How I screwed up breastfeeding (according to some experts)

At ten months my son started dropping feeds. He had been eating three times a day, but when a bad cold hit him he went almost two days nursing only once. I continued to offer milk every chance I could get but he wasn’t having it. He struggled to get out of my arms and pushed me away.

To be honest, nursing him had been a bit of a struggle for about a month with the exception of his morning feed.

As we all likely do far to often, I turned to the web for some advice wondering if I needed to start supplementing him with anything if he weaned himself completely.

“It is unusual for a baby to wean before 18-24 months unless mom is encouraging weaning.”

I stared at those words on the screen for a few moments before reading on.

“When a mother says that her baby self-weaned before a year, there is a chance that she interpreted a normal developmental stage (perhaps combined with her own wishes) as baby’s wish to wean.”

Combined with her own wishes, eh? That, according to a popular blog on breastfeeding.

I wasn’t ready to stop nursing. My plan with both children was to nurse to a year. Yet, staring back at me was an accusation that I secretly wanted this to happen (at least, that’s how it felt).

My daughter, now four years old, was the same as my son. She started dropping feeds around nine months. We had given her a bottle at some point and, it seemed, once she realized how easy that was she refused her day and night feeds, nursing only in the morning until a week before her first birthday.

I tried to force her to continue eating but let me tell you, it was impossible.

After reading that blog post, I checked with La Leche League. It seems they agree; babies just don’t wean before a year.

Here’s where I apparently went wrong:

1 –  I offered my children an alternative way to soothe themselves. For my daughter, it was the pacifier. She loved that thing. The nurses introduced it at the hospital and big G never looked back. She only fed for sustenance, rarely for comfort. Baby G wasn’t fond of the pacifier but we did introduce a “lovey” when he moved to his room and he sucks the little owl-blanket’s arm as though it was a pacifier. It’s stinky, squishy and disgusting, to be honest, but he loves it. My daughter had her pacifier everywhere she went (which is a huge no-no according to these experts) but my son only had his owl in bed. Still, he also ate more for nourishment than comfort.

2 – I sleep-trained my children. I didn’t even do it early. I was still nursing my son in the night until he was nine months old just to ensure he got as much breast milk as possible. I had read articles about how night feeds are often the best because there are no distractions. But by nine months – with both kids – I was done. I was just too exhausted to continue to wake in the middle of the night. Bad mom.

3 – I gave baby too much water. My son has trouble with poop. He didn’t go often when he was exclusively breastfed and when we started introducing solids, he started having really hard stools that led to tears and bleeding. My doctor said we could introduce some water — but no more than two ounces a day because it could interfere with breastfeeding. She wanted him to reach nine months with most of his calories coming from breast milk. I tried. I nursed as much as possible (including overnight). Still,  my son rarely had heavy wet diapers anymore. His cloth diapers never leaked because they were never full. I felt like he wasn’t getting enough water but I listened to my doctor. As soon as he hit that nine-month mark I filled up his cup and handed it to him after his night feeding and you should have heard him guzzle it back. I’m guessing that means my supply is low, or he finds it easier to get his fluids through the cup. Either way, his diapers are full again and we’re having an easier time with those #2’s.

4 – I introduced too many solids, too early. My husband and I followed the rules with big G. No solids until she was six-months. She still weaned early. By four months my son was staring at us as we ate. He watched the fork move from the plate to our mouths. He. Wanted. Food. When we visited the pediatrician she said things had changed and we could start introducing some solids between 4-6 months. Obviously, she said the bulk of his calories should continue to come from breastfeeding. She suggested we try baby-led weaning and he took to it right away. He devoured anything we gave him. He started refusing to nurse when he woke from a nap, but fussed until I gave him food. I knew the rule was milk first, solids second, but this baby didn’t care about the rules! I tried to limit the amount of food we gave him so he would be still hungry when I went to nurse him next and that seemed to work. He would eat his food and nurse later. Until now.

5 – My children nursed on a schedule. Sort of. I never refused to feed my children, but after the four-month mark we started to fall into a routine. I offered milk before and after naps. If they were fussy in between, I would offer it again (baby G wasn’t awake very long so that was rare). Both naturally seemed to fall into a rhythm of their own, nursing when they woke for the day and, for big G, after each nap and before bed. Baby G preferred nursing before each nap and again before bed (with the odd before and after nap feeds). I guess that’s feeding on a schedule and that is a big no-no apparently. I always thought it was adorable when my nephew would crawl over to my sister and tug on her shirt for some milk, but my kids never did that.

So there it is. All the things I’ve done wrong. Somehow it makes me feel better to put it out there because I don’t actually feel badly about those choices.

I will continue to offer my son milk as much as I can but I’m not going to stress over whether he decides to take it or not.

I don’t think that means I “secretly want my son to wean.” I love our feeding sessions. I love being the only one who can put him down at night and the first person he needs to see in the morning (call me crazy). I will be very sad when that changes.

We visited his pediatrician today and she is not concerned about the issue, and says there is no need to supplement with anything else given the way he is gaining weight.

I will, however, visit a dietitian to ensure I’m giving him the proper nutrients through the food he eats.

And then I will try to ignore that pang of sadness in my chest at the reality that my baby is growing up.

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