14 August 2011

Baby-led weaning

One thing I was excited about the most when I first learned I was expecting Ruby Red was breastfeeding. I couldn't wait! I read all I could to put to rest any questions that might arise from problems breastfeeding. I was confident and it was going to work. Working in a daycare setting full-time, and in the infant room to boot, I saw many mothers start out breastfeeding only to end that relationship around 3 months. It saddened me and I was determined that was not going to be me.

Ruby Red latched on right away, within 10 minutes of being born, and I thought "this is pretty easy". Hours later I would take back those thoughts as she tried and tried to get a good latch and just couldn't. I didn't understand it. I had heard of babies screaming with the breast in the baby's mouth without the baby closing his mouth to latch on, but she was actually trying. So why was this so difficult?! I cried and became increasingly frustrated. This was supposed to be natural?! My mom was a great support as she had problems breastfeeding me in the beginning and had also coached many moms on how to breastfeed successfully as a neonatal and lactation nurse. She tried to put my mind at ease by telling me we'd get it. But that night I was desperate. I asked for a nurse who could help me- she was amazing and spent her entire night shift with Ruby Red and I until she pitifully latched on. When the pediatrician arrived the next day, we learned she was having trouble because she was tongue-tied. Great- the only thing I didn't research was whether to snip the frenuluum or not and how to help stretch it if I decided not to. After much thought I decided to leave it alone. I wanted to keep things as natural as I could and didn't want the pain of snipping the frenuluum to interfere with breastfeeding. We'd just have to work hard at getting this to work and I knew it would eventually stretch enough for her tongue to stick out to eat. I was right but it was a long process! By the time it became "natural" for us my let-downs took forever and were pitiful until she got going....which she barely ever did since she'd fall asleep from being exhausted trying. I began to drink Mother's Milk tea, take fenugreek and pump around the clock. This gave me enough milk to at least give her my breastmilk in a bottle. I was sad that I sometimes had to resort to the bottle, but she was getting the best nutrition and I had to do what was best for her. I was told she was "failure to thrive" by not only the pediatrician but also our homeopath, so I knew the bottle was sometimes necessary. (She wasn't gaining weight at all her 1st 3 months). She never ever nursed long enough to get the hind-milk containing the good fat she needed, so I would pump this into a bottle for her and she finally started gaining weight at 3 1/2 months. It would be a long and difficult journey. I spent many days topless and in the bathtub with her, but it wasn't because of a lack of bonding that she and I had a strained breastfeeding relationship. We made it 10 1/2 months before I decided to put her on raw milk and say we were done. I cried for 2 weeks straight and bottle-fed her in bedrooms at people's houses, embarrassed and not wanting anyone to know we were done. Thankfully I had a lot of affirmation from family who knew I wasn't a failure and had given it my all. Once on raw milk she became the content little baby I knew she could be and has been the healthiest, happiest, strongest little girl ever since.

It was different with Baby Blue. Much different! She latched on and wanted only momma from the start. The first time my husband and I tried leaving her with grandparents and a bottle at 4 months, we were called home during the previews of a movie because she refused the bottle and was screaming. She continued to refuse the bottle until she was 8 months, and even then it took quite a bit of convincing but it was okay and my husband and I simply brought her along on our dates. I hoped to nurse her until she was at least 18 months, just like I had hoped with Ruby Red. It seemed like this would defintely happen this time and I was thrilled. But one morning in late January she saw her sister and her two friends with sippy cups and before I could stop her she was sucking away at her sister's sippy with newfound happiness on her face. I panicked and took it away from her as quick as I could and goodness was she mad at me! No way was she going to like that sippy this early! But it was too late. Whenever she found one laying around (which was often as I was watching my girlfriends two little girls two days a week), she jumped on the opportunity to snatch one. Yet she still loved nursing and so I was "okay" with it, although I tried to discourage it as much as I could. Mid-February she suddenly refused to nurse altogether and I cried. I wanted another 7 months nursing her. I knew I was expecting another baby by this time but I wasn't planning on weaning her until 16 months. (The thought of tandem nursing overwhelmed me as I would have 3 kids 3 and under. I know it can be done but the thought stressed me out.) My sister-in-law helped me to see that I wasn't a failure and that this was, in fact, baby-led weaning; it was in her time, not mine. Within 3 weeks she was totally weaned and on raw milk. I tried a few times after that to nurse and she would suckle but I knew she wasn't getting anything. After awhile that became painful and so I was finally ready to let go.

I don't know what the future holds for this new little baby but I'm hoping that the 1st year will, at the very least, go as smoothly as Baby Blue's. It's important to keep in mind that every mother and every baby is different. I've seen mom's nurse for years and others who weren't as committed. I firmly believe that breastmilk is the absolute best and a necessity for babies, the length of time just differs greatly between families.

Oh yes, one more thing- anyone who would argue that the use of a binki discourages breastfeeding I find to be wrong. I'm sorry I'm putting it out there so bluntly but I do. I don't think babies should be given anything but momma for the 1st few months, until breastfeeding is established. However, we used pacifiers for both our girls  from 3-4 months on and only after they were fully done nursing and dozing off to sleep and in the car. I will argue with anyone who says this was why my girls weaned when they did. I know them- that was not the reason! They still woke up every couple of hours to breastfeed day and night and never wanted the binki if they could have mommy!


  1. I agree that the bink doesn't make the baby wean early (or at all, actually). Since the sucking mechanism is different for the breast and bink, people should just wait until breastfeeding is well established. Tongue-tied must be so frustrating...I should check out some research about that - just in case! Good post!

  2. Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for saying you use the bink, too! I know that it makes me not technically an 'ecologically breastfeeding' mother, but there are points where comfort nursing just doesn't fit with a busy two year old, and I absolutely agree that once the nursing relationship is established, the baby knows when it's mom and when it's not. The bink has been a lifesaver!

  3. Well, the binky was a big problem in our nursing relationship. It wasn't the only one, though. He had some reflux, and he found it so much easier to suck on a paci than to nurse ... so he would just suck and suck and suck on that pacifier and scream if I tried to nurse him. He was losing weight and really having a hard time. An elimination diet helped the reflux, but it wasn't till I ditched the pacifier that I was able to coax him onto the breast as often as he needed to, to gain weight and restore my supply.

    So -- I think if you don't introduce it too soon, and you watch for potential problems, you should be fine; but it does require some caution. I'm going to try to do without next time, though we'll see if I manage that.

    I'm for releasing tongue ties. I hear it doesn't hurt much at all if it's done early, because there are no nerves in the frenulum at first. Hopefully that won't be an issue again though!

  4. created2bholy17 August, 2011

    That's good to know about the frenulum. Like I said, it was the only thing I hadn't researched and I had conflicting reports in the hosptial, mostly about how painful it could be.
    Every baby is different for sure. So far a pacifier hasn't been a problem for us and I'm so grateful for it because we travel often with my husband's job- makes car rides much easier. But if it weren't for that, I probably wouldn't rely on it so much!