The Need to Wean

weaning baby
Photo Credit: Heather Laurel Photography

I decided to wean at 2:00 AM. At 1:00 AM, I woke up in a fit of chills; blankets pulled tight around me while the stabbing pain of the fourth bout of mastitis ripped through my chest. It came out of nowhere. Granted, I sleep oddly and often wake up on my stomach with a clogged duct, but I had a normal pumping session right before bed. What was happening? By 1:15, I couldn’t take the pain. I went downstairs and washed my already clean pump because it’s the middle of the night, and that seems smart. It’s not like I’m in a hurry or anything. I start to pump and then decide by 1:30 that I should wake my sleeping baby.

Maybe she needs this as much as I do.

By now, my husband is awake and has brought me some ibuprofen and some water and told me to put on some socks – something I can’t stand doing because seriously, who can handle sleeping in socks? I’m shaking so badly I comply, a sign I’m not messing around and truly feel terrible. I walk into the nursery and scoop up a sleeping bundle of warmth, holding her to my chest. Hot tears pour down my face, and I wonder if it’s the pain, the general feeling of aches I have, or the combination of hormones and fogginess that typically accompanied a 2:00 AM feeding. I love this baby so much. It’s all-encompassing as I hold her. I love everything about these moments. Except, I don’t. I love the snuggles in the dark room, the house entirely still and quiet other than her soft breathing and the small squeak of the rocker, but I pretty much hate everything else about it. I needed to start weaning her.

Everything was supposed to be different the second time around. I had done this before, I knew what I was doing, had navigated it all before. My son had been a fussy baby, evenings filled with tears, and around the clock cluster feeding, so I thought I’d seen the worst of it. I shouldn’t have even considered weaning in the first few weeks she was home. I was not prepared for not being prepared.

Early on, my daughter had issues with feeding. My first experience with mastitis was while I was still in the hospital, except I didn’t know that’s what it was. The fever didn’t spike, and the symptoms didn’t become apparent until we were home. But there we sat in the hospital, me with pain so bad I cried while trying to nurse, my baby, screaming and refusing. The nurses said some babies are finicky; they just want your milk to come in. We had to trick her into nursing by starting with formula, then switching to nursing. My one day old baby, already supplementing formula as needed.

For weeks after, we were stuck in this weird routine of crying, screaming, nursing, and passing out from being tired before eating enough. My daughter was colicky and had reflux, and nothing was working. She screamed (I mean screamed) around the clock unless she was sleeping. She gave us a solid break at night – usually, a good seven hours broken up, but she never napped more than ten minutes at a time, a few times a day, and it was only while nursing. How could I consider weaning when nursing was the only peace we had?

She screamed constantly. I couldn’t leave the house. I spent entire church services nursing her in the mother’s room or with my husband trying to drive her around to no avail. At ten weeks, we decided to stretch her feedings and get her out of this rut. It was the worst week of my life. Our goal was to hit a minimum of 2 – 3 hours between feedings. Just deal with crying for a little longer, since she was upset anyway. We couldn’t go more than 90 minutes between feedings, and even that almost killed me. I couldn’t handle feeling like she was just that hungry. I even had a lactation consultant come to our house and work with us, she confirmed she was nursing fine, and we did a couple of weight checks. After a week, we did a weight check back at the pediatrician, and she was still gaining, but not like she should have. There was no way to know what she was getting with weights all over the board. So our pediatrician recommended moving to bottle feed. Just long enough to know how much she’s getting and make sure she’s ok.

Getting her to take that first bottle was a nightmare on its own, but she finally did. And the girl went from 3oz bottles to 5oz or more in just two days, her schedule stretched out, and everything settled down into a week of pure bliss. Finally, getting the chance to hold and snuggle and love on a happy baby (besides the occasional moments of reflux and a normal amount of crying). I still nursed her at night, I still had my moments with her, but I exclusively pumped during the day. I had one (mostly) perfect, wonderful week and then I had to return to work and sent the baby off to daycare.

weaning baby
Photo Credit: Heather Laurel Photography

In the six and a half months I nursed my second baby we experienced true colic, many issues with reflux, supplementing with formula, four cases of mastitis (if you didn’t know, once you get it, you are more likely to get it again no matter how careful you try to be), difficulties with weight gain, exclusively pumping, exclusively pumping during the day, nursing at night, ALL the tears and every. single. emotion.

Deciding to wean at 2 AM may seem like an emotional decision made out of pain, frustration, and uncertainty, but it was exactly what we both needed. My baby was healthy. She was well fed. She was a champ at sleeping. All she needed was a mom who was the same.