Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thoughts on Weaning

{originally posted Jan 13 2008 REPOSTING in honor of World Breastfeeding Week} 

It's been 3 days now since I last nursed Elisabeth. We were down to pretty much one nursing in the morning. Zac has been going in to her at night ever since New Year's weekend, so she was used to not nursing at night. But she wakes up way too early (sometime betweeen 5:30 and 6:30) and Zac is getting ready for work at that time so I had to get her. And she wouldn't go back to sleep without nursing. Couldn't let her cry because then EVERYONE would be up TOO EARLY. So anyway, that's the hardest time. I pretty much have to bring her out to the kitchen and feed her breakfast to appease her. But, man, that's too early. And I don't really consider her "fully weaned" until she stops asking for it. So we're not exactly there yet.

But I've just been thinking a lot about nursing, weaning and what it all means to me as a mother. I recognize that I nurse longer than most people would ever consider. She will be 21 mos. this week. That puts her in the middle range of when I've weaned my kids (Abigail was 14 mos, Isaac 23 mos. and Samuel 18 mos.) So I've been through people being all astonished and feeling like an outcast. I've gotten over that. I just don't care anymore. But why do I nurse for so long?

I guess I just look at breastfeeding as a lot more than just food. I read a book that refers to it as a "nursing relationship" and calls the baby/toddler a "nursling". I really like that term (reminds me of a fuzzy little yellow duckling). So it's more than how I feed my baby, it's how I nourish and nurture. It's a reciprocal relationship, part of how we communicate and connect. And weaning (according to Dr. Sears) meant "to ripen" in ancient writings. So I think of it as a gradual process that happens in it's own time. A ripening from one stage to another. A relationship that becomes sweeter and more precious as it ripens. So I've never had a set time or age to wean. I try to wait until the child and I are both more ready.

I have heard some criticism that a baby "couldn't be getting much milk" and so must be nursing for emotional reasons only. Or that "if they're old enough to ask for it, then they're too old." Or that the baby is "using me for a pacifier." According to The Nursing Mother's Guide to Weaning by Kathleen Huggins, both the nutrients and the immunological components of breastmilk actually increase in concentration when you nurse over a year. So whatever she is getting is still beneficial. And I have to ask why her emotional needs should matter less than her nutritional needs anyway? And then, as far as being able to communicate clearly what she wants, I can only say that I am grateful not to be cried at all the time (at least she can tell me something she wants).

So, there are my thoughts. I know most people will still think I'm crazy. And that's really ok. I have loved the time I've had with each of my little "nurslings." And I can't be too sad that this time has come to an end. I think in the past I have sometimes fought the change of the seasons. I'm never ready for summer heat, fall is too short, winter's too long. But I am trying lately to accept it for what it is. I can't change the inevitable. So here we are. It's time to wean. Ripening into a new season.

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