Monday, October 17, 2011

Our last week nursing

Well, the time has come. We are almost done nursing. I can hardly believe it. Even though Ellie is ready and I am ready, there is a part of each of us that would love to continue nursing a lot longer. I think that if we weren’t in the situation we are, with our diet the way it is, we probably would continue for longer. But we are where we are and part of that reality is that nursing just doesn’t fit into the picture anymore.

Ellie and I have had our fair share of nursing challenges and this transition has caused me to reflect back on them. A few stories:

  • When she was born Ellie could not figure out how to latch. I remember the white board in the hospital room where we were supposed to mark down times we tried to nurse and note an “N” for nursed and “A” for attempted. By day 3, when we went home, the board was full of “A”s. She had lost so much weight by day 4 that we were told to use a supplemental nursing system and formula or else she’d be checked back into the hospital. We were terribly frightened and I felt like I had failed her. Finally my milk came in and we were able to nurse, though it was very painful.
  • Ellie’s latch didn’t significantly improve until she was about 3 or 4 months old. During her early months I developed Reynaud’s Syndrome, which caused terrible pain during nursing. I was able to recover from this through acupuncture and lifestyle changes.
  • Ellie experienced failure to thrive again from about 10 to 15 months. Despite the fact that she was a healthy weight during those first 10 months of nursing, much of that time when she was exclusively nursing, I had many doctors tell me the failure to thrive was because of nursing and that I should wean her. I refused, and as we got dairy, soy, eggs, gluten and more troublesome foods out of her diet her weight returned to healthy levels.
  • The biggest challenge by far was going on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and GAPS diets with Ellie. Right now we’ve been following those diets for 10 months. I hope I never have to eat this way again, but I’m glad I was able to continue nursing Ellie through such a difficult time.

I had been ferociously committed to nursing Ellie no matter how restricted our diet because I believed (still do) that nursing was essential to her good health in the past two very difficult years. And Ellie is one of those super persistent kiddos who gets attached to something and will. not. let. go.

So I was taken completely by surprise when – on a visit to her grandparents in Denver last month – she essentially stopped nursing. She was having waaaaay too much fun playing with her grandma to bother slowing down to nurse with mom. I was a little heartbroken at first. But then I was elated. This was what I’d always wanted for Ellie – I wanted her to wean because she said so, not because a doctor told us to. I wanted to feel like I had taken her to the finish line, that she was able to nurse until we could confidently say she was a healthy kid. And here we are. She barely ever has tummy aches anymore. She has healthy poops every day. She is in a great mood most of the time and when she isn’t it’s usually easy for me to pinpoint the reason and adjust our diet accordingly. Her skin is clear. She’s got some chub on her little body and her hair is getting thicker and longer. Her immune levels are good and the bad bacteria in her gut are gone. We did it.

Sure, Ellie is still on a very restricted diet. But it’s working for her. She is thriving. The thing I needed to admit is that I am not. I am not happy on Ellie’s diet and it isn’t serving my health needs, which are quite different from hers. For example, we need to carefully restrict the amount and type of fats Ellie eats. For me, though, I would be much better served by eating more fats to help with the hypoglycemia I’ve been struggling with (more about that on another day). My body is craving coconut butter, for example, and Ellie can’t tolerate coconut fat. So we’ve reached a fork in the road.

It’s been difficult to allow myself to take that fork. Weaning feels like the final step in a separation that began at Ellie’s birth. Nursing was the thing that physically tied us to each other and I will miss those intimate moments immensely. I’ve cried a lot about it.

After we returned home from that trip to Denver we didn’t really have a solid plan. I didn’t feel comfortable coming home and cutting Ellie off so I took the approach of watch and wait. She nursed very sporadically for a few days and then something clicked and she went right back to her old schedule, three times a day. It was at that point that I really felt ready to be done. We had seen her thrive during a week of very limited nursing and it became clear that Ellie was going to need a little push in the direction of weaning.

So we made a plan. Week one: cut out bedtime nursing. Week two: cut out naptime nursing. Week three: revel in one last week of morning nursing. Week four: go back to Denver, enjoy all the distraction that family provides, and be done nursing. So right now we are starting week three and I am enjoying my last mornings with Ellie snuggled up under the covers while we still start our day nursing.

The process has been interesting. Each step along the process Ellie has been completely fine. Not a tear was shed over losing bedtime or naptime nursing. She’s been thrilled to have Daddy take over the bedtime routine and when it came time to cut out the nap nursing she accepted the news with grace and went to pick out some books. Not nursing in the morning will be the biggest adjustment, especially for me. Normally I go get her out of her crib and take her back to bed where we stay for a half hour to an hour more. I plan to start waking up before Ellie so I’m more prepared to just take her downstairs and get breakfast ready. If I’m just waking up too, the temptation to crawl back into bed will be huge.

One beautiful thing about continuing our nursing relationship until we both felt absolutely ready is I don’t feel an ounce of guilt about weaning. I am extremely proud of what we accomplished together. By sticking together through all the challenges we faced I am in awe of the bond we’ve forged, which is something I know will last many, many years beyond weaning.


  1. De-lurking to say good job, Mama! You're doing awesome. :)

  2. Sara Kay - Thanks so much! It means a lot!