Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Weaning

I know many of my blog readers might frown on the fact that I'm still nursing a 3-year-old. So if you're put off by that, stop reading right now.

Tonight was the last night for me to nurse Nicholas before bed. We've been nursing only twice a day (in the morning and in the evening) for a very long time now (since he was about 1), and I've been hoping that he would wean himself...as many children do. Not happening in this household, baby!

And "baby" is darn right! Every time I talk to Nicholas about not nursing any more, he bursts into angry tears and keeps insisting that he is a baby. I feel like a complete heel, but I feel that the time has come to close the milk bar. Tomorrow we go down to morning only, and by the time I take a business trip to Denver at the end of the month, he'll be weaned. I'm not looking forward to the process. It will not be fun.

Although I know other women who have nursed their children well into their fours, I've always said that I didn't want to nurse past three. Most of American/English/Australian society frowns on nursing past babyhood at all. In fact, 13-year-old Chris himself didn't seem to realize that Nick was still nursing until I informed him that I was going to stop...and his comment? "Isn't he too old for that?" Thanks for your support, sweetheart. Mike informed an older friend the other day that I was going to wean Nicholas, and she was shocked to hear that he was still nursing. (I was not thrilled to hear he had told her, since I would prefer to keep it quiet and refrain from getting judged.) Our pediatric dentist doesn't like the fact he nurses before bedtime, and our pediatrician (who has never been an enthusiastic breastfeeding supporter, although he certainly hasn't opposed it) also expressed surprise that he was still nursing. (Percentile: 50 height, 50 weight, thank you very much!)

Why have I nursed into young childhood? Well, first of all, UNICEF and the World Health Organization both recommend nursing to two and longer. After Kieran was born, a friend passed on a book called Our Babies Ourselves, which was an anthropological study of the way different cultures raise their children. It was interesting to read how our American (and British and Australian) parenting style encourages independence at such an early age, very different from the focus in other cultures, where they are more focused on nurturing and support. It made both Mike and me feel more comfortable with our attachment parenting approaches.

Beyond the health, bonding, and attachment benefits for both mother and child, other factors contributed:
  • I wasn't able to really successfully nurse Christopher--he had horrible reflux and would vomit all over me when I tried. We weren't able to hold him for 6 weeks, or bring him home for 4 months. With my subsequent children, I felt justified in holding them and nursing them as much as I could.
  • My boys have loved nursing. I had to wean Kieran when he was nearly 3 because I became pregnant with Nicholas. He would have continued if he had been given the choice. Nicholas does NOT want to quit. So I will break his heart by weaning him. What a fun prospect.
  • I am the work-outside-the-home parent, and nursing has helped me develop a close bond with my children.

On the other hand, the time has come for me to take my body back. I have been pregnant or nursing since I was 38 (7 years!!). I feel guilty that I have never had a mammogram when it seems that breast cancer is rife all around me (even though I know that breastfeeding also reduces the risk of getting breast cancer). I am tired of lugging the cumbersome breast pump along when I go on business trips. And even though Mike is not as optimistic about this, I'm hoping that by weaning Nicholas that he will start sleeping better through until morning. This might take awhile, though, because I think he was conditioned as a baby to nurse on demand throughout the night and he still remembers that somewhere in his subconscious.

I try to tell myself that society's pressure and disapproval do not contribute to my decision, but to be honest, they do. It's only one contributor, but I do find that sad. I'm certainly not suggesting that women should nurse their children into elementary school. But in many cultures around the world, children are not even set on the ground until they are 3. Children nurse long after they are weaned in the western world. They all become independent eventually. It happens. What's the big hurry? Why are people so judgmental about the way we love and nurture our children?

If it were up to Nicholas, he'd stay a baby for at least a little longer. Think of us over the next few days and weeks as we try to "break" him of the habit. I am feeling very ambivalent about this prospect, but I know the time has come.

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