I run in some circles where Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is very popular.
In a nutshell it is an approach to weaning that skips pureed baby food and spoons and heads straight for biting and chewing. It promotes giving the baby food to feed him/her self instead of a parent feeding a baby. When I first heard of BLW I thought it sounded interesting. BLW is an alternative for parents who don't want to start solids early. It is a way to delay baby's diet a bit, and emphasize longer term (meaning past 6 months) breastfeeding for caloric intake. It is also a fantastic way to dodge questions about rice cereal and why you're STILL breastfeeding at 8 months. :) To me, putting more of the decision making into the Baby's chubby little hands, and letting him show me when he was ready to wean sounded like a great idea. But that was only when I first learned about it...
As Baby got older I started experimenting with BLW. At 6 months I gave Baby a slice of avocado big enough for him to hold in his hand. See how much he 'eats' on his own. It was hilarious. He looked more like the hulk by the end of the meal and had gotten 0 into his mouth. But he LOVED the activity. So we started down the BLW road. As we traveled along I learned a few more things about the BLW community. They have a little saying "Food before 1 is just for fun" to remind you that the majority of baby's calories should be coming from breastmilk. It's catchy don't you think? I thought so. It became my mantra. And Baby and I continued with our wonderful breastfeeding relationship well past 6 months.
Feeding him became a game, more than anything. I didn't really make an effort outside of dinner time. It was just easier to continue in the way we had been doing things without stopping to worry about bibs and high chairs throughout the day. At dinner Boo and I would give him some food to 'eat' so he would be entertained. It was great. He was in love with food. Would work and work for every bite, and when he got one into his mouth he would just beam. It was adorable. Eating seemed to be his favorite activity.
Around 8 months Baby started having some problems. Nothing major. And nothing outside of the ordinary. No poop for 3 days. Waking up several times a night to eat. Wanting to be held ALL the time. My generally happy independent Baby had become this sort of semi-detached limb on my body. He fussed constantly. We nursed and he seemed fine. He would eat at dinner and he would seem fine. I figured he was just teething. Teething can cause all of those symptoms. And the chewing and drooling had ramped up too. Teething seemed a good culprit.
Just before his 9 month 'birthday' Baby refused the breast. I was trying to nurse before meeting a friend for coffee, and he just showed no interest. Whatever, I was in a hurry to get going. Boo put him to bed with a bottle while I was out and all seemed well. The next morning we had our typical morning nursing gymnastics session. But throughout the day he seemed distracted and sort of disinterested in nursing. He would grab a quick snack, but no long lazy sessions like we usually had. And a lot of biting. Eh, he's busy exploring the world I thought. He doesn't want to sit still that long. Day 3 and there's zero nursing to be had. He will take a bottle of pumped milk just fine but not interested in nursing at all.
I kept my cool. A friend of mine had just dealt with a 6-day nursing strike. We can get through this. "He's not weaning. Babies don't wean before 12 months" my nursing friends told me. Do this. Try that. "If you nurse him in his sleep it will work." "Give him a sippy cup instead of a bottle." "Scale back on solids." "He is just distracted and will be back in a few days." So I leaned on them for support while I tried a million and a half things to get my Baby back to nursing. We couldn't be done yet, I was ready to nurse for as long as he needed. I pumped religiously every 3 hours. I was determined that when he was ready to come back there would be plenty of milk. Meanwhile he was getting all of his milk from a cup or bottle. Pooping became a once a week activity, and sleep became something we got in 2-3 hour naps around the clock. Waking up SCREAMING. Those damn teeth! Wouldn't they just break through already, they were ruining everything!!
After two weeks of no nursing I was desperate. Sleep deprivation and the loss of our breastfeeding connection had left me a puddle of depressed nothingness. I couldn't seem to comfort my crying baby at all. He had lost 1 1/2 pounds and cried all the time. I knew he just needed to nurse. We both just needed him to nurse. It would solve so many of our problems. "He's not weaning. Babies don't wean before 12 months."
By the end of the third week I was so depressed I could barely do anything. I cried all the time. I had completely failed. I couldn't manage to get baby back to breast. I couldn't calm him. I couldn't soothe him. Everything felt like a judgement. Everything felt wrong. And on top of it my nipples were so sore and inflamed from the pump that keeping up with the baby was looking more and more impossible. I couldn't even give him breastmilk for a full 12 months. But I didn't want to give up. On Monday of the fourth week I went to my chiropractor and wellness doctor. He suggested that maybe the baby was just done. BLASPHEMY! When I said "but he still wants the bottle" he suggested this: "So take the bottle away. Give him food, and if he still needs nutrition from you he will get it from you. If he doesn't, he will just be done." For the rest of the day Monday I discussed this approach with the few people left that I thought were supportive. A plan was made.
Beginning on Tuesday morning Baby starting getting 3 square meals and a snack every day. Before each feeding I would offer to nurse. If Baby refused I would feed him food. Tuesday morning we started. After breakfast he was already so much happier! For his morning nap I offered to nurse, but he refused. I gave him a small bottle to soothe him to sleep, and he slept 2 hours. Up for lunch. By the afternoon he was back to his normal, happy self. He took ANOTHER 2 hour nap. That night he slept 8 hours. By Thursday he was pooping multiple times a day. Although still chewing on everything there was no more fussiness. No more screaming.
After about 15 more minutes of moping (the realization that I had been making the baby go around hungry for like 3 weeks hit pretty hard) I finally let go of all of the feelings and thoughts of having failed. This whole parenting journey isn't about doing what you planned, it's about doing what the baby needs. My Baby needed to wean. Forget the rules. Forget about 'other' babies. Forget all the plans I had for nursing past 12 months. Forget it all. The whole point of baby led weaning is letting the BABY lead!
I didn't fail. I
listened to my baby even when he told me something I didn't want
to hear...something that didn't even seem to make sense. And the two of us
found our way through together. I'm sorry it wasn't to the place I
envisioned, but it was a beautiful, bittersweet dance.
I am so thankful for the experience. And for the realization that failure truly comes in pressing my own wishes and desires onto my son despite his needs. There is no failure in finding the right thing. There is only failure in not accepting. I desperately wanted things to go back to the way they were. But there is no growth in going back. I will always treasure the beauty of breastfeeding my son for 9 months. And I will be proud of breastfeeding him for as long as he wanted. I will cherish the baby he was but I will not hold him back from becoming the wonderful little person he's growing into.
Looking back I am sorry it took me so long to hear what he was telling me. But with this experience behind me and looking forward...I feel like Super Mom.