Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Weaning guilt

My 9 month old is on a nursing strike. He refuses to nurse even before bed these days, unhappily wriggling out of my arms, trying to use those floppy abdominal muscles to snap into an upright position like a fish flopping on the boat's deck.

It is killing me. Nightly.

What kills me more is what happens when I dutifully trudge back downstairs to the kitchen to fix him a bottle of expressed milk and give him the bottle.

Party time.

He grabs the bottle with both hands, shoves it in his mouth, and proceeds to twist and fondle the bottle like he has just been reunited with his best friend. He slaps it with one hand. Giddily moves it from side to side. He drains it, then.

I should be happy, right? He is providing a prime opportunity for me to finally wean him, just as I planned months ago. Six months was my goal. Nine months was my reach. I'm under doctor's orders to stop at 9 months (osteopenia, long story). He is a champ at eating solids and is very close to walking. But, even though the time appears to have come, I still don't feel ready.

Last night, I searched "nursing strikes" to reassure myself that this new rejection was due to him actively teething (hello bite bruises up and down my arms) and yes, the articles reassured me that nursing strikes happen for all kinds of reasons. (My bruises suggest teething, or perhaps my involuntary screaming when he bit me last week was poorly received.) They also emphasized the transient nature of these strikes and to push through.

In my internet searching, I also came across many sites that basically pounded The Guilt into me for even contemplating weaning before 12 months. About how no child would self-wean before 12 months, possibly not before 18 months. They talked about earlier weaning would only be for Mom's benefit (read: you are a selfish hog) and could result in less secure children. They said that mothers often misinterpret a nursing strike or normal developmental changes in the child to mean that they are becoming disinterested in nursing (read: you are ignorant and should not be allowed to procreate).

Poison in my eyes!

I thought of my 3-year old who I started weaning at 9 months during a very similar nursing strike. I remember feeling similarly sad and rejected, solemnly repeating the words, "It's the end of an era," to my husband and anyone else who would listen. Was I wrong then too?

Here, I was, thinking that I was almost deserving of a medal for working full-time, pumping 3 times a day to keep up, and downing Mother's Milk Tea every single day (I'm not a tea person, and definitely not a nasty tea person) to feed my son exclusively with breastmilk for 9 months. And then I read this article which makes extended nursing sound so beautiful and bonding that I'm left feeling inadequate.

I think it might be time. But, no one makes this easy.


  1. I still think you deserve a medal - biting, nasty tea, pumping at work and all! Funny how many opinions someone who is the tender age of almost 9 months can have! No guilt - you've shared your body with this little person for a long time. Have a very happy birthday!

  2. The guilt should all belong to the books and other people who are making you feel like a bad mother for weaning "this early." It's easy for them to say!!

    This is just like the issue of "you're a bad mother if you have a career, because your career should be taking care of your kids." It's just another aspect of the mommy wars.

    I was adopted as a newborn and was obviously never breast-fed. I chose to wean my son (now 10 yo) at 6 weeks for reasons both personal and related to my career. We both did just fine. There are tens of thousands of kids out there who didn't have an option to breast feed that do just fine.

    I know the studies suggest advantages, but you've already put in several months. The studies are not the end all be all in any case. And it sounds like you've got a good medical reason NOT to be nursing.

    We help our patients balance risks vs. benefits of interventions all the time. This is a situation where the benefit of fighting to continue just isn't worth the risk and emotional stress to both of you.

    We all have choices (thank God). Other people's choices are not necessarily right for you. Don't let them make you feel bad for doing what's right for YOU.

  3. Wow, so much guilt. I concur with the above two commenters. You deserve a medal. Screw anyone who would make you feel like less of a good mommy for not breastfeeding until age 5.

  4. Oh, for pity's sake! 9 months is plenty old enough to wean and he's trying to tell you he's ready. Besides, when baby animals get teeth, their mothers wean them, hello? Ignore those people and do what you think is right for you and your family.

  5. I feel your pain, having nursed three (and currently not nursing or pregnant for first time in five years!). It never gets easier.

    Mine all definitely self-weaned, but at completely different times, in different ways--the gradual decline over weeks, the sudden "god, no!" and the try-againer over several days. Each time I was taken aback, researched, got guilty, got confused, called everyone, and tried everything. Each time that baby just went ahead and did exactly what they were already planning to do.

    That article you referenced is a little wacky, in my opinion. Saying her toddler learned patience "only" because she breastfed him?! give me a break. That's a red flag for me. This article is designed to be supportive & nice, but it's not a decision making tool!

    You've done a great job. Give it your all. And then trust your baby.

  6. I too am struggling to keep my 9 month old going at the breast. I was someone who always planned to nurse each baby for a year. My first child weaned abruptly at 14 months old when he got rotavirus and returned everything, including breastmilk, to sender for a few days' straight. I was 20 wks pregnant with child #2 with a dwindling milk supply, so when he didn't nurse for a couple days, that was that. My second child I weaned at 23 months (WAAAY longer than I had intended to go) with every tool of bribing and distraction known to man, when I was again about 20 wks pregnant with child #3. It never crossed my mind that #3 might want to give it up before a year. I too am facing the very real bummer that the pump isn't doing what it once was, and my baby girl would rather get the quick, easy, and abundant bottle of breastmilk than the sluggish, effortful, and waning breast of it. I'm trying to push through this strike and have been annoyed by coworkers' stories that they "only breastfed for x weeks and my kids turned out just fine". Why am I so determined to get to a year and what am I trying to prove, if anything? I have given it a lot of thought, and I no idea. I think nothing at this point. I'm not even sure it's really "about" the baby's nutrition, IQ, risk of allergies, or anything else at this point. I think I just love that warm, milky baby smell at the end of a long day. I'm hooked, and I can't give it up. So I totally relate.

    The bottom line, though, is that you can lead a baby to the breast (over and over and over and over and over), but you really can't make him drink. Given that you have a medical issue of your own here, I would look at this at a nice coincidence for the two of you and follow his lead. If you have been able to give your baby exclusive breastmilk for 9 months while working full-time, you are a stud and deserve a huge medal. Just let me know where to mail it!

  7. I agree with everyone else - I think 9 months is terrific. My babies both weaned themselves at about the same time (9 months). Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back and know that the 9 months you've had will be a terrific base for him.


  8. I think it's a relief when a baby self-weans. I've heard stories from women who weaned when their kids were like two years old and the kids were often kind of resistent. But when my girl was 12 months, she just stopped showing as much interest and it took so much effort to get her to latch and stay latched... and it just got worse and worse over a period of weeks, so I was comforted by the fact that the weaning was HER decision and I didn't have to force it upon her. If she hadn't self-weaned, god knows how long I would have kept nursing for. (I still miss it a lot, but I don't feel guilty because it was her decision.)

  9. Bad mothers starve their children, beat them and lock them in closets, leave them strapped into car seats in hot cars.

    You aren't a bad mother! Your babies are just growing up. Mine started wanting to look around so much at about 9 months that nursing them because a struggle. It was time to stop.

    That said, I wouldn't wean to a bottle. I still remember telling my 5 y/o on the first day of kindergarten that kindergarteners didn't drink chocolate milk from a bottle.

    I didn't have that struggle with second son.

  10. I had problems with biting from my second and third. I weaned my second at 11 months when I noticed that the milk I was pumping at work was pink instead of white - Ouch!

    With my third whose 8months old now I decided to pump and bottle feed during the day and only nurse in the evening and first thing in the morning when she's sleepy. I'm a little sad about this as she is the last baby I'm planning on having, but I know what I can handle.

    As for nursing till five. A lady at my church did this with her two sons. I'll never forget watching her 5 year old and 3 year old run up to her, pull her shirt and bra up and start fighting each other over her breasts. Not for me!

  11. A pox on the breastfeeding guilt-mongers. My own mother is among the worst offenders since she successfully breastfed 12 kids, including a set of twins. Well, whoopdie-doo. Every kid is different, every mom is different. All that matters is that you love your kids and make sure you feed them. Who cares where the milk comes from!

    My first kid started losing weight at 10 months because my supply was shot (working full time nights at the time), and I felt so darn guilty when I had to switch him to formula. Then I got over it.

    My second baby weaned herself at 3 months. Just quit. That was hard. Ironically, she's my healthiest kid, and she got the least breastmilk. Oh, and she was the easiest to nurse - the little pill.

    My third baby only lived for 3 hours. :*(. I wish I'd tried to feed her a little colostrum.

    My fourth baby was really hard to nurse. I somehow made it to 6 months despite her protests. Honestly, it was a relief to switch her to the bottle.

    Turn off the guilt and focus on the fun of being a mom. I know it's hard to balance work and family. Give yourself some credit.

  12. I actually think the biggest secret of motherhood is guilt. All encompassing guilt about every decision, that no one tells you about until you're smack dab in the throes of it.

    As far as breastfeeding, good for you for making it 6 months. I could never argue the benefits of breastfeeding, or the truth "breast is best," but I will vehemently argue that bresfeeding has ANYTHING to do with a child's security.

    For one, I was formula fed from day one, and I'm so secure, I'm often gently reminded by my husband when I'm being a liitle TOO self-assured. My son, also, was formula fed from day one, and you'd have to look long and hard to find a 2 year old more secure in his relationship with his Mom, and his own autonomy.

    These attributes are values that we instill in our kids, they aren't magic "gemules" (remember BIO 1010) that are expressed in breastmilk. There are many other ways to create a warm, bonding relationship with your child than breastfeeding.

    Good luck to you in whatever decision you make regarding this, but always remember that the most important thing is that your child is being fed, not what you're feeding him.

  13. I sympathize with your angst.

    I wanted desperately to nurse Son, but he was 3-1/2 pounds and my size 46DD breasts almost swallowed him whole.

    Two high-priced lactation consultants and lots of gizmos later, I gave up and just pumped. On his eight week birthday, despite fenugreek and Reglan, I made a total of 10 cc milk. That was it. Went to total formula.

    And you know what? He's fine.

    My next child will not be breast fed as he/she will be adopted. And you know what? He/she will be fine.

    I truly believe that the maternal bond goes beyond the boob. Pardon my French.

    I do, however, regret not being able to nurse. These suckers get in my way so often, and I couldn't even put them to their proper use. It looks like such a comfortable thing when women do it well.

  14. I totally went through that too - so I kept pumping occasionally offered my breast - and guess what? About 2 -3 weeks later he got that look in his eye, I laid him in my arm and offered again and he latched on -- he breast fed for another 3 months!! But whatever you do I agree with everyone else - it doesn't matter. I kept pumping because I missed nursing him and I wanted to give it the old wait it out like all the literature I had read. For me it was worth the wait and the mental pain of pumping even at home instead of nursing for a few weeks.


Comments on posts older than 14 days are moderated as a spam precaution. So.Much.Spam.