How to Wean When Your Baby Stops Breastfeeding – HarpersBAZAAR.com

Posted: December 29, 2019 at 7:49 pm

Design by Ingrid Frahm, Getty Images

Baby-led weaning can be a confusing and complicated process. When Juno DeMelo's daughter went from drinking almost a liter of breastmilk a day to wanting nothing to do with it, the new mom was left physically and emotionally unmoored.

The first time I stuffed my bra was in middle school. It was actually a swimsuit, and I used shoulder pads that I had to keep wringing out by crossing my arms. The second time, I was of advanced maternal age, and I lined my nursing bra with cabbage leaves.

I was already popping maximum-strength Sudafed and chugging peppermint tea to cut off my milk supply. By that point Id been breastfeeding for almost a year, and my output was nourishing not just my daughter but also an adopted infant and the preemie recipients of my frequent donations to the local milk bank.

At first, I had trouble getting any milk to come out. For close to a week, I produced only colostrum, and despite the lactation consultants reassurance that newborns stomachs are the size of a walnut, I feared my daughter, Margot, was starving.

I struggled despite the fact that Id taken an all-day breastfeeding class and read a 352-page book that laid out breastfeeding in seven easy steps. I flailed even though I set up my pump while I was still pregnant and bought a nursing pillow called My Brest Friend. In the hospital, I received hands-on coaching from a nurse who made my nipple into a supposed sandwich. Everyone stood around in the hospital room watching the frog baby whod just emerged from my vagina covered in slime try to suck on the one sexualized body part that hadnt yet been mommified (its worth noting that spell check would like this to say mummified).

And then, on day seven, we achieved liftoff. It finally rainedand then it poured. My boobs ballooned to an F cup. Margot started nursing for eight hours a day, according to the app I used to time how long she spent on each side. When I pumped, I would fill two, sometimes three, bottles, a freakish amount. (Breastfed babies take in an average of 25 ounces of breast milk over the course of a day. I once pumped 16 ounces before 6 a.m.) I froze the extra milk in bags, dated and labeled with the number of ounces they contained.

I got clogged ducts that made it feel like someone had slipped dice into my breast tissue. I shoved heart-shaped reusable bamboo pads into my bras, which were already bursting at the seams. I soaked through them, so I switched to disposable ones with waterproof backings that crinkled every time I moved. I woke up each morning looking like Id slipped my pajama shirt on over a wet bikini top. Nonetheless, I kept at it. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding until one one year. Determined to do motherhood right, I made this my goal. Well ahead of reaching it, though, I began worrying about having to hurry Margot along to the next milestone.

Even as an egg, her pace had never matched mine. It had taken me forever to get my period again after going off of birth control, then long enough to get pregnant that I made a fertility appointment I cancelled at the last minute, after finally seeing a blue line on the pregnancy strips Id bulk-ordered from Amazon.

I didnt start getting contractions until five days after my due date, and my labor lasted 20 hours, ending only when my OB-GYN plunged Margot out by the head. Margot nursed leisurely, taking long, slow gulps for half an hour long after everyone said she would speed up.

So when she refused to nurse one evening around 10 months old, I chalked it up to a fluke, probably an illness, definitely not a sudden spurt of baby-led weaning. By that point Margot had already had two bouts of hand-foot-mouth disease, bronchiolitis that landed her in the emergency room, and a weeks-long spell of projectile vomitingat a baby shower, birthday party, and restauranttriggered by anything that wasnt breast milk. We had ointments and drops for eczema, pink eye, and diaper rash. We were intimately acquainted with the thermometer and a plastic contraption that allowed us to suck the mucus out of her nose using the force of our breath. What fresh hell is this? is something I asked myself often.

When she refused to nurse one evening around 10 months old, I chalked it up to a fluke, probably an illness, definitely not a sudden spurt of baby-led weaning.

My husband wondered whether Margot, crying hysterically by this point, had broken a bone, thats how surprising it was when she refused to nurse. The mom friends I met that night for dinner had another idea.

Well, shes done breastfeeding, one said. Mine started to lose interest around this age too.

They were mothers of two, more experienced and less fazed by the unexpected than I was. My baby, I insisted, was not theirs. Our bond was an airtight latch between rosebud mouth and nipple. There was no slow leak, and there was certainly no precedent of what amounted to a sudden flat tire on the freeway.

The next morning, I pumped before going to the gym, and my husband gave Margot the breast milk in a bottle. Then we packed up the car for our first road trip, to the Oregon coast. She slept most of the way, waking up just as we pulled onto the unpaved road leading to our cabin.

Ingrid Frahm, Getty Images

We were, as was my wont, early. The woman cleaning the place suggested we kill time by checking out the beach. It was a short, steep hike away, down a dirt path lined with blackberries we popped into our mouths as we walked. When we got to the shore, I plopped down on a piece of driftwood and pulled out my boob. Id seen friends doing this on Instagram, nursing on grey, deserted Oregon beaches. I felt like Margots trusty goatskin of cold white wine.

But her mouth, stained purple, would not open. She thrashed around as if my nipple were antimagnetic. Seagulls were squawking, waves were crashing, and it was, as it always is on Oregon beaches, cold and windy. How can someone concentrate under these circumstances? I asked myself. A small part of me, though, started to worry my friends were right.

We walked back to the house, and a few hours later, I tried nursing Margot again on the couch, facing the ocean. She looked at my nipple as if shed never seen it before, plucked at it with her tiny fingers, and laughed. I was fucked.

She looked at my nipple as if shed never seen it before, plucked at it with her tiny fingers, and laughed.

Already, my milk felt like Tetris blocks stacking up with alarming quickness in my boobs. I texted my mom friends that they had, in fact, told me so. They replied telling me to go cold turkey in order to shut down my supply ASAP. They tried to contextualize my shock and prepare me for more of it.

Think of how many times our kids will do something were not ready for between now and when they go to college! one wrote.

Oh, God, just think. After running ahead and doubling back for so long, Id finally been left in the dust by Margot. How else would she surprise me? And how could I, someone who cannot float down a river without trying to use my flip-flops to steer myself into the current the whole time, learn to go with a flow that trickled and then gushed and now needed to be dammed? Id hurried Margot all her short life, worried shed get left behind, or more accurately, that shed slow me down. I wanted her to hit one developmental benchmark after another ahead of schedule, untilwhat, she leaves the house the day she turns 18? She gets to her grave? She buries me in mine?

I couldnt control Margot or myself. After tracking my ovulation for over a year, spending 10 months pregnant, and then nursing for nearly another year, Id looked forward to the end of nursing as the opportunity to get my body back. But my body kept doing its own thing. I couldnt keep it from making milk, which a physician assistant warned me could continue for up to a year. My identity was shifting yet again, from possibly infertile to with-child to milk machine to something akin to a used condom, and it was disorienting. My daughter had outgrown me literally overnight, and my torn and leaking body was outlasting its utility. Shed been ripped from my body a second time, only this time shed done the ripping, and that hurt worse.

My daughter had outgrown me literally overnight, and my torn and leaking body was outlasting its utility.

I called my hospitals mother-baby center, which had been incredibly helpful to me when I was struggling to breastfeed. The woman who answered sounded stunned that anyone could need help quitting their goal, as if I were trying to get less fit. Maybe its because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working to get the proportion of infants who are breastfed at one year up to (a mere) 34.1 percent.

A lot of my friends breastfed for that long, but 60 percent of moms quit sooner than theyd intended to. Some never really like it as much as they wish they did. Others dont have time to pump once they go back to work, or their milk dries up, or their babies never latch properly.

No matter when they quit or why, most breastfeeding mothers feel conflicted. The emotions around weaning are layered and nuanced and can be contradictory, says Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a reproductive psychiatrist and clinical assistant professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine. You can be joyful that you have your body back to yourself, but you could also have grief about not having that close, connected time with your infant.

One thing thats fairly universal: The belief that breast is best. The whole birth-industrial complex is devoted to women only so long as theyre doing whats best for their babies. Youre a relative princess when youre pregnant. Other people carry your bags. You have a dedicated clinician who sees you every week toward the end of your pregnancy, and, if youre lucky, a lactation consultant.

The problem is that no one is there to help you dismantle all the scaffolding youve built to support another human being. Postpartum, you carry the bags and the baby. No one much cares about your hemorrhoids or lower back pain or stretch marks or infected boobs that are causing a fever to spread throughout your body. You have a six-week follow-up, and they send you on your way. You have a baby, and that is your reward and your curse.

The medical community and our culture tends to talk more about babies than women around the transition to motherhood, says Alexandra Sacks, M.D., a reproductive psychiatrist and the host of the Motherhood Sessions podcast. Weaning is a continued time where discussion about the babys health and wellness dominates the conversation.

I was lucky that I could turn to my friends, but still, none of them brought up weaning until I did. I tried to dig up studies and found very few. Even the mom blogs were relatively mum on the topic. One explanation: Its assumed that weaning is easy or that it just happens, when in fact its quite a complicated process, says Lakshmin. I also think theres so much guilt and shame and pressure around breastfeeding conversations, the decision to stop might be one that women feel badly about it, or they worry theyll be judged.

Its assumed that weaning is easy or that it just happens, when in fact its quite a complicated process.

With little to go on, I pumped a tiny bit when my boobs felt like they might explode and suffered through the uncomfortable fullness the rest of the time. I tried drugs and herbs and vegetable poultices. I squeezed my extra ample bosom between the straps of a hiking carrier so we could march along the coastline with Margot. I offered her pouches of purplish sludge instead of nursing her when she fussed.

We returned home in the middle of a Tuesday. I walked in the door and couldnt decide what to put down first or where. I felt paralyzed and hot and unmoored. My levels of the feel-good hormones oxytocin and prolactin were plunging, bringing back the horrible anxiety Id felt postpartum.

For a long time, I tried to understand why no one told me the truth about birth. (Sacks actually co-wrote a book called What No One Tells You. The mothers emotional experience is under-discussed, she says. Youre not alone in feeling that you wish there had been more open education about the transition.) Were they keeping their experiences to themselves, or were theirs just less traumatic than mine? I wondered the same thing about weaning.

It turns out it isnt just different for different women, its also felt differently on a hormonal level. Theres a subset of women who are much more sensitive to hormone changes than others, whether theyre on their period, pregnant, breastfeeding, or weaning, explains Lakshmin. So theres a huge variation, which is why some women had a horrible time with weaning, and for others it was a nonevent.

Eventually, it did become a nonevent. I gave my pump to one friend and my nursing bras to another. As my milk began to dry up, my boobs swam a little in my old underwire bras. There was enough room in there for shoulder pads or cabbage leaves. Theyd once been bigger than a newborns head and just as round and hard. Now they were floppy and soft, dual Velveteen Rabbits.

We worked our way through all the frozen breast milk and transitioned Margot to cows milk, which we started sending in her lunchbox to Montessori. Her teacher poured it into a little metal condiment cup she still drinks from with two hands, as if its a chalice. For a long time, Margot would cry at drop-off, but she grew to look only a little nervous. She sat herself on a child-size wooden bench to remove her shoes, and when she did this, she looked like a tiny woman awaiting a train she wasnt sure she wanted to take.

On Fridays, Montessori serves banana waffles for second breakfast. One day, when I dropped Margot off, she made a beeline for her teacher, an unflappable woman with dark hair I often turn to for parenting advice. Margot softly touched her teachers knee and turned around to look at me, still in her rain jacket, her hair a wild nest of curls she wont let me put in a ponytail. It was all Id hoped for when she was an infant: walking, solid food, a good head of hair, independence. I stood there in my slightly too-big bra, holding a Neoprene lunch sack with a bottle of milk in it, stunned again to be left behind, in a position I longed for but never could envision actually arriving at, again.

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How to Wean When Your Baby Stops Breastfeeding - HarpersBAZAAR.com

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