When I first started my journey through motherhood, I was under the assumption as many parents are, that once your child hits one year old you must wean them. After all, most families stop giving formula at a year and give cows milk right? I had no idea of any risk reductions which are dose dependent; meaning the longer I and my baby did this the less risk of developing some serious diseases later in life we would have. No one in my immediate family had breastfed. My mother didn't try breastfeeding any of the 6 of us, and I was always around bottles and formula. Heck the only reason I wanted to even try breastfeeding with my oldest was because it was free. Prior to becoming pregnant, my thoughts were that parents who breastfed and didn't just give bottles were some type of weird hippie culture and had issues with not wanting their children to grow up. After all breastfeeding is for babies right? WRONG! When I started my first breastfeeding with my oldest child Graceanne, we had a three month and six month goal. My ultimate goal was a year and after that we would wean. When we hit a year, I stopped pumping after taking about 2 weeks to wean from the pump while at work. Then I slowly weaned her over the next 2 weeks... and.... bam weaned!
Well, maybe for Graceanne the one year mark worked for us. She never was a comfort feeder. She was what they called an easy baby. She would latch on and eat in about five minutes and get back down and do her thing. She only nursed once or twice at night even in early infancy, and didn't put up a fight when I decided we would cut out night nursing. I always tell people she was the baby that big families have first. The one that breaks them into falling in love with motherhood. She loved her cuddles but also loved her down time.
Fast forward to Ryleigh. She was born 2 years and 12 days after Graceanne was born. The experience going from one child to two was especially challenging for me. Ryleigh wanted to nurse CONSTANTLY. Then when she wasn't nursing she would cry for hours in the evening. I could set a timer from about 5PM until 10-11PM, EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. There were times I thought I would wear holes in our hardwood floors. There were times I would have to hand her off to my husband, just to run to the bathroom and cry and not want to come back out. I would offer the breast during these fussy hours, but she would refuse or would take very short nursing snacks and would be right back to crying. Around 4 months old the crying seemed to slowly go away. Ryleigh would nurse all day every day around the clock. However she gained weight very well, so it wasn't that she was not eating enough. She just loved to nurse. As time went on, and we got closer to a year I realized that she may not be ready to wean and still seemed like such a baby. It could have been because my older child now looked so big in comparison. Questions started coming from family as to when I was going to wean. She wasn't anywhere near where Graceanne's readyness to wean. She still nursed during the night several times a night. During the day when we were together she still cluster fed like a newborn sometimes.
When Ryleigh was around 15 months old I went to my first La Leche League meeting. I always wanted to go with Graceanne, but had this idea that it was a bunch of old ladies sitting around in a circle knitting, and talking about breastfeeding, but not doing it. I saw a post on Facebook in a group called 518 breastfeeding mamas. It read something along the lines of "Come to our meeting this Tuesday evening. Meet like minded mothers and get out of the house." That spoke to me! I had no like minded mother friends, and all of my friends I had before children no longer had much in common with me. Life really had changed when I had my oldest. Anyhow I went to the meeting not sure what to expect. When I got there boy was I surprised! There were moms who worked, moms who stayed home, moms nursing TODDLERS... TODDLERS? Moms who were expecting. However, there were no old ladies sitting in a circle crocheting and talking about breastfeeding. If you are reading this and you are older, please don't take offense! I crochet and I love it and I have no issues with elderly women. I don't know why I had this idea about La Leche League. It changed shortly after this first meeting. I continued to go to meetings and gained new friends. Friends who I still stay in contact with even months after having moved to South Carolina. I learned it is normal and ok to breastfeeding your baby into childhood. These women who were becoming friends with me were not hippies at all. They had the same thoughts and feelings about motherhood as I did. They were all into attachment parenting, and allowing babies to self wean. It was all about really following your gut instinct as momma bear, rather than what society views what motherhood and baby behavior should be. It was amazing. I decided I didn't need to wean on anyone else's timeline except mine and hers, as a breastfeeding couple.
As you will read in my about me in a separate section of this website I became a La Leche League Leader. After all of my thoughts and ideas about La Leche League and breastfeeding into toddler hood when I became a mom, I became a Leader. It was one of the most proud moments of my life when I got my email from the Accreditation department that I was officially a Leader. Looking back it really impresses me that I was so open minded about mothering. My ideas went from those that follow main stream society, to those of a more biological pull toward the momma bear instinct. (I'm sure I will discuss my journey into becoming a Leader and eventually an IBCLC in another blog... I LOVE telling people my journey!) Anyways getting back on track. When Ryleigh was about 18 months I got pregnant with my third child. The first thought I had was one of excitement and the thought I had right after that was O My! My milk is going to dry up, Ryleigh will be forced to wean! What have we done! After I calmed down and dried my tears, I came to my senses. I did tons of learning about what happens when you nurse through a pregnancy. I was under the assumption that it would cause a miscarriage, however in learning more I realized that if my body was able to get pregnant while breastfeeding, my body was able to carry a pregnancy to term. I was questioned by my OB about how I was going to wean before the baby got here so that my milk would be colostrum for the baby and so that the baby would get the nutrients she needed to grow during pregnancy as well as after birth. I did alot of research of my own and by my second trimester blocked the incorrect information out. It is ok to breastfeeding through a pregnancy as long as it isn't high risk. Your milk changes back to colostrum around the midway point of the pregnancy. Your milk will be colostrum when the baby arrives and change to full breastmilk the same way it did when you don't nurse through a pregnancy. And with that I nursed through my pregnancy! ME! That woman who saw breastfeeding as the hippie thing to do! I gave birth to Gabriella. The transition from two children to three went surprisingly well. You know what I did differently this time around? I did this thing called tandem nursing. Its when you nurse two babies at once. In my case it was a 2 year old and a newborn. Ryleigh got her attention. It forced me to put the new baby down and give Ryleigh some one on one time. Graceanne was old enough to help with baby duties since she was four years old. She would get me diapers and burp clothes and bring me my boppy when it was time to nurse. Eventually breastfeeding got easier with Gabriella and I added tandem nursing at the same time in. The first time or two I fed them together it was the sweetest thing I had ever experienced. The photo on my home page is one of the times the two of the nursed together. Ryleigh would hold Gabriella's hand. They would look at each other. Sometimes one would rub the others face or smile at each other and giggle.
So where am I today? Well Graceanne is 8, Ryleigh is 6, and Gabriella turns 4 in a month and a half. I THINK Ryleigh has weaned. She sometimes will ask but when I say ok she will say no I think I don't really want that. She asked not long ago to nurse to bed. We nursed and she fell asleep after about two minutes. Gabriella nurses usually once during the day and once before bed. At this point in time she will also self wean.
Society tells us that we should detach from our babies, and make them independent as soon as possible after they are born. "If they are attached you will never be able to leave them for a date night or working or nights away." I've experienced quite the opposite. Graceanne was weaned before she self weaned due to my own lack of education about "normal course of breastfeeding." She was the only one who had a really hard time being separated. Most kids will cry at drop off but be fine shortly after. However. Graceanne would cry on and off throughout the day and be crying, sitting alone at pick up. Ryleigh went to prek and didn't shed a single tear. Gabriella was in the middle and would cry at drop off but was fine just a few minutes later, and now she has started a new daycare here in SC, and has not shed one tear. The two kids who have nursed the longest are the most independent, the one who weaned earliest still needs the reassurance that I am here for her. This may just be their different temperaments and personality, but it may also have to do with the length of time they breastfed for.