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Avoiding Premature Weaning

By Jocelyn Smith

I've become playground friends with a couple of other mommies lately. You know the kind I mean; people you don't see anywhere else but with whom you talk like old friends at the playground. The other day we were talking about breastfeeding. One of the other mommies, whose daughter Chesney is two months younger than my son, said wistfully, "You know, I wanted to breastfeed her for two years."

"Why didn't it work out?" I wanted to know.

"She weaned herself at eight months old," she replied sadly. "I didn't want her to but she just would not nurse at all."

"Did you give her juice?" another mom asked. "That's what happened with my son; he started liking juice more than milk. I cut back on it when he was ten months but he only nursed until his birthday."

"I don't know what it was," Chesney's mommy answered.

While we were having this discussion, questions I wanted to ask were buzzing around my mind, but since weaning had happened so long ago I didn't see any point in asking them. All it could do was open old wounds and possibly make the other moms feel guilty. Heck, I almost felt guilty for still breastfeeding Abishai in the face of their regrets! I am convinced that the reason our breastfeeding relationship has not faltered is because I have followed a few simple steps that I gathered in my extensive reading about nursing. Here, for the benefit of other mommies who want to keep on breastfeeding as long as possible, is what I've learned.

Avoid scheduling breastfeeding. This is the great biggy. Do not follow a schedule! Your baby knows when she is hungry. She will signal that she is hungry by digging her little nose and mouth repeatedly in your chest (kind of like a woodpecker), making scrabbling motions with her fists, making breathy little whimpers, and, if you fail to notice all these early warning signs, by crying. Scheduling breastfeeding, especially in the first two months, can lead to an inadequate milk supply. This is because if you are on a schedule, you will tend to not feed your baby more while she is on a growth spurt, even though she will want to nurse more. Not allowing your baby to nurse more often will lead to inadequate increase of milk supply. Let your baby eat when she is hungry!

The exception to this rule is the so-called "happy-to-starve" baby. Some babies are weak from a difficult delivery, sleep a lot because of prematurity or other reasons, or have exceptionally laid-back temperaments (sometimes Down Syndrome babies are like this) that lead to them not giving hunger cues. These babies need their parents to use a schedule--be sure it's no more than two hours in the beginning. And remember, time between nursings is measured like time between contractions--from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next.

Avoid the use of artificial nipples. By artificial nipples I mean both pacifiers and bottles. Use of bottles and pacifiers can lead to nipple confusion, which is when a baby learns to prefer the ease of bottlefeeding to the greater effort of breastfeeding. Bottle nipples, even the ones designed for newborns, allow formula or breastmilk to enter the baby's mouth at a fast and effortless rate compared to the breast. This is why the breast is also better for facial and oral development. Some books tell you to avoid artificial nipples in the early weeks. I am telling you, avoid them as much as possible, for as long as possible. If you wait for six months, you can introduce a sippy cup.

If you work or for some other reason must leave your breastfeeding infant, you can leave your expressed breastmilk to be fed by either a medicine cup or a syringe. To use a syringe, the caregiver lets the baby suck on his (the caregiver's) finger while he slowly squirts the milk into the baby's mouth via the syringe, which is placed alongside his finger. In my opinion, the medicine cup is a bit easier. If you absolutely must use a bottle, use one that simulates breastfeeding, such as the Avent nursing system or the Adiri Breastbottle. As far as pacifiers go, I let Abishai use one until he hit six months and was old enough to get it to his mouth on his own. Then I tossed it and became his one and only pacifier. Remember, mommies are not substitute pacifiers. Pacifiers are substitutes for mommy nipples.

Avoid overuse of sippy cups. Sippy cups are a good thing…in small doses. Once your child is old enough to use one, limit their use to mealtimes. Don't let him wander around the house, sippy cup in hand. You want him to come to you for refreshment. Also, definitely limit juice intake. Juice is high in calories, low in relative nutritional value, and because it is so sweet babies quickly learn to love it. Water it down at least by half, preferably more. And for that matter…

Avoid overuse of food. Babies don’t usually need to start solids until they are old enough to pick up the food themselves. Once they do start solids it is desirable to nurse before they eat solid food. Breastmilk should be your child’s primary nutritional source until she passes her first birthday.

Know the difference between a nursing strike and weaning. A nursing strike is when something, usually a bodily injury, damages your child's psyche and, to demonstrate her dissatisfaction with life in general, she stops nursing for a while. A nursing strike is probable if your child went from several nursings to none at all immediately. To woo your child back to the breast, bathe with her, sleep with her (if you don't already), catch her when she's half-asleep. She'll come back to the breast.

Know the difference between a growth spurt and inadequate milk supply. The most common age for weaning in Quebec is at six weeks. Why? Many mothers are convinced that their milk supply is inadequate after that date because suddenly their babies are screaming for the breast every forty-five minutes. The sad truth is, these babies are having a growth spurt, and more than likely their mothers would have more than enough milk to feed them. Since the breast works on a supply-and-demand system, babies are designed to start asking to feed more just before they hit a growth spurt. This way, mothers' milk supplies step up production just in time for the new growth. Then, after the growth spurt, the babies' hunger abates and time between nursings stretches longer and longer. Common growth spurts are the three week, the six week, and the three month growth spurts, but there are several more; after a while you just get used to them. Another one that many mothers who nurse past the first year don't know about is the eighteen month growth spurt. Relax and don't plan on going anywhere special for a few days. It'll pass.

Know the benefits of extended nursing. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers to breastfeed at least one year for proper nutrition. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years! Infants who are weaned prematurely often suffer an increased rate of serious illness. Also, mothers who nurse toddlers often find that they have a "silver bullet" in their bag of mama tricks to help a tired, hurt, or overwrought little one. Don't give up on nursing just because one person gives you a "pervert" look, or your relatives keep on asking you when you're going to wean. It's no one's business but your own and your child's. I just nursed my 30 pound, 2.5 feet tall, 17-month-old on a bike trail trip in front of nine strangers Sunday afternoon. No one noticed or cared. Know Your La Leche League number! La Leche League has been helping breastfeeding mothers for forty years now. Your La Leche League leader has been given training in troubleshooting breastfeeding problems of many kinds. If for some reason she can't figure out what's wrong, she will refer you to a lactation consultant, who has been given extensive training in diagnosing and solving breastfeeding problems. Make sure the lactation consultant has been Internationally Board Certified. (Visit the La Leche League website to find a group near you.)

I hope this article has been informative and helpful.

copyright 2002 by Jocelyn Smith
Used by permission


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