Thursday, September 27, 2007

How weaning happened

As I mentioned earlier, the babies are now officially weaned. I've had a couple people ask me in other contexts how that went, so I thought I'd talk about it for all of you.

We had always intended to wean at approximately one year. Originally, I really, really wanted to make it to six months, and then to a year if I could. However, we didn't really want to go much beyond that, for several reasons.

One, the idea of toddler nursing didn't really appeal to me, and especially to my husband. Two, we knew we wanted another baby, and with my HA, it would be necessary to wean partially or completely to see if my cycle would return. Three, there is a lot more social pressure put on extended nursing mothers, and I knew I'd get it from family and some acquaintances. I couldn't have cared less in the first year, but when the babies are getting most of their sustenance from solids anyway, the cost-benefit analysis shifts.

I might have dragged the weaning process out somewhat longer if it hadn't been for the surgery, though. Once we got down to two sessions a day, my nursing relationship with the girls really shifted, and in a way I actually enjoyed. It became less about getting them fed and more about it being their special snuggle time with Mama, especially as they are rapidly becoming too busy to cuddle much. I miss this very much, especially the bedtime nursing, and have been tempted to start again on several occasions. Had the surgery not happened, we might have kept this up for another two or three months.

However, the surgery did happen, and it was a convenient fixed-date goal. To be clear, there was no medical imperative that I wean. They could have taken bottles the night I was gone and returned to nursing afterwards. Pain medication would have been something of an issue; I'm not one to generally fret too much about medicine in my milk, but I was taking a LOT of oxycodone for several days there (and am still on hydrocodone two weeks out). However, I could have worked that out with the pump, or with proper medication timing. The biggest issue was that, as my previous surgery showed me, it's really hard to nurse when you've got a hurting and immobilized knee, and when you're drugged and groggy and just want to sleep. As painful as this ACL repair has been, I've been glad I didn't have to nurse them.

We started the weaning process about a month out from the surgery. At this point, they were nursing four times a day (morning, evening, and after two naps), and eating three solid meals. They were not in the habit of snack-nursing or night-waking, although I did sometimes comfort-nurse if a baby was particularly upset. It definitely made weaning easier, that they were already on a somewhat predictable schedule. If you're thinking about weaning and have a grazer, I would recommend that you shift your nursling to a more consolidated pattern as the first step.

The first feeding to go was one of the post-nap feedings. They had been trying to shift to one nap anyway, so encouraging that let me drop one feeding pretty easily. After a week, I dropped the other post-nap feeding, and replaced it with a sippy cup of cow's milk and a graham cracker, which they love ten times more than nursing.

The next week, we dropped the morning nursing, and started taking them straight to their high chairs for breakfast when they woke. This was the one I struggled with, because it meant I had to get out of bed and feed them breakfast instead of catching a few extra minutes of nursing napping! I still miss this one, and I often snuggle with them in bed for a couple minutes while they wake all the way up.

The final nursing to go was the bedtime nursing. I wish I could say I had a well-thought-out strategy for dealing with this one, but I didn't. The last night nursing was the night before my surgery, and after that, I just wasn't available at bedtimes, and let my mom and my husband figure out how to get them to bed.

For the most part, the girls really didn't even seem to notice that I was weaning them. They were somewhat distressed the week following complete weaning, but between the teething and the weaning and the general upheaval, it's hard to say how much was due to any one cause. They don't really pull at my shirt or root around much, with one exception: when they hurt themselves and are very upset, it's clear they want to nurse to make it better. They accept their fingers/thumbs as substitutes, but I still feel a little twinge about denying them.

Because I am prone to plugged ducts, we tried to do everything slowly, dropping one feeding a week. However, I still suffered from terrible plugged ducts, to the point that my entire breasts were rock-hard masses of lumps. Fortunately, this did not turn into actual mastitis, but it was quite uncomfortable, and I was often glad I was already on painkillers.

Two weeks later, the plugged ducts have finally pretty much resolved, but I still have milk ready and waiting at the slightest provocation. I think this is partly due to my hypothalamic amenorrhea -- my hypothalamic/pituitary axis has never been very good at downregulating prolactin, and I've struggled with oversupply. I'm waiting to see if this resolves, but if I still have milk at my yearly exam in November, we will check prolactin and discuss.

As I posted previously, I did actually ovulate and have a spontaneous period toward the end of the weaning process, albeit with minor luteal phase disturbance. I have not ovulated, or shown any signs of it, so far this cycle, which is somewhat disappointing. However, this could easily be chalked up to the surgery, so I'm not getting too upset about it. Obviously, I will have to wait a couple months and see how things shake out, but I'm not ready to declare my ovulatory issues to be resolved just yet.

So, that's the end of our nursing story. Overall, I'm very proud of myself for having stuck it out for a year, and I think it was a worthwhile achievement. I'm somewhat sad that it's over, but I hope I'll have the chance to nurse more babies someday.


Eva said...

Thanks for sharing! Sounds like things went pretty smoothly, except for the plugs. I always thought plugged ducts were a thing to worry about early, but now I know lots of people (including me) who seem to struggle with it with increases in solids, back to work, and weaning. I sympathize because it's no fun!

I'd imagine the hope of nursing again some day helps make weaning a bit easier emotionally on the momma. Maybe that's why I'm not ready to give it up, I know these are my last babies.

Hope your periods act normal and that pregnancy helped your body straighten out a bit!

Stacey said...

You did good! I can kinda sympathize with the extra mommy time - I think that's probably why I still give Ace a bottle. That's when I can sit down and have him on my lap sitting mostly still. It's quiet time with Mommy. Plus, he and sippy cups don't mix real well yet.