From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16 No. 5 September October 1999 pp. 186-87
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I recently had to wean my eighteen-month-old daughter suddenly for medical reasons. It's been a month and she still asks to nurse at least once a day. I offer hugs, but she just cries harder. I feel sad and guilty. Sometimes I feel like I made the right decision and sometimes I wish there had been another alternative. I'd appreciate suggestions to help my daughter adjust and to help me come to terms with my feelings.
My heart is breaking for you. Nursing was important to you and your daughter and now you can't nurse. All you can do for yourself is accept that you are doing what is right for both of you and remember that you will get through it. You are both feeling a loss now. When your daughter asks to nurse it's okay to tell her (as much as you feel comfortable) "We can't," or "I wish I could but . . ." Even small children understand more than we sometimes give them credit for. You know that both of you need extra comfort now. Make that your priority. Try to eliminate those situations that make her think of nursing. Don't sit in the special nursing chair, change the nap time routine, and maybe have dad help her get ready for bed. If you can anticipate those times when she will ask to nurse and offer her something else first— a drink when she gets thirsty, or hugs and a song or story when she's tired or hurt— perhaps she won't always come to tears. She'll remember your loving support long beyond her weaning.
Weston WI USA
First, you may want to check with a person who is knowledgeable both about breastfeeding and about the medical condition involved. It's possible that permanent weaning of an 18-month-old for the medical reasons in your case isn't necessary. The more we know, the fewer reasons there appear to be necessitating forced weaning, especially if the child is older, like yours, and consuming other foods in addition to your milk.
However if it is important that your child not have your milk, you still may not have to wean totally. A partial weaning may be enough. When my younger son was a two-and-a-half-year-old nursling, I was hospitalized an hour away from home for a month and a half. One of my medications was considered contraindicated at the time. (We found out later that this was not true.) I saw my son only once a week for that month and a half and we nursed each time without any significant milk transfer. (Our story was published in NEW BEGINNINGS, May-June 1986.) Once I was home and nursing often, my supply rebounded only partially. We nursed for several more years, but he never again swallowed much milk, contraindicated or otherwise.
People tend to see breastfeeding as a black and white issue, but the older the child gets, the more varied the shades of gray. If you nursed just a few times a day, on one side each time, your milk supply would probably stay quite low. If you nursed just twice a day, it would be lower still. If you nursed just once a day, chances are there wouldn't be much milk at all. In some cases, parents or health care providers may wish to monitor the level of medication in the baby's blood. For those medications that require total weaning, you may be able to go back to nursing after you finish the medication. No matter how serious the need for weaning, there is probably a shade of gray that will suit the two of you just fine.
Ithaca NY USA
My heart went out to you when I read your situation. I hope your sadness can be assuaged with the knowledge that you gave your child a wonderful gift of 18 months of nursing. You will find other loving ways to meet your child's needs such as holding, rocking, singing, and empathetic listening.
As for your feelings of guilt, the term "informed choice" comes to mind. We have an awesome responsibility as mothers to make the best decisions for our children's health and our own health. LLL provides us with much information about the benefits of human milk and breastfeeding, including health benefits and also emotional, social, and psychological benefits. LLL Leaders also provide a supportive sounding board for mothers to discuss alternate medical choices. The LLL Professional Liaison department in your area can provide information regarding types, timing, and dosages of medications, effects of medical procedures on lactation, and other medical issues that affect breastfeeding and the possible necessity of weaning.
Once a mother has become informed and considered all the alternatives and their consequences she can feel confident that she made the best choice— even if it was a difficult one— for herself, her child, and her family. I'm sure when your child grows up she will be thankful she has a living, healthy mother who gave of herself as long as she was physically able.
Lauralee Crain Carbone
Clovis CA USA
I also weaned my son for medical reasons before either he or I was ready. He is now 26 months old and has been weaned almost three months. I had tried to wean earlier, but without success. I found that he responded to my ambivalence and demanded to nurse more. Once I committed to weaning it became slightly easier. I say slightly easier because although he stopped asking to nurse, I had a very angry little boy for three weeks. Like you, I offered alternatives to nursing (holding, patting his back, or rocking). At first he wanted nothing to do with any of these things and like your daughter, it only made him more angry and upset that he didn't get the "real thing."
The most important thing I learned was to allow him to grieve. Your daughter is grieving and you can't change that, although things will improve with time. It was difficult to watch my son lying on the floor, crying and screaming "no mama, no mama, don't want any mama," and to know that he couldn't accept comfort from me. I always offered comfort, but didn't insist. When he was ready, he eventually came around and asked to be held or cuddled. I let him know I was always there. Throughout the ordeal, it comforted me to know that his rejection of me and his angry expressions of hurt were those of a secure child. He knew no matter what he did, I would always love him and be there to comfort him.
Although he is now happily and successfully weaned, he still talks about nursing. When he is tired and truly wants comfort he slips his hand down my shirt to rest it on my breast. Occasionally, when he sees my breasts, he will open his mouth big, pretend he is going to nurse, then erupt into hysterical laughter at his funny joke. Your daughter, too, will get through this time. She's getting what she needs most from her mother, love and attention. These will sustain her through her grief, even if she can't tell you now how much she loves you and needs you.
Karen J. Earle
Waitsburg WA USA
You have given your baby a great and precious gift. You have given yourself and your milk for 18 marvelous months. No one can take away that special time. Last year, when our son weaned on his own, I deeply missed our nursing relationship. However, I have come to realize that mothering is more than giving milk. Keep giving lots of hugs and kisses. Snuggling in a rocking chair may comfort her. If you have a sling-type baby carrier, try wearing her in the sling. If you don't already share sleep with your daughter you may want to consider it during this tough transition. Guilt isn't easy to cope with. Take comfort in the knowledge that you didn't choose for this to happen. Your daughter has been blessed with a wonderful mother who loves her and is in tune to her feelings.
Vera Lynn Richardson
Chillicothe OH USA