Back from the Brink of Weaning
I was lucky to have a relatively easy time at the start of my breastfeeding journey. My milk came in within 24 hours, my son had minimal problems latching. Whenever someone asked how long I would breastfeed him, my answer was always “as long as it works for both of us” but I certainly expected to nurse until he was at least two. It wasn’t until around my son was ten months that some challenges arose. I had always nursed on demand, and during the day my son was asking to nurse less and less, until there was almost no demand. Simultaneously, he started sleeping more and therefore nursing less at night, and I began to wonder if we were on our way to weaning. I attended a La Leche League meeting specifically for moms of older babies, and voiced my concerns. The LLL leader suggested I try finding a few times a day to sit down quietly with my son and specifically offer to nurse, reminding me that while it’s important to follow your child’s cues, it’s also important to make healthy decisions for them as their mom. Her suggestion worked, and we were quickly right back on track with our breastfeeding relationship. A few weeks later due to health concerns on my end from lack of sleep we gently night weaned, but our daytime nursing was going strong.
Two weeks before my son’s first birthday, he had a horrible fussy day. He would get incredibly frustrated with me every time he nursed, biting and flailing his arms, before unlatching and screaming and crying. I thought maybe it was a teething issue, but he wasn’t showing any other signs of that. When the behavior continued a day later and his diapers seemed unusually dry, I began to suspect he wasn’t getting enough milk from me. I did a four hour pumping test, as I had always responded very well to the pump. While normally anytime I pumped two hours or more after my son had nursed, I would produce about 6oz in 20 minutes. The results of my pump test were an average of <1oz every two hours. We started supplementing with goat’s milk since my son was days away from turning one, and doesn’t digest cow dairy well. I did all the (reasonable) things I could find on the internet to increase my supply.
At the same time, there was a part of me cheerfully saying “You could be done! He seems fine with his cups of goat milk. You made it a year that’s great; don’t stress out trying to get your milk back; just be done!” I have really struggled with libido postpartum, and this cheery part of my brain reminded me that might get better if I weaned. I googled “breastfeeding libido” and read article after article about lower estrogen due to breastfeeding causing low sex drive. I was pretty much convinced at this point to just give it up, move on with our lives and be done breastfeeding. And then I read one more article. This paragraph alone saved my son and I from the brink of weaning:
Before you know it, breastfeeding will be nothing but a fond memory. Low libido is not worth ending your breastfeeding journey over, because just like baby’s crying spells, your lack of libido is temporary, not permanent and will pass.
I made one more post to a local mom’s Facebook group, asking for advice. At this point, my oxytocin and prolactin levels were plummeting from not nursing and really impacting my mental health. I was tearful and sluggish. The moms in the group rushed to my aid with helpful suggestions, a few I hadn’t heard before. Through this conversation, I realized I hadn’t really been taking care of my own nutrition since my son became more mobile and I was spending my days chasing after him. I weighed myself, and sure enough I had lost five pounds in only two weeks. Armed with new strategies and a new resolve to regain our nursing relationship, I forged ahead. Then, a strange blessing occurred; my son got sick. Being sick pushed him to want to nurse despite my lack of milk, and within a couple days, it was obvious my supply was returning.
We are back to a good nursing relationship now, and even nursing a bit at night again as my son goes through a big developmental leap and needs some extra nourishment and comfort. I am paying closer attention to my own food and water intake, which is a great side effect of this challenging episode. Now when someone asks me how long I am going to nurse, my answer is straightforward: “I’d really like to make it to two.” Have you struggled at all with nursing an older baby or toddler? Have you ever recovered from a serious dip in supply? I would love to hear from you about how you managed those challenges.