Monday, March 3, 2014

The indecisive weaner

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I opened up the deep freeze in the shed this morning, and it is still full of carefully labelled plastic pouches. Reading the dates and times bring back with surprising clarity my daily routine at the time. That first express before breakfast. Day time expresses at the hospital in a tiny room. Pre-dinner express before a small pre-dinner drink. The final express before bed, and my least favourite the 2am special to keep the milk production going. Most are now more than a year old, which means technically I can no longer defrost and use them for feeding the girls. I should throw them away. But I can't quite bring myself to do it yet.  It is like a frozen time capsule. 200 hours of my life. Some of the most stressful moments I have ever experienced seem to be invisibly linked to those plastic packets.

Is it time to wean? A question that is swirling around in my mind at the moment. I have been producing milk for nearly 15 months, feeding the girls myself for 11 months. I always assumed the girls would self wean. That this decision would not be one I would have to contemplate or make.

I had not considered long term breast feeding before they were born. I assumed that feeding twins might not last that long. It would be too hard. I might not produce enough milk. I wasn't going to beat myself up if it didn't work out and we had to bottle feed or use formula.

My return to work hasn't brought on a sudden weaning. Much as I read that this could occur. Instead I am expressing twice a day and the girls drink, albeit reluctantly, from bottles when I am at work. Seems funny to have gone full circle and have the pump and bottles out again.

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If you ask me at 3am I will say yes, I have to wean. They are waking me up between 1-5am nearly every two hours, and feeding for comfort. Unfortunately now they have top teeth, it is of no comfort to me. Their latch slips in their sleepy state, and those razor sharp new teeth drag down causing me to yelp out loud in pain. Honestly, it makes me very grumpy and they are not very happy either. Rob takes them after I try to reattach them properly a few times and rocks them to sleep.

Now I know that part of this problem is the girls sleep settling needs to be separated from feeding. Yes that is easy to accept in theory. Trying to do it in practise when we are both tired and desperate for the cries of one girl not to wake the other is another matter entirely. We tend to go with the flow when it comes to parenting the girls. Although we loosely have a routine, we don't enforce it, although perhaps sometimes we pay for skipping a nap, or delaying their dinner!

But during my days at home (I am only working five days a fortnight), I happily feed them during the day. They latch on much better when they are not half asleep, and it is so much easier than trying a bottle, sippy cup or normal cup. Weaning doesn't even cross my mind. 

I think sometimes breast feeding the girls is my last connection to those early days in hospital. It was my job. The one chance to be their Mama, sustaining them and helping them grow. Amongst the artificial, busy and clinical environment of a neonatal intensive care unit those moments when we practised feeding I really felt like their mother. I could close my eyes and ignore the beeps and alarms and nurses, it was just us, doing what we were meant to be doing; bonding, forming a relationship that had been paused because of their early and scary arrival. Maybe I need to shed a few last tears and move on to the next stage with Maggie and Elisabeth.
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So where does that leave us? I suspect we'll muddle through for a bit longer until they are 12 months corrected (March 20), then wean the night feeds, I may keep up the day feeds a little longer before encouraging them to drink out of cups.

How did you wean?
How did it make you feel?


Amanda said...

Weaning for me was one of the hardest parts of both mothering journeys with my girls. With Grace, my milk took a few days to come in but then, with both girls I had an over-abundance of milk. They were both fully breast fed until 13 months (at which point I think they were having three feeds a day on top of the solid meals). They never once had formula, not because I was against it, but because I didn't need to with all the milk I had and breast feeding was just easier. Plus like you, it was one of those rituals I cherished. With Grace, I used to do a dream feed at about 10pm each night which would see her through to the morning. With Sophie, I couldn't keep myself awake until 10 so I would feed her during the the night when she woke which was always around 2am, like clock work. But that middle of the night feed never bothered me, no matter how tired I felt because it felt like such a precious moment the two of us had, just us. Out of the blue one night at about 10 months, she never woke for a feed. We were away on holidays, staying in a cabin with the rain and stormy weather howling outside and perhaps I didn't hear her stir and she settled herself back to sleep. From that point on, it was just the day feeds. With both girls, at 13 months, I began dropping the feeds down (I think I started by dropping the lunch feed, then a few weeks later the morning one and then eventually the before bed one) and when I fed Sophie for the last time, I shed many tears. For me, whilst I had plenty of milk, come 13 months with both girls, I began to feel drained. I am quite slight and not particularly strong and I think at 13 months, my body just felt as though it couldn't keep feeding another little person any more. Recently, I was flicking through photos and came across a video I'd taken one night of me breast feeding Sophie. Seeing her little face looking up at the camera as she sucked away brought tears to my eyes, remembering those precious days and I was so very grateful to have found that video which I had long forgotten about. No one can tell you when it is right to wean your babies, it is a personal decision and not an easy one at that. You will know what is right for you and your girls xx

Lisa said...

Maybe you don't see it, but from the outside you sound like you've already made your decision: keep feeding during the day, for now, for the bonding and the nutritional benefits, but cut the night feeds for yours and their sleep needs. Trust your gut. Go with that for now, you can adjust later if needed.
With dropping the night feeds, if mine cried for more than two minutes, I went in a did anything and everything to resettle, getting him out of bed, offering water, sometimes even fully awake again....anything but milk. They learn quick the milk is gone. Might be best to send in Hubby first, that also worked well for us. Xx

Anonymous said...

I was also unsure about how long I would breast feed for and with a little girl who wasn't the best eater I felt she relied on the breast milk to get her nutrition to grow and develop so she woke anything from 1-3 times a night til 12 months. I returned to work at 6 months 3 days a week where like you I pumped and she had a bottle. In the end I didn't really make the decision as I fell pregnant again when she was around 10 months of age and this combined with a decision to try and let her settle in the night without a feed meant she did wean by around 13 months. While I found it hard to let her cry it was suprisingly quick and she never got distressed during that time. I think it was just the right time for us. ( we had tried earlier but she got too upset) we put a time limit on it and would only go in after so many mins. Or if she was actually upset. congratulations on your breast feeding journey so far. I can't comment on the twin weaning but I can appreciate the fatigue and frustration of night time feeds while trying to function as a working mother. Best wishes for your decision but night weaning led to a much more refreshed family all round.

Elizabeth O'Wheel said...

I stopped breastfeeding at 6 weeks, and stopped expressing when my daughter was 16 weeks old. By that time she was getting so little breast milk that I couldn't see the point in continuing. I hated expressing, but I was heartbroken to give up - the day I decided to quit for good I cried and cried, screaming into a towel in the bathroom so as not to wake my husband or scare the baby. I felt like I'd failed, like I hadn't done my job as Sophie's mum properly. In reality I know it doesn't matter, she is healthy and I did the best I could. But still, I can't help it.

I admire you so much for persevering and feeding your girls for this long! You've done a great job, and you should feel proud of yourself!

Dena said...

we've not weaned yet, still going strong at ten months. however, i'm returning to work soon and i know that it's on the horizon. i am terrified. i hope that you'll let us know about your journey as it unfurls. you have such a beautiful way with words -- your love & grace shines through.

dena @

Ana said...

My daughter 'self-weaned' at 2 years and 5 months old. I was not enjoying it since she was about 20 months old. I had to help her, to push her comfort zone a bit, but when she finally accepted warm milk from another animal (mostly goat now) I did not feel any sadness at all. I was ready for it, I felt confident that the right time had come and most of all, I was happy to have my breasts back!! You will know when the time has come, you need to be ready as well as your daughters.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth- my first step was to move baby out of my room. Then I made a rule- if baby woke before 2a, daddy had to go in, rock, and settle her. It was a few difficult nights for him (but I figured I deserved the break and it was his turn). Once she was then able to make it past midnight, I pushed my 2 am rule to 5am. Same thing, daddy had to go in.

CBH said...

Reading this, I thought I could have said that (never as articulately though). Before E or L came along I never really thought much about b/f and what it meant/means to me and the children. My philosophy was: if it works we'll do it, if not we won't... no biggie. E was a terrible sleeper (couldn't sleep longer than 45 mins before needing to be re-settled) as we were so exhausted we fed him back to sleep (cue co-sleeping & night demand feeding). I was encouraged to wean E as I was pregnant with L and literally had no idea how I showered some days The first 13 weeks were a complete haze of exhaustion. L's pregnancy saw us experience unexpected events that were stressful (eg. unexpected 2 month trip to Melbourne without Steve) and Edward's teething was hideous, but after offering dairy milk and b/f one night he just had the dairy and never looked for b/f again. TBH I remember the night like it was yesterday, but I don't know the date or exactly how old he was approx. 15 months. Now L is almost 14 months old I detect no sign of self-weaning, in fact it's the opposite as she tugs at my straps regularly during the day, I ask if she wants milky and she nods. Like you, overnight I am not overjoyed to be feeding her and think we need to learn to re-settle her, but we're just chronically tired. We definitely only have our eyes on short term results. The b/f relationship is complex for me and I know I'll be sad once she's finished, but I will also enjoy the freedom I gain (I can have anti-histamines to help manage my urticaria for one thing!)

I feel for you, I just can't imagine how you settle two girls overnight..... Everything we do is a balance of their and our needs. A happy rested mama is important. I wish you all the best for finding what's right for you Rob M & E. I never thought I'd forget how bad E's sleep was, while I know it was terrible I've forgotten how it made me feel.

And lastly have you seen this sort of thing? No idea if it interests you but perhaps having this sort of link to all that time and hard work would retain proof of all the hours and work!

Big hugs
Christine (cvbgirl)

Lisa R said...

Just discovered your blog - so much resonates!

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