Thursday, November 22, 2012

On Weaning and (Extended) Breastfeeding

Do you remember the Time cover on extended breastfeeding where the mom was nursing her 5 year old son? I remember it well because it sort of touched a nerve. You see, I was still breastfeeding Ally at that time, and she was over 3 years old then.

For some reason, our society applauds breastfeeding until a year old only. When Ally was 2 and people found out that I was still breastfeeding her, I got curious stares. When they found out that I was still breastfeeding her at 3 years old, their looks made me feel so uncomfortable, like I was doing something bad. I stopped telling people that we still breastfed, like it was some dirty thing to be ashamed of. Besides, I told myself it was none of their business anyway.

It's not like we didn't try to wean early on. I had wanted her to wean Ally off when she turned 2 but she wasn't ready yet. I even asked my sister's friend Sylvia, who is a breastfeeding counselor, on tips how to wean a toddler. Her first question was if I was ready.

That stopped me. Was I ready? Yes, there were times I wanted to reclaim my time (and my breasts) back. I wanted to wear nice normal bras and not the boring nursing bras. I wanted to wear shift dresses and tank dresses, which were so not breastfeeding-friendly. But when Ally cries out for milk, I still drop everything to rush to her. I just can't bear hearing her cry out for Mommy milk knowing I am still capable of giving it to her. So no, I was not ready.

Ally was obviously not ready either. To her credit, she only breastfeeds to lull her to sleep. It comforts and calms her. So it was easy for us to limit breastfeeding to nap time in the afternoon and sleeping time in the evening (both done in the confines of our bedroom so it was not as scandalous as the Time magazine cover). I tried to go cold turkey on her a couple of times but her cries were so gut-wrenching, I couldn't let her (and myself) go through all that trauma.

It was a challenge to tandem breastfeed the two girls when Sofia came. It physically drained me of so much energy and left me with very little me-time. But I consciously didn't make an effort to wean Ally off. thought it would affect her psychologically if I deprive her of Mommy milk and then she'd see me breastfeed Sofia on demand. No 3 year old would see that and not feel unwanted and insecure.

What I did do was to limit Ally's breastfeeding time. From drink-until-satisfied, I trimmed it down to 5 minutes, then 3 minutes, then 1 minute, until she was down to 3 seconds. I doubt if got to drink much milk, but at least she knew she was not being deprived. I was confident there would be little to no effect to her psyche.

It worked for us, and Ally self-weaned three days ago, at age 3 years and 7 months. I am so proud that she made the decision for herself, that she did not have any trauma whatsoever. I am glad I took the effort to just encourage her to wean and that I did not force it on her. I was rewarded by such a mature act. She just told me that she "won't drink Mommy milk anymore because I am big na." Those were her exact words. I am teary-eyed as I am writing this because I am just overwhelmed with so much pride at her maturity.

It is bittersweet, knowing that my baby girl is all grown up. While I look forward to seeing her blossom even more, I miss just holding her and watching her breastfeed. I think that is why I was able to breastfeed for such a long time. I really enjoyed those bonding moments between us. I know we can bond in other ways, but breastfeeding was our special thing. I miss it already.

My advise to moms out there is to ignore whatever other people are saying. Breastfeeding is between a mom and the child and no one else. Only you can decide when you are ready to wean. Don't let society's idea of normal/appropriate weaning time dictate on you. Breastfeed until you and your baby are comfortable with it, until you and your baby are ready to give it up. A good ending makes the whole experience worthwhile.

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