We’re pretty crunchy around here. Silas was born in our home, and we fully expect our next baby to be born here, too. We practice elimination communication, adore cloth diapers, wear our baby all over the place, co-slept during Silas’ infancy, made our own baby food, and have no toys that “do things.” Last summer, I saw an old college friend, and, after asking me a few questions about our lifestyle, she said, “Is there anything that’s too granola for you?”
I thought for a minute. “Have you heard of Lotus Birth?” I asked her.
But the truth is, there is one major thing I did during my son’s early life that nearly got my natural parenting card revoked. I weaned him. I thought it was the right decision. I would do it again. But I was shocked at the level of vitriol that came from the very online communities that I always turned to for support.
Here’s how it went.
After Silas was born, I nursed him exclusively for about six months, and solids remained “just for fun” until he was maybe ten months old. He was very healthy as a baby. His growth was consistently in the 90th percentile or above. Both my husband and I are on the shorter side, so we were pretty amazed at his rapid growth.
One of my friends commented, on seeing him for the first time in a while, “My goodness, that baby is nothing but cheeks!”
This was a fair assessment.
I was never one of those women who went into ecstasies over nursing, frankly. I liked how convenient it was, and I was really caught off guard when I suddenly had to start remembering to pack snacks when we went on an outing. I knew it was the healthiest thing for my baby, that it would lower my risk of breast cancer, that it was, you know, just the thing to do. But Silas was never the baby who would gaze into my eyes as he nursed. He closed them or looked around the room. We connected more over exploring the world together, reading books and playing, than nursing. He also went through many biting phases, and none of the advice I got helped at all.
The worst thing about it, and the thing that ultimately led to weaning, was that my body is apparently not very efficient at producing milk. I’m sure I was eating the recommended 500 or so extra calories, but I was always hungry. I lost the baby weight and then kept losing it. By the time I decided to stop nursing, I was fifteen pounds below my ideal weight. I’m only five feet tall, so that kind of weight really makes a difference. My clothes were hanging off of me. Some of my friends were concerned enough that they basically staged an intervention. I’m not sure they believed me when I said I was eating all the time and just couldn’t put weight on. Another friend said, “It’s like something out of a Stephen King novel. Every time I see you, there’s more and more of the baby and less and less of you.” In some ways, it’s a nice problem to have, but this was a bit much.
Another factor was that, by the time Silas reached his first birthday, my body still hadn’t returned to fertility. I really wanted to have my children close together, and I felt like I was running out of time to make that happen. I know that my body responds strongly to hormones, and I believe that the hormones it was producing to keep feeding my baby were doing a pretty good job at shutting down everything else.
When Silas was fifteen months old, I decided to night-wean him, using Dr. Jay Gordon‘s method. Silas was still nursing every two to three hours, all night long. I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in over a year. I did a slower version of that method, taking a week or so at each stage instead of three days, as he recommends. It went really well, and I didn’t feel like I was torturing him. Shortly after night-weaning, Silas decided that, if he couldn’t nurse at night, he didn’t want to nurse at all. I was fine with that. And then we were done. I got pregnant a month later.
What surprised me, though, was all the people in the natural parenting community who accused me of selfishness for doing this. I was depriving him of important antibodies, they said. I should just take some extra herbal supplements (of some kind???) to encourage my body to return to fertility. I really didn’t count as an “attachment parent” unless I let my child decide when he was done nursing. Even if he was in kindergarten.
I have nothing against people who breastfeed their five-year-olds. Knock yourself out, and kudos to you. I have a lot against jerks.
I ended up bowing out of those discussions or just responding with the AAP’s recommendation on breastfeeding, which concludes: “Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child.“