Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Weaning Process

When our first son was born, I used to look at him as he was sleeping, literally willing him to wake up just so I could feed him.   I was head over heels in love with him and breastfeeding only served to make that bond stronger.  I loved it.  I loved the whole mental and physiological process of breastfeeding.  The feeling of utter relief as engorgement slowly reduced was only one aspect, the main one though, was a pure and unadulterated loved up sensation as the feel good hormones were released to aid relaxation and contentment.  Absolute bliss.  For me anyway.  Conor had a tiresome habit though of feeding for hours. My tail bone would hurt so much I resorted to walking or just standing up to feed him.  I learnt with him that the magical three month transformation was just a myth.  Another fabrication of the baby stage.  But we got over it and I developed a massive fondness for crosswords which I would store up to keep for the marathon evening cluster feeds.  There was a little gentle persuasion used for day time weaning with Conor.  But this was met with little or no fuss which made the transition easier, especially as I was pregnant. Knowing I was going to be feeding a newborn again was a big incentive to encourage our toddler onto the next stage in his development.  When our second son came along, I was a tad worried about his potential feeding habits, given the fine dining custom of his older brother.  My fears were unfounded.  The sling I invested in gathered dust as this child proved to be a very quick and efficient feeder almost from the get go.  I hardly noticed the six week growth spurt.  A far cry from the 14 hour feeding session our eldest enjoyed.  Iarla piled on the weight very quickly and continued to do so with very short feeds.  He also loved his grub which didn’t make much of an impact on his milk feeds either.   All babies are different and the contrast this time round manifested itself not in feeding routines but in sleeping ones.  Iarla didn’t sleep.  His frequent wakings quickly sent me into a downward spiral of depression.  As they say, this too shall pass, and indeed it did.  I was pregnant again and day time weaning was underway.  This time I found I could not sit down as it was a beacon signal for him to feed.  He never seemed to bother when I was standing so I stood a lot.  I was six months pregnant when Iarla went to sleep for the first time without his night time nurse.  He was 16 months old, weaned, and for the first time ever, he slept through the night and has continued to do so ever since.  I wasn’t sure if there was a connection but I certainly didn’t question it.  I embraced three full and glorious months of sleep before Liam came along.  Liam’s birth was different to the other boys; he was born via emergency section and for the first time as a mother, I truly thought breastfeeding may not work out for us.  Day two dawned bright and clear, I asked for that damned morphine drip to be removed from the back of my hand and we got down to business.  We never looked back.  Liam was a combination of the older boys, he went through his growth spurts and I noticed them but was very quick to feed.  For some reason things are a little bit hazy during Liam’s very early days.  I think this may have had something to do with a pending house move, changes in the economic climate and quite possibly, largely due to his being our third child.  It wasn’t new to me anymore and I was getting quite good at this mothering lark.  Liam had a hard time, a very hard time with teething and I experienced my first ever nursing strike.  He refused me for a little more than 24 hours and a four hourly cocktail of teething medicines barely cut a dent in his pain.  I was at my wits end until he finally accepted his very first and only bottle of expressed milk.  I was still very much engorged but it seemed his gums were too sore for him to latch on and I simply had to wait until he decided he was ready to nurse again.  One thing I can definitely remember, however, during Liam’s first six months of life, is a feeling of tiredness.  I loved breastfeeding, that never changed, but I was starting to feel that the end to all the stages and phases that are part and parcel of parenthood, would never come to an end.  I was hankering after some good old fashioned “me time.”  I had immersed myself into mothering my boys and hadn’t bothered to secure some down time for myself.  It made me reluctant to consider another child even though I knew I wanted one but didn’t know when.  I wanted a break from it all but feared that break would not find its end.  I was also slightly concerned there might be implications from the c section.  In the end I decided I was in the deep end anyway, and I may as well keep going.  Again, Liam was gently encouraged to day time wean and this too, like his brothers before him, was met with no fuss.  The night time feed was the last to go, and in keeping with family history, he was also 16 months old and slept the night.  I adopt a “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach but supply issues, I feel, really played a massive part in the weaning process.  Again, I was 6 months pregnant and looking forward to the break before the new baby arrived and another stint of unbroken sleep.  That is, once the numerous bathroom visits and all the tossings and turnings to rearrange a huge bump were removed from the equation, it was as good a night’s sleep as I had been getting till then.  Brendan came into the world after a shaky start and once he got down with the business of being born, breastfeeding proved to be, once again, one of the best decisions I ever made in relation to my kids.  Brendan loved his sleep and when he was a few months old, he once slept an entire 16 hours.  He was sleeping the full night when he was two months old.  This was utterly unheard of for me.  Not only that, he enjoyed long naps during the day too.  He was so easy and chilled out.  Maybe he was using his innate baby wisdom to suss out the fact he was fourth in the pecking order and had no choice sometimes but to wait his turn.  Call me cynical but as much as I enjoyed and relished his lengthy slumbers, I didn’t take them for granted.  Things can change in a heartbeat where small babies are concerned and true to form, he began to wake at night in order to make up for what he may have been sleeping through during the day.  I didn’t mind too much as he was very quick about his business and I always enjoyed those cosy, relaxed night time feeds.  It takes a year, as far as I am concerned, to make a baby, and a year for your body to recover from that process.  It certainly took me that length of time, perhaps slightly longer to start feeling like myself again.  I admit, I was lazy in the getting back into shape after each baby, believing that I would be pregnant again within the year so there was no point.  I am blessed to have always found that to be the case.  After Brendan, I felt it really was time to take myself in hand, whether or not there was going to be another baby.  That last pregnancy, certainly the last trimester, was very hard.  I was unfit and very out of shape.  I think this contributed greatly to that heavy feeling for the next year.  That and the baby hormones that were still coursing through my body.  Those cannot and should not be forgotten or even under estimated.  I got busy and embarked on a new health and exercise regime and pretty soon began to see and feel real results.  Then the day arrived when Brendan celebrated his first birthday and I wasn’t pregnant.  This was a whole new planet for me.  I wasn’t sure how to take it.  I was in the middle of the “break” I had been afraid to take previously.  It was decision making time.  Brendan was very much enjoying his food and still fond of his breast milk.  He had continued his habit of waking at night for a feed, sometimes maybe twice.  It was a no brainer for me.  As there was no new baby pending and I was getting very close to the maybe never viewpoint, I was going to let Brendan take complete and total charge of when he wanted to wean.  When our first son was a baby, 6 years ago now, I remember actively thinking of the day when breastfeeding would forever stop and how I would feel about it.  I remember feeling a sense of loss.  The end of an era, a real sign that my baby was growing up and away from me.  At the same time, I knew I had loads of time left, that day was still far far away.  Not as far as I thought.  The child I thought I would nurse for a couple of years took me completely by surprise and all but dropped every single one of his feeds over a weekend.  I never thought I would be facing into a cold turkey situation.  Brendan, our smallest son, at 15 months old, “went off me” two weeks ago.  His day time feeds had been hit and miss for a while now but he still nursed from both sides before his sometimes two day time naps and always at his bed time.  Plus he was still waking at night for a quick sup.  It came completely out of the blue that he would decide this wasn’t for him anymore.  I’m still not sure how I feel about it.  He has become quite social and attempting to walk in the last month.  Our house is very loud, busy and active and as a result I have had to feed him away from his brothers since he was about 4 months old.  He is just too curious and busy at the moment for boob.  I have been replaced with raspberries, slices of apples and sips of water.  That first weaning weekend, I abandoned my “don’t offer, don’t refuse” tactic in an effort to tempt him to nurse.  He found himself almost being force fed over two days in an effort to help me out of a bind.   One of extreme discomfort.  I didn’t have lumps in my breasts, I had corners!  But instead of objecting with a wail, he laughed at me, struggled free of my grasp and crawled off at lightning speed to catch up with his older brothers.  He is happy as Larry and that makes it all the easier.  He has just lost all interest.  He still loves his cuddles and hugs as much as he ever did and indeed, I cannot rest myself in a chair without him coming over to grab the tail of my top to hold as he sucks his thumb.  Then he’s clawing at me to climb up into my lap.  The self weaning process began and ended in under 48 hours.  This is what it feels like.  At least this is what it feels like when the child takes charge and not the mother.  Something I am well used to but not in this respect.  I did hope that the night time feeds would last a little longer but it didn’t work out that way.  I think it’s going to take me some time to get used to it.  After 6+ years of feeding my children this way, it’s an adjustment.  Time will tell.  He could start walking next week, discover it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and return to me.  He was never one for a comfort feed after a tumble or a fall.  Always satisfied with a quick hug and a kiss before he was back on the ground and off looking for more punishment.  He’s a tough little cookie and really finding his own personality at the moment.  It’s lovely to see.  It’s only the end of one aspect of motherhood and a part of me (ok a big huge part of me) is thrilled at the reality of more than one glass of wine every now and again.  I am looking forward to maybe the odd night out and feeling able to stay longer than midnight.  Cinderella always had to be home, not for the babysitter, but in case the baby woke and wouldn’t settle without a feed.  I am embracing going shopping for a decent bra or two.  Indeed, buying something that has buttons up the front and down the back, with zips everywhere and not having to be concerned about how I am going to “feed him in that!”  And last but not least, maybe now I will effortlessly shed that last half stone (plus some) that has been stubbornly hanging on.  It’s a well-known fact that some mothers retain an extra layer of fat whilst breastfeeding. Something about the possibility of a famine and the body having extra fat stores in order to produce milk in the possibility of such an event.    Breastfeeding is not meant to be complicated and I apologise if my ramblings have hinted at the opposite.  It is not the only part of motherhood and bonds have formed via smaller decisions, but for me, my husband and our family, it was a foregone conclusion that I would nurse any children that may come along after Conor, our first born.  None of them remember being breastfed, but hopefully two of them at least will remember that their little brother was.  I breastfed and I am proud.  Damn proud!                        

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