So long beloved Muku (milk)
A chapter from one of my upcoming books, Uhambo- Being Mommy.
In my entire maternity journey, I would have to say my most favourite bits were breastfeeding and labour.
Who would enjoy labour? Me! Yes me! I love it because, though insanely painful, it is quick and over before I know it.
As for breastfeeding; after navigating and wriggling through the early challenges associated with it, I must say, breastfeeding became the highlight of my life. Please note, I am talking about literally breastfeeding my baby in my arms.
I loved holding my children in my arms and breastfeeding them. There is also the other intense side of breastfeeding; the transition from Maternity-leave to going back to work and maintaining a steady milk supply while working. That is a whole chapter in itself. I am lining up my thoughts for that one.
Back to my love for breastfeeding! Yes, I loved coming back from work and finding my baby waiting for me by the door or at the gate, just so they could snuggle into my arms for a feed. I loved how comfortable they were in my embrace, that they could trapeze all over me, while still latched and feeding. I loved playing with their little hands and toes, kissing and stroking those chubby little faces as they hummed a happy tune. I especially loved watching them fall asleep, looking so happy and content with the literal fullness of their heart’s desires. Most of all, I loved how breastfeeding gave my children a sense of security and comfort in all circumstances. When they felt physical pain, breastfeeding eased it. When they felt emotional pain, breastfeeding soothed them. When they did not feel ok that day, at least they had breastfeeding fall back on. In sickness and in health, breastfeeding was there. I particularly loved being instructed by a bold two-year-old to sit down so they could feed, or was sung a milking song, when the desire seized them by the throat, literally.
“Peez can I have some muku mama, peez can I have some muku mama” as sung by my favourite little guy
This act was the one thing my children and I loved to do together for two years and four months apiece. It worked well for our family.
Sadly, as my darlings got older, I knew we all had to be weaned from our joyful bubble of love and security eventually. My personal target for weaning was any time after 2 beautiful years of bonding and connecting with my children.
I was not keen on abruptly dispatching a milk obsessed little human to a trusted family member, or dredging my nipples in a foul-tasting substance as a means of weaning. It didn’t work for me physically and certainly did not work for me emotionally. I set off on a quest to find a way to wean, that didn’t leave me with painful breasts or leave my children feeling insecure and abandoned by me or their beloved muku (as my son affectionately called it). I set out to find a weaning method, that would work for my family.
I combed the internet high and low and found several articles and guidelines for weaning a child with minimal to no tantrums or drama. There were many options that I adapted to suit my household as well. Here is how I did it.
First of all, I decided weaning had to happen, and when it would happen. I was in control of the process. I was not moved by jeers of me feeding a biggish child, who I would later have endless, intense conversations with after they were full. Neither was I moved by society's notion of how long I should nurse my children and how I should wean. My family, my rules. Simple! When the comment, ‘your child is too grown to still be feeding’, came my way, I simply responded, ‘Are they your breasts? Why the obsessive concern when you are unaffected by this process?’ Naturally, that silenced and kept would-be offenders at bay. After that remark, I had zero repeat offenders who also warned others.
I decided to pin the great feat (weaning) together with a significant milestone my child was due to reach. It made sense to use their second birthday as that milestone. By pinning the process on a major and known achievement, I enlisted the buy-in and excitement of my child. I literally said, ‘you are turning two, my baby! That makes you a very big girl/boy, wow I am so proud of you, well done!’, then I went onto say, ‘and you know that means as a big girl or boy, you can no longer drink mommy’s milk!’ Yes, the milestone was bittersweet for both of us, however, it brought with it the awareness of growth and progress. So, we counted down in excitement.
Communication was the focal point of my weaning strategy post the BIG 2 target. I talked about it all the time. My children had no questions or blurry ideas about what I was telling them. It was important that they be informed and crystal clear about the process. I answered all their questions and explored their feelings with them and reassured them that nothing would change between us, save for the feeding. When the birthday was upon us, I simply reminded them of our agreement. I told them we would begin the weaning process shortly after.
Given that I was a working mom at the time, the day time feed had long since been dropped. We then began by cutting out the night feed. I did this by simply saying big girls/boys do not drink milk in the blankets and when the sun is down. Day one was not the easiest, because we slept in the same bed, however, the child received a consistent response about a big child not drinking in the blankets. This needs you to be firm and consistent. At this point; a wavering attitude will only confuse and frustrate your child. They need all the hugs and kisses during this time to reassure them, it’s only milk they are losing, and not mommy’s love.
You can also replace the feed with something else, as a distraction or pacifier. Other’s substitute the call for milk, by giving their child water. My pacifier was a lot of hugs and kisses. That time, I poured out bucketfuls of love and affection. Even a game or story-time can be a viable distraction. I cannot stress how much consistency is still very important throughout this process.
Once my child had gotten used to losing the night feed, they tried to get some milk during the morning ride to school, however, we would always be in a rush. With all the rules and regulations, opportunities and interest were fast dwindling. I must add, the reduction in feeding sessions was also impacting the milk supply. This meant that during the tiny, small window when feeding actually happened, not much milk would be extracted. Thereby compounding the diminished interest as well.
With the night feed permanently gone after about a day or two of unrest, I set off to cut out day time feeds as well. I developed a weaning pattern, which looked like this;
a. Week 1- one feed every other day
b. Week 2- One feed every two days
c. Week 3- one feed every three days
I followed this pattern up until we both forgot to feed. I don’t recall getting up to week 3, given that independence had been learnt, and both my child and I could function independently around each other, in a very emotionally secure environment.
I followed this strategy for both my children, who loved milk as if their lives depended on it. By two years and four months, both children were safely weaned and thriving. We had no transition issues from the breastfeeding, and I can safely say I did not suffer from engorged breasts or blocked ducts during my weaning process. I would do it again, repeatedly, and recommend others to do the same.
For one thing, the dual loss of both milk and mommy were not an issue. Separation anxiety was not a problem at all; I was there ready with all the love and hugs to last a lifetime. I too was able to see my child through this huge milestone without my own anxiety being triggered. Finally, it was a gradual process that we were both able to ease into and adjust as the strategy unfolded.
I am super excited about my upcoming books, narrating the journey I have traveled in Becoming and Being a parent. Watch this space.
Uhambo- Becoming Mommy and Uhambo- Being Mommy.