Tuesday 26 August 2014

Weaning - My experience of Mother Led vs Baby Led weaning. Louise David Lactation consultant.

Weaning - mother led vs baby led

At first thought, weaning is just weaning, isn't it? To some the process appears to be very straight forward and to others it can be over complicated by stress, pressure from others and unwillingness from either part of the breastfeeding dyad. When you introduce the terms mother led and baby led it lends the idea that there are different approaches to weaning and that the two can be vastly different.

As with all things mothering, everyone's experiences are different and everyone's reasons unique. I value these differences and I share here my own experience with hope of allowing others insight into another's way. I have had two personal breastfeeding relationships with three children. I share here the stories of my weaning. I lead the weaning of my twins and I later experienced self weaning with my third child, Rhys.

Before i get into my stories i want to point out the difference between self weaning and a nursing strike or breast refusal. Breast refusal happens suddenly and can occur at any age. There is usually, but not always a reason, ie mum sick, baby sick, teething baby, mestruation returned or many other possible reasons. Self weaning is a gradual process and rarely occurs in babies under two or three years of age.

My twins were born in October of 2006 they were 9 weeks early and slowly slowly over weeks and months we learnt the art of breastfeeding. We eventually hit our stride and learned to love breastfeeding somewhere around the 8 month mark. The joys and advantages for us were so very evident, and are what made us continue without any question, if it was the right thing for us to do or not. There were things I loved and things I really didn't love about breastfeeding the twins as they became older toddlers.

Breastfeeding the older baby, Weaning
Kane at 2 and a half.
The things i loved:
Feeding to sleep.
Feeding to prolong a day sleep, if they woke up after only a little while.
A boob to fix a boo boo.
A boob to fix a tantrum/fight with brother.
Extra germ protection as they entered the world of day care.
Reconnection after a long shift at work or a sleepover at grandma's.
The educational factor as they asked for a boob public.

Things I didn't like as they entered toddler hood:
They were getting so big and heavy.
I needed to be comfy to feed and that wasn't always possible.
If one wanted a boob, they both wanted one.

I had some beautiful role models around me at the time I was feeding my twins. Many of my friends were entering their third and even forth years of breastfeeding their babies. I loved the idea of this, the idea of self weaning. I wanted this for my twins and for myself. I wanted to know that my twins had acess to all that the boob was to them, for as long as they wanted. This wasn't to be.  The things I didn't like about breastfeeding toddler twins were subconsciously really bothering me. From the age of two I began to gently encourage the boys away from the breast. At the time I thought of this as self weaning. It made me feel better about it if I looked at it that way.

How I encouraged the twins off the breast:
I would ask them to feed one at a time, they didn't like this and would usually wait till they were abe to feed together, once we could sit or got back home etc.
I would only allow a quick feed, once they snuggled in I'd say ok all done and distract them off another way.
I night weaned them by age two.

Over the next few months they fed les and less, they could go off to bed with out boob If I was at work or get up and start the day with out boob if daddy got up with them.  The last weeks of feeding could go by with a boob or two only every few days. Even after I'd considered them officially weaned we would go to an ABA meeting and one or both would be inspired by the little bubbas breastfeeding and hop on for old times sake.

I managed to breastfeed the twins till they were two and a half. I'm so proud of my efforts. It was only later down the track where I'd have times I wished I let them continue and self wean, I know in my heart I did what was best for us at the time.

Breastfeeding the older baby. Weaning. Breastfeeding Twins
The twins breastfeeding at 2 and a half.

Enter little Rissole 2 years later, the twins are now nearly 5. Rhys the master educator of all things baby and breastfeeding. I'd come to realise and accept that the twins weaning was mother led, I knew I wanted different for Rhys and would try to allow him to self wean when ever he was ready. I had prepared myself for the potential of the next 4 or 5 years if breastfeeding if that's what Rhys wanted and if it was ok for my family at the time. I hadn't prepared myself for the possibility of Rhys self weaning at only 2 yrs old though.

How wrong my ideas were, when Rhys was 13 mths old his dad and I seperated, the resilience of my three boys and especially baby Rhys will always inspire me. Rhys had to very quickly learn that mummy and boob wasn't the centre of his universe anymore. Slowly over the weeks, when mummy and Rhys were ready, he had his first sleep over with daddy. Rhys and daddy coped very well, mummy coped well too.

When Rhys was at daddy's Initially I would pump, Rhys would have a bottle of milk before bed, when Rhys came home to mum he'd tap at my chest and click his tongue, and we'd reconnect with a boob.

Rhys didn't skip a beat, as months went by he could go camping with dad for four days, come home and hop straight back on where he left off.

Initially my supply coped well. I'd pump when he would normally feed when he wasn't with me. Soon though I noticed I was pumping less and less, he was getting more and more active and busier with his brothers and naturally feeding less anyway.

Weaning, baby lead weaning
Rhys 15 months.

There was a point around him being 15 mths old or so when there could be 24 hours between a boob, I decided to wean one breast and from there on he only fed on the left breast. This allowed the one breast to be emptied more frequently. My breasts involuted and my supply was minimal that I wouldn't be uncomfortable even after Rhys being away for a weekend camping.

Rhys was unphased by all the going ones around him, he was unphased by the low supply, the one breast, he just needed the comfort and security that one little breast provided and he had free access to that.

Rhys thrived in his new life between mums and dads, soon he didn't need that boob the second he walked through the door. He was beginning to wean himself.

I'd offer boob, he'd think about it, might even make mouth to boob, but whatever he was doing would win over. The difference when the twins asked for a boob at this age, I'd reluctantly oblighe or try to encourage them away.

Don't offer don't refuse... 

I believe this statement to be the whole basis of self weaning, it allows the child to have free access to the breast which in turn, allows for baby to regulate the milk supply. 

Don't refuse, however, in my opinion, does not mean never saying no. For example, if Mr 2 year old requests boob in the que at the supermarket, when mum is paying and her hands are full, it's only commons sense. I would say something like "you can have a boob in a minute when mummy has free hands", "let's go find a nice spot to sit down and have a boob together", "we'll be home soon and you can have all the boob you like then".

It wasn't untill I really examined this theory that I realised I actually led the weaning of my twins and not them. With the twins, I found myself not only not offering a feed, but I was frequently refusing feeds. "No honey, later....(insert any excuse and distraction)". It is here in the distinction between the two methods really becomes clear. 

Rhys, baby lead, came and went as he pleased. He really didn't ask much for me to refuse anyway. While the months leading up to Rhys weaning around his 2nd birthday were much like the twins last months of feeding, they were with much less resentment. I enjoyed feeding more with baby lead weaning. Maybe because the pressure was off me making the right or wrong decision? Maybe because he wasn't my first baby? Maybe because it was likely to be my last breastfeeding relationship? Maybe because I was truly prepared to breastfeed for many more years? 

How ever your breastfeeding relationship comes to a close it is natural to have mixed emotions about it. It is so very normal to experience feelings of relief and sadness, both at the same time. If a baby is weaning long before  mum is ready to stop feelings of sadness and rejection, even, can be felt. Some mothers go through a period of mourning for sometime after the breastfeeding relationship has ended.

Emotions i felt with weaning:
Mother lead- 

baby lead-
desire to breastfeed longer

I hope you are enjoying the breastfeeding journey you are on and the teachings your babies are offering you everyday. Above all else, listen to your gut. Do what is right for you and your family. As with all things breastfeeding, there are NO rules. You can't ruin your baby because you decided to wean him or because you decided to let him choose when he is ready to wean weather thats at age 2 or 5 or more.

Thanks for reading...

Louise x