Our journey through weaning...
Our journey was much quicker than I anticipated but the story and details are not so this is a long post. I never officially decided when I would stop nursing Ethan. I would give different answers when people asked and their responses were entertaining. Sometimes I thought I'd nurse him until he self-weaned. I had fears of him weaning prior to turning one-year-old but that wasn't Ethan. He was a strong nurser and it was very much a part of his daily routine. He signed for milk as soon as he woke in the morning and routinely throughout the day. Other times I thought I'd nurse him until he was two years old as the WHO recommends. I also considered extended breastfeeding and continuing until he outgrew his intolerance and allergy to cow's milk.
When I found out I was pregnant again I started researching breastfeeding during pregnancy and tandem nursing. I met with a nutritionist to be sure I was getting everything I needed to nurture myself, Ethan, and the baby. I spoke with my LC and set a tentative plan. I would continue breastfeeding as long as it worked for us. It worked well until he was about 15.5 months old. My milk changed due to pregnancy and I don't think Ethan was getting as much as he had been used to. His nursing habits changed and he was becoming frustrated daily. Instead of 4-5 times a day, Ethan was asking to nurse more than 8 times a day and I couldn't keep up. He became aggressive and started hitting when he wasn't getting as much milk as he wanted. I may have been able to work through those challenges, but being sick while continuing my diet, free of Ethan's allergens, was just too much for me to handle. None of the foods I was allowed to eat sounded appetizing and some of them sent me dry heaving. I needed to be able to eat whatever sounded good at the moment and that wasn't possible if I was going to continue nursing Ethan. I was beginning to feel weak and unhealthy.
Tantrums, what seemed like never-ending and painful nursing sessions, aggressive behavior from Ethan, constant nausea, exhaustion, and pregnancy hormones caused it all to come crashing down (not to mention the fact that there was added stress with trying to sell our house and find a new one). After much thought and discussion, we decided to wean Ethan.
I spoke with his pediatrician, allergist, my LC, and the nutritionist about our options. Matt and I decided that we would wean Ethan to hemp milk. This decision was difficult because as with most things related to allergies, all of these doctors and specialists had different opinions. The pediatrician suggested almond milk because he felt Ethan's peanut allergy does not mean he has a tree nut allergy. The allergist disagreed with the pediatrician's suggestion. The allergist suggested we stay away from tree nuts until Ethan is 3 years old. The allergist also suggested prescription formula. We had already started giving Ethan the hemp milk. The LC suggested waiting until Ethan was fully weaned before introducing the prescription formula. She feared the nasty tasting formula would deter Ethan from drinking anything but breastmilk. Once again, I'm glad we followed her suggestion. Once Ethan was no longer nursing and was drinking a few cups of hemp milk a day, we tried to introduce vanilla flavored Neocate. He took one sip and refused the cup. We tried it several times. We tried the unflavored Neocate and he barely had a sip before tossing the cup aside and absolutely refusing to go near the cup of formula again. I don't blame him because just the smell of the unflavored Neocate nearly made us vomit. I tried flavoring the unflavored version, thinking that perhaps the vanilla pre-flavored version was too strong of a taste for him. That attempt was also unsuccessful. He was not going to drink that formula. The allergist has given us samples of a prescription juice called EO28 splash. Ethan will not drink ANY type of juice whether it is watered down or not. We have tried a few kinds and he is not interested in any of them. It's strange because he loves fruit and loves fruit strips but not fruit juice.
We are very thankful that Ethan enjoys the hemp milk. We have been continuing hemp milk and the diet that the nutritionist approved. At first we gave Ethan the Living Harvest Original Hemp Milk but then discovered that they make an unflavored version. The original version has sugar in it so we'd prefer he have the unflavored version. We have been putting half of each of those two into his sippy cups and slowly adding more of the unflavored to our ratio.
The details of how we weaned...
I planned to slowly cut out nursing sessions but that method was not working for Ethan. His personality led us to more of a "cold turkey" approach. We went from 5+ to 0 nursing sessions in 4 days.
I knew the first morning nursing session would be the most difficult to eliminate. Every morning he signed for milk as soon as he saw one of us and whined/tantrumed until he nursed (this started months before weaning). We decided to have Matt go in to get Ethan out of his crib in the morning and bring him straight downstairs for some hemp milk and breakfast. Ethan was upset the first couple of days and the only thing that calmed him down was eating a Clif's Kid's fruit strip. I wasn't going to give in, nurse him, and confuse him so we gave in to a fruit strip. I didn't go downstairs until after Ethan was calmly drinking his cup and eating his fruit strip. After about a week, Ethan started eating a banana instead of a fruit strip first thing in the morning.
Ethan would ask to nurse if he saw my breasts. Then a few weeks before weaning he started tantruming to nurse if he saw them. During weaning and for weeks after I had to be strategic about when I took a shower and got dressed to make sure Ethan did not see me. It was easier to avoid the tantrum then it was to distract him or redirect him.
I'm amazed at how quickly Ethan stopped asking to nurse (I think it was within 2-4 weeks) and I wonder if he remembers nursing at all now.
I have to say that Ethan had a much easier time with weaning than I anticipated. There were less tantrums during the days of weaning and after then there were during the weeks of nursing him while pregnant. This fact alone makes me feel as though weaning when we did was the best decision for all of us.
New habits after weaning...
Prior to weaning Ethan only used a pacifier at naptime and bedtime. He didn't ask for it at other times. He started using it more often after weaning. If he saw one then he wanted it. This lasted for about 2 months. I have recently started only giving a pacifier to him when he is in his crib. I ask him to throw the pacifier into his crib when I pick him up after he wakes. He complies with a smile. I think he thinks it is a game. Thanks to Kim for this idea!
I'm not sure if it has to do with weaning or if it is an unrelated behavior but Ethan has become much more affectionate and cuddly. He's a very active toddler but has been taking more time to curl up next to us.
I was dreading the weaning process but Ethan made it easier than I ever thought it could be.
I think about how fortunate we were that breastfeeding worked out for us. I am incredibly thankful for it. I think about the difficult parts...
the pain from severe engorgement
the learning curve in the beginning
pumping and pumping and pumping
nursing and pumping sessions in the car
his refusal to take a bottle after months of taking one 3 days a week
racing to his daycare to nurse him until he started taking a sippy cup
rotating little bottles and bags of breastmilk through the refrigerator and freezer
the devastation of losing so much hard earned milk to freezers thawing
scheduling my life and work around nursing and pumping
living without so many of my favorite foods
adjusting to the new diet and lifestyle
persevering through the isolation of such a limited diet, the questions, the criticisms, etc.
ALL of it was worth it and I would do it infinite times again if I needed to. Nursing Ethan for 15.5 months, allergen free, is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. Some parts of that were hard and some parts were so easy.
I look at this photo and first I think how cute, strong, and determined my baby is ... and then I think ... LOOK at those rolls! My milk helped this baby grow. My body did that! I'm so proud and thankful.