy
during the photo shoot for my babywearing book
Since I was public about my decision to let my first child nurse through my pregnancy and tandem nurse, I want to be public about my decision this time around: I'm in the second trimester right now, and my nearly three-year-old second child has mostly weaned, with my guidance.

I chose to breastfeed Mikko through Alrik's pregnancy because, ahead of time, I saw no good reason to quit, and plenty of good ones to continue. Mikko, then three, was showing no signs of wanting to stop, and so many of his nutritional and emotional needs were being met through nursing. Plus, I knew tandem breastfeeding would help smooth his transition from an only child to a big brother of a much-younger sibling, and I'd always hoped for child-led weaning.

But then I actually did it. For plenty of those who try, the experience is bearable and even enjoyable. For me, and for many others, nursing during pregnancy and the resulting breast tenderness was very painfulvery. My milk dried up by the end of the first trimester, taking away that benefit for Mikko (and leading to some very sad nights for both of us). And as much as I enjoyed the extra snuggliness and sharing of tandem nursing, I was wholly unprepared for an unwelcome side effect: nursing aversion, and how. I couldn't stand nursing Mikko for a long time, and put up with it long enough to move through it and out the other side to a gentle, mama-directed weaning just after he turned five. (Yep, even then, Mikko wasn't ready, but I was at that point.)

So why make a totally opposite decision with Alrik and this pregnancy? For one thing, I can. It was always my choice to continue nursing Mikko (not coercion on his part, too much guilt on mine, or external pressure from the dear fellow hippies I consort with — they were sympathetic and supportive in whatever choice I made). One reason we waited two and a half years to get pregnant with our third, even though I ain't getting any younger, was to give Alrik his chance to continue nursing.

For another, Alrik is a totally different child. Each one is, right? Unlike Mikko, Alrik eats a much more varied and extensive diet. I was less concerned about lack of breast milk stunting him nutritionally (not that I have a choice one way or the other — once again, my milk was gone by about 10 weeks). Though Alrik has loved nummies wholeheartedly, it's not quite the same all-consuming passion Mikko had. He's more easily distracted, which has meant he's been less likely to want to nurse in public, when things around him are more interesting. It's especially come in handy at night. Sam took the initiative early in Alrik's toddlerhood to figure out how to get him to bed without nursing to sleep, which meant less of a transition for all of us. It might also help that Alrik is slightly younger than Mikko was — only by about six months, but the bulk of his weaning happened during an agreeable two-year-old phase. Mikko was also a much less predictable sleeper, whereas Alrik at a younger age started going to sleep pretty easily and staying asleep till morning.

And probably the most obvious reason I chose differently this time is I know now what to expect, and I know it pretty much sucks for me to nurse through pregnancy and tandem nurse. People suggested it might be different this time, so I gave it a shot — but it wasn't, at least so far. I'm even willing to try tandem nursing again if Alrik's interested at that point, but I doubt I'd stick with it long if the nursing aversion strikes again.

So here's where we are now, and how we got here. Alrik still asks occasionally, every few days or so, for nummies, usually in the morning as he wakes up. He'll have a seconds-long session at one side or the other, rarely at both, and then be done. He doesn't seem upset that nursing is no longer in his daily life and is pretty chill about the whole thing. I have noticed he's sucking on his fingers a lot more, a trait I noticed in Mikko during his slow-down and weaning as well. This could be just a developmental phase, but I wonder if it's a comfort substitute.

Speaking of comfort, Alrik is super snuggly and loves to sit on laps, get hugs and kisses, and be attached to Sam and me throughout the day. (I'm trying to write this post with him on my lap….) It's in a very sweet and welcome way for all of us, so it's clear he's getting his emotional needs met still.

Since I knew my milk was likely to dry up during pregnancy, but I didn't know exactly when I'd get pregnant (or if I'd miscarry again), I didn't want to wean prematurely but did want to do what I could to prepare Alrik for the change. I hated the thought of him going super-strong and then having to stop cold turkey, abruptly, but I also didn't see a big advantage to making him slow down and stop months before it was relevant.

It turned out to happen pretty organically that I was getting a little tired of nursing him after he turned two, so I was using techniques of distraction and limiting in any case. Is it bad to admit I was getting tired of nursing a toddler? Well, it's the truth. I knew what was in store for us, and I think it was a way of emotionally preparing myself for the weaning to come. I was still sad to think of stopping nursing him, but I knew we could both be ultimately comfortable with the new situation.

In the end, I didn't do as much pre-pregnancy weaning preparation as I'd intended — I didn't talk much about the idea of weaning with Alrik, sort of putting it off. As we tried to get pregnant, I in fact let him nurse more, since I knew it would be ending soon. I tried to drink in those last weeks of closeness.

When I did become pregnant, I had a strong suspicion before I even tested due to the pain on nursing, that all-familiar pain. I kept up nursing at wake-up, during the day a few times, and at bedtime for a few weeks, but I started suggesting alternatives more and more often, as well as cutting the duration shorter — first with the day sessions, and then, with Sam's help, with the bedtime nursing. The last to go, as mentioned, has been the wake-up nursing, which was a regular thing for quite awhile and has gradually lessened and spaced out.

I won't say it was always easy, and there were times Sam and I were nervous that we'd failed, that Alrik was traumatized, that this was all going to be a disaster … and then it was fine. There were moments when Alrik would cry for nummies, or cry that he hadn't gotten as much time or milk as he'd wanted, or cry that I was evidently upset by the pain, but we were able to comfort him through, and he quickly adapted. When all was said and done, both Sam and I said to each other, "Wow, that was a lot easier than we thought it would be." It's kind of like any phase of child rearing, where you build it up in your mind as something that will never get better (e.g., potty learning, separation anxiety, etc.) — and then it does, and you wonder why you were so anxious.

Do I feel bad that I chose a (relatively) early weaning for Alrik but let Mikko nurse till age five? Sometimes, I do feel a bit regretful about that. But I'm a big believer in not "playing fair" with siblings, because you have to meet each kid where he is — there's no point in sticking doggedly by some blanket decision that doesn't work for the other child or for you any longer. Plus, I know logically that nearly three years of nursing is a generous amount by pretty much any standards — since I don't fault other mamas for choosing to wean when they need to, why should I beat myself up?

So there it is — a different choice this time, and the (fortunately) good way it's worked out so far. We'll see how much longer the occasional nursing persists (it's still painful, but I'm willing to deal), and whether he's interested in tandeming for a bit, but for now, we're content where we are.

Did you breastfeed through pregnancy or tandem nurse? Did you have to wean before or during a pregnancy, or would you choose to?


Rachael said...

When we considered trying to get pregnant, our first was just shy of her second birthday, and already showing signs that our cosleeping/night nursing routine was needing a change. Of course when it happened right away, I knew that we would at least continue through her birthday and then work on at least getting her into her own sleep space and deal with weaning (or not) as necessary. In just a few weeks I was miserable, having an awful aversion to a once joyous bonding moment, and as my milk dried up, we all were sleeping worse and worse.
Finally at 25 months we reached the point where we just had to stop, and in just a few days, she didn't seem to care anymore. We still snuggled to sleep and there was very little restlessness. A few weeks later, we've even been able to move her into her own bed and own room and she suddenly can sleep through the night.
I have such peace with our weaning experience, and even though I initiated it, she was definitely ready. If she wasn't we would have worked something else out, of course, but I think our bond is just as strong as ever!

Sheila Pai said...

Ok, first, CONGRATS! I didn't know about your pregnancy since I've been majorly out of the loop.

Second -- Did you write this for me?! I have been heavy-hearted these last few weeks. My son has turned the corner to 2.5 and my nursing aversion (especially with my cycle back) is at an all time high with him...almost as bad as it was with my first when I was pregnant and nursing. I had much the same experience, as I told Dionna/Code Name Mama. The aversion was a shock. Even now, after having experienced it before, I feel shocked at the level. I realized with sadness recently that I haven't enjoyed nursing for 3 years. At this point, I not only do not enjoy it, but it literally feels disruptive to my relationship with him (and his sleep). I have had the same experience of the second eating well and not having the same nursing relationship/need.

These last few weeks I have been circling in my heart and head. THIS LINE:

"Is it bad to admit I was getting tired of nursing a toddler? Well, it's the truth."

That right there. For me, it's not even that I'm tired of nursing him. I would love to nurse him. I would love to enjoy nursing like I did years ago. What I am tired of is the battle inside me and the horrible feelings that come up when he latches on. What I am tired of is having negativity in our nursing relationship because I can't handle nursing.

I don't want to wean. Yet, I fear that is exactly what is happening. And I fear more that weaning is what would be best for my son right now. As you know, weaning can be a long process of stretches of time before asking for milkies. I made it a whole year longer with my second than my first, having lost my milk from pregnancy. Part of me wants to have a break, to heal my body and to get into a state where I can even consider having a third. And my deep hope is that if I have a 3rd that having that break between nursing and nursing again will help me leave behind this aversion that has infiltrated the sweet nursing experience I used to have...

THANK YOU, dear Lauren, for sharing honestly, openly and thoroughly. Your voice matters and your wisdom is helpful.

Wishing you peace and ease,

Sheila Pai said...
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Sheila Pai said...
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Janine Fowler said...

I think we are twinsies when it comes to our boys! My oldest pushed through my milk drying up and major, mean-mommy aversions during my pregnancy. He's coming up on 4 and still asks for it multiple times a day. Unfortunately the aversion never completely went away. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and my 3 year old has nudged the 1 year old out of the way and latched himself on in his place!

My younger boy is much more of a solid foodie. It's so strange to be able to leave for hours - if I wanted - without having to worry about nursing! I joke that my older one will still be nursing when the little one weans!

If I didn't already say so, congrats on #3! I want two more of my own but we're waiting a few years. Husband needs a new kidney and wants us to be more financially stable as well. I guess I'll follow your pregnancy and new baby vicariously.

shedivides said...

I first came across your blog a few months when I was struggling with the decision of whether to wean my 20 month old due the pain I was experiencing being 3 months pregnant. Reading your past posts on this topic really helped me see that I was experiencing nursing aversion, and helped me understand that even though I had hoped for child led weaning that it would be ok, if it didn't work out that way. Realizing that helped me through the aversion and a slow mommy led weaning process that is now complete.

When I came across your blog again today it was like fate that your post dealt with nursing during pregnancy and weaning issues again. Thank you for continuing to share your experiences and insights.

I hope this pregnancy is smooth!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Rachael: I'm really glad to hear your weaning experience went so peacefully! Sometimes there can be such guilt & expectation attached to breastfeeding, but I believe what I've heard: If it's not working for either half of the breastfeeding dyad, it's not working. Congratulations on your own little-one-to-come!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Sheila Pai: Yes to the shock at the nursing aversion! It really blindsided me, since everything had been rolling along so smoothly before. And yes to the possibility of disrupting the relationship — if you cringe when you see your child coming toward you because you fear he might want to nurse, well, it's hardly conducive to those warm-fuzzy feelings! I hope you find the way forward that works for both of you. No matter what you choose, or how you go about the next steps, your son is obviously wrapped in love and care.

It's interesting that you bring up having a break from nursing, because I have to admit I'm enjoying it, even though nursing Alrik felt totally normal and not burdensome to me while doing it (before the pregnancy pain). I've bought a couple non-nursing bras and don't feel the need to wear concealing layers for nursing in public, and it's a fun little respite before I start in again with this new one.

Anyway, I really do wish you peace and clarity right now! This nursing relationship is such a big thing, so it takes a lot of thinking through how/when/whether to change it up.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Janine Fowler: My husband made the same joke about our kids! Ha ha! I really did want to do child-led weaning with Mikko but eventually started thinking he'd be the mythical child who nursed till college age… I knew it was exaggeration, but he really showed no signs of wanting to slow down, so it was either my choice to gradually lead him that way, or just keep trucking along. If not for the aversion, I'd have been more willing to entertain the second option for longer.

I didn't realize your husband needs a new kidney — hope that happens soon and goes well! Mikko wants us to have this one and then one more, so maybe we'll match you if he gets his way, ha ha.

Lauren Wayne said...

@shedivides: "Realizing that helped me through the aversion and a slow mommy led weaning process that is now complete." Yes! It was really significant for me to work through the aversion before the weaning so that it could be slow and gentle and not just reactionary. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! said...

We ended up with a pretty similar circumstance. Last time I nursed through pregnancy and tandem nursed for about 4 months before weaning my then 3 year old. I knew she wasn't ready, but I had some pretty severe nursing aversion also and it really effected our relationship, so I'm happy that we weaned when we did.

With this pregnancy I ended up weaning during the actual pregnancy, though it wasn't really an active decision or anything. My second has never been as attached to nursing as my first was and when I night weaned early in pregnancy (I was just way too tired) and then started delaying nursing sessions (painful nipples), she eventually just stopped asking. When I realized that she had stopped nursing for good (right when the pain of the first trimester went away), I was really sad but also kind of relieved. I'm not sure if I would want to try to tandem nurse again given my last experience. I know it can be different every time, but I just don't see it being any easier this time than it was last.

She's tried to nurse a couple of times (on her request) since stopping, but it's been so spread out that I can tell she can't really remember how to do it now. I would be open to letting her try after the baby comes, but at the same time I'll be completely happy if she doesn't want to. Part of me feels guilty that she didn't nurse longer (she made it just over 2 years, which is my minimum goal, but still), but at the same time I feel like I did give her the best start. I'm really happy that you're sharing your story so moms can know it's okay if they don't nurse through pregnancy and tandem nurse. There are so many different variations of normal.

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