Breastfeeding · Parenting

Weaning my First Baby Sucked

My second baby is still nursing. He’s nearly 14-months old and I’m not sure when he’ll wean himself, or if I’ll force him to do so. That’s not to say that I’ll nurse him until he’s starting preschool, or keep nursing him past the point where I want to, but I don’t have an end date in mind right now. Like so many other things with parenting, I believe that everyone has to do what works best for them and their family in a given situation, whether that’s choosing not to nurse at all or nursing past a third birthday. You do you. Right now, I’m still okay with nursing him and he still wants to nurse, so we keep nursing.

I do hate pumping and I’m really fucking over it. My littlest is allergic to milk, just like his brother was, but unlike his brother, he’s refusing all of the non-dairy milk alternative options he’s had so far. I’ll have to write an entire post on that just to vent my frustration and to compare alternative milks, as I’m finding a disappointing lack of helpful charts online.

All of this angst over trying to get my second to drink something other than my milk so I can stop pumping has me thinking about what it was like to wean my first baby.

There were many moments leading up to the weaning point where I thought about quitting. Right before my first son would get a new tooth he would start biting. I would tell him “no” in a very stern voice and he would cry, but not stop biting. I would take my boob away and there would be more crying, and sometimes he would stop biting. Since this was temporary and relatively predictably linked to teeth, we got through it. We went through a period of gymnastic nursing where he would climb me like a jungle gym, turn himself nearly upside down or want to do a running man like move, but do all of this with a boob in his mouth. There was a distracted nursing period where the only way to get him to focus and eat was to hold him and sway back and forth while he was eating, which in retrospect has me grateful that I don’t make babies who have ever been greater than the 50th weight percentile, and by the time that happened he was crawling and just about the 25th percentile.

For as miserable as nursing had been in the beginning – with the tongue tie, the mental angst I had while trying to get him off a nipple shield, the weeks on end when all he would do was nurse making me a housebound human pacifier –  I was attached to that time with my son. For better or worse, I put him to sleep every night. There were months where the only thing that calmed him down quickly was nursing, and it was like shooting him with a magic booby tranquilizer dart.

Greater than all of the things that nursing did for him or for me, it was inarguably the one thing that I could do for him that no one else could.

nursing, weaning a baby, breastfeeding, parenting, baby, babies
Nursing my first baby at about seven weeks. Photo credit Kirsten Marie Photography.

I don’t often feel like I’m an awesome parent. I am aware that I’m making it up most of the time, and there are times I do things out of frustration when I wish I wasn’t as reactive. I would love to be a super zen positive parenting playground hero, but I have absolutely lost my chill and done things I hope he forgets, like pretending to throw his Kindle out the window after the ninth hour in a car this past weekend when he wouldn’t stop screaming. Although I did give him ample warnings to stop screaming or I would throw his Kindle out the window, and he didn’t. I’ve learned that parenting is a lot about consistency and follow through, hence why I rolled down the window saying, “BUH BYE KINDLE!” while I shoved it in the seat in front of me. It wasn’t my finest moment.

Nursing made me feel like a good parent.

While I thought I would be the homemade baby food type of mom, my kid had allergies and I had to pick my battles with what he could and couldn’t have. In order to help acclimate him to dairy, he ate goldfish crackers loaded with sodium and lots of other non-organic neon orange artificial shit. Granted that I hadn’t reached the battle of the wills that having a toddler can become (see example above), but there were still parenting challenges exacerbated by lack of sleep. When my baby was overtired and not sleeping well, or when we hit the tantrum throwing point before he had a lot of words to express frustration, I doubted my parenting skills.

But I could still nurse him even on tantrum days. I know that there are those who can’t nurse their kids or who don’t nurse them for more than a few months. This wasn’t about “breast is best” so I’m better than you, it was at least this is something that I’m able to do, and I’ll therefore keep doing it. I changed my diet to accommodate his food allergies so he could keep nursing. I kept up pumping at work, even though it wasn’t enjoyable. I dragged my pump with me on a work trip and to weddings. He was happy on the boob, and I felt like a good parent to be able to give him that.

As I mentioned in another post, I got pregnant with my second while I was still nursing my first. Side note: Yes, that happens. I did have my period back by then, but don’t be silly, you can still ovulate while nursing without knowing it, and you can get pregnant before you have your period back. Remember, if you’re not preventing pregnancy you’re basically trying to get pregnant. When the morning sickness that was really all the damn time sickness ramped up, I wasn’t sure if I could or should keep nursing.

My immediate neighbors include two mothers of four children: one mother had two of hers in the living room and nursed while pregnant, and the other mother told me rightly so that there’s no prize for not getting an epidural, so why deny yourself if you want one. Clearly different and very valid perspectives, which is what I needed while trying to feel my way through early pregnancy while nursing.

It was recommended by a couple of nurses at my OB’s office to stop nursing. My doctor said it was my decision, and as long as it worked for me and I felt like I could do it, there was no harm to me or the fetus if I wanted to keep nursing. The pediatrician was indifferent, and the lactation consultants I asked said it was up to me, and I didn’t have to stop if I didn’t want to. Initially, I didn’t want to, but I also knew that I didn’t want to tandem nurse a baby and a toddler so I would stop at some point.

There’s a supply dip that can happen when you get pregnant, and while I noticed it, it wasn’t totally crushing. My baby didn’t seem to mind too much initially. As the weeks went on, it was a combination of sore boobs and constant nausea that forced my decision to stop.

I was so much sicker the second time around. I started out doing what worked the first time – ginger chews, crackers, a straight carb diet – but I ended up on three different medicines to control the nausea. I was closer to my first baby pre-pregnancy weight at the end of the first trimester than I had been since having my son. I couldn’t stomach food, and I was exhausted all the time.

How terribly sick I felt is what forced my hand on weaning. And in the beginning, weaning felt awful.

Our routine meant that I would pick up my baby out of his crib in the morning and nurse him in the glider, and I would nurse him before bed at night. Those two were the hardest to cut out, while replacing daytime nursing with bottles was relatively easy.

It seemed like morning nursing would be the easier of the hard sessions to cut. I would get him out of his bed and he would scream, pointing to the chair and throwing his body toward it while I tried to distract him with something else. This was heartbreaking to me, and lasted longer than I thought it would.

We also struggled to give up not just night nursing, but what I would call emergency nursing. One of the last times we nursed was just before Christmas. My husband and I had gone to a party and the babysitter called me saying that he had woken up and was totally inconsolable. She put me on the phone so he could hear my voice, and he started to calm down, but it was fleeing. I had to leave the party and go home, and I remember nursing him in the glider and knowing that he probably wasn’t getting any milk. My boobs hurt, and I knew we needed to be just totally done.

My husband took over putting him to sleep with a bottle for a couple of weeks so we could alter the routine. Despite the help that my husband was in getting the baby off the boob, it was hard for me to stop nursing. I didn’t have any physical discomfort from weaning that I remember now, but I’m sure that being pregnant and tapering off the nursing sessions helped. It was the emotional part of it that sucked.

My baby seemed to get over being weaned faster when we totally cut off all nursing as opposed to when I was tapering him off session by session. Within a week or two, he wasn’t screaming in the morning, and I could cuddle him at night and get him into bed without him head butting my chest or doing his little baby guppy mouth on my clothing covered boob.

But I was upset. Even months later when he would have a tantrum, I would wonder if I could have calmed him down if we were still nursing. He’s a skinny little thing, and I worried that he wasn’t getting the extra boost that he had with my milk. When we first weaned he started getting ear infections, and I felt guilty like weaning was why that happened. I felt like he grew closer to his father, which while it’s an awesome relationship, still hurt my feelings. When we were nursing I had this one special thing that no one else did; when we stopped, I felt like I lost this crucial element or cement to our bond.

In the long run, he’s turned out totally fine.

I needed the break between nursing babies to focus on being pregnant and cook one human without also sustaining another, and I’m glad that I didn’t wait to wean him later in pregnancy. I’m even more glad I didn’t try to tandem nurse, as nursing one baby is hard enough. If you are a tandem nursing mom, more power to you! I think it’s awesome, but I didn’t have it in me. My toddler turned out fine, and while he asked to nurse after the baby arrived he wasn’t serious and would giggle if I threw him into a nursing position and said “okay, here’s a booby!” We have our own relationship and while he is still a Daddy’s Boy, he’s also my little man.

The power of the boob on a sick, nap refusing baby. I don’t know if I can give up that magic yet.

So here I am with my currently nursing baby who won’t drink milk other than mine. There’s a not small part of me that wonders if I am not setting a nursing expiration date for my littlest as he is most likely going to be my last baby. While I vacillate on wanting a third child – there is a nagging feeling like I’m just not done having babies – there are many more logical, logistical and financial  reasons to say we’re done at two. I want to savor all of the things that come with this baby likely being my last. Which is also probably why I keep calling him a baby when he’s a legit walking, starting-to-talk toddler.


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