Tag Archives: weaning

Guest Post- Weaning through IVF…or not?

For privacy reasons, this lovely guest poster has elected to remain anonymous.

My son is almost 2 years old. He was conceived through IVF with donor sperm as my partner and I are both women. It has always been our plan to have another child but when we started talking about the realities of beginning IVF again I realised I may have a difficult decision.  Our IVF clinic didn’t want to have a conversation about treatment while breastfeeding a toddler. Their line is that he had to be  weaned.
Six months ago when I had this discussion with a nurse at the clinic I thought that weaning by age 2 was achievable and something I may be ok with. After having a tough time establishing breastfeeding and working damn hard to overcome our issues it isn’t something I treat lightly. And the closer I got to the looming date the more difficult the decision was.  
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At 18 months he was nursing around the clock – more than half of his feeds were overnight in bed (90 mins apart). I made the decision to night wean in the hope I would finally get a few hours of unbroken sleep occasionally and to see if we could start to cut down on feeds. We followed Dr Jay Gordon’s plan when my son was 19 months old and found it surprisingly easy and calm for all of us. He still asks for boobie sometimes when he wakes through the night but will resettle with a cuddle.
A side effect of night weaning was that we fell into a breastfeeding routine of morning feeds in bed, afternoon nap feed in bed and evening feeds in bed. He was too busy and distracted to want milk outside of these times so it was easy to cut down the duration and frequency of feeds by getting out of bed in the morning or having his afternoon nap in the car, carrier or pram. By 22 months we were down to 2 feeds a day (morning and night) and seemed on track to meet the deadline to start IVF.
Around this time I started to enjoy the closeness of breastfeeding again, and realised that emotionally I didn’t feel ready to break that bond between us. So with an IVF cycle booked in for the month before his second birthday and drug regime planned out I took to the internet, chatted to ABA counselors and lactation consultants and consulted with pharmacists who specialise in drugs and breastfeeding. 
I found some interesting information which challenged the views of my IVF clinic. I’m hoping that this information may help another mum facing the same difficult decision that I have been.
When I asked the clinic nurse why I had to stop breastfeeding I was told that:
a) Increased prolactin may reduce success rates, and
b) Risk of treatment drugs transferring through my milk to my toddler.
These are two very different points so I will discuss each separately.
a) I’m not an expert on prolactin levels. The people I have spoken to who do know about these things (ABA and lactation consultants) have all agreed that the level of prolactin in a nursing mother’s blood is very low (almost insignificant in trying to conceive terms) when your nursling is having no more than 3 feeds a day and not nursing overnight. This information may have been misguidedly supplied by the clinic assuming that all breastfed children are under 6 months and relying exclusively on breast milk for their nutrition. My 22 month old son eats a wide variety of food and drinks a lot of water. He nurses twice a day most days. This is unlikely to impact my likelihood of success with IVF.
b) Transfer of drugs through breast milk. This is well outside my professional knowledge so I talked to a few pharmacists who specialise in drugs and breastfeeding. Monash Pharmacy and the Pharmacy at Royal Women’s Hospital both gave me the same information about the specific drugs prescribed to me. I won’t go through these in detail as I believe you should have these discussions yourself if you’re considering going down this path, but I will summarise some of the findings.
Hormones – these are naturally occurring during pregnancy and may decrease milk production. In a similar way to falling pregnant naturally would. Your toddler may choose to wean if there is no milk supply. (This is a risk I am willing to take).
Steroids/other support drugs – the dosage I’ve been prescribed is well below the level at which there could be an impact on my toddler. One of my drugs has a possible side effect of decreasing blood pressure. I will be taking this for 5 days and during that time I need to watch out for crankiness in my toddler, which could be an indication he has a headache from low blood pressure. It is unlikely given the dose, but it’s something I will be watching out for.
Injections – I don’t need any for my treatment cycle, but these are generally safe. The reason they are given as an injection and not orally is that they are not broken down in the stomach. Therefore even if it transfers into your milk, your toddler’s stomach will not process the drug.
The best source of information I found was a paper written by ABA counselor Jeanette Elliot in 2008 titled Breastfeeding through IVF treatment: a case study. I believe this is available for purchase through ABA.  Jeanette did a talk on this topic at the 2007 ABA conference which was recorded and can be listened to here.
For me the most valuable point Jeanette made was to consider all the outcomes and how I’d feel with each, knowing there was no risk to my son.
1. Continue breastfeeding my son and fall pregnant
2. Continue breastfeeding my son and not fall pregnant
3. Cease breastfeeding my son and fall pregnant 
4. Cease breastfeeding my son and not fall pregnant
Of these outcomes the one that would devastate me is the last one. I do not wish to risk ending the breastfeeding bond with my son early for nothing. Other people may see this differently and feel the “what if” from outcome 2 would be harder to deal with, in which case weaning would probably be recommended. It’s a very personal decision that another person cannot make for you.
There’s a lot more I could write but most of my thoughts are covered by Jeanette’s podcast which is well worth your time to listen to. 
The decision I haven’t made yet is whether to tell my clinic that I am still breastfeeding. It hasn’t been discussed recently and I’m contemplating a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.

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When breastfeeding ends…

Yesterday, I read this article about the sadness experienced when weaning and it got me thinking.
My first child was weaned at a few days old. I did feel sad that I wasn’t able to breastfeed her- but the predominant emotion was guilt. I knew it was considered bad to formula feed by the midwives because they kept referring to me as an “artificial feeder” and shaking their heads- they pretty much stopped coming near me once I switched to formula. I had a severly tongue tied baby. I knew I might as my mother in law had warned me that they ran in the family and told me what to look for. My daughter could not latch at all, couldn’t lift her tongue at all. Breastfeeding was excruciating and fruitless- she lost weight, turned yellow- you name it. At 21, I didn’t know what else to do so I bottle fed and it was fine for us in the end. Not one of my health care providers mentioned tongue tie revision, expressing, nipple shields- in fact, as a first time mum, not one of the midwives I saw listened to me about the tongue tie. I think it was day 4 before a trainee lactation consultant, rolling her eyes and shaking her head, deigned to have a look then agreed it was actually a pretty extensive tie. That was all the “action” that she took though, so we went straight to formula. There was such a short, painful and fruitless breastfeeding relationship to mourn that I don’t think I really did. I thought about it from time to time, told my friends about the awful breastfeeding-pressure from the midwives (that came with no help, unfortunately) and moved on.

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My eldest ‘baby’.

Ten years later, with my second baby, we are still breastfeeding at 22 months. It has not been a trouble free exercise but I am better educated and better supported than I was 10 years ago so the experience has been vastly different.
We aren’t considering weaning-we aren’t even close to that point. Little Miss has had an ear infection and has spent the last few days eating very little- it’s times like this I’m super thankful to still be feeding her because otherwise, she wouldn’t have had anything much at all of any nutritional value. At this point, weaning will probably be her choice.
This isn’t because I want to cling to the breastfeeding relationship or keep her a baby; she is more and more a little girl every day and less my little baby. There is definitely nutritional benefit to breastfeeding her through toddlerhood and there is also the emotional comfort it brings her and it is these reasons that keep me breastfeeding- it’s good for her, it makes her happy and calms her, it comforts her when she feels sad or sick or is in pain- and all this costs me nothing.
The thought of no longer breastfeeding though… It does make me sad, because, like the author of the article I read yesterday, she is most likely my last baby. Even here I find it difficult to say she definitely will be. I’m holding out hope in case we win the lottery, I guess. It’s not a choice I’m making because I feel like I’m done having babies, it’s a choice we are making because we simply cannot afford to have another baby. I am blessed with an older daughter from a past relationship, I have two step children from my husbands first marriage. The three are close in age and get along really well. Then we have Bennie, our one baby that is “ours”.

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The three ‘big’ kids

Once breastfeeding stops, I’m officially out of that phase of my life- the door to babies will be closed and yes, that makes me sad. When the time comes, I can see there will be benefits- I will wear normal bras, take whatever cold and flu tablets I want, buy clothes without considering how I will get my boobs out of them in a hurry- I might be so over it that weaning will be a happy milestone for us! But for now, weaning is still very tied in with a phase of my life, my “child-bearing years” I guess, and I’m glad it’s not over just yet.

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All 4 of our kids

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Breastfeeding- the exact age to stop…

…Doesn’t exist!

In Australian society, most mums have stopped breastfeeding within the first months of their baby’s lives. There are many factors that lead to early weaning including lack of education, lack of support, early return to work, difficulty pumping and much more.

However, many cite around 4 years as an average weaning age, though there isn’t a huge amount of data to back that up and it is probably more accurate to say that the natural duration of breastfeeding is between 2.5 and 7 years. At around 7 years, humans lose the ability to nurse anyway.

But for those living in a western society who choose to continue to breastfeed beyond infancy and well into toddler-hood, perhaps even into childhood, the lack of understanding and tolerance is frankly disturbing.

Last night, this article, by Kidspot, appeared in my timeline, and I made the very real mistake of reading the comments. The article is about an English mama who is still breastfeeding her 5 year old daughter. From what she says, her daughter feeds for comfort and she will be letting her self-wean.

I don’t know if I will be breastfeeding for 5 years. I have no plans to actively wean, though I have recently night-weaned (and even that is subject to flexibility!) so I guess I will leave it up to my little girl to make that decision for herself. Approaching age 5, if she is still breastfed, I may want my body to myself again and actively wean. Maybe I won’t. I don’t know. What I will NOT do, though, now or in the future, is to suffer abuse and intolerance based on how I choose to feed my child. Standing up for breastfeeding rights is not something I’m a stranger to, but it is getting tiring, so I’ve compiled a list of the most common themes I have seen against breastfeeding past infancy, many of which have reared their ugly heads in the aforementioned Kidspot thread.

1- There’s no nutritional benefit beyond the age of (insert arbitrary number here)- it’s unnecessary.

As Sharon Spinks points out, no food loses it’s nutritional value because you reach a certain age. The idea is a bit ludicrous, really. There is even evidence to suggest mature breast milk contains higher levels of fats and energy which may have a significant contribution to the diet of a growing child. So while it is obviously not necessary, in the strictest sense of the word, it’s not without benefit. I once saw a couple pouring Mountain Dew energy drink into the sippy cup of a child who could barely sit up in the high chair they had her in at my local KFC. Now THAT is what I consider truly unnecessary and void of nutritional value.

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2- If a child can ask for it or has teeth- they are too old to be breastfed

By this logic, next time my 11 year old asks for something to eat, I should say no. I actually remember feeling this way about breastfeeding several years ago- but after doing SO MUCH reading on the subject, I can now chuckle over the lack of reasoning behind that argument. Since when do we stop someone eating or drinking based on their ability to ask for it or their dental status? The funny thing is, both my daughters have asked to be fed since birth. The newborn rooting for the breast is asking for milk just as much as the little voice that now asks me for “Mook, mummy, want some of dis!” while little hands pat my chest or the bigger voice begging me to make lasagne and offering to help.

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3- She should just express if she wants her child to have the milk.

Why? What difference does that make? Breast milk is breast milk, whether it is in a bottle, a cup of straight from the breast. This one ties in closely with the next point.

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4- It’s sexual/child abuse/paedophilia/incest/wrong/dirty/disgusting etc

No. It isn’t. the primary function of breasts is to make breast milk to feed our children. It’s really quite simple. The idea that breasts are only sexual is a man made construct that we are bombarded with constantly and the sad thing is that another consequence of this is that some mothers and their children are paying the price for that by early weaning or not breastfeeding at all. One lady commented on the Kidspot thread that her 17 month old would attempt to breastfeed in public and she would become so embarrassed that she would literally shake her off her and refuse to hold her until she weaned. Her comment just about broke my heart- she rejected her child’s attempt to be close to her, to seek comfort and food from her mother, due to what appears to be societal pressures. I find that so sad. She then added some rubbish about it being a “fact” that breastfeeding could trigger a “pelvic muscle” to cause a “small orgiasum”[sic]. Most women that I know who breastfeed don’t have a sexual attachment to it at all. It’s not sexual. It doesn’t feel orgasmic. It’s not that kind of pleasure. The pleasure that I associate with breastfeeding is generally in the closeness, the bond, with my child. I don’t know where people get some of these ideas, truly. Why is the idea that a body part can serve more than one role so hard to grasp? Take for example- the humble backside. Many people list a nice bum as a desirable feature, there are songs devoted to it, pants available to enhance it- but what does it do? The muscle itself helps us to walk, stand, sit- and also protects the opening through which we pass waste. And wind. Hot, right? So we are ok with a sexy bum that has all those other purposes- but sexy breasts that also nourish a child? Nope. Gross.

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5- The poor child might get bullied!

One way to prevent this is to raise your children not to bully others. Saying “Don’t feed your child that to avoid bullying” is akin to saying “Dye your child’s ginger hair or she might get teased for it”. I doubt many school aged kids are breastfed during school hours (ie- at school) and my guess is that it’s probably not really something they’d think to discuss. But if they did, I’d hope that any child of mine wouldn’t care in the slightest. My eldest, some time after the fact, learned that a couple of her kindy pals were still occasionally breastfed once starting school. She shrugged and went back to what she was doing before. Kids are only horrified by something if they are taught to be, so teach them that being breastfed is nothing to clutch their pearls over and this problem goes away.

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6- It will damage them psychologically, they might remember it!

Remembering being held, nurtured and nourished by your mother, how bloody terrible! The poor children! As for as psychological damage, nope, no evidence to suggest that. The research admittedly isn’t huge in this area- but what there is points to long-term breastfeeding being overall physiologically and psychologically beneficial for children.

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To summarise- breastfeeding beyond infancy is pretty normal in some parts of the world. Mothers in Western societies who do it are speaking out in what seems to me to be an effort to normalise it- not to gain attention I don’t think anyone would invite the criticism and vitriolic abuse and ignorance directed at Sharon Spinks that I have seen online. It may not be for you, that’s ok. Totally fine. But others wouldn’t have it any other way; they want to let their child decide when to wean, allowing them to make that first big decision for themselves. There is no proven harm to the practice and available evidence says there are health benefits both physically and psychologically.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of breastfeeding a toddler, here’s an idea- don’t breastfeed your toddler! Or perhaps examine your reasoning, do some reading on the subject and reassess. This is the same as the debate over public breastfeeding- if you have a problem with it, recognise that it is your problem, stop projecting it on to others and expecting them to adjust their lifestyle to accommodate your prejudices and hang-ups and move on with your life.

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