Monday, May 21, 2012

Three Months Post-Mup: An Evolution of Thoughts On Weaning

Welcome to the Carnival of Weaning: Weaning - Your Stories
This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Code Name: Mama and Aha! Parenting. Our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles about the end of the breastfeeding relationship.

It's been nearly three months since we officially transitioned from nursling-and-mamma to toddler-and-mamma.  After reading about the call for submissions for the Carnival of Weaning, I realized I had more left to say on the topic. And of course, it would be a lie of omission if I failed to note the influence of a certain magazine cover image on my renewed thoughts.

To review: after a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 10-week introduction to nursing, my daughter and I hit our stride. Around her third month, I finally latched on to nursing in public.  And we enjoyed - or at least engaged in - a nursing relationship for 24 months until February of this year when my husband went home to England to attend a good friend's wedding and took our daughter along (mainly to visit doting grandparents and family, but also because, since he's a stay-at-home-dad and I work outside the home, his two-week trip presented insurmountable child care challenges. It would be another lie of omission if I failed to note that the thought of a working mommy staycation wasn't a little bit thrilling as well).

We knew about the wedding a year in advance. At the time, she was still very much a nursling and I had no intention of cutting her off and she showed now signs of walking away from the tap. Surely, though, we thought, over the course of a year, we'd find a way to gently manage the two-week separation from mummy and "mup" (her word for nursing/milk). Maybe she'd even have chosen to wean by then herself.

A brief flashback is in order: four years ago or so, I called my sister one evening and knew immediately when I heard her cracking voice answer the phone that something was wrong. I felt my heart pound in my chest - what's wrong! I asked in alarm. "Liam [sniffle sniffle] . .. . weannnneeedddd," she cried into the handset. Is that all, I asked? Hey, I wasn't a mother yet and thought it was weird and a little crazy that my over-two year old nephew was still on the boob anyway. I was, I'm sad to say, of the "well, if they are old enough to ask for it by name, then . . . ." camp.

Flash back to my present motherhood and I get it. I got it from the end of year one onward. A 13-month old is still a baby. I was thankful every day that her sometimes-picky eating would be supplemented by mup every morning and evening and frequently throughout the night. Frankly, it eased my worrying about eating habits generally.  I am nothing if not lazy, after all.

I still had an inkling back then, however, that I wouldn't react to weaning the way my sister had. We're strikingly similar in many ways, but divergent in some - our natural affinity towards motherhood being a key area. I love my daughter, of course, but my sister could teach a master class in nurturing. She inspired my desire to nurse from the moment I first saw her nurse my newborn nephew - I swear I could see a heavenly shaft of light beam down upon her - or at least beam from her face to her son's - and I'm pretty sure those were faint angels' choirs singing in the background. Piece of cake! (Haha, as if).

When it came time for our trip, however, I had a minor freak out. It wasn't based on my feelings - well, I guess it was - but based on my fear about my daughter's feelings. We had, of course, made zero progress towards weaning - at least, I thought.  Everything I'd read put a skull-and-cross-bones-like danger sign over the Cold Turkey Method.

Despite weeks of talking about her "big adventure" with daddy and reading Maggie's Weaning approximately eleventy trillion times in the months before, there we were, 24-hours before her flight departed for England and she was still the same nursling she ever was. Whose bright idea was this, anyway?  Did she get it? Was she going to sob all the way to England? The books and stories and discussions and preparation and hugs and kisses and photos - had any of that stuck in her brain?

I think the message was received, at least enough for daddy, toddler, and family to have a great two weeks. Thanks to her rock-solid bond with daddy and because they had their own system of comfort honed over the daily stay-at-home grind, she was fine in England. She ate fine. She slept fine (well, after the jet-lag passed). She was fine. With Skype chats and phone calls, everything was okay. I think this was because I wasn't there not-nursing her. She was days from two-years-old - it's not like she didn't get that mup came solely from mummy and if mummy wasn't around, then no mup, either.  And maybe the weaning book had helped.

I made no effort to preserve my milk supply while she was gone. Pumping was never effective for me and I had abandoned the practice when she was 11 months old (we used goat's milk and slowly transitioned to cow's at around 13 months - though she mostly drank water with meals and was, of course, still getting human milk anyway).  I felt little discomfort until the day before their scheduled return when, I can only assume, my subconscious completely betrayed me and I felt a few hard, burning milk sacs swelling on my chest.

She nursed one final time when she arrived home and once more at night. We had two slightly rough nights where, in her half-asleep, jet lagged state, she was pretty pissed that mommy wasn't as all-access as she wanted me to be. (Considering her age and her proclivity towards tantrums generally, though, these weren't too bad - one grumble session per night.) "Please mummy, mup?"

I remembered the book. Remember Maggie? I asked her? Uh-huh, she nodded? Remember Maggie was a big girl and didn't have mup anymore and she was sad too, sometimes? Uh-huh, sniffle snarffle.  But Maggie's mommy still loved her and Maggie still loved her mommy, right?  "Okay, mommy," and back to sleep.

Ultimately, I think she's her father's daughter and his nature plus his nurturing helped tremendously. She's a roll with it kinda kid. She has flashes of her mother's temper, to be sure, but her calm side prevails.  She didn't hate me. She didn't regress.

And we moved into the next phase. There are still days where she'll wake up and point at my chest and say "there's no mup in there!" (we still bed share).  In a very strange way, I feel like our relationship is more rewarding now - I feel like the cuddles are more for me than for my milk, if that makes any sense at all (though I know, at least on a rational level, that it was the same when we were nursing, too).

If she hadn't taken that trip, would I have taken steps to encourage weaning? At some point, yes. When? I'm not sure. I've certainly evolved since that late-night conversation with my crying sister.  Would I nurse a three-year-old? Probably. A four-year-old? I don't know. Five? Less certain still. There may be a line, but it's not my line to demarcate, that's for sure.

The two truths I'm left with at the end of two years of nursing are these: First, as Hanna Rosin wrote in her infamous article, "[nursing is] only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing" which I think is extraordinarily important to remember as we struggle, culturally, in America to encourage increased nursing and longer nursing.  And second, that weaning isn't the end of the world for anyone and it is, in many cases, a cause for celebrating what's been accomplished - whether for 3 months or 3 years or anything in between, given the barriers to breast feeding that challenge women so frequently.

I still point out nursing animals in books and nursing children we see in public or pictures because I want to raise her to remember and to understand that it's normal. Sometimes she notes it on her own, sometimes she doesn't bat an eye.

Sometimes, I miss nursing because it was a handy way to quiet a fussing child or get an overtired child to sleep. Mostly, I embrace my new freedom - and hers. There may be no more mup in there, but there's a lot of world out there that we still get to explore together. And there's no weaning off that excitement.

Thank you for visiting the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Dionna at Code Name: Mama and Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (and many thanks to Joni Rae of Tales of a Kitchen Witch for designing our lovely button):
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon May 21 with all the carnival links.)


  1. As a mother who also works outside of the home, I like the connection of nursing when I come home but I am jealous that my husband gets the cuddles and snuggles at bedtime that I don't get because all my son wants me for is nursing (right now).

    1. Yup - it's hard not to feel like a dairy cow ;) But your snuggle time will come (or your snuggle sans milk time - I think they do snuggle when they nurse, it's just hard to appreciate it as such)

  2. I love how they come up with their own names for nursing. : ) I had a similar journey into extended nursing, having originally declared that if a kid was old enough to ask for it then they were too old to be nursing, but like you said, she was still little, and she still wanted it. And so we continued, and it wasn't weird at all. I LOVE what you said at the end of your post, about how weaning is not the end of the world, whether at 3 months or 3 years. Every mother and every child is different.

  3. I was amazed at the difference a change of scene (and timezone) had on my sons 'need' to nurse. We left England to visit my cousin in Sweden and while I thought he may demand to nurse more to help him feel secure in the change (and being away from his papa) in fact he seemed not to need it at all, and rather than it damage our bond it actually strengthened it!
    How wonderful that your daughter feels so secure with her father that she was able to have such a great adventure with him, and so great that you had such a lovely maternal role model in your sister. I always feel that a positive nursing relationship, as with so many other aspects of parenting, is fostered by not only the mother, but all who surround her also.

    1. I would never, ever, have made it through the first month of motherhood - and especially nursing - without my sister as a model and one-woman pep rally. And she nursed my niece right along side me while I was nursing my little. And she, conveniently, lives in Santa Cruz, where I could visit and easily see approximately a trillion moms nursing at any given time. ;)

  4. I think it says a lot about the close, loving relationship she has with her father, that she felt so good about the trip (and the lack of milk). That is wonderful :)

    1. Thanks! The SAHD status, I'm sure, helps with bonding. And also - the thing about the Time Magazine article that bothered me so much was that it implied attachment parenting is attachment mothering, only (at least, I think it slanted that way and the cover DEFINITELY slanted that way, and the popular media coverage adopted that angle, too). Without knowing it, her daddy is fully AP. He's worn her just as much as I have and she sleeps between us both, not just with me. She's definitely a little daddy clone - looks like him too, exactly - and enjoys time with him as much as she does with me.

  5. How lucky your daughter is to be so attached to her father! I want to add, though, that you DID prepare her for weaning -- you read Maggie's weaning over and over. And you made sure she had total support (not to mention distraction!) while she weaned. AND I think you're right -- she didn't experience it as a deprivation because you weren't there saying No. She experienced it as a great adventure that changed her life!

  6. I really, really appreciate this article. Thank you. Years ago as a La Leche League leader we warned against weaning through separation for various reasons. The way you have shared here, however, sounds just as compassionate and loving - if not more - than the approach many take while together. Much of this has to do with resentment as a toddler grows and other stuff, but really - this sounds like everyone grew (and continues to grow) through the experience with lots of love and connection. Thank you for providing another perspective on weaning for me to consider, really. :)