August is breastfeeding awareness month so before it comes to a close I wanted to share my recent experience about one of the biggest things I did not anticipate or prepare for: self weaning.
There does not seem to be a lot of awareness of the occurrence of self weaning before the age of 12 months. I had to do a lot of Google searches before I even found out what was happening, and once I did, there isn’t much information or support out there about babies doing this before the age of 12 months. My baby did it at 8.5!
It all started six days after my husband and baby came back from visiting family. She had gone without breastfeeding and me for a week, but started back up as if she had never left, so I was relieved….at first.
Then six days later, for her morning feeding she bit me…hard! I couldn’t help but have a strong reaction, and mostly because it seemed like she did it on purpose. She had never had nipple confusion and had only slightly bitten me, maybe, twice as she got her first teeth. We never had a problem like this. We tried once more same thing happened then switched sides with the same result. I tried putting her in the football hold so she could sit up and be more comfortable, but it was a no go. My reaction had sealed the deal and she was done from that point on.
Initially I only found things like this: When babies abruptly stop nursing, it’s a nursing strike – not weaning; Most nursing strikes are over, with the baby back to breastfeeding, within two to four days; She isn’t weaning. Babies do not wean this young. It doesn’t make sense biologically; and my personal favorite, With patience and support, though, you can get through it and that it will pass. Hmm…..Well weeks went by and she never showed an ounce of interest in breastfeeding. She did do it rather suddenly and there was nothing else I could have done about it. She wouldn’t even let me hold her horizontally across my chest even when there was no pressure to nurse.
After a full week of what I thought was a “nursing strike” went by, I started to resign myself to the possibility that my intention of breastfeeding for a full year was simply not going to pan out. Had I known that this was even at all remotely possible, I would have at least had the idea in my head and would not likely have felt so devastated. I felt like a major part of my mommy-hood was taken away from me.
Why was this not covered in any of the literature I had read? Does it happen so infrequently that people think it’s not worth mentioning anywhere or making it seem like I as a mother didn’t work out the problem correctly? Here is a direct quote from the La Leche League website, “Sudden refusal to nurse, especially when the baby is under one year, is not an indication that the infant is ready to wean but rather that he is communicating that something is wrong. Many mothers misinterpret this message and do wean completely at this time.” LLLI is a great resource in some respects, but come on, here is a blatant bias and a dig at us mothers by inferring that we’re not properly reading our baby’s signals.
I finally decided to take the back-end approach, oh I was sooo dreading to do this: google “signs that baby is self weaning.” I realized that she was actually showing many of these for a while: being easily distracted, coming on and off for extended periods but still hungry, showing a decline of interest in nursing for comfort, etc. I had found a great list a couple of months ago but it seems it is hiding in the Google matrix, unfortunately. My uncontrollable reaction when she bit me was just the straw that broke the camel’s back for her. It wasn’t my or anyone’s fault. She was just ready to stop breastfeeding and is becoming very independent by wanting to feed herself. Ok, I could accept that. I then found that this has happened to a number of women and babies. It was such a comfort seeing that we were not alone.
Every woman I read about, who reported that this had happened to them (at various stages I might add), also said that they had no idea that this was possible. What?? Even if this happens to a very few percentage of babies, this knowledge should be available to every woman who chooses to nurse We should be told about the good and the bad so we’re not left in the dark when something out of the ordinary happens. This is exactly why I love the mommy blogs and comment sections because if it wasn’t for them, I’d probably still be upset and baffled that my daughter seemed to self wean at an early age. I wish I had found this excellent article from Alpha Mom before I wrote this post!
Next year, let’s make breastfeeding awareness month more about a true awareness of all aspects of breastfeeding! Who is with me?
Here’s the rest of my story:
I continued offering for a couple more weeks, just in case she changed her mind but no luck, and decided to keep pumping for as long as I could or at least so we could slowly transition her into full formula. With my new understanding of the situation, I felt better. At this time I was not working and had as much time to dedicate to pumping as I wanted to. However, it became a pain because I was working on various projects and taking care of the baby and it was just something that had reached it’s endpoint.
I decided to pump as little as I could get away with and slowly decreased my supply. The final pumping session was hard! Even though I had reconciled myself to the situation a while back, I still had a final teary-eyed moment of sadness that this phase in my mommy-hood was now completely over.
On the bright side, I felt good about the fact that I was able to provide my daughter with breast milk at all and that we did it for what amounted to be about 10 months. I can be happy with that and consider this an accomplishment! Also, I have a very independent daughter who enjoys feeding herself and learning to do things on her own. Who wouldn’t be proud of that?