Extended Breastfeeding: To Wean Or Not To Wean

Around my son's first birthday I had an experience when I knew that I had crossed a threshold and I was going to continue nursing my son until he decided he wanted to self wean. I was sitting in church and looking around at the other babies in his age group - some older, some younger - and I realized that there was only one other baby in that group who was still nursing. There really wasn't anything remarkable about the moment or the realization, but for some reason that was the moment that I knew I would be one of the select few who participated in what is commonly referred to as extended nursing. For months before that moment I had been doing research and gathering information about weaning and when to wean and I had known pretty quickly that I didn't want to wean my son by a year or anywhere near then, but it was at that moment in church when I really realized that I really believed in extended breastfeeding and I wanted to nurse my son until the day when he and I both felt ready to stop.

When I realized that I wanted to nurse my child into toddlerhood, I was prepared for the social and societal reproductions. I expected that I would face the constant question of "when are you going to wean?" I expected stares when I nursed I public, I expected disapproval from some who didn't understand the physical and emotional benefits of it for both me and my child. I expected quickly reaching a point where I was nursing the oldest child in my circle of friends. What I hadn't expected or prepared myself for was what actually happened.

Fast forward a few months to January of this year when I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I was honestly ecstatic. I felt ready to have another child and excited to grow our family. I knew right away that I wanted to keep nursing Thaddeus and tandem nurse my children together. I expected that this too would come with it's own social stigmas and difficulties. I didn't expect what actually happened.

Fast forward a few more months... Now my son is almost 19 months old and I am almost five months pregnant with our second child. This pregnancy, and life in general, have been hard over the past few months and it's taken a toll on my body. I've struggled to put on weight and wrestled with severe allergies/sensitivities, regular headaches, hives, and frequent nausea. My chiropractor and acupuncturist have both recommended that I wean Thaddeus for the sake of my health and the health of this new baby. My midwife has stayed more neutral, and although she hasn't seemed to think that weaning was essential right now, she has also said that weaning might be good for me if things get worse. These aren't mainline medical professionals, these aren't formula advocates, these are people who believe in breastfeeding and who encourage extended breastfeeding. These are people I wouldn't have expected to encourage me to wean.

As I face these recommendations I am once again realizing that sometimes unexpected circumstances get in the way of our expectations for how we want to raise our children and the kind of parents we want to be. I am now faced with the question, "to wean or not to wean?" Do I stick to my guns, hold on to my beliefs about extended nursing and press on hoping that the cost to my health and the health of this unborn baby is minimal or none existent in the end? Or do I let go of my ideal and my guilt and wean, as people I trust have suggested? Is it possible that there is some sort of middle ground between the options?

I don't want to be pig headed and ignore wise advice. I want to get healthy and do whatever I need to in order to insure a healthy and safe pregnancy for myself and this new baby. But, on the other hand my son has recently gone through a lot of change. In the past month and a half we have essentially been living somewhere different almost every week and he is in the middle of one of the most unstable, insecure seasons of his young life. It's clearly taking a toll on him already. How do I wean him in the middle of all that? How do I wean him gently and respect his needs?

Honestly, the idea of weaning a 19 month old scares me to death and completely overwhelms me. And my son is not an easy going 19 month old - he's a rather stubborn, undistractable, determined 19 month old with a mind of his own. A 19 month old that currently nurses more times than I can count in a day, and regularly more than 5 times a night for long periods. I don't even know where I would start when it comes to weaning.

I'm sure there are others who have nursed into toddlerhood and then ended up weaning for medical reasons, or because of another pregnancy? How did you do it? Right now I just feel stuck and wish someone would help me see the best path through this season, the best way to balance my needs and the needs of my unborn child with my toddlers needs. If you have any advice I'd love to hear it. Thanks!

Rejoicing in the journey - Bethany Stedman