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Desperate to Wean

Laura L. Cunningham
Mission Viejo, California, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 30 No. 4, July-August 1994, p. 58

As a new Leader I thought of Meeting IV as the "Nutrition and 'Non'-Weaning Meeting." Whole foods and family nutrition were fun and interesting but weaning was a topic I avoided.

What I feared most was the mother desperate to wean. She'd attend a meeting for the sole purpose of learning how to wean in so many easy steps. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to help this mother and she would leave feeling that La Leche League had nothing to offer.

Sure enough, that "desperate-to-wean" mother called me not long ago. "I see that your next meeting topic is weaning. That's just what I need to hear. I just don't know how to do this...." Talking to her I realized that I was uncomfortable discussing weaning because ten years ago I was that mother desperate to wean. Reliving that doubtful period of my life was painful. Yet I had found the help I needed when I attended my first LLL meeting. I had been encouraged to try natural weaning. How could I help mothers as I had been helped?

First I thought about how I had felt as a mother desperate to wean:

  • I wanted the best for my baby and I enjoyed breastfeeding.
  • I felt pressured by family to wean because of the value placed on early independence. Extended breastfeeding was associated in their minds with an overly dependent relationship between mother and child.
  • I associated weaning with "getting my life back," with an end to the often overwhelming sense of being swallowed up by the baby's needs.
  • I needed my feelings validated. I needed to know that I wasn't the first mother desperate to wean and that I wasn't a bad mother.

I decided to open the weaning topic at the next meeting by acknowledging the ambivalence mothers feel. Many mothers are desperate to wean at different stages of breastfeeding. I decided to say:

"Breastfeeding is a relationship between two human beings and, as in any relationship, there is give and take. Sometimes mothers are ready to wean before their babies are ready. We want what is best for baby, yet our needs and pressure from others are sometimes in conflict with our babies' needs. Acknowledging how you feel about weaning is the first step in figuring out what to do."

I wanted to communicate the baby's needs and to state clearly the advantages of natural weaning. Why do we encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding until the baby outgrows the need? What is weaning's bottom line?

Once again the answers had to do with the relationship. How long each of our babies is breastfed is not what is important--the attitude we have toward breastfeeding and the relationship it builds is. I wanted to remind mothers how babies feel about nursing. They know, of course, when they see the contented smile and satisfied, peaceful expression. But when feeling desperate, they forget. I decided I would be straightforward. No more skirting the issue. No more ducking out. Here's what I would say next:

"Let's look at baby's feelings, too. It doesn't take long for a nursing mother to discover that nursing is much more than food to her baby. To baby, nursing is love. As baby grows, he learns there are other ways to communicate love, other ways to be close, other ways to be satisfied. But growing takes time and every baby grows at his own pace. La Leche League believes that weaning is best accomplished gradually and with love. We also believe that in the best of circumstances the baby will breastfeed until he outgrows the need. We are here to help breastfeeding mothers build the strongest relationships possible with their babies regardless of when weaning takes place."

That put the cards on the table. No hidden agendas, no implications that the longer the nursing, the better the mother.

The meeting could continue as I asked mothers to share their feelings and experiences about weaning. We could talk about weaning as a process that begins when food other than mother's milk is introduced. And we could talk about the gentle techniques of "other mothering."

A rich discussion is now possible because:

  • feelings are acknowledged,
  • La Leche League's philosophy is clearly stated, and
  • emphasis is kept on relationship and attitude.

Now when Meeting IV rolls around, I have so much fun talking about weaning, I almost forget to fit in nutrition!

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