Thursday, 2 June 2016

Breastfeeding: how to stop (badly)

Duckling is now 27 months old (2 years and 3 months in less confusing terms). When he was seventeen months, I wrote a big long spiel about my trepidation towards stopping breastfeeding. Ten months on, we have finally given up. Or at least I have. Duckling hasn't quite grasped the "no more boobie" concept, and remains frustratingly keen on poinging one out and snaffling a slurp when I'm distracted or asleep.  He's remarkably sneaky and impressively dexterous, so essentially, he's still managing to get in 3-4 micro feeds every day, however much I tell him NO.

Anyway, it struck me that all the guides and fold out leaflets I've read from the NHS, NCT and the like, tell you how to start breastfeeding (nose to nipple ladies!), but NONE tell you how the hell to stop.  Which is probably why I've been so rubbish at it.  It's as though they don't wish to even mention stopping as a possibility, in case you decide to quit before that hallowed six-month mark (shock horror).  So, here is a not-very-scientific (due to the sample size of 'me') guide to withdrawing your melons from a reluctant toddler:

Go slow, don't set deadlines and don't force it unless you have no choice.  Some people have to give up suddenly for medical (or similar) reasons.  If that happens, it's crap but it is what it is and you do what you have to.  Where you have a choice though, it's always better to go slow, if just to avoid hideous mastitis.  Every child is different, and will have a different style of feeding and a different level of attachment to the breast. Some may drop it fairly quickly.  I know plenty of people who say "one day (s)he just wasn't interested any more". If that happens to you, then SUPER (unless of course you're not ready yourself).  We did not fall into this category.  At all.  As noted above, even though we have "officially" given up, Duckling's interest has not gone away. While I was cutting down (which has taken months), every feed dropped was bitterly contested and the slightest hint of giving up entirely was met with a total melt down.  So I've had to be patient.  Very, very patient.  Not just because I didn't want to put Duckling through unnecessary trauma (boobie was his world), but also because I knew I didn't have the resilience to cope with all the tears and tantrums and added sleep deprivation that would go with stopping cold turkey.  Breastfeeding was only really mildly irritating me, rather than all out ruining my life, and it also came with upsides (like five minutes peace, extra calorie burn and a happy toddler) so I eventually stopped making grand sweeping statements about "giving up by the time we went on holiday" etc. and just accepted it would take as long as it would take.

Be prepared to work at it.  Giving up when you have a boob monster will not just happen overnight.  You have to work at it and be braced to take two steps forward and one step back.  A lot. You also have to have considerable will power, which I am NOT blessed with.  I'm just too lazy I think.  In all honesty, if I hadn't given myself a good talking to and started saying 'no' (even when he was ill - which he is constantly), Duckling would still be feeding 10 times a day and most of the night, because it was almost always easier to just let him get on with it.  Easy in the short term does not equate to easy in the long term though, so as much as I say 'don't force it', you can't expect the "one day, I just knew (s)he was ready" moment to happen if you haven't put some groundwork in first.  It probably won't until they're at school (or then again it might - but there are no guarantees).

Use a reward approach, but don't expect it to be a magic solution.  I only finally achieved the current cessation(ish) after my first night away from Duckling.  I just instinctively felt he was going to be fine, and indeed, he was more than happy staying with Drake, and saw it as a bit of an adventure.  I realised it was now or never, so I told Duckling because he'd managed so well without boobie for his night with Daddy, I was confident he was old enough to stop altogether.  If he went whole week without it, he could have a little present.  This has led to a daily conversation at 5am (the last feed we dropped - when he comes into bed with us) that goes like this:

Duckling: I eat boobie now Mummy?*
Me: No.
Duckling; Oh. I love boobie
Me: I know darling, but you're a big boy now and you don't have boobie any more do you?
Duckling: I a big boy!  I have present now Mummy?
Me: Not yet Duckling. On Friday, when you've done a whole week of no boobie.
Duckling: Oh. Hmm. Excuse me Mummy, I eat boobie now actually please?
Me: NO Duckling! Go to back to sleep!
Duckling: Waaaaahhhhh!" (cue tears and vigorous - thwarted - breast extraction attempts.)

This conversation (or just the wailing) is repeated ad nauseum until around 6.30 am when I get fed up and go and make us toast.  I am a bit sleep deprived.  But I've not given in yet!

*Yes, I know this sounds a bit wrong, but no amount of "Actually, we say "Could I have some milk please Mummy?"" training seems to have had any impact.

Use humour.  Making the 'no boobie' thing a bit of a game seemed to work quite well with Duckling.  We played "hide the nipple" when he got grabby, and I distracted him with tickles endlessly.  It wasn't always successful - especially when I was not in a humorous mood - but it kept me from shouting at him all the time.

Try to ignore the "give up now" gang.  Also known as the "put yourself first for a change" or "He'll be fine!" crowd (or the more close-minded "Eww, breastfeeding a toddler is WEIRD! Bitty!  Bitty!" camp).  The WHO recommends breastfeeding until two or older (yay!  I've got my WHO breastfeeder's badge!) and the global average for giving up is about three, so worldwide norms are on your side, even if the post-six months breastfeeding rate in the UK is ridiculously low - probably because of all the pressure from the give up gang.  Only you will know when the time is right, so don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise, even if you know they have your best interests at heart (*ahem* mum and *ahem* husband).  You will just end up regretful and resentful, and it will make stopping infinitely harder too.

On the flipside, ignore the ardent "keep going" advocates.   If you have a good, healthy breastfeeding relationship with your child that isn't negatively affecting you, then it's all fine and lovely to keep going into your baby's second/third/forth year, or even beyond.  Lots of Mums do - hippy shakers and 9-5 money earners alike.   If the relationship has become about toddler power struggles, you're suffering indecent exposure in public places, or it's affecting your fertility or your mental / physical health  (I ticked all these boxes), then it's completely acceptable to stop however.  You may consider yourself a progressive, evidence based, 'keep it natural' Mum who puts her child's welfare first, but that doesn't mean you are obliged to go to breastfeeding extremes just to prove it.  Be pragmatic, not idealistic.

Be prepared for withdrawal to mess with your hormones, particularly if you stop suddenly. For me, dropping night feeds (the most significant ones to go) was enough to trigger a wide and colourful variety of "hormonal" symptoms including:
  • Some manner of irritable bowel syndrome / lactose intolerance
  • Nausea
  • Exhaustion
  • Random bouts of anxiety / depression / irritability
  • An odd bitter taste in my mouth
  • Itchy stretch marks
  • Small red itchy lumps on my hands (precursors to chilblains according to my chilblain-prone sister)
  • Hot flashes and low grade fevers.
I am still suffering now, though thankfully far less than I was.  This could of course all be entirely coincidental, but given that the symptoms began a few days after Duckling started consistently sleeping through until 4am and a couple of weeks before my first period in nearly three years (if that's not a sign of hormonal shift, I don't know what is), I suspect it's not.


So that's it.  In summary, go slow, keep at it, ignore everyone else and DON'T STRESS ABOUT IT.  You will stop when you stop, and before you know it, breastfeeding will be a distant - and hopefully happy - memory.  I just wish I'd had this guide back in August...

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