Saturday, October 16, 2010
A Gentle Weaning: Sean's Story
In August of 2006, I wrote an article for an online baby blog in honor of World Breastfeeding Week about my experiences breastfeeding Sean. It was the first time I openly discussed many breastfeeding experiences I've shared with my children: struggles in the beginning, painful decisions about my hopes as a mother, tandem nursing, and extended nursing. I later adapted this article and submitted for the now well-known book, Gifts: Mother's Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich their Lives. Our story was out there, and at the time it seemed like it was near the end of that relationship.
It wasn't the end at all, I continued to walk the fine balance between my desires to mother-led wean my babies and my belief in child-led weaning. We had good times and bad times nursing, but mostly we just took it day by day. When Aidan weaned, it was with a bit of a nudge, a suggestion implanted peacefully and then nurtured by him in his time. When he was ready, it was a gentle process over so smoothly that it felt right for both of us. Three years later, he has a hard time imagining that he nursed as long as he did. He really doesn't have distinct memories of it, it seems to have just faded away. He knows that he breastfed, he knows he breastfed along side his brother, and he sees it as the biological norm for feeding babies. What was once such a significant part of his life is now just a warm memory.
Sean has always been the most pleasant toddler to nurse. In fact, I'd dare say that once we overcame his early rough start, he was the nicest baby to nurse as well. He never played the typical distracted baby games: constantly switching sides, or latching on then popping off unexpectedly to see what was going on around him. No biting stage, no twiddling the other side in search of Tokyo radio stations. No loud shouting for milkies in public places or yanking at my shirt. Just gentle, peaceful, pleasant and respectful. The ideal nursing child.
Between that easy-going personality, his difficulty gaining weight, his lack of a balanced diet, and his susceptibility to illness.... well, it just was a no-brainer to let him nurse as long as he wanted to or needed to. I was happy when he night weaned, around 2 1/2-3 yrs old (with Doug's help, thank you, Doug, for taking over night wakings!) I was happy when he easily tapered off his requests to nurse as he aged. From age 2.5-3.5, he nursed about 3x a day. From age 3.5-4.5, it went down to 2x a day. From 4.5 years old until he weaned at age 5 years, 11 months, he only nursed once a day. He'd often skip days the last year, sometimes even a couple in a row, all on his own accord. He only asked to nurse briefly every morning right when he woke up. Our morning ritual included him climbing into bed with Ella and me for a snuggle and "nee nee", as Ella re-named it.
With his sixth birthday approaching and Kindergarten looming, I started thinking about weaning. After the boys made the transition to sleeping in their own room, I decided that we should see if Sean would be willing to let go of his morning milkies. We gently talked about it, wondering what he understood and if he could comprehend that it was going to end forever. He didn't seem to really understand, but we were usually able to distract him first thing in the morning so that we could phase it out of the routine. He had mornings when he'd wake up tired from a restless night and would be upset with the distractions. Most days it went well and we moved on with the day.
Before either of us knew it, a month had passed since he last nursed. Every now and then, he'd ask and I'd tell him, "Sean's such a big boy! He's all done with milkies, just like Aidan. Only Ella has milkies now." Then we'd have a hug or go get him a drink or something else. He is completely comfortable just snuggling with me in the morning or skips it all together to come downstairs for breakfast with Doug and Aidan. He's still a slow riser, prefers to be eased into the morning, but we have found new ways to make that transition.
I'm so proud of him for letting go of so many "baby" qualities this year: no diapers for a year, no co-sleeping for a few months, no more nursing, and lots of new progress on table foods. I can't wait to add "no more baby foods" to that list, but I think I see the pattern. When he's ready, it happens and he soars.
I love you, Sean, and will always treasure our milkie memories.