Like many mothers, I had a less than smooth breastfeeding journey. I had a poor latch and for two days struggled until the midwife arrived and told me to take my daughter to A&E to be treated for jaundice. My daughter was admitted and then diagnosed with a condition called transient hyper-insulinism, which meant that she was treated by constant feeding through a nasal gastric tube. I spent two and a half fraught weeks on a camp bed by her cot in the hospital, extremely tired from a lengthy labour complicated by pre-eclampsia and weak with blood loss from an emergency C-section. Unsurprisingly, without any support or midwife visits, or the ability to go to a breast feeding clinic, or actually being able to feed my baby, my supply dwindled, and I didn’t know how to get it back and at the time didn’t really realise I could. I became very practiced at bottles and formula feeding. I should point out that this happened in a very busy London hospital, not Portsmouth.
Cue, second pregnancy and a renewed determination to breastfeed my baby this time. This time, I thought, I will be more prepared. And I was. I attended a workshop by the Breastfeeding Network and I read up on the subject. I was rewarded by a good latch more often than not and any issues were ironed out by attending the drop in clinic at St Marys.
I successfully breastfed for 6 weeks. Excellent I thought. I’ll do it until three months and then I’ll introduce a bottle.
I introduced a bottle. Child and bottle did not get along. I introduced a different bottle, and another. Again, no dice. Ok I thought. There’s no need really. I’m staying home for a while longer yet, he’ll self wean and anyway, it’s good for him.
Two years later, I’m ready to stop. Really. Please, I’d like to stop. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep for two years and my son is now sleeping worse than he did when he was a newborn.
So I did what most people do, when they need to know something. I googled and here are the results:
Baby centre advised me that I’d need to give formula milk instead. Or offer a small portion of food before feeding or water in a soft spouted beaker. Well, here’s the thing. He’s two, he can talk and he can ask me for food if he’s hungry, and water if he’s thirsty. Advice for babies who don’t want to stop – find other ways of comforting such as reading a book or playing a game instead. He feeds at night so I won’t be jumping up to prepare a small snack or find a story book or play a game at 1.30 am or 4.30 am (his current wake up times of choice). Babycentre aren’t alone with this advice – and they’re not wrong, but they are assuming that you’ll be weaning a much younger child or they just don’t give enough detail. You can also find advice on this subject from Breastfeeding Network, La Leche League and Mumsnet.
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers had some much more useful advice and I’ll summarise it here with my thoughts, but do go ahead and read the whole page. The main idea is to change routines gradually. Now this sounds more promising as, frankly our bedtime routines have become a mess and we have simply started to take the easy route of feeding to sleep when he looks sleepy in order to ensure at least one hour of child free time before collapsing into bed ourselves.
The idea I am most interested in is to develop a new bedtime routine, introducing a new association over time, such as a favourite toy or singing a bedtime song or even a key phrase. Do this each time you put the baby to bed, and then gradually (how gradually will probably depend on your child, in my case, I am planning miniscule, tiny stages) lengthen the time between breastfeeding and sleeping until eventually you can drop the feeding.
Other strategies discussed include the ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’ plan, which is exactly what it says. You never offer a breastfeed, looking instead always to comfort some other way or gently distract your child, but if that doesn’t work and they indicate they want a feed, then go ahead and feed. This was actually advice I had already been given on our local breastfeeding facebook page (do join, if you need support locally, it’s great), and I think that it has largely been responsible for the significant reduction in daytime breastfeeding.
Good ways to avoid reaching that point are to avoid wearing accessible clothes, and avoid usual breastfeeding situations, both locations and times. So, if you have a chair that you always breastfeed in – don’t settle in it, or if there is a time in the day you usually feed, perhaps do something else at that time, like take them out for a walk to shift the association. Of course, if you’ve just started doing this, don’t do what I did and wear a shift dress that you actually have to take off to feed, if you really can’t distract your child from feeding. That is very awkward indeed, let me tell you, and even more tricky in a loo, which was my only option at the time, unless I wanted to sit in my tights and bra in a shopping centre.
The NCT had some other advice on the subject, and point out that toddlers don’t like change, (obvious, but when you’re sleep deprived, probably worth pointing out) and that attempting change can result in your child increasing their need for the breast. I can certainly identify with that statement. They suggest that you could stick to a designated time and place for a breastfeed and stick to that, on the basis that if you stick to it and remain consistent your toddler is likely to accept it. All very well if you are simply cutting down, but I want to actually stop, and since the feeds are now really only to get him to sleep and when he wakes in the night, we already have this and I want to drop it. They too advocate ‘don’t ask, don’t refuse’ and in the case of an older toddler who has some language and understanding, to introduce ‘later’ or ‘only at bedtime’ or older still, an agreement that you will stop at a certain point, such as their birthday or Christmas. My son talks, but that sort of agreement is beyond him.
I found a lengthy article by Breastfeeding Basics, who suggest encouraging dad to take an active role in weaning, by having dad do the bedtime routine, or going to soothe your child at night, and interestingly, setting limits on the duration of any feeding session. The article describes using a timer and an alarm going off after a few minutes, which might not be necessary but the concept I believe could be useful, with your child getting used to only feeding for say, 5 minutes and then it will stop.
Another useful and detailed resource is the Weaning Toddlers article by the Australian Breastfeeding Association and is well worth a read.
I haven’t yet considered the issue of mastitis or engorged breasts, and I suspect that as I am doing this so gradually, that won’t arise, but if you need advice on those issues, there is plenty out there, just have a look at the links scattered through this post – most will mention it.
So, there is more advice out there than I thought, some of it seems pretty good, and I’ll be putting it into practice very soon. I’ll let you know if it works for us. In the meantime, if you need support there are some excellent breastfeeding support groups in Portsmouth: