Please note: When I refer to nursing, I am referring to baby directly sucking on mom’s breast. When I refer to breastfeeding, I am talking about the act of giving your baby breastmilk, be it in a bottle or directly from the breast.
A baby who weans before mom is ready is one of my least favorite cases to deal with. You know why? Because one, I can’t fix it and I like to fix things. And two, it is really sad.
Honestly, these cases make me the saddest of all the breastfeeding cases I see because it feels like—well, as Courtney put it–it feels like your baby is breaking up with you.
As I mentioned in the weaning blog, babies who are younger than twelve months don’t wean from nursing to nothing. They wean from nursing to something else. Oftentimes it is the ease and convenience of bottles, especially if mom has a low milk supply. Perhaps it is to solid foods. Keep in mind I am not talking about the baby who won’t latch. Those babies never really nursed in the first place. Sure, maybe they sucked a time or two, but they never really “got it.”
There is a nursing strike, which is what we call it when a baby who temporarily quits nursing eventually goes back to nursing.
If a baby is on a nursing strike and never goes back to nursing, it is called weaning before mom is ready.
When mamas come into my office or to group saying that their babies are weaning too soon, before they had time to prepare, we talk a lot about the emotional side of breastfeeding. When your baby weans before you are ready, it first hurts your pride.
All you goal setting, control freak, high achieving, perfectionist soul sisters of mine, I am talking to you. Nope, you didn’t achieve your goal. Yup, you hate that immensely and frankly it rarely happens. Nope, there is nothing you can do about it. Yup, that is enraging.
But as a good mama, you are going to check your pride and do what has to be done, not what you want to do (because, frankly, this isn’t up to you).
When a baby weans before you are ready, it second hurts your heart… because it feels like a break up.
It breaks my heart when moms say, “He doesn’t want me.”
I say, “It is not that he doesn’t want you. He simply doesn’t want to drink milk from your breast. Don’t get it twisted.”
There is a difference between being enough for your baby and having enough for your baby. It is difficult to tease these two apart, but they are very different things.
Let me say it again, just to clarify:
Your breastfeeding success has nothing to do with your success as a mother. Breastfeeding is simply a bold and brave goal over which you have a limited amount of control.
Control. You have control over very little as a parent, and even less as a breastfeeding mom. You certainly don’t have control over this little child. Any parent who thinks they have control over their kid is fooling themselves. And, anyway, who would want to control another person? Wouldn’t you rather nurture, educate, and inspire? I digress…
So, you don’t have control if your baby weans before you are ready. You don’t want to break up and your baby does.
I can feel that feeling right now. If you have ever been broken up with, you might be able to feel right now, too. For me, it feels like tightness. It feels like I am trying to tightly grip onto something that is already gone, leaving me squeezing my own fist. I remember crying the hardest I have ever cried those numerous times I had my heart broken. If and when Lucy breaks my heart (I am assuming there will be a good bit of that in the second ten years of her life), I will try my best to remember this. This is what I want every mother whose baby weans before she is ready to know:
This isn’t a break up. It is heartbreak, but not a break up. A break up means it is over. A break up means the object of your heart’s devotion doesn’t love you anymore. Heartbreak–well, that is more like helping your heart learn how to let go. Heartbreak loosens your grip, not tightens your grip. When your heart breaks, it is almost as if the muscle fibers connecting your heart to your baby’s heart stretch and relax. It is much better when your child breaks it to you slow that she doesn’t live inside you or nurse on you anymore. When she lets you know that she no longer needs to be carried in a pouch. That she can walk alone, sleep alone, and wipe her own butt.
Motherhood involves degrees of separation. Our job is to learn how to loosen our grip, stretch our muscles, and breathe through heartbreak.
So, you are left to decide: once your baby has weaned from nursing, will you continue to breastfeed? Will you pump your milk and give it to your baby in a bottle or choose to wean from producing milk altogether?
Talk with your partner, take time to weigh the work and time it will take against the benefit of giving your baby your pumped milk. Then, make a brave and convicted choice.
As my dear, wise friend and client Jayna insightfully said at support group, “Moving from one phase of motherhood to another makes room for what’s next.”
And, wow, let me tell you–there so much more amazingness to come.
Click here to register for the upcoming Weaning Gracefully Live course.