The “I love you sweet toddler, but I’m so done” guide to mother-led weaning

So I’ve weaned two babies now, both around the age of 18-20 months. Although I’ll always support moms in breastfeeding as long as they want, I don’t use the terminology “full term” or “extended” breastfeeding, because there is no term. Not term to complete, no term to fail to complete, no term to exceed.

It starts with a newborn who blindly, hungrily, instinctively nurses for survival. For an exclusively breastfeeding mother, this essential nursing carries on for about a year, or until the baby gradually becomes interested in and then well nourished by solid foods. Take advantage of this time, mothers! It is so incredible to be able to go anywhere with your precious cargo and know that you don’t really need anything but the clothes on your back.

baby J

But of course breastfeeding is about more than simple nourishment, it is an act of love and holistic nurturing. Once the baby’s nutritional reliance eases up and their little bodies are supported by real foods, the relationship evolves. What that means is completely unique to each mother-baby duo, but the fundamentals are universal: love, trust, closeness, comfort. There’s absolutely no expiry date on that.

Breastfeeding is also not the only way to offer these things. And there is one other (I believe) universal trait of breastfeeding relationships: convenience. I will never understand why people say that breastfeeding is a difficult path, assuming everything is in working order (which it almost always is, until the allopathic medical system breaks it). I have cracked. I have bled. I’ve cried. I’ve writhed and wailed in agony in the first weeks of both of my babies’ lives. I’ve put in time massaging out clogged ducts in hot showers. But those hurdles have never in any way diminished my wholehearted understanding of the overriding ease and utter convenience of breastfeeding.

It’s this convenience factor that I think leads many of us to struggle to end the breastfeeding relationship long past when we’re actually really ready. I believe it is fully within the mother’s right to end this relationship when she is done. For me, that is ideally after year one, but me and my ideals are really not relevant to another woman with another body, life and child. I do not at all relate to the guilt I so often hear associated with weaning, as many women wrestle with the weight of regret for having actively weaned their (now grown) babies. It’s okay, in my books. It’s right, if it’s what you want. And it’s difficult, because breastfeeding is so bloody convenient for everyone involved!

For me, 18 months is when I’m done. So far, anyway, with my two kids. At 18 months, my babies are thriving, adorable bundles of chaos and mayhem, and breastfeeding becomes something that feels half sweetness, half chore, half crutch (yes I know that’s too many halves). Around this time, I am looking at my babies, and noticing how they’re really not babies anymore. Or at least I’m noticing them hurl themselves with 200% confidence in the general direction of full-blown childhood.

Around this time, I am still enjoying some of those sweet moments nursing provides, but I’m also tired. I’m tired of having my shirt tugged at impatiently in public by a crying toddler. I’m tired of not being able to snuggle or read a book without nursing. I’m physically tired by the demands on my body. I’m tired of being the only one who will “do”, in the middle of the night or during a big upset. I’m starting to sense that my baby-child is ready to move on from relying on this fall-back, and begin to embrace their independence and the variety of new comforts awaiting them.

I am often asked about my approach to weaning, because it can be such a very difficult transition for so many. So here’s my practical guide, all laid out:

Step 1: Never offer, and if they’re asking always try other comforts and distractions first.

Step 2: Wear bulky, high-necked clothing to hide the goods.

Step 3: Tell your toddler that mommy doesn’t want to breastfeed anymore for whatever reason is important to you. With Ocean, I told her I had “owies” because it was true, she was in the habit of comfort-nursing so much at night that it was getting sore & uncomfortable for me.

Step 4: Change up your routines. So if bedtime is normally nursing to sleep, try giving a cup of warm milk before crawling into bed – or only if they’re crying for your milk. Freely offer yummy (healthy) snacks as a distraction in tough moments (yes I endorse bribery and emotional eating). You have to get creative, and it requires energy – hence the immediate appeal of just surrendering yourself to the prospects of breastfeeding forevermore. Attempt to stay strong, while honouring your child’s needs.

Step 4: Assess. For me, this process takes time. I hear your stories, tales of children who self-weaned at 12 months, or just couldn’t have cared less. This hasn’t been my experience, and with both kids I payed careful attention to how truly upset they seemed. With both, this was a stop-start process over 1-2 months. Nobody knows my babies better than me, and when I listen closely I recognize a distinct difference between the desperate “no, I’m not ready!!” cry, and the “this is different, challenging and uncomfortable!” cry. One state, I won’t leave my babies to languish in. The other is okay. It’s my sign to stay strong and be there for them in new ways as I gently nudge them along.

So there… that’s as scientific as I get when it comes to weaning. There’s no magic formula – just your own trust in your inner voice, and a little bit of creativity and stamina. Listen to yourself, and listen to your baby, and someday soon you’ll be trying to remember for a friend how you weaned your babies.

Bon courage!

XO baby O

Mommy wars is a lie. Or, why I’m not judging you. Or, let’s all work on owning our feelings.

Alright, so there are now facebook groups with names like “Fed Up With Natural Childbirth” and the term “sanctimommy” gets thrown around a fair bit. It seems that everywhere I turn, there is a woman who is trying her best, and who loves her children more than anyone else ever could, and yet feels judged and less-than. There are women in online unassisted birth communities feeling like failures who must confess if they decide to hire a midwife or obtain an ultrasound. That is very sad. But from where I’m standing, the natural childbirth movement has absolutely nothing to do with judging other women. Let me say it right now: I love you. I respect you. Whoever you are, you are wise, your needs are important, your choices are valid.

The Internet has exploded into a platform for anyone with something to say. Independent online research is now the norm for anyone with a bit of bandwidth, and we are all now exposed constantly not just to the dominant narratives of the mainstream media, but to the musings and opinions of our peers. No doubt, it can get intense, especially when we find ourselves confronted with opposing views from people we trust, or with the latest study showing that everything we’re doing is EXTREMELY FUCKING WRONG. But I want to let it be known ~ right here/right now ~ that from my perspective, participating in and advocating for a natural, non-intrusive and peaceful approach to pregnancy and childbirth is basically about two things: 1. Scientifically, physically – the dangers posed to mother and baby by interfering in the spontaneous physiological process of birth, and 2. Politically – articulating and fiercely protecting every woman’s right to reside over pregnancy and birth. This means instilling a genuine respect for her choices surrounding where, how and with whom she gives birth.

It’s about women owning our bodies, knowing (and truly, being one with) our babies, being the absolute masters of our pregnancies and birth processes, and bucking the notion of any other so-called expert or professional assuming authourity over any of that. If a woman wants to refer to a doctor or midwife during the course of her pregnancy, or if she feels more comfortable giving birth in their presence, sure – wonderful. As long as she is truly supported and empowered to make informed decisions, as opposed to the current standard of belittlement, lies and weighty ommissions.

The voices you hear, that are calling into question the legitimacy of ultrasounds, induction, episiotomies, most c-sections, administering of labour “enhancers” and pain meds, directed pushing, early cord clamping, separation of mother and baby, rigorous rubbing-poking-prodding-hatting of newborn, circumcision, encouragement of “supplementation” via baby formula… These voices are not judging you. You are fine, you are loved. These voices are critiquing a system that has medicalized, problematized, industrialized and attempted to control not just pregnancy and birth, but the female BODY and MIND, to such a degree that a great many women now spend a significant portion of their lives processing the residual trauma, confusion and guilt resulting from interventions that in retrospect seem completely unnecessary, harmful and ultimately degrading.

These interventions (or—excuse me, assaults) can occur without consent, definitely without true “informed consent”, and often even in spite of the mother’s expressed request to abstain. I say request, because very often in our culture a mother timidly and excitedly following her pre-natal care routine must ask permission or plead her case should she not be in favour. They can include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Membrane sweeps (an extremely invasive and painful procedure touted as ‘quick and natural’, whereby the cervix is forcibly stretched – hey, we’re dilating! – and the amniotic sac is ripped from its walls. Can cause bleeding, intense cramping, and premature labour)
  • Scheduled induction – conveniently booked “just in case” during your 39 week check-up (now being systematically pushed on many women at the 41 week mark. This is a terrible lie since a) many do not know their true conception date, especially considering the fact that sperm can live inside a woman for up to 5 days, b) different bodies and babies require different periods of gestation to reach “term” c) it is dangerous to the baby and significantly increases mom’s likelihood of ending up in emergency surgery, and d) much of this is being done to women because it is convenient for doctors and it gives the hospitals total control over the baby’s birth – which has now become a medical procedure – and thus, management of liability)
  • Planned cesareans (for a variety of reasons, the vast majority of which are scientifically unfounded. There are rare instances when a cesarean section is truly a lifesaving emergency measure. The epidemic of the “unnecessarean” diminishes a woman’s trust in, and I would argue love for, her body and prevents her from knowing its true power to finish what it started when it moves her baby into the world at just the right time, in just the right way. This experience is an integral part of the transition from growing the fetus to mothering the child, enormous for a first-time mom. And for the baby, from life inside the womb to life in the world.)

Even deep in the most primal throes of the childbirth process, most women must dig deep and find the additional strength and focus to argue with the professionals present in order to avoid some level of intervention – and this applies to many homebirth midwives (medwives inextricably linked to the same rigid, paternalistic system of birth management) as well as the more obvious hospital scenario. All of these commonplace interferences in modern day childbirth have short and long term effects which we are only just starting to comprehend, and scientific journals are pointing to the potentially far-reaching negative impacts of ultrasound on the cells of a developing fetus, and of cesarean section on a baby’s intestinal flora (which we now know is hugely important to a strong immune system).

For many, it’s about opting out of a system that has eroded women’s power throughout this process (a time when she is naturally at her peak in terms of intuitiveness and strength) to the degree that it is no longer tolerable to participate. It’s about calling out a systematic degradation of femininity and motherhood, and making an effort to make available important evidence weighing against the contemporary conveyor-belt approach to pregnancy, birth and beyond. It is not about targeting, shaming or judging any woman for her experiences or choices. You are wise, your needs are important, your choices are valid.

I do not actually care what kind of birth you have, whether you elect for a c-section because of personal fears, or you orgasmically eject a baby from your glorious henna’ed yoni in an Appalachian stream with a ceremonial llama in attendance. I don’t really care if you cut your baby’s cord immediately post-birth, or salt it and carry it around in a red hand-stitched velvet sac for four days in the spirit of lotus birth. I don’t care if you and your baby are injected with Rhogam, DTap, Hep B, Vit K, Pitocin, Oxytocin and whatever else is on the menu, or if you never see the inside of a hospital during your entire pregnancy. I don’t care if you have 5 ultrasounds or choose to connect with your baby simply by listening and visualizing. Whether you beg for induction at 40 weeks or remain cool as a cucumber (but secretly want to kill yourself) at 43 weeks+2, and if you give up on breastfeeding on day one or nurse your child through elementary school, these personal choices don’t shape your intelligence, your worth or my opinion of you, because that is what they are –personal choices.

Now… does this mean I withhold all judgment from any and all practices? C’mon, we all know that that would be a big ol’ “HELL NO”. I do judge the pharmaceutical companies who invent solutions to problems that must then be invented afterwards. I do not believe formula to be equivalent to breastmilk, and I judge Nestle and Similac, and the doctors who encourage new mothers to supplement with formula, when they know damn well (or should) that this will completely undermine her breastfeeding efforts and ultimately set her and her babe up for failure. I judge our culture’s appropriation of the female breasts as sex objects for male enjoyment, and the false notion that breastfeeding ‘isn’t for everyone’ (and yes, I do acknowledge and have empathy for the women who are not able to breastfeed. Still, this condition is overrepresented in public discourse when what is actually happening most of the time is a lack of knowledgeable support). I judge our cultural acceptance of routine infant circumcision and firmly believe this is wrong, and a huge transgression on the rights of baby boys who cannot defend themselves, and that we need to unlearn the misunderstandings behind this grotesque practice so that it can be eradicated from our society. I judge a system in which women are led to fear-based, emergency-trained medical professionals for what should literally be the most natural thing in the world, and I judge the system that routinely makes us feel inadequate, unprepared, and in crises when nothing could be farther from the truth.

Still, I don’t judge you, or her. Truth be told, I can’t even find it in my heart to judge the professionals much of the time. We have all been brought up differently. We are all living our truths, and we need to make choices that put us most in alignment with who we aspire to be in our heart of hearts. Mommy wars is a lie, because I actually believe that women mostly love each other, and because having different ideas and experiences doesn’t put us in the trenches.

The Internet has made it possible for us to share information and speak out with abandon. This is a good thing, and feeling challenged is the optimal environment for self-reflection, learning and growth. If something has you feeling really triggered, really defensive, that is a perfect opportunity to examine your values and decide whether you want to hold steadfast to them or let in a new way of thinking. I truly believe that if we are confident in our choices the opinions of others, much less others we don’t know, can’t offend. It’s when we’re not sure that it hurts. So may I suggest we all forget about the so-called mommy wars and begin to take accountability for our feelings? In 2015, I would really like to not see the term “sanctimommy” perpetuated. Let’s banish it, and own our shit. It will make us stronger, I promise.

I’d love to hear what you think. And just for reading to the end, here’s a random picture of me & the kids at Peggy’s Cove. You’ll have to let your imagination fill in the scenery. I don’t have a selfie pole 🙂

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A piece of advice to new moms: don’t make breastfeeding goals

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If I could offer just one piece of advice to breastfeeding moms it would be this: don’t have goals. Don’t tell yourself you will nurse your child until 6 months, or 9 months, or a year, or two years. Don’t tell yourself you will nurse in public, maybe with a fancy cover/boob tent until you get brave enough to ‘NIP’ (as the mommy boards like to say) without it.

Instead, assume that your breastmilk will nourish your child with the same unconscious and total confidence with which you assume you will wake up in the morning. Assume you will breastfeed your child in public, because often you will be in public, and often your baby will need to nurse while you are in public, and it is really just a no-brainer. Assume that you and your sweet nursling will have your struggles along the way, and do not hesitate to seek out support for challenges such as nipple pain, poor latch, strong let down, dip in supply, nursing strike, plugged ducts, or mastitis (IBLCs, La Leche League, and peer support groups are all great resources to help get you through any hard times) .

Assume that you will continue on with this essential relationship until your child’s nutritional needs are fully supported by healthy, whole foods, your emotional bond is strong enough to support the transition, and you no longer feel they need you in that way. I’ll let you decide what that means for you; for me, it meant around 18 months with my son, after a couple of attempts to night-wean where it was clear to me that he wasn’t yet ready, and one final attempt where I could simply tell that he was. With my daughter, who knows? maybe we will be done at one year, maybe 18 months, maybe 3 years. I have no goals.

There is a lot of energy out there in support of breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public, and of course I understand why. It is my belief, however, that this does in some way detract from the more important message, which is that breastfeeding is not only the most normal and natural thing in the world, but a completely necessary and inherently engrained aspect of child-rearing. Human babies survive on breast milk. This milk is produced by a mother’s mammary glands for this purpose (hence “mammals”). Why on earth would you not give this to your baby? What discussion is really necessary? I don’t feel the need to advocate for breastfeeding in any way, or celebrate my own breastfeeding relationships, because I really do think it is a very simple part of life that deserves little to no attention. I do realize that some women have been harassed, but this has never been my experience. I honestly don’t think I would even notice if someone did look at me funny while I nursed my child in public, because other people — and the utterly ridiculous possibility of somehow upsetting them — are not even on my radar during that moment.

My personal stance, then, is that we need to respect mothers, and babies, and the simple act of breastfeeding as the essential building block that it is by just completely getting on with it. There is absolutely no way of knowing what minute percentage of mothers are actually physically unable to breastfeed because this determination is so muddled in misunderstanding. Sadly, far too many women are unnecessarily confused and deterred by the terrible advice and scare tactics of misinformed physicians. Forget the growth charts. Formula doesn’t exist. Of course you will make it to 6 months! Of course you will nurse in public! And one day, when you are in the car with your family on a spontaneous  road trip, or lazily nursing your child in bed, or during a power outage, you may marvel at the simplicity and ease and miracle of it all. But you won’t congratulate yourself, because you never for one second expected anything different.

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(I love this photo of me and my son. I look so confused, bordering on a state of shock, and the milk spot on my shirt, general surrounding mayhem, and perfectly blissed-out & oblivious baby are so illustrative of the fourth trimester for new moms~!)

If I could offer TWO pieces of advice to breastfeeding moms, it would be the above, and also this gem: learn to stop leaks by applying gentle counter-pressure to the entire nipple/areola area during let down. Just cover the baby-free breast with your forearm or the palm of your hand and press down until let down sensation subsides. Voila! Discrete, fool proof, dry. No bra or stupid nursing pads necessary… or receiving blankets shoved down the front of your shirt if, you know, you’re as ‘together’ as me. It took me two children and a combined two years of breastfeeding to figure that one out. Don’t make fun of me.