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Weaning When You're the 'Milk Mommy'

Photograph by Getty Images

I couldn’t believe I was crying in the arms of a stranger. I listened as the lactation specialist encouraged me to find the strength to wean my son, who was then 3 years old. “You’re the mama,” she admonished me. She was right. I had been afraid to create a boundary for my son, and he was bulldozing right over me to get what he wanted. "Milk, mommy!"

Yes, there are many benefits to breastfeeding, as readers of this site undoubtedly know. Breastfeeding helps babies build a healthy immune system, and it facilitates bonding between the mother and child. I felt that breastfeeding was all the more important for my son, because he was born with Down syndrome, and accordingly was apt to have low muscle tone. A speech therapist told me that breastfeeding strengthens the muscles in the mouth and jaw that will later be used for eating and speaking.

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As she explained it to me, pulling milk from a mother’s breast requires the use of many muscles in the face. Breastfeeding engages the tongue, jaw, and throat, building strength in these areas of the body. For the sake of enhancing my son’s development, she encouraged me to breastfeed for as long as possible.

I took her at her word, and breastfeed I did.

At coffee shops, restaurants, dinner parties and in the car, I breastfed. In crowded rooms, while on walks, with strange men and frowning women watching, I breastfed. During the morning, throughout the day and while co-sleeping throughout the night, I breastfed. I breastfed my son until I simply couldn’t stand it any longer. Friends would tell me stories of their children self-weaning, “He’ll stop when he’s ready,” they’d say. Apparently he wasn’t ready.

By the time my son was 3 and still coming for "Milk, mommy," I had to do something.

Finally, I started reading blogs about methods I could use to assist the self-weaning, including stories of moms who applied hot sauce or goldenseal on their nipples before the children latched on. For me this seemed cruel, but by the time my son was 3 and still coming for "Milk, mommy," I had to do something.

And that's what brought me to the lactation specialist. “Forget the goldenseal,” she said. “This is what being a mom is all about, honey: these moments.” I cried and cried. But I went home with a plan to set boundaries.

I started making fresh juice and offering it to my son in place of the breast. This allowed me to end the daytime feedings within a few weeks. I also made sure that he spent time playing with bigger children who were not breastfeeding; these kids served as behavioral models. When we had eliminated all but the 4:30 a.m. feeding (when I was just too tired to hold the boundary), I sent my son to stay with his older cousin for several nights. There was no way he’d get any milk from their child, an 11-year-old boy. After about a week of being out of my bed, he was completely weaned, and I was free. I finally had my body back.

RELATED: When Should You Wean a Premature Baby?

Would I do it again? Absolutely, because it really did help my son develop his muscle tone; he never stops talking, and he eats and swallows perfectly. But I won’t do it again, because the thought of breastfeeding for even a day is the best birth control this mom will ever need.

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