Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Woman Who Weans Early

If a woman has enough difficulties with breastfeeding, sometimes it makes sense (depending on her and her situation) to consider bottle-feeding a baby instead. I realize that in saying that, I'm totally defying many authorities. Breastmilk is definitely best for babies, and if you have breastmilk to give, the thought of actually choosing another feeding method floods you instantly with tremendous guilt. But having milk (whether or not it is enough can be debatable) is not the only issue at hand. Sometimes other things need to be taken into consideration.

Anyway, if you are considering weaning, maybe you shouldn't read this. I would recommend that you call a lactation consultant or a La Leche Leader. Call a friend who has been successful with breastfeeding. Pray. Keep nursing until you know that you could not take it anymore. That's the only advice I could ever give on the subject, because anyone can tell that I'm no expert on breast-feeding.

But I am an expert on struggling with breastfeeding. I'm an expert at calling lactation consultants, reading websites, pouring through The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, watching videos of the right way to latch your baby, buying herbs to naturally but gently battle intraductal yeast, weighing your baby way too much before, after, and between feedings, looking at dairy with fear after a tough night of frequent wakings and green mucousy poopy diapers the next day, stepping on the scale and weighing 1/2 pound less than the day before (day after day) because you couldn't get enough to eat for another day, spending 40+ minutes per feeding stripping, changing, switch feeding, and working to wake your baby to make sure they feed better and get enough. I'm an expert at crying. Oh, I'm a bonafide guru at turning on the waterworks.

I could write a book about laying in bed in the morning after an exhausting night of feedings with your sweet baby tucked in next to you and thinking about the day ahead of trying to be a mother to four children in a house that's piling higher and higher with dishes and laundry. And while you have images of 40 minute feedings with your seemingly perpetually exposed breasts hanging out while your toddler is coming at you and the baby with large toys, you just think, "Please, let my heart stop beating right now."

But that's pretty unhealthy, isn't it? If you're like me, you might know what post-partum depression sounds like, and when you're wishing for a cardiac arrest it can be pretty alarming to you let alone to your husband and others. So, you might find yourself searching for something that can make the load you're carrying a little more managable.

And let's talk about breasts. Actually, let's not. I'm not a fan of mine. They've let me down way too many times with their lopsidedness and slow letdown and watery milk and sore, tender nipples and shooting pains during yeast infections that feel like a string is tied from your nipple to a place in your left shoulder blade and the baby is tugging on that string as they nurse. I've had enough of my breasts, and if I thought for a second that they'd do some good for someone else I would definitely post them on e-bay or something. Alas, this is only disturbing and is completely impossible.

A woman who weans earlier than she originally expected is on a horrible roller-coaster for at least a while. Hopefully, if she can have a healthy outlook on it, it can be a short while. But the mourning is there, because when the milk is gone, it's pretty much gone (unless you have the time, energy, and resources to invest in relactation - something I would have seriously considered with my first baby, but could not possibly now that I have four kids).

I would like to respectfully point out that most women I know who wean early (and earlier than planned) have really tried to explore all of their options. To say, "Exhaustion won over" is an oversimplification. Indeed, most have exhausted certain options, or at least, as we've accessed all of the solutions necessary (when there is more than one problem), we've concluded that the battle was more than we could manage with the other factors in our life. For some of us, weaning was the more sane option for us and our families.

I would like to humbly request that no one offer me advice on how to fix my breastfeeding challenges. If a woman says, "Breastfeeding didn't work out," please don't recommend that she rent a hospital grade pump. The use of past tense will likely indicate that the milk is gone already. Now if she says, "I don't think breastfeeding is working out," that's another story. If I were still nursing and reaching out (as I was last week when I blogged, called a ton of people, read a ton of literature, bought of ton of herbs, did a ton of nursing, etc), advice would be welcomed and appreciated. But now that I've decided to bottle feed and made that transition, it doesn't help me to look back and question my decision again and again.

The truth is, I don't even need help to question my decision. That's the toughest part of premature weaning - you question your decision for awhile. I've often found myself looking back for at least a few weeks thinking, "Maybe I could've pumped my milk? Why didn't I just do that? What a selfish person I am!" But then my mind plays through the scenario and I remember that part of the problem was the yeast, the fatigue brought on by continued lactation and food sensitivities, and I already had too many things on my plate as it was. So where was the time to pump?

Maybe just a few more weeks of switch-nursing, I've wondered? Maybe I just needed to wait it out, and then she'd wake up and start nursing better. But the baby had become such a weak nurser by the end, and again there were the other children to care for.

"Sooner or later it would've gotten better. She would've nursed better. My milk would've come back better. We could've beat the yeast. Or I could've breast and bottle fed." Unless the doctor declared the weight-gain was too slow, and do I think I could've handled several more weeks (or 60 minute feedings instead of 40 minute feedings)? (My 3rd baby was a very sleepy, slow nurser all the way through 2 months when I fell apart for all of the same reasons).

I don't even ask how will I bond with my baby, because the fact is, I didn't enjoy the nursing experience very much. I love holding and snuggling my baby, but I don't have to be topless to do that. And I'm such a stress case that every time my baby fussed for any reason, I was flooded with guilt and anxiety that she wasn't getting enough, it was something I ate, or a fear of, "Do I have to nurse again now?"

Please believe me, this is not meant persuade other women to wean or even to defend my choice to others. On the contrary, it's a heads-up that any woman who chooses too wean early (unless your own health issues make that decision for you or something) will be facing some more big emotions. So hang in there and give it your all.

If you end up where I've found myself, though, I pray you can forgive yourself quicker than I am. I hope you can quickly find a formula that your baby loves and thrives on. (Thank goodness, we've had some good, healthy, regular stools since we switched!) I hope that you can enjoy the benefits of bottle-feeding without guilt while rejoicing that you genuinely gave it your best effort and gave them the best start you could. Hold your baby close and snuggle them a lot while feeding them. Look into their eyes, and be sure to burp them well. :)

A good friend of mine (who loves nursing and does with little or no struggle at all) asked why I was afraid to quit nursing. She repeatedly said, "Enjoy your baby. If that means you can fix the nursing problems and enjoy it, do that. If it means bottle-feed, do that. Enjoy your baby."

It seems too simple, but since my breasts are mostly back to normal and the baby is content with the bottle, it's the advice I have to take now.

I can cheekily say this - if she follows suit like her siblings and is sleeping 12 hours straight at 4 months (or is down to one feeding that her wonderful father does), I will not be mourning anymore. ;)


  1. My son had a really high palate and couldn't latch on, no matter what we did. He also bit. I also had double mastitis. When I called the "lactation consultant" to let her know I was quitting, she told me I hadn't tried hard enough.

    I will NEVER let ANYONE talk to a friend of mine like that about something that is both difficult and personal. You rock. You are keeping a family - and self - alive and happy right now. Be proud.

  2. I have no doubt that breast feeding is great for a child, and even after a horrible first child experience where my daughter lost 2 and a half pounds and want back to birth weight at 2 months, I still tried it with the other two. That being said, a woman knows her body better than anyone, and she knows what she can and can't do. I couldn't be the mother I truly wanted to be when breastfeeding consumed my entire life and I still had to supplement because in my case milk never really came in with any of my kids. So I used a bottle and I have three beautiful children ages 5-9 who I have bonded with, are healthy, and know I will do anything for them. Don't feel guilty...if you are a woman who can breast feed and you don't because it is inconvenient then you can feel as guilty as you want, but no mother who has given it her all should ever feel guilty. Your baby is going to be much happier with a stress free mommy (is there such a thing?) Good Luck!