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Wean, baby, wean: The pressure to rest the breast

When my son was born, my obstetrician, friends and my mom bombarded me with thousands of reasons to breast-feed exclusively. I completely agreed with them. But now that my 15-month-old is a few steps into his toddlerhood, the same people are nagging me to put the breast to rest. I’m ready to wean – but I’d like to do it on my own terms.

Courtesy Corey Binns

Yes, I plan to wean sometime before college... but the pressure's not helping.

After making it through a rough first two months of cracked nipples, a feverish case of mastitis and a nipple-guard nightmare too gruesome to repeat here, I felt heroic nursing my baby to his first birthday. Today, however, I sometimes find myself embarrassed to nurse.

“You’re not still breast-feeding, are you?” a mommy friend asked as I scooped up my son and began unbuttoning my blouse. My mom suggests enticing my son with fruit-flavored water. Another friend baited me with the promise of a full night’s sleep: If I quit breast-feeding, she says, my son would stop waking me up at all hours, screaming for my boob.

Turns out, I’m not the only nursing mom feeling the heat. In New York City, Jillian Parekh was at a playgroup with her son a week after his first birthday when a mom said, “If you don't stop now what are you going to do, nurse him through college?”

LaShaun Williams took her two-year-old daughter to the pediatrician in Atlanta, and explained that her daughter wasn’t ready to wean. "She may just have to go cold turkey," the doctor said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics would disagree. The organization recommends that babies exclusively breast-feed for the first 6 months, continue breas-tfeeding for at least 12 months, and continue beyond that “for as long as mutually desired.” The World Health Organization promotes breast-feeding for “up to two years of age or beyond.”

The best way to wean is gradually, said Beth Shulman, a nurse and internationally board-certified lactation consultant who works in Westchester and New York City. She suggested shortening the nursing sessions, stretching out the time between breast-feedings, and adding more solid foods, water and milk to a child’s diet. “You also want to stay tuned in to what the baby wants and needs,” she said.

Paring down sessions over at least three weeks gives a woman’s body a chance to slowly reduce her milk supply, said Shulman. “It’s important not to do it abruptly because moms are prone to breast infections.”

For me, the pressure to wean makes me feel hurried through an already stressful process. When my son starts to whimper for milk, I try tempting him with bottles, as well as treats like teething biscuits. We walk around the house and I’ve even given him an extra bath for distraction. But in the end he wants my milk, and will cry for an hour or two until I relent. Denying him a comforting fix of a nursing session is not easy on my heart.

(Your kind and gentle weaning suggestions are very welcome here.)

Complicating the matter is my personal bias about when other moms should stop breast-feeding. Honestly, when I see kids asking their moms for the boob, I think they’re too old to be doing so. How’s that for irony? How old is too old for you?

I think both my son and I are getting closer to calling it quits. He’s pre-occupied with counting toy cars while I’m feeling ready to retire my nursing bra — I’m not about to buy a new one at this point. In the last month we’ve naturally dropped an early morning session. I'm sure I'll have him fully weaned before he's a teenager, but the added pressure from friends and family isn't helping. I just wish I could count on my family and friends’ support at the end of this journey like I did at the beginning.

If you breast-fed, when did you stop -- and were you pressured to wean? Do you have any advice for Corey? Share your thoughts on the TODAY Moms Facebook page.

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