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Mother-Led Weaning: How and Why I Gently Weaned My Son

22 Feb

Mother led weaning

I really loved breastfeeding both my children, the benefits and the ease and the simplicity, and oh those tender bonding times untouched by the world. Ah, sweet bliss.

But, I was done. D.O.N.E. (Imagine me saying “done” with my eyes bugging out of my head, and waving my arms around in circles like a mad scientist with crazy hair who hasn’t slept in years.)

Sixteen months into it, my breastfeeding relationship with my son was starting to take a toll on our mother/child bonding relationship. You see, I was no longer happily breastfeeding, a lot of times I was just plain-ol’ resentfeeding (I just made that word up, but you’ll know it if you’ve done it).

I really needed to focus on taking care of my needs. (You can read bits of that experience here, here and here.) In order to properly love my family I needed to pick my burnt-out self off the ground and get my groove back, for the sake of my sanity, for the sake of both my children, for the sake of my husband, and for me. Quite honestly, I knew that the first step in focusing on my own needs involved weaning my son. (Gulp.)

And while I understand the WHO recommendations of nursing a child till they’re at least two (you can read about that here), I also know that a healthy breastfeeding relationship should continue for as long as both mother and baby desire. Both.

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You see, I would step into the living room, hoping to sit down and enjoy my kids, play with my daughter and son together, and upon setting eyes on me, Noah would simply burst into frantic screams until I nursed him.

This happened all the time: happy baby boy without momma around, the moment momma comes near, unhappy baby till boobies arrive – even if he nursed five minutes ago.

I could no longer handle the emotional and physical hesitation I felt approaching my son anymore. It wasn’t fair to him! In my heart I knew what I needed to do.

Mother-led weaning, with gentle compassion for my son, but also gentle compassion for me as a mom. (Yes, I deserve that much! We all do!)

My personal goal was to breastfeed Noah till he was 18 months old, and or finished with teething,  whichever came first (nothing soothes a cranky, teething baby faster than a little nursing session) and at 16 months Noah’s teeth had all arrived (two-year molars withstanding, those started at 20 months).

Here’s how we approached gentle mother-led weaning in my home.

Nursing my son for the first time moments after giving birth. He's eating, and I'm eating too. This is my mom feeding me my postbirth hamburger. I like to call this 'generational feeding.'

Nursing my son for the first time moments after giving birth. He’s eating, and I’m eating too. This is my mom feeding me my postbirth hamburger. I like to call this ‘generational feeding.’

Plan of Action

First I made a plan, and gave myself about 8 weeks to fully wean Noah. I decided not to implement a new phase until the first phase was successful for at least a five days or more. Here’s what worked best for our home:

  1. Remove random feeds scattered throughout the day that don’t follow a pattern.
  2. Remove morning feed.
  3. Remove feeds before naps and bed-time. (Starting first with naps, then moving onto bed-time.)
  4. Remove night-time comfort feeds.
  5. Be flexible and go slow. Give extra special care and attention to help my child adjust peacefully through these changes.

Phase 1 – Random Feeds

At 16 months old, Noah was breastfeeding around ten times a day, if not more. My goal was to cut back his nursing sessions to about six feeds a day. That meant we needed to cut back on the breastfeeding that happened randomly in a day, like when he would fuss, or fall down, or want a snack, or just hollar at me for boobie, “Maaaaaaaaaa, the boobies!”

I felt these would be the easiest to replace with distractions, like a sippy cup of water, a toy to play with, or a bite of fruit (if he was hungry). What Noah did not want instead of nursing, though, were cuddles from me. Having mommy so close and not having “a nurse” (that’s what we call it in our house) only frustrated him.

Believe it or not, phasing out those extra nursing sessions were simple as pie. Noah didn’t seem to even notice the change-up and responded well to the alternatives. (Whew!)

Phase 2 – Morning Feed

The next step was removing the morning feed. No sweat! Instead of my husband bringing Noah to my bed to nurse when he woke up (we stopped co-sleeping when Noah was 9 months old), Peter simply brought Noah to his high chair, offered our boy a sippy cup with water and a yummy hot breakfast. (Noah does not like cows milk, almond milk, coconut milk, you name it. So, water it is. We supplement with cheese and kefir/yogurt.) Sweet boy was happy as a clam with that change. Not even a bit of fuss over that.

Big sister loved to nurse her baby too whenever mommy fed Noah.

Big sister loved to nurse her baby too whenever mommy fed Noah.

Phase 3 – Sleepy Time Feeds

The next step was to remove the sleepy time nursing sessions prior to his two daily naps and bed time. We did this by really focusing on our routine before bed.

We’ve had a bed-time routine since Noah was about 9 months old. And the last step of our routine always included nursing Noah till he was this close to being asleep (and then I laid him down in his crib). The plan was to simply remove the last step in the routine (yeah, easier said than done, I know!) and give extra cuddles and lullabies instead.

I read him a book, sang lots of songs, said bed-time prayers, and gave all those warm mommy lovin’s in the rocking chair. I did add a new “lovie” to the bed-time routine (a little yellow blanket), and I also offered Noah a sippy cup with water to hold during our bed-time routine, he would take sips from that here and there while we sang and read books.

This stage was a little touchy for about three days – the worst being the first day. Noah fussed and let me know he wanted to nurse. However, I committed to comforting his heart with extra mommy love instead of nursing. I knew there really wasn’t an easy or quick fix to this stage, only through it. (Just like labor, ladies!)

After about three to five minutes of fussiness and tears for a few nights, Noah would settle into me and relax, allowing himself to be soothed by my touch and voice. After three days, we successfully transitioned out of those sleepy-time feeds.

Flexibility

After cutting out those feeds, we were left with just our night-time comfort sessions. Things were moving on as planned.

Then we had a curve ball. Noah suddenly showed signs that he wanted to nurse in the afternoon, usually after his second nap of the day around 4 PM.

I believe in following my children’s cues whenever inherently possible. Since none of my distraction techniques worked to keep Noah from wanting to nurse late in the afternoon, I made peace with the extra session. I think he liked the cuddle time after his nap and it appeared he was hungry. I was fine with this, I knew we we’re taking things slowly.

However, after a few days, it seemed like Noah was happy to have a snack instead of an afternoon nurse. At 4 PM he and his sister (to this day they still do this) sit at the table together and enjoy apple slices, or carrot sticks and humus, or whatever sounds yummy and won’t spoil dinner. This has become a regular routine in our home – Zoe and Noah’s 4 PM snack time and mommy’s cup of coffee!

One of my favorite candid shots of me nursing Noah. A picnic with friends on the square in Denton, TX.

One of my favorite candid shots of me nursing Noah. A picnic with friends on the square in Denton, TX.

Phase 4 – Mid-Night Comfort Sessions

The next step was to cut back on the comfort sessions in the middle of the night. I’ll be honest these were the ones that had me worried the most. When Noah woke up at night crying, it was so easy to simply pick him up, nurse him and viola, two minutes later he was back in dreamland, which meant I got to go there too just as quickly.

Weaning him off of those nightly comfort sessions took some effort on my part. I had to make peace with the reality that I would be up for at least 15 minutes each time he woke. It was challenging, but not any harder than it was to remove the feeds prior to his daily naps – it’s just that in the middle of the night we were both really tired and less patient.

But I stuck with, we stuck with it, Noah and me. I talked to him all through it telling him what was happening and why, and how much I loved him and how he could have mommy cuddles any time he wanted, but that nursing had to go bye-bye. Our children understand far more than what we give them credit for and it’s very important that we talk them through these types of changes.

At night, I would pick Noah up in my arms, sit in the rocker and sing to him, patting his bottom all the while. Sometimes I would offer a sippy cup of water if he seemed thirsty.

(FYI, my miracle cure to stop Noah’s tears were, and still are, songs with short, choppy, rhythmic words sung in staccato style. As soon as I start singing this way, he quiets down and falls asleep – no matter how loud he’s crying.)

However, If Noah didn’t calm down after trying all those things within 5-10 minutes of me offering other options, I’ll would then offer him the breast, just until he calmed his little soul down (not till he fell asleep), then once he stopped crying, I would unlatch him, cuddle him close, sing to him, and then lay him down once he showed signs that he was ready to stretch out and sleep. Sometimes, like his sister did at that age, Noah would sign “all done” when he wanted to lay down in his crib.

I sat down to nurse Noah and Zoe brought over her rocking chair and nursed her stuffed dog, too. Just like mommy.

I sat down to nurse Noah and Zoe brought over her rocking chair and nursed her stuffed dog, too. Just like mommy.

Saying Good-bye to Breastfeeding

Six weeks later, we had finally reached that point where I knew Noah had successfully weaned. At 17 months he was no longer showing interest in breastfeeding any more.

He also stopped crying when I would walk into a room, and instead he would simply smile at me, jump up for a hug and then go back to playing with his blocks!

I also started to enjoy more personal time to attend to my needs, and our daily life seemed to settle into a peaceful rhythm, with less crying for Noah, and less stress for all of us.

Even so, the emotional implications of letting go of breastfeeding were very hard. I knew this would be the case. I also knew that no matter when I weaned Noah, I would never *not* feel that deep tug on my heart – that ache that comes from saying good-bye to something so intimate, so maternal, so universally indicative of mothering a tiny child.

When I recognized that there would never be a magical moment when it would feel easy to say good-bye to breastfeeding, it made coming to terms with the process of weaning my son a little easier on my heart.

The Very Last Time I Breastfed My Son

My last nursing session with Noah was in the dreamy hours of a crisp September night, and I knew…

I sat down with him in the rocker, the sound machine offering its rainy tune, the night-light casting little golden flecks across his sleepy face. With his squishy cheek pressed into my breast, his starfish hand clasped around my index finger, and the gentle metronome of his breathing – in and out like waves on my heart, I allowed myself to become fully aware of it all – his very body being nourished by my own.

I turned our intimate space into an altar of worship – saying feel this, let your spirit acknowledge this holy place. I wrote my feelings down with love along the walls of my heart saying to my mind, “remember this moment, forever.”

Noah fell into a deep sleep, as he had so many times before, nestled securely in my arms, latched onto my breast, filled with contentment and quieted with sleep. Ever so slowly his mouth opened, slack-jawed and loose, lost in his slumber, my son took a deep breath stretched out his arms and … unlatched.

I leaned down and pressed my lips against his doughy cheek and I knew. I knew. I knew.

It was the end.

But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother,

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

– Psalm 131:2

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This is one of the last pictures taken of me nursing my son. He’s a little over a year here and we were out as a family visiting the Art Institute in Chicago.

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Parenting Tips Shared on Facebook and The Implosion of a Million Emotions

7 Feb

Tips for Talking to Children

On Wednesday evening I shared the above infographic* that I created on my Facebook page, The Joy of This. Within a few hours it was quickly shared over 600 times.  A lot of people seemed to really love the tips, but also, not surprisingly, a lot of parents were outraged by the tips. Tips which I gleaned and compiled from two different books, Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer for Toddlers, and How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.

But some people just didn’t care that these tips came from recognized experts in the field. Some folks were down right angry – at me – for suggesting these tips.

In fact, I even had one mother attack me personally for posting it on my page, making mean-spirited claims about me and my children. I chose not to respond to her comment, but rather ban her from my page (along with a few other miserable beings who had really uncouth things to say). Mean parents who don’t know how to express a differing opinion without using verbal attacks get banned – that’s just how it goes!

Joking aside …

There was one comment that really soured my milk, it was this:

fits are unacceptable

“Number four is out of the question in my house. Fits are unaccepbtle [sic] under any and all circumstances and will not be rewarded with a hug.” 

Yowzers,“any and all circumstances” you say? How very authoritarian of you. That’ll teach ’em!

Last I checked it was “liked” 18  times, and that just seriously bummed me out. But, got me thinking…

On further reflection, and seeing that a lot of people just weren’t getting it, I came to the conclusion that the infographic did a poor job explaining the reasonings behind the tips and the importance of using these tips with our children; unless you are already aware of the concepts behind this advice you may not understand the value of these suggestions.

So I wrote a lengthy and heartfelt response and shared it as a status update on my Facebook page in hopes to shed light on the issue. That “status” has now been shared over 180 times from my page, gained more than 1200 likes, and has been viewed by more than 10,000 people. Holy smokes! This tells me something I need to remember: when we open up and share our parenting failures and victories with authenticity and vulnerability, it impacts our hearts in a way that an idealized infograpic just isn’t able to.  (Another lesson learned by yours truly.)

I’ve included here below the status update I shared on my Facebook page:

My Parenting Lesson

I learned a valuable lesson when I weaned my two-year-old daughter from her pacifier. The first nap time without her pacifier she cried hard at not having her (life-long) established comfort method, but I felt like she would just have to learn the hard way, and without thinking I shut the door and walked away from Zoe because I thought there was nothing {else} I could do – just rip the Band-Aid off and get it over with.

As I stood alone in the kitchen trying to wash dishes, I could hear my daughter screaming painfully through her confused tears.  That moment, lightning struck my heart, and I thought to myself, “What am I doing? I would never walk away from a friend, or my spouse if they were miserably crying like that alone in a room! Why do I think it’s okay to do this to my own child?”

I turned on my heels, and rushed into her room. I got in bed with her, and held her close to me. I told her first that I was sorry, and then I told her that I could see how hard it must be to have to nap without her pacifier, but that I was there to hug her and hold her until she felt good enough to go to sleep without it. With great relief she quieted and sank into my arms and fell tenderly asleep.

After that nap, she NEVER asked for her pacifier again.

That day I learned that a mother’s compassion will lead her child to acceptance far easier than a mother’s silence.

Make no mistake, I am a momma bear with my kids, but I’m one mamma bear that always strives (often imperfectly) to consider the feelings of my children in the moment of their learning.

A-mother's-Compassion

Please be gentle with me and this personal experience I just shared with you. This is my story, and my learning experience, shared with vulnerability and honesty. Please do not attack my parenting skills, and feel this is your opportunity to use *MY EXPERIENCE* as a platform to teach *YOUR LESSON.*

There was a lot of gentle weaning that happened prior to weaning from naps. I did approach other ideas, (giving her paci away, etc.) and I did speak to my daughter over the course of a few weeks and months about how we would say good-bye to her paci at nap-times.

*A line of the “Tips for Talking To Our Children” infographic was edited  based on a Facebook commenter’s suggestion to say, “When you’re done eating…” instead of “Once you finish eating…”  Thanks for the tip, smart momma!

The Birth of A Mother Quote

3 Feb

The Birth of A Mother
Editor’s Note: This quote was taken from a blog post I wrote in July of 2010 called, Making Room For Love. Below is an excerpt from that post. You can read the post in its entirety here.

It is because of my own experience with the difficulty of motherhood that my heart is so tender towards new mothers. With deep conviction and experience, I know that the hardest part is not the 40+ weeks of pregnancy, and it is certainly not the average 12- 24 hour labor.  The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterwards.  It is the year of travail – when the soul of a woman must birth the mother inside her.  The emotional labor pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love.  It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy than the event of childbirth, perhaps it is even more sacred.

With great reverence and awe at the journey of becoming a mother I hold my heart up and offer thanks in learning to make more room inside my soul for love.

A Painful Childhood Memory Casts Light on My Quest As a Mother

6 Sep

Do you remember the first time you felt less than perfect? I remember it well. It was the summer between fourth and fifth grade. The apartment complex where we lived had a pool and I was there splashing around in the cool water on that blazing hot day in Oklahoma.

Another two girls were there enjoying the pool, as well. I had seen them here and there at the apartment’s playground. However these girls never spoke to me. They were tied together at the hips and seemed only interested in boys and each other. They both reeked of lofty pre-teen coolness. Their confidence matched their long, lean, and tanned frames.

I had no idea what it really meant to be jealous. All I knew was that they were not like me and that’s what made them so fascinating. They looked like sisters with their honey blond hair, green eyes, and matching black, yellow and pink suits with holes cut out in the middle showing off their flat bellies. (Nod if you remember those hideous suits from the 80s.)

I was standing on the edge of the pool, plugging my nose with my fingers, trying to work up the nerve to jump in the deep end. They were there jumping in and out like Greek Olympians. At one point they were playing just a few feet away from me. I couldn’t help it, I was blatantly and wistfully staring at them.

They ran over to their mothers, who were larger more developed cut-outs of the girls. Both moms were smeared in baby oil, reading cheap drug store novels, drinking soda and adjusting their tiny, string bikinis to avoid tan lines. How strange to have mothers who wore bikinis and read paperback books with bare-chested men pictured on the covers, I thought to myself.

I wasn’t allowed to wear a bikini and my mother would certainly never wear one, either. My mother, after all, wore long denim skirts, read the Bible and played guitar. This other version of a ‘mother’ was confusing to my 10-year-old brain.

That was the first moment I felt it – the painful awareness of being less than perfect. In a flash it washed over me, and my fascination with these girls turned into my own self-loathing.

Just then the young girls seemed to notice me staring at them. One nudged the other and walked over to me. She scrunched up her nose, puffed her stomach full of air until it rounded out just like mine. Then she lowered her chin to her chest, bowed her legs and mockingly plugged her nose. The other girl pointed her finger in my direction and through her laughter said, “Now you look just like her.” Her friend responded with, “I just need an ugly swim suit!” Squeals of laughter ensued at my expense.

That was the first moment I felt it – the painful awareness of being less than perfect. In a flash it washed over me, and my fascination with these girls turned into my own self-loathing. I looked down at my stomach, pooching out like a little melon underneath my light pink, butterfly printed suit. My short white legs were framed at the hips with the pink ruffles that were sown into the lower half of the suit.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to immediately go home and throw my suit away. This bathing suit was meant for babies. Why can’t my stomach be flat? Why can’t I get tan and tall? Why can’t I swim without plugging my nose? I held back the tears and felt humiliation creeping up through my stiffened body. I walked over to the other side of the pool and never looked their way again.

As an adult standing back surveying this childhood memory, I can see the painful value of that particular experience. I now understand the dynamics of what occurred on that summer day in Tulsa by the pool. However, as a child experiencing that moment, all I felt was inadequate and desperately hurt.

In reflection, I understand those girls were not children, not in the way that I was. My body, unlike theirs, still reflected that I was a child –  with its distended belly, chubby thighs, and flat chest. Unlike these girls, I hadn’t started puberty and I wouldn’t for at least another few years. I had no idea what puberty even was.

Today, as a mother of a daughter, I look back at that memory and ask what it can teach me. What sits inside those recollections that will help me empower my own daughter with the tools she needs to thrive as a young girl?

Today, as a mother of a daughter, I look back at that memory and ask what it can teach me. What sits inside those recollections that will help me empower my own daughter with the tools she needs to thrive as a young girl? What can I teach her to prevent the power of negative objectification from shaping her emotions about herself? What can I teach my daughter to prevent her from mistreating others who look differently than her. (I remind myself not to cling too tightly to my own childhood memories. I don’t want to project my experiences of being the underdog on to my daughter.)

I have another memory that also shapes me. Several of us high school girls were getting dressed in the locker room after gym. Beth was standing near the mirror, enjoying her reflection. With a sweet smile on her face, she said out loud to all of us, “I love how I look! I’ve always been happy with myself. I don’t know why, but I dont’ really struggle with being insecure.”

I practically had to pick up my jaw from the floor. Who says that out loud? What would give her the right to say such a thing? How cocky! How annoying. I literally rolled my eyes to the back of my head when she said that. Of course, she felt that way, I thought to myself. Look at her, she’s gorgeous! If I were that pretty, I would probably feel that way too. For some reason, I still felt like that ten-year-old at the pool with the round belly and chubby thighs. How would I ever break out of that insecurity?

Personally, it took time. It took claiming my body as my own through my long fitness/health journey that began 8 years ago. It takes practice, it takes training my mind in the same way that one trains their body. I will not give space to dark thoughts of myself. This is not who I am. I am loved, I am cherished. I am valuable just as I am.

Today, I see Beth’s statement differently. What a victory to be in that stage of life and feel so loving towards yourself! What can I do so that I can encourage my daughter to love herself and be confident in her own skin?

In light of these questions I’m reading a book called 101 Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body, by Brenda Lane Richardson and Elane Rehr. I’m really enjoying this book. Not only is it insightful for me in my own quest to love my body, but there’s a lot of great tips in there that I hope to put into practice for Zoe.

Put a Nice Mirror in Your Daughter’s Room

One simple tip is to buy your daughter, at the appropriate age, a nice full-length mirror. Put the mirror in her room, and make sure that the lighting is gentle and soft. (Who doesn’t love a well-lit mirror! Imagine the lighting in a high-end dressing room!) This will allow her the space to explore her new, changing body in the privacy of her own room, and it will also give her the chance to see her outfits in the morning before school under a more flattering perspective.(Rather than a hard to see bathroom mirror that’s usually under harsh lighting.)

Send Your Daughter to School With a Blush Bag

Another tip Richardson and Rehr offer is to send your daughter to school with a “blush bag.” This bag is a small, cute pouch filled with emergency items that your daughter can keep in her locker that could save the day. In it you might place pads or tampons, travel size deodorant, a tube of concealer, a small bottle of gel or hair spray, a comb, q-tips, safety pins, breath mints, needle and thread, spot remover, and a roll of quarters. (I’m sure the idea here is to adapt the blush bag to fit your child’s needs.) I like those suggestions. I think I would have loved a sweet little bag like that for my locker.

Some of the Chapters in the Book Focus on the Following Topics:

  • Give her permission to love her body.
  • Model a healthy body image.
  • Don’t make aging sound like a curse.
  • Come to terms with any envy you may feel about other women’s bodies.
  • Understand where your body ends and hers begins.
  • Strengthen her against the power of advertising.
  • Take time to learn and teach on early puberty.

This book has certainly got me thinking. It’s never too young to consider how to approach this with our children. (Boys need to learn how to value themselves as well. Another book I’m reading is Raising Cain, Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys.) What practices have you adpopted to help your children learn to love their bodies?

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