Baby is Weaning; Help!

QUESTION

Dear Lactation Consultant,
My baby is 10 months old and she is an only child. She got a very high fever 2 weeks ago and stopped breastfeeding and eating. I figured that if I could get the fever down that she would nurse again. No luck. We ended up taking her to the ER 2 days later because she was so lethargic and sleepy and was loosing weight. They checked her out completely and she was diagnosed as having Roseola. She's all better now but she still won't breastfeed; she arches her back and cries when I try. She's eating baby food again but not drinking fluids. I really would like to nurse again.

Everybody is telling me that she weaned herself and is too old to breastfeed. I just can't accept that as a final answer. How can I get her to breastfeed again?

Thank you for your time.
Ana

ANSWER

Hi Ana,
Your baby has probably quit nursing completely, or resumed nursing on her own. In babies over nine months, self weaning is not uncommon, especially after an illness, or following an extended period of separation from mom.

There is absolutely no way to make a baby nurse if he or she has decided to wean. I found that out the hard way. My first baby showed clear signs of being ready to wean before he was a year old, and I was in a panic. I was already heavily involved in LLL, and everyone there was nursing toddlers. I just assumed that I would, too. I found that there was absolutely no way to make him nurse if he didn't want to, and the exact same thing happened with the next two babies as well.

All three of them were thumbsuckers (they'd discovered their thumbs at around three months) and they all had security blankets. They nursed more for nourishment than for comfort, and all of them began to lose interest in nursing around the time they started eating solids and becoming mobile. By 9-12 months, it was almost impossible to get them to nurse no matter what I tried. They acted like I was trying to poison them when I tried to get them to take the breast, and I finally gave up.

The second batch of babies all wanted to nurse till they were 2 1/2 to 5 years old. They weren't self soothers at all, and used me for a pacifier and a sleep aid instead of thumbs or blankets. I think they might still be nursing if I hadn't strongly encouraged them to wean at some point!

I can totally sympathize with your feelings at this point. When a baby is ready to wean before you are, it's a kind of grieving process. Even though you know you have done the best thing for your baby, and it is inevitable that they have to grow up and move on to new things, it's still kind of sad.

I was able to stay at home with all my babies, and was really looking forward to nursing them as toddlers, due to the health benefits of extended breastfeeding as well as the emotional advantages of being able to sooth them when they were tired, scared, or sick. When it didn't work out the way I had planned, I just couldn't believe it. Here I was a LLL Leader, and my babies were weaning early -- how could they do that to me? It just didn't seem fair!

Oh, well. It hasn't been the first time that my plans and expectations for my children didn't work out exactly the way I wanted them to. I had to settle for knowing that I had done the best I could for them and then move on to the next stage with fond memories of our nursing days.

I often wish that I could explain all this to the mothers who are stressing out about weaning and wondering if their baby will EVER stop nursing. Yes, he will wean in his own time. All babies do, some much sooner than others. Just enjoy the time you do have with your little nursling because when you look back on it, it seems like the time flew by.

Take care,
-- Anne, IBCLC

Kathleen Tackett

Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a health psychologist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Research Associate Professor of Psychology specializing in women's health at the Family Research Lab, University of New Hampshire. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association in both the Divisions of Health Psychology and Trauma Psychology. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a La Leche League leader, chair of the New Hampshire Breastfeeding Taskforce, and the Area Coordinator of Leaders for La Leche League of Maine and New Hampshire.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett is author of more than 140 journal articles, book chapters and other publications, and author or editor of 15 books including The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood (2005, Hale Publications), Depression in New Mothers (2005, Haworth), and Breastfeeding Made Simple, co-authored with Nancy Mohrbacher (2005, New Harbinger). She is on the editorial boards of the journals Child Abuse and Neglect, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse and the Journal of Human Lactation, and regularly reviews for 27 other journals in the fields of trauma, women's health, interpersonal violence, depression, and child development. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is the "Ask a Lactation Consultant" columnist on Pregnancy.org and serves on the Board of Directors of Attachment Parenting International.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett received a Bachelor's and Master's degree in psychology from California State University, Chico, and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University in social and developmental psychology. She has won several awards including the Outstanding Research Study Award from the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, and was named 2003 Distinguished Alumna, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, California State University, Chico.