Eight Months and a Future Weaning

Dear Daughter,

Eight months today. Happy birthday little bird.

Skin to skin under the blankets, both of us sick with a cold and fever-warm against each other. You hum while you nurse, and stare into my eyes from behind your crazy-curly hair. You kick your feet against the bed next to us and you jump while you nurse, popping off sometimes to babble to me and to stick out your pointy little anteater tongue. You raise your eyebrows and shriek that high-pitched shriek of yours, then smile at the sound and gobble back down at double-speed to make up for the moments you just spent not nursing.

How you have changed in the eight months that I’ve known you. And how many times you will change again before you wean. How different you are from your brothers, even with all similarities that come from being siblings.

Today I can’t foresee the future, I can only know the past and experience the now.

Weaning is on my mind today. Not because of plans that I have for your weaning as you approach a year, but because the world is full of people with many opinions. People that have never met you or I, that have never breastfed, or that weaned for their own reasons on their own timelines after they met their own goals or after their own lives caused them to make their own wise decisions about their “when” and their “how”.

Their words make me wonder, sometimes. And I go off on a reading binge as I try to make certain of the truth of my beliefs that you should choose your own weaning time based on your own inner clock that determined when you were to be born, that determines when you will speak, when you will walk, and that God-willing will one day determine when you are to die at the end of the longest of lives that your body can live.

People have so many opinions about the lives of others, even others that they have never met. And as opinions go, the less informed the opinion is the stronger it tends to be worded. I guess that’s something that people do sometimes to make up for a lack of information. If they say it strongly enough, perhaps it will come true. Your oldest brother does that sometimes, when he disagrees with how reality plays out in his six-year-old life.

I don’t need to use strong words because I’m building a relationship not an argument. We’re building your body from the nutrients that your body accepts more readily from human milk than from any other source. You’re building your immune system, and mine is standing by in the meantime to make sure that you have all the time you need to build it strong. We’re building trust through your trust that I will provide the things that you need for as long as you need them, and through my trust that your needs are just that- needs. I don’t need to use strong words because I have strong reasons that can be spoken in a quiet voice.

Some day you may have a child of your own, and be faced with the same onslaught of comments that many mothers face today if you choose to allow your child to wean on their own timeline, as I choose to allow you to wean on yours.

It will be hard to not feel attacked, as people tend to imply many terrible things about mothers who nurse past a certain arbitrary age that varies from person to person. Six weeks, three months, six months, teeth, talking, walking, one year, two years, certainly never five but after two or maybe just about six months and ten days but never eleven days if they can take a sippy cup even one hour sooner because breastmilk turns into water at some magical point that no one seems to be able to agree upon. It will all be tied up in a magical bow of horrid implications about codependence and abuse that somehow manage to ignore the fact that children are most definitely dependent on their parents on at least some level for at least the first eighteen years of life, and the fact that mammary glands exist to feed infant mammals. If immediate independence was a given for our species we’d hatch independently from eggs laid in a nest long ago abandoned. If we were not meant  to nurse our young, we would not be mammals. We are mammals who give birth to babies that grow into children, and that slowly learn independence and peel off from us as they grow.

Most of these people who have strong opinons on weaning have never seen breastfeeding. Most of these people have never seen a toddler breastfeed. Most of these people have never seen real life with a child weaning on their own schedule. They know nothing of nursing manners, of how solids take over the majority of the child’s diet on a schedule determined by the child’s developmental pace. They know nothing of the inevitable disappearance of the suckling reflex and how it causes children to wean whether they have made the conscious choice to do so or not. There is a timeline for breastfeeding that varies from child to child and from woman to woman and from life to life. There are so many variables that come into play that no one can predict when a particular child will wean until that weaning time comes near. Just as no one can say with absolute certainty when the child will learn to crawl, to walk, cut their first tooth, learn their first word, learn how to jump, or truly understand how to read.

Today as you are eight months old, I find myself answering many questions about your someday-weaning-time. I tell people pretty much what I tell your brother when he is emotionally worked up about something. “If you want to have a conversation we both need to talk and we both need to listen. You’re using a lot of very angry and hurtful words right now, and I’m sorry that you’re upset. If you can please explain to me CALMLY what you’re upset about then maybe we can both learn something new.”

Maybe someday in the course of listening I will learn something new about weaning.

Right now I’ve mostly learned that people have many reasons why they would not want to nurse a child older than a certain age. And I’ve come to understand their reasons. Understanding the reasons that another person does something or believes something doesn’t mean that you have to adopt their reasons as your own.

Remember that.

You do not have to nurse a two year old just because you understand why another woman might choose to do so. You do not have to formula feed your baby just because you understand why another woman might choose to do so. You do not have to do any of the things that I do as a mother just because I chose to do them. You need to understand that their reasons apply so very deeply to their lives, just as your reasons will apply so very deeply to your own.

Your life, your reasons, your information, your preferences, your beliefs, your motherhood…

Is blissfully your own.

So when someone else asks you why and then tries to tell you so many different reasons that simply don’t apply… Don’t fret. Don’t worry. Don’t respond in anger or feel that you need to be defensive. They are talking about themselves and not you. Their feelings and not yours. Their worries and their concerns and their beliefs. You can listen quietly, and when they are done you can try and have your say if they choose to listen.

Some people may not, as they feel that others need to be told exactly what to think and do.

I’ve never thought that about you, even in your infancy our relationship is a give and take. A conversation. And I choose to listen to you when you tell me that you need to nurse, just as I will listen to you when you are ready to wean.

<3 Mama

  6 comments for “Eight Months and a Future Weaning

  1. Tina
    December 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Thank-you Sarah for writing these words! My son, my last child, is 14 months old now. Ever since he turned one I’ve had people, my own mom, asking me when I’m going to wean him, or acting surprised that I still am breastfeeding him. Because he is my last baby I plan on letting him self-wean. He is not even close to that point, I don’t think. He still nurses at least 5 times a day. I am happy to let him continue, it’s our bonding time and I am glad to know I’m still providing him with the best possible food for his body. This post today really encourages me to continue, thank you! (Maybe I should have my mom read it!)

  2. Marise
    December 13, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Thank you Sarah, for expressing this issue so well. I always thought self weaning was the way to go, and I am so happy to have chosen that route with my daughters (5 1/2 and 2 years), who are still both nursing on their own schedule. I think a lot of people have a preconceived idea of the ideal age to wean, which is really too bad since each child is unique and has their own combination of physical and emotional needs that will tell them when they are ready to wean. I never expected to be nursing a 5 year old, but then again this is well within the biologically normal age for nursing, it’s just not common in our society. What I find shocking is this notion that nursing past one year is too long, since it is well established that nursing for 2 years and beyond is optimal. Where do people get these ideas anyways? Nursing a toddler or young child is the best thing you can do to boost their immune system and nutrient intake. These benefits do not disappear after one year!

  3. December 14, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    As the husband of a breastfeeding mom, this article is so refreshing. We take the same approach, and have struggled with how to respond when people inquire as to the “why” of what we are doing. You summed it up well with…

    You need to understand that their reasons apply so very deeply to their lives, just as your reasons will apply so very deeply to your own.

    Your life, your reasons, your information, your preferences, your beliefs, your motherhood…

    Is blissfully your own.”

    It’s tough not to be defensive sometimes, but your words have helped us strengthen our resolve to simply be who we are going to be, without the need to stand our ground.

    • sarah
      December 14, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      Jason-

      It’s awesome to hear from a dad passionate about parenthood and about being supportive of his child and wife. :) Reminds me of my Alex and his dismissal of the idea that breastfeeding, pregnancy, etc. are “woman issues”.

      Thanks for the comment!

      -Sarah

  4. December 14, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Jason B is my husband and this article has meant the world to us. We have had an uphill battle since my 3-yr-old was born as we make very different choices about how we raise our kids than those around us. I’m putting my own 8-month-old daughter in a wrap tomorrow night and taking her to my husband’s 500+ member Christmas party. She’s not ready to be away from momma for 5+ hours and, quite frankly, I’m not ready for that either. I’ve been so worried about what people are going to say and think, but your article helped so much. Thank you for sharing it.

    • sarah
      December 14, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      Krista,

      I’m glad to hear that my letter to my daughter was helpful to you and that it has made you be more confident in the choices that you and your husband have made for your family. <3 That is the gift that I’m hoping to give my daughter and my sons someday in the future.

      -Sarah

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