Oct 6, 2009
So there I was at 3am with my son, trying to wean him off the wee hours feed so I could return to the concept known as a night of uninterrupted sleep. I was informed by somebody – I can’t remember who, but it was somebody who at the time seemed to be the supreme advice-giver of all things weaning as I read his or her book with heavy eyelids – that your little bundle of joy may cry a little. A little? I immediately turned to the glossary to see if there was a definition for “a little”. No such luck. I turned back to the weaning page, which stated that with cries, said bundle is only responding to a change in routine and isn’t really hungry.
Unbearable as it was trying to sleep with my son crying next to me for what seemed like a few lifetimes, I started imagining he’d wake up in a few hours looking completely emaciated. I convinced myself that he was starving. After all, I’ve been known to wake up at 3am, in desperate need of chocolate or craving a stone-baked pizza. Who’s to say he wasn’t ravenous.
I told my husband that one piece of weaning advice was for the father to take care of the baby when he or she woke up crying in the way-too-early hours for a feed so that the baby would not associate waking up with being fed by mum. And because many mothers instinctively soothe their baby when he or she is crying, it’s a good idea for the mum to stay out of audible range. He gave me a confused, crazy look somewhere in between George Bush and Jack Black, and said, “I don’t think I’m in your audible range right now. I’m going back to sleep.”
It took us a little over a week, but the magnificent team we are, my son and I worked it out. Cries became mere whimpers, and I was able to start paying back the sleep debt collectors. There was one night during this process when I woke up in the midst of “sleepfeeding” – sitting up, shirt lifted up, nursing bra unlatched, arms in position to hold baby – only there was no baby. Baby was fast asleep.
For many a mum and her little one, closing down the breast restaurant occurs naturally. The baby begins to take an interest in the food being eaten by others around him or her and starts to eat solid foods. The maxim goes that the more solids the little cherub eats, the less he or she wants mum’s breast milk. However, some babies refuse to voluntarily stop breastfeeding. What’s a mum to do in this situation?
If you’re a Zulu mum, you make very thorough preparations for weaning, including planning the actual weaning date months ahead, tying charms around the little one’s necks, spending the entire day at home, and occasionally using the services of a “weaning specialist.”
I recently had a conversation with a Canadian mum who said her mum told her to put Dijon mustard on her breasts as a form of milk obstruction. She said that her daughter didn’t even have to taste the Dijon, but the smell alone prevented her from coming near her mum’s chest. When I was growing up, there were these funny Grey Poupon adverts on TV, and the image of this mum rubbing Dijon on her breasts tempted me to somehow broker a deal between the Kraft Foods ad team and producers of films of a different variety. I imagine the commercial would only get play in Europe.
To my horror, another mum suggested a somewhat similar sabotage approach – rubbing a bit of cayenne pepper on your nipples. Either that or some of the stuff that stops you from biting your nails. Not too much though – just enough to give the little one an unpleasant taste. She then added that you should be sure to offer a sip of something to get rid of the taste, but only a sip. That poor, poor baby. I started getting sympathy abdominal pain just thinking about it.
I still don’t know if she was joking or not, but one friend said that she did not partake in any rubbing of substances on her breasts to thwart her baby’s efforts. Instead, she just looked the little one in the eye and said, “These are daddy’s now.” Oh my. That’s an entirely different blog.
Another approach, weaning by separation, seems to be of another generation. Doctors do not recommend it as it creates a negative emotional impact and feelings of abandonment. And, ultimately the poor little pumpkin is not likely to forget about breastfeeding, but may want it more as a form of comfort. Despite this, one mum of an 18-month-old said she couldn’t tolerate her toddler doing aerobics while breastfeeding any longer. Every time she tried to stop, her son went into hysterics. She decided to go to a convent for two days and upon her return, as if the nuns themselves were responsible for this mini miracle, the breastfeeding situation was resolved.
Some reluctant weaners force their mums to consider “milk drying-up” medication to abruptly eliminate milk production. Three words: don’t do it. Although I can’t speak from experience, I still say don’t do it. And don’t bind the breasts either. While it may stop milk production, it puts you at risk for clogged milk ducts and mastitis.
Instead, experts say the way to go is by gradual reduction of breastfeeding. Forget going the cold turkey route and alternatively, stop one feed and then another and then another. I stopped the wee hours feed. My son stopped the rest. He lost interest once he discovered Annabel Karmel.
Gradual reduction is also the way to go if you want to help ease bosom engorgement. Mums can also try putting cold compresses on their breasts. Or, they can let the LaMa Bra do all the work. It’s a bra that holds form-fitting cold packs. Think Wonderbra, but with a couple small bags of frozen peas instead of dry pads.
Failing this, chilled cabbage leaves are rumoured to bring comfort to the breasts in addition to releasing an enzyme that helps in stopping lactation. In between baby’s cries, doing the laundry and singing Wheels on the Bus for the 1000th time, crush the cabbage leaves with a rolling pin, wrap them around the breast and leave on for about 20 minutes. A couple times a day is usually enough.
I personally went the hot shower route. I washed while excess milk leaked out (a whole new meaning to milk soap). I also expressed a little milk so that production would decrease in small increments, signalling to my body to adjust.
And here’s something our male counterparts will never experience – Pavlovian boobs. Some mums – while nursing or even months after nursing has finished – will find milk dripping from their breasts in response to another child’s cries or worrying over their own child’s current ailment, similar to the salivary conditioning of Pavlov’s dogs. All it took for me, nearly three months after I was finished nursing, was looking at a plea from a charity to help aid orphans.
All this talk of Dijon mustard, cayenne pepper, frozen peas, cabbage leaves and going cold turkey is making me hungry. Lunch, anyone?