Friday, January 7, 2011

Weaning the reluctant baby

Breastfeeding is probably one of the most hot button issues when it comes to raising babies. I don't really get what all the fuss is about but there's a lot of it. I just figured I'd breastfeed my kids and if it didn't work I'd use bottles. As luck would have it I make lots and lots of milk and my babies could all nurse quite well. My kids have all thrived on nothing but b-milk for their sole source of nutrition for the first six months. I was even able to *gasp* nurse in public without raising an eyebrow. Raph had a bottle or two of formula in the hospital. Colin had the weight gainer 3000 preemie formula before my milk came in and Heidi never had any formula...unless you count IV fluids and lipids, but I don't. Aside from a little (HAHAHHAHA "little" is a relative term) soreness in the beginning I've never had any problems nursing my babies. That is until it comes time to wean them, then all hell breaks loose.

I nursed Raph until he was a year old. I waited until he was about a year old and then stopped nursing him and gave him the rest of my freezer stash of b-milk while my boobs grew to freakishly large proportions. During this period of intense pain I considered just never weaning him. Ever. Just so that my boobs wouldn't become engorged....just keep on nursing until I have another baby to relieve the pressure. He was always happy with the bottle and gladly accepted the thawed milk while I cried whenever there was a stiff breeze. Then the milk was gone from my body and from my freezer. I gave him a bottle of soy milk and he had a shit fit. My easy going baby would have none of it. After several days of him only sipping a little water I sat on my couch sobbing. He actually came up to me, poked my face and laughed at my anguish. I picked him up and nursed him on my deflated boobs. He was so happy. What took 3 weeks to dry up came back with a vengeance in less than 3 days.

In the end I went through the process of weaning him twice. The second go round I rehydrated him first, then slowly added more and more soy milk to his bottles. After a month or so he would happily take soy milk in a bottle. I let my milk dry up yet again and actually put cabbage in my bra in a vain attempt at easing my suffering. Just when I couldn't take it anymore it was like they sprung a leak. I was walking into the grocery store and the girls just started spraying milk everywhere. I turned right back around and went home for a shower. But after that incident it was over and Raph was happy....until we took away the damn bottle and he threw a pot at me in a furious rage that only a 15 month old baby can have.

Colin was different than Raph but what's knew? They are polar opposites in every way imaginable. He started out on bottles in the NICU. Once he was home and we worked up to nursing full time it was an ORDEAL to say the least. Because he was a typical sleepy preemie it would take a lot of work on my part to keep him awake long enough to nurse. "Herculean" would be one way to describe it because that's what it felt like at 2am when you've been trying to nurse him for an HOUR. Once he's finished and go back to sleep you are up again an hour later to repeat the process. Once he started nursing full time I was not at all interested in pumping and giving him bottles. But this plan backfired when I went back to work and had to put him through Baby Bottle Boot Camp. He never really took to bottles after that and was using sippy cups by the time he was 5 or 6 months old. Hey at least we didn't have to worry about him throwing pots at me right?

When it came time to wean Colin I decided to do it slowly over 6 wks instead of the abrupt painful finish that I used with Raph. He already drank cow milk from a cup so that was a non-issue. It was good and bad. Instead of one epic engorgement that lasted a week I had a series of smaller engorgements every week or so. I dropped a feeding, let my body adjust, drop another, adjust etc. Nearing the end something dawned on me. I was sitting on my bed just sobbing because I didn't want to take a shower. I was getting ready to go out to dinner with friends and I was beyond upset that I would have to take a shower and see people. Mike came home and was completely alarmed because that was so very unlike me. Right then I realized that I was having symptoms of depression. After a little research I found out that Postpartum Depression can hit when you wean a baby and isn't limited to those first few weeks or months after you have a baby. Once I was cognisant of what was happening I felt more in control. Looking back I hadn't been myself for weeks but it wasn't until I was a sobbing mess on my bed that it all made sense.

I was almost finished weaning him so I figured I would wait it out to see if I felt better once the process was complete. I was emotionally sad to stop nursing Colin because I believed he would be my very last baby. The last time I nursed him I went to get him out of his crib and I held him close. He was cranky and roughly latched on, then repeatedly slapped me while he nursed. When he was finished he bit me then rolled off my lap and never even looked at me as he ran out of the room. Wow, thank you for making this last nursing session so meaningful! Like that it was over. My milk ran out and quickly I returned to my former self and all was well.

Heidi's start was a bit like Colin's. I couldn't even hold her until she was a week old because she was just too sick. But the most glorious thing about that first time I held her was that I also got to nurse her. Her sick little body had been nourished by IV fluids and lipids. The Italian Mama in me wanted to scream that the doctors that she needed FOOD, real food, not lipids. She was HUNGRY!!!! Now, I know that they were doing the best for her and knew what she needed and could handle but ya know, Mama's want to feed their babies. So, as it was I who gave her the first nipple feeding not a nurse and a bottle. She did a good job but as expected she quickly tired. Her few swallows were all that the doctors needed to know and she was ready for real milk. She started off with tiny amounts of my pumped milk in a bottle, followed by milk in a feeding tube. They wanted her to get used to the act of sucking but her little body was just too weak to get enough nutrition this way. Gradually she was able to nurse from me for a full feeding once a day and a combination of bottle and feeding tube for the rest. When she came home she still required bottles for the bulk of her feedings but she quickly gained strength and was nursing well for all of her feedings. Again, not unlike Colin, she started on bottles then adamantly refused them. I didn't go back to work so the urgency wasn't the same and was more for the benefit of our sitters. She never really took to them or b-milk from a sippy cup. Or table food for that matter.

As with most things Heidi requires a little something more. It has been a real struggle to get her to consume food or soy milk or anything that doesn't come from my boob. She really likes to nurse in a way that the boys never did. This is something entirely new. The boys never had screaming temper tantrums for 15 minutes straight because I would not nurse them. As it stands I've nursed her over 2 months longer than I did either of the boys but her days are numbered. At the recommendations of the Occupational Therapist and Speech Pathologist I started weaning her in November. Less milk from me means that she has to eat more food. She did not like this plan and was more than a little cranky for a week or two as she adjusted to her new feeding schedule. We are down to nursing just once a day and that is right before bed. She's not happy about losing her nap time nursing but she's getting better. Half the time she falls asleep in the car and doesn't miss that milk. Its the days we are home and I have to put her into bed, bypassing the rocking chair, that she freaks out. I feel bad, a little, for taking away something that is so beloved and special but it needs to come to an end. She doesn't need me and I am going to go on vacation for a week in less than 2 months. I don't plan on bringing a pump with me and I don't want to have the ocean breezes make me cry...or for my boobs to scare people as I sit by the pool! Its time, she's eating food like a big girl, she drinks from a sippy cup and she can go to sleep without me nursing her. Nevertheless its bittersweet. She for really real will be my last baby. I know that each night I put her to bed it is one of the last times I will ever do this. It is something special between she and I and when I am finished I will not have that little something. The thing she enjoys the most is possessed only by me and I am giving that up.

Its always a little sad to wean a baby but especially for a baby like Heidi who really enjoys it so much. For now, I enjoy our last few nights together but know that even if she doesn't remember this time when she's older, I will. I have many wonderful memories of all three of my babies stored away in my memory bank. Once they are weaned and they move on they don't give it a second thought or remember. At that moment, they become jewels of my time as a mother and cannot be truly shared with anyone else. Its one little bit of selfishness that comes with being a mom. For as much as we give of our bodies to bear and raise children, somethings just cannot be given up. I will carry these memories (good and bad) with me because they are truly one of a kind and mine alone.

By the time Heidi is completely weaned I will have nursed a baby for a combined total of 45 months. In the last 8 years I have either been trying to get pregnant, pregnant or nursing for 7 years and 3 months. I think its time I had my body to myself for a while.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I can so relate to this. I loved nursing Devin and it took us almost 6 months to slowly fully wean, and she wasn't at all happy about it in the beginning, but by the last session I dropped, she barely even noticed. It was the one right before the bedtime routine.

That was about the time we decided to start trying for another. I don't know whether or not that would be part of the reason but I wouldn't say it wasn't either. I look so forward to nursing my next child knowing that it will be my last, and like Devin, will wean him slowly as well. What an incredible special bond you have with your baby that no one else could ever replace. They are wonderful memories that you can only hope your child will have and understand someday with their own baby.