On Weaning

Mr. Noah Jamal turned 19 months old yesterday. My little man has so many words and so many things to say.

When we started out together, I had decided that I would breastfeed him until he was two, but as he grew stronger and more active, breastfeeding began to feel like a contact sport. Nipple tweaking, punching, biting, scratching, kicking and karate chops to the trachea were not uncommon. I was blessed with a healthy, easy pregnancy and straightforward delivery, but breastfeeding was a tremendously painful challenge for the first eight weeks of Noah’s life in the world. You can read all about that here. I was very determined to make it work, and so I stuck with it, with so much love and support from my partners. I knew I wanted to breastfeed as long as I could.

Weaning began to feel more and more appealing, but I was torn. I felt very emotional about the idea that we would no longer share such a close physical bond. Cutting the umbilical cord is a process that takes a lifetime, I think, and as each day passes by so quickly I see my little soul become increasingly independent. I’m proud of him, I can’t wait to see him grow and blossom, but I also ache for something I can’t quite name. Maybe it’s the ability to physically hold him close and keep him safe in my arms? Maybe it’s the idea that his whole universe seems so simple as he makes his first tender steps into this huge, scary world?  It could be that I ache for something as simple as the nourishment and comfort that I alone can give him. There have been countless times since the day I learned that I was pregnant that I’ve felt like keeping my baby in my body forever, where none of the evils of the world would ever touch him. In my sleepless night-time moments I realize that I am powerless to protect him, and I’m terrified that I will leave the world before he’s strong enough to safeguard himself.  I realize that the older he gets, the closer we get to the day when I have to explain things like 9/11 and cancer and why Toronto elected a drunken crack-head for a mayor. Parenting is a terror and joy unlike anything I could ever have imagined.

I half-heartedly tried to wean a few times over the last two months. Neither of us were ready, so no surprise that it didn’t work. Then, when I resolved that I was able to move on to the next great thing, Noah got a nasty cold, and I just couldn’t deny him the comfort of the breast. When he was better, we moved to feeding only first thing in the morning and just before daddy put him to bed.

He would ask to nurse, and I would explain that I didn’t have milk just then, but that we could cuddle and have a snack, or some warm milk in a bottle or juice. He accepted this with very little protest. If he pushed harder, I found a good distraction, like a walk outside or a favourite game.  The next week, we cut out the night-time feeding and switched to a quiet snuggle on the couch with the mammas and a bottle before bed, no complaints at all here.

On one particular day, I wore a low-cut shirt. Insensitive, yes, but I wasn’t thinking as I rushed to get ready. He asked to nurse a couple of times, but when I explained that I didn’t have milk, he settled for gentle snuggle with my boobs. We were waiting for the car to get serviced, so it made for an amusing show. No more angry protests though.

Then on Sunday, Mother’s Day ironically and coincidentally, we nursed for the very last time. In the two days leading up to this event, I was really emotional. Not many places will tell you this, but you experience hormonal changes, and all of the fun that comes with that, as your body slows down and then stops milk production. I said goodbye to this sweet era of my baby’s life, the many tender moments where I’ve felt a connection like nothing I’ve experienced, and I prayed that even after I stopped being a food source, he would recognize the bond we’ve shared. I think part of me is worried that I can be easily replaced, and yes, I do suffer from low self-esteem.

Physically, I’m doing fine. No serious engorgement pain thus far. Emotionally, I still feel a bit tender, but nursing is replaced with voracious eating (by the baby, not me) and lots of snuggles and cuddles that Noah is initiating, which feels just wonderful. It’s such a joy to have him near and to not feel worried about getting injured. I think we were as ready as we could be, and I think that’s why this has gone so smoothly this time around.

You’ll read a lot about weaning. If you’re like me, all of your trusted breastfeeding resources will tell you not to wean, but I wasn’t convinced that Noah would wean himself any time soon, and it was becoming a largely unpleasant event. Public feeding had become next to impossible because it really seemed like one or both of us was being injured. You have to make the decisions that feel right for you, in the time line that suits you and your baby best. I think if we trust ourselves, and our instincts we always know when that is.

If you have questions about your own breastfeeding journey, or just want to share your breastfeeding stories, I’m all ears.

Meanwhile, enjoy this ridiculous video that somehow captures my feelings on alternative families, breastfeeding, nurturing, the soul of a mother, the bond between non-birth parents and their children, and the ridiculously random nature of the universe.

At the time of publishing, I am less tender, but very emotional and irritable. Take note mammas, weaning is hard on your body and your hormones, so take good care of yourselves. Give yourself a week of extra attention, long bubble baths and extra chocolate. You’re going to need it.

To Sleep, Perchance to Scream


Ah, hindsight you wicked bitch. You always arch your cunning brow at me, just before you drop the bomb that makes cringe and facepalm a la Homer Simpson.

Here at the homestead, we’re reading Pamela Drukerman’s delightfully written book “Bringing Up Bebe”. Do you know it? It’s a comparative analysis of French (from France) children versus North American kids, based on the author’s experience of French kids being much better behaved. It’s a great read, but there are so many ideas in this book that I wish I had known about when my fifteen-month-old son was in utero.

The biggest facepalm induced by this book thus far has been Drukerman’s revelation about sleep habits. French babies evidently sleep through the night at an early age, some as early as two months. Noah, who has co-slept with me in my bed since his first day home, and who also still breastfeeds,  wakes multiple times through the night and he won’t go back to sleep without the boob. The boob is also how we get him to fall asleep in the first place when he goes down for the night. Nearly every moment of sleeping with his sweaty little head under my nose has been bliss, but honestly, as a full-time homeschooling mom, I need to start sleeping for longer stretches. I startled myself with my own haggred, dark-circled reflection the other day. Noah could probably benefit from a full night of sleep too, he’s taken to shrieking like a hell cat whenever anyone says “no” to him.  Also,  my (formerly) sexy grown up life could benefit from someone besides me putting the little monkey to sleep for the night.

The French take a little (approximately 2-5 minute) pause before attending to a crying infant, right from birth. They also get baby used to a mealtime schedule that matches the rest of the family once the little one is about two months old. The benefits here are multi-fold, but where sleep is concerned baby learns how to sooth himself to sleep when he naturally awakens from one sleep cycle to the next, and baby also learns to anticipate feedings within a natural daily rhythm. This isn’t jarring, or sudden, it’s just the way things go right from the outset. We’re all entitled to our own ideas about what makes sense for us and our babes, and these ideas really rang true with me. Trouble is, I’m about fifteen months too late to the chic French parenting party.

The advice that French pediatrician and sleep guru Michel Cohen gives to parents well past the baby’s early months in his otherwise practical manual “The New Basics” made my blood run cold; tuck the baby in with a soothing bedtime routine, free of nursing, turn out the lights, close the door and return at 7am the next morning. Hells. To. The. No.

I did not wait 36 years and nearly ten months to make a person with my flesh and blood only to have him finally learn to sleep on his own by letting him wail himself to sleep in the dark all alone until the morning. Is this a super overly-emotional and perhaps a little impractical stance? Yes. Could my baby be developing potentially long-lasting sleep problems with our current routine? Science says yes. Do I think you’re a bad person or an evil parent because you left your baby to CIO? No, I truly don’t. I really, passionately believe that you have to find your own parenting groove.

So what happens in a house with three parents when our newest child co-sleeps and breastfeeds well past the first year? Our other two children, who were birthed by my partner, and who I met when they were three and five, slept in their own beds and were weaned before they were a year old. Interestingly, both were great sleepers, which in my books means they usually slept through the night. As you can imagine, the three of us came from different camps. Both my partners are science brains who put a lot of faith in medical studies, rather than in anecdotal evidence. I am from a more touchy-feely camp where I feel a little paranoid and mistrustful of science. Building a life with these pragmatic, brilliant minds has been a very positive education for me, and I like to think I’ve made them both a little more ‘granola’ along the way.

Collectively, we all understood that the time has come to help Noah develop some more independent sleep strategies. Nekky and Sarah believed that a firm approach would work the most efficiently. I think at least one of them was prepared to try the Cohen method suggested above. I wanted to wean Noah a bit more gradually and slowly try to transition him to the adorable toddler bed we just found for him. Reading ‘Bringing Up Bebe’ inspired me to consider speeding up this process a bit. I actually don’t remember what it feels like to get a full night’s rest, and I’m fairly sure that I’ll be a better mom once I can reclaim that. There will be less crying with my head on the desk at the back of our classroom, for example. I am not willing to try the firm line CIO method where Noah is alone to scream until morning. The ‘extinction’ method, as it’s called.

A very recent Australian study revealed that there is absolutely no long-term negative psychological effects associated with certain variations of the Cry It Out (or CIO) method. These variations include camping out with your baby as they cry, or periodically coming in to give them a pat and some soothing words. Both are only recommended for babies six months old and beyond. You can read the study here, and then read the American Pediatric Society take on this study here if you like. If you prefer more layman terms, I liked this article from Reuters.

I’m sharing all of this because my extensive reading was eye-opening, and frankly game-changing. I learned that trusted resources, like the renowned Dr. Sears family, have skewed research to support their own claims that letting babies cry is detrimental to their health. (Read this one, for more details). It seems everyone in the “parenting expert” world has an agenda, and one really has to be their own advocate when it comes to everything parenting related. Makes sense when you consider how individual all of us humans are, even the tiny ones! It also seems like this particular subject is seriously fraught with emotion. I posted an article on my personal Facebook page to see how my friends and peers approached the matter of baby sleep, and people had a LOT to  say, including some pretty harsh things to one another!

Last night, daddy put Noah to bed in our room, in his play yard. They had a nice wind down with stories and gentle music, and then when it was clear that Noah was really tired, Daddy placed him in the play yard, explaining that tonight he would sleep there, and that Daddy would be right there in the room with him. Mama S and I fled the scene, mostly so I wouldn’t kick down the door to Noah’s room if I got overly-emo about things. We took refuge in a nearby cafe and tried to keep busy while we got frequent text updates. Daddy, who is the softest heart I have ever known, steeled himself for the fifty-minute onslaught that followed. Our baby talks, so in addition to the wailing, he was also calling “Daddy”,  and “Mamma” at the top of his lungs. Daddy would occasionally remind him that he was right there, and that everything would be okay, and it was time to lay down and go to sleep, and then finally Noah sat down, settled in, and knocked out. That’s when we Mamas returned, and I bunked up in Mama S’ room for the night. While we were out, I was surprisingly calm about all of this.

I slept soundly until about 3am, when Noah usually wakes up. Sometimes he also wakes up at about 1am. I awoke on my own, not because the baby was wailing, but because I was a bit panicked by the complete silence. I tried to relax, and settle myself back to sleep with a fairly extensive foray into the Women’s Fashion boards of Pinterest. This eventually worked, and Noah finally woke for the morning at 6am. Daddy informed me that he also woke up at 12:30am and cried for about fifteen minutes before falling back asleep. I WAS SO KNOCKED OUT, I DIDN’T HEAR A THING!!

This morning Noah was in great spirits. He was certainly happy to see me, and he fed voraciously in the morning, which we told him was “breakfast time”. The little monkey actually laughed and clapped when he saw my breasts. My boobs felt like they were going to explode, and I slept like hell because I was so anxious, but I think this exercise went so much better than any of us imagined. I feel confident that tonight will be better, and I’m feeling very confident that we’re doing the right thing for our baby, with all of the love and care we can muster. I say this not to defend myself, but to share my truth with any of you who are struggling with sleep deprivation, and may be afraid to try new techniques.

Noah is napping solidly as I type this. In fact, I’ve heard him wake up TWICE now and mutter a little to himself before falling back asleep! I expect he’ll eat an amazing lunch at noon with the rest of us. I think tonight he and daddy will have more success with bed time, and I don’t feel like I have to run away from home while they get settled either. I’m looking forward to next week when we’ve established a new rhythm and, well, all of us will sleep like babies. Parenting high fives all around.