Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Final Thoughts on Weaning

We're officially done with breastfeeding! Henry just hit the 14-month mark and I decided it was time to close up shop. I decided to stop breastfeeding for a couple reasons:
  1. In the Montessori tradition, children typically wean themselves between 10 and 14 months, so I had that timeline in the back of my mind. Weaning is considered to be a hugely important transition into more independence.
  2. I might be pregnant, and, if I am, I feel like it would be too taxing on my body to grow a new being, make milk for another being, and sustain myself. I know women do it all the time; it's just not a choice I want to make for myself.
A friend of mine asked, "Don't you just want to let Henry decide for himself when he's done?" While I respect that philosophy and try to "follow the child" as much as I can, it felt like the right time for us (given the two reasons enumerated above). I've been cutting out feedings slowly over time. Since this post, we've gone from three feedings (morning, afternoon, night) to two (morning and night) to one (just morning). Now when we wake up, Matt takes Henry straight to the kitchen for his breakfast. I miss that sweet morning cuddle time in bed (especially because Henry isn't much of a cuddler otherwise). I miss the feeling of his chilled feet warming up between legs and his little hand curled around my thumb. That boy sure does love his mama's milk! 

We've decided not to give Henry straight cow's milk in a glass. He had trouble digesting milk protein early on (via my breastmilk), and it just doesn't seem necessary to subject his system to the harsher proteins when he can get the same fat and calcium from milk products like yogurt and cheese (whose proteins are broken down further). I have a list of dietary recommendations from our pediatrician, and it says he should get four servings daily of "whole milk and whole milk products" (4-6 ounces of milk/yogurt and 1/3 ounce of cheese). The kids loves to eat; I'm sure we can get enough nutrients into his system.

I don't want to veer too far down Practical Lane before stepping back and acknowledging what a wonderful, amazing, rewarding, and challenging experience breastfeeding has been for more than a year of my life. Perhaps a little letter is in order?

Dear Body and New Mother Self,

You did it! Remember when you weren't so sure you would make it to the year mark? Remember when you wished you enjoyed pumping so you could stock up and just feed him frozen milk for the last three months of the year? That's because breastfeeding was difficult. In those early days Henry wanted to eat for a total of five or more hours a day. Wow. Once he even ate for nine hours. You needed two hands to breastfeed, so you couldn't even read or click around on the internet. And you had to be there every three hours. And in the middle of the night, Matt could change his diaper, but you had to be there to nurture that little one. 

You faced searing pain, tears, engorgement, plugged ducts, endless lanolin applications, boxes of nursing pads, nipple tenderness, and discomfort.

I hope you fully acknowledge the sacrifices you made for Henry Jones (while simultaneously thanking the Universe for being given the opportunity to breastfeed him). You helped that little boy build up his body, his immunity, his attachment, and his trust in the world.

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Maureen said...

Congrats Sara! You're an inspiration to me!

Allyson said...

"Amen" to that! It's so much harder than I ever thought it would be! When I finally decided I was getting close to wanting to stop, I went through so many emotions- mostly guilt. It was something that I was so ready to be finished with, but at the same time I felt like I could "do better" and give her that extra little boost of immunity, etc, etc.

You're a strong person for feeling so confident with your decision to stop! Enjoy the extra ounce of freedom! :)

Misti said...

Just found your blog via the comments section of Progressive Pioneer...very interested in your little spot here---I'm in the Houston area and also looking to buy a house with some acreage soon.

Kamilla said...

I am curious that you say that weaning at an early age is in accord with Montessori principles.
From everything I've read in and about Montessori, I don't see any basis for this. Additionally, Montessori's work was based on research and experimentation. All current research on breastfeeding indicates that two years is the minimum recommended length. Breastfeeding continues to offer nutritional, psychological and emotional benefits for many years. As just one example, the composition of breastmilk continues to change as children age, offering a changing yet perfect source of nutritional and immunological support for older children. I can only imagine that Montessori, particularly as a medical doctor herself, would be supportive of the overwhelming research to date about the value of breastfeeding for at least 2 years, and longer if mutually desired. I do recognize that breastfeeding can be challenging for many mothers, for many reasons (it was for me initially - now breastfeeding at 19 months) and that some mothers may choose, for a number of reasons, not to breastfeed as long as others. I would hope this is done with the understanding that it is a choice and not optimal from the perspective of the baby, even if it is the choice the mother feels she needs to make.

I recognize that independence is an important goal for you as a parent, and that in your understanding, independence is a goal of Montessori education. I have a question regarding the way this post frames that independence as something that parents need to push children towards, rather than something that children will naturally embrace once they are ready. Again, looking at current research in early child development, children are best able to individuate when their own needs are fully met. Independence can't be pushed; pushing often backfires, and children are left with unmet needs that prevent them from fully becoming the independent beings that is their birthright.

I wrote this comment today, not with the goal of criticizing, but because I am concerned because this blog - which I do read and enjoy - is a platform for promoting particular values and lifestyles. By stating that weaning at an early age (and according to international and researched standards, a year of breastfeeding is less than the minimum recommended) is desirable, and that it is the norm for Montessori supporters, you become a voice of some authority discouraging mothers from providing optimal nutrition and nurturance for their children. You also push all those who ally themselves with the wonderful education provided through Montessori schools to wean early in order to be part of the community and fully embrace Montessori values.

As well, and equally important from my perspective, this post and blog position parents as agents that must push their children out into the world instead of creating a stable and nurturing base from which their children can choose when they are ready to move out into the world. That perspective does not feel right to me, does not seem to connect with what I know about Montessori education, and does not accord with research I've read about development. Montessori, in particular, seems to be more about facilitating children's learning as appropriate for their own stage of development, not pushing them to do things for which they are not ready.

Thanks for listening. I realize I've said a lot here, and that it likely does not come across in the collaborative manner I would wish. You are certainly a woman who has accomplished a lot and who will continue to do so. I hope that you will take these comments from that perspective: I would not have taken the time to write if I didn't believe that you will influence others and have a big impact on the world.

Amy A. said...

Sara - congratulations on your achievement! You must be so proud of yourself for sticking with it, even though it was tough for you. I can certainly relate to the excruciating pain of the first few weeks, but am so glad I stuck with it and am able to experience the joy and closeness that it now brings. My daughter is now seven months and we are still breastfeeding morning and night and I pump bottles for her at work during the day. I plan to continue to BF until she is at least a year, and am not really sure how I'll feel after that.

As a side note, I am a psychotherapist social worker who has both studied and researched childhood attachment (as well as worked with many children and their families) and as far as I know, there is no study showing a correlation between the age of weaning and the quality of the child's attachment to his or her mother. Abuse and neglect have been proven to cause attachment disorders, but I'd hardly put weaning after a year or other efforts to gently and lovingly encourage independence in that category.

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