Please don’t be put off by the title: this article has not been written in order to make anybody feel guilty for their decision to wean their baby. It is simply meant to be informative and hopefully somewhat empowering for those women who are maybe teetering on the fence — not wanting to wean but feeling like they should. There are a few situations in which weaning is the best option, and these situations are very personal to the family in question. However, there are many, many more women than there should be who wean because they feel they must.
Bad Reason #1 — Pressure From Family & Friends
Most of us are unlucky enough to have heard one or two (or all) of these little gems — “If you don’t wean him now, you never will”, “you’re creating a rod for your own back”, “you’re spoiling her rotten”, “he’ll never learn to be independent” and etc. I’m sure you can think of a few too! Many of us have to sustain this kind of judgement from our extended families, and some even from our own significant others.
Sometimes education helps; people often genuinely don’t realise that the ‘advice’ they are dishing out is incorrect. Inform those friends and family members of the health benefits (both physical and emotional) of breastfeeding and, of course, of the fact that you actually don’t *want* to stop right now.
Weaning your baby because other people are putting pressure on you to do so is not a good choice to make. Ultimately, you are the one who is going to have to live with that decision day in day out; make sure that it’s a choice you are fully happy with.
Bad Reason #2 — “You Need Medication”
So what happens if you need to take a medication that is unsuitable for breastfeeding mothers? It certainly sounds like it’s a no-brainer — that woman will have to stop nursing. However, this doesn’t always have to be the case.
The fact is that, with most illnesses, there are a few different options of medication one can take to treat it. Doctors will prescribe a ‘standard’ medication, but you can be sure in the vast majority of cases that there will be an alternative — possibly one that is safe for nursing mums and their babies.
It may just be a case of your doctor not realising how important that breastfeeding is to you. Once you inform them that you really feel strongly about continuing to breastfeed, they should do everything they can to try to find you an alternative. If they can’t (or won’t), seek a second opinion from another doctor. La Leche League Leaders can also provide up-to-date information on medications that are safe to take during nursing.
However, if the medication you must take is absolutely not safe for baby and there is no alternative, there are still ways around it. If the medication is only to be taken on a short-term basis, there is no reason why you cannot take a short break from nursing and resume again once the course has finished. Obviously, the ease of this will depend on the age of your baby. It will involve lots of pumping to keep up your supply, and you may have to battle with short-term low supply when breastfeeding resumes because pumps don’t tend to stimulate the breast as effectively as a baby for most women. Try to avoid using artificial teats for your baby in the meantime as they can cause nipple confusion — give the baby the replacement milk via a cup, syringe or spoon. You may even be able to get hold of donated breast milk from a milk bank — this is still superior to formula milk.
Remember that women who have never even been pregnant before have been able to successfully lactate for their adopted babies — when there’s a will, there’s a way.
Bad Reason #3 — Government Guidelines
It’s amazing how many people think that those recommended breastfeeding guidelines are intended to be guidelines on when to stop nursing. Here in the UK, our government recommend breastfeeding exclusively until 6 months of age, and then continued nursing for a year. This doesn’t mean one has to stop at a year old! It simply means the government recommend you continue until at least a year. The WHO recommend nursing for at least 2 years, and then for as long after as is mutually desired. La Leche League recommends exclusive breastfeeding for around 6 months, and then for as long as is mutually desired after that. The conclusion? There is no pre-requisite time at which breastfeeding loses its value. There is no time at which you ‘should’ stop. Wean when you are good and ready!
Bad Reason #4 — Incorrect Information
There is a lot of misinformation about breastfeeding bandied about. One of the gems I once heard was from a young girl who weaned after getting thrush — this isn’t all that unusual, because thrush is painful and if somebody isn’t dedicated to nursing their baby it can easily be enough to stop them. However, the reason she gave for stopping was that, apparently, “thrush can turn into mastitis” and she didn’t want to get that.
This is obviously completely false, and when I informed her of this she was genuinely shocked and upset. And on top of this, when I explained to her that mastitis – although a nasty illness – isn’t insurmountable or life threatening, she was even more gobsmacked. If she had known this at the time, I am fairly sure she would have pushed through the problems she was having and continued to feed her daughter.
Bad Reason #5 — Stupid Doctor Syndrome
This can also extent to Stupid Health Visitor Syndrome, Stupid Nurse Syndrome or Stupid Midwife Syndrome (although it is far rarer in the latter case).
There are plenty of doctors, health visitors and other health professionals that are well informed about breastfeeding and willing to help. However, there are some that simply don’t know what they are talking about. Health visitors in the UK get around one day of training in breastfeeding support whilst doing their 3-year degree. In stark opposition, La Leche League Peer Supporters follow a course that takes several weeks to complete. LLL Leaders can take months to reach accreditation.
The important thing to remember here is this simple phrase — horses for courses. If you have a fever, you see your doctor. If you need help or advice regarding general baby care or an aspect of your child’s health, talk to your health visitor. If you need help with breastfeeding, talk to someone who is an expert — a lactation consultant, or a supporter or counsellor trained by La Leche League or the NCT. They are the ones who will be able to provide you with the most up-to-date, useful information there is, and will be able to draw on personal experience in order to assist you sensitively and effectively.