How to Wean Your Teenager

by Jessica Martin-Weber with Ophélia and Lavinia Martin-Weber

How to wean a teenager

It is a well known fact that if you don’t make sure you get a baby off the boob by the end of their first year or definitely by the time they are two, they will never, ever stop breastfeeding and you’ll have to go to college with them. This is a fact known by every Tom, Dick, and Harry, Cindy, Karen, and Amanda. If you’re not aware of this, don’t worry, any conversation about breastfeeding beyond infancy in person, on an online article, blog posts, and of course, social media, will eventually become about this very fact. It is an inescapable truth: if you breastfeed past infancy your child will never wean and you will find yourself breastfeeding a teenager or young adult some day. Once they can ask for it you have to cut them off or they will never stop. Clearly breastfeeding is more addictive than chocolate, alcohol, crack, speed, shopping, and independence.

Because everyone knows that 3 and 13 are pretty much the same thing, you just stick a one in front of that 3. Teens are, according to most people, really just toddlers in bigger bodies, with raging hormones, pimples, and a slightly larger vocabulary. The temper tantrums are pretty much the same. Childhood goes so fast, don’t blink because you’ll miss it if you do and the next thing you know your 6’ 1” teenage boy will be folding himself onto your lap and tugging at your shirt saying “nene please mama.” Fact.

*Disclaimer: I have teenagers, they were breastfed as babies and toddlers but they never breastfed beyond early childhood so I can’t say I have any experience with this fact myself, nor have I ever encountered a breastfeeding teenager and unless my friends are lying, neither have they. But thousands of people say it is true. I know, I read it online.

But let’s say you’ve done it, ignored all the warnings and breastfed your child after their 1st birthday and then even after their 2nd and 3rd and 4th birthdays, now what? If you haven’t already, you’re headed straight to meeting them at lunch in high school so they can have mama milk. And if you have more than one child, you really are in big trouble. Juggling all those schedules to get your kids their babas is going to get really challenging.

It’s true, I guess, you’re just going to HAVE to cut them off at some point unless you really are ok following them to college and then some day on their honeymoon. There could be bonding moments in the future as you breastfeed your grown son while his wife breastfeeds their son. If that just won’t work for you though, how are you ever going to get that teenager to stop breastfeeding? When is it really time to wean and how do you do it?

I turned to my resident experts on teens: Earth Baby, 16, and Storyteller, 13. They were a bit shocked when I initially brought it up to them:

Me: “How should a mom wean their teenager from breastfeeding?”

EB: “Wait, WHAT?”

Storyteller: “That’s a thing? I don’t think that’s a thing.”

Me: “It’s totes a thing, I read it online.”

*At this point I got “the look” from Storyteller.

Storyteller: “You should never say ‘totes again’ and now I know that’s not a thing.”

EB: “Wait, WHAT? Are you really asking what I think you are asking?”

Me: “What’s wrong with me saying ‘totes’? And yes, I’m really asking.”

EB: “I don’t think any of my friends have conversations like this with their moms…”

Storyteller: “OMG, I know mine don’t. They also don’t breastfeed. Or say ‘totes.’ People saying teenagers breastfeed are severely lacking in intelligence. You can’t say ‘totes’ because you’re too old.”

EB: “Our family is weird, isn’t it?”

Me: “They either don’t breastfeed because their mom weaned them when they were young enough or they do breastfeed in secret. Some of them have to because I read it on the internet. Why am I too old to say ‘totes’?”

Storyteller: “You do know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, right? It’s just dumb to think that kids that don’t stop breastfeeding when they are little will end up wanting to breastfeed as teenagers. Saying ‘totes’ is dumb too. What is wrong with people?”

Me: “I write on the internet, of course you can believe everything you read on the internet!

Earth Baby: “This is ridiculous.”

Earth Baby and Storyteller how to wean teenagers

Storyteller (left) and Earth Baby (right).

It took a while to get them to just go with me on this but that was an excellent example of just how hard it could be to wean a teenager. They’re stubborn creatures and smart too, they can argue until you’re blue in the face and they’ll still continue. Weaning a breastfed teenager could be intensely difficult! I can see why there are so many warnings to wean while they are still young.

Besides, can you imagine breastfeeding through the dreaded wisdom teeth stage?

After bribing them, they came up with some ideas. I shot down a few, such as the suggestion that you just tell them no, that it’s all done. Oh puh-lease, teenagers and “no” go about as well together as oil and water. I’m not so great at taking a direct “no” either so I know it’s best to save them for the big things such as “no, you absolutely can not surf on the hood of a truck going down the highway.” They agreed that “no” wouldn’t work given our family’s own personal experience with how well “no” is an effective strategy for a teenager. #itsnoteffectiveatall

Here are the ones we all thought might be most effective though, all approved by the teenagers in my house:

Gentle conversation. According to my 13 year old, teenagers are reasonable.

BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Moving on.

Bribe them with cake. That’s right, offer cake and tell them if they give up “bobbies” they can have cake. Also acceptable would be cake pops, frappuccinos, mini doughnuts, and iTunes gift cards.

Wean to drive. They can’t drive or get a drivers license until they give up the mama milks for good. No exceptions. It would be so important for mom to hold strong when the whining starts after they’ve started driving and start whining about how badly they need their nene.

Entertainment options. If you’re trying to wean a younger teen or maybe a tween, you could try saying no PG 13 movies because those movies are for big kids and big kids don’t get to breastfeed any more. This will work because all their friends will be talking about the next Pitch Perfect movie and they’ll totally be left out which would even be worse than weaning.

Smart phone. Like breastfeeding, all the teens are smartphoning these days. It’s simple though, mom will have to get another job to afford the bill so she can’t breastfeed any more. If they want a smartphone to fit in with their friends, they’ll be more than willing for mom to hang up her nursing bras and go to work.

Dating. Explain that any possible dates will be a little horrified if they found out they were still breastfeeding. It could really hurt their chances of finding a date… ever. But since embarrassment is worse than death for teens, simply posting a breastfeeding selfie and tagging them on social media would possibly do it. Also, would take care of the whole talking to you thing.

Prom. There’s just no way you could find an on trend yet age appropriate prom dress that has easy boob access. Show them what you’d have to wear to prom so they had mama milks when they needed it. They’ll never want to breastfeed again.

Charge. Teenagers are the largest demographic with a disposable income. Use it to your advantage, my 13yo thought that $1/1 minute sounded about fair if a teen wanted to continue breastfeeding. That would encourage them to wean real quick: buy a new outfit or get some “bob bob” and the decision would be pretty simple.

Just say no. My teenagers maintain that saying “my body, my choice” would be a firm boundary no teenager would cross. Specially if you’re already teaching them to respect themselves and others.

So, tell us, what are your tips for weaning teenagers?

 

*Please note: this is intended to be humorous with a bit of satire.
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Sitting in the dirt- the simplicity of (breastfeeding) support

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Photo by Abby Camarata of bump2baby Birth Photography, used with permission.

Photo by Abby Camarata of bump2baby Birth Photography, used with permission.

I first noticed her as I knelt to read what one of the little students in my workshop had scratched into the dirt.  Exploring language together, we were using the immediate tools available to us and writing our favorite words in the earth around us, this particular boy had written love.  English isn’t his first language, he’s spoken Telegu for most of his life, only being introduced to English a few months before.  But he knew this word and he knew it well.

“Love?” I asked him.

“Yes miss” with the head bobble I was still getting accustomed to instead of nodding indicating he heard me.

I looked around for Shamma, the interpreter helping me but he was busy with another student.

“What is love?” I wasn’t sure he would understand me.  While many of the students were already quite competent with English, there were many that only understood and spoke a few words, love often being one of them.  A good number of the 83 students attending this rural school in South Eastern India had only been there a couple months.

He smiled shyly and looked away, whether to think about an answer or because he didn’t understand what I asked I couldn’t be sure.  After giving him some time I asked him if he understood me, again the head bobble.  I smiled and shifted to sit next to him on the ground and repeated my question.  Another shy smile as he looked away and thoughtfully said “love…” questioningly.  He didn’t have the words to say.  His voice trailed off and then, suddenly, his face lit up with a bright and confident smile.

“Love!”  His eyes were no longer searching and I followed his gaze.

Two women seated on the dirt quietly observing our little group.  Their colorful saris created a beautiful contrast against the dusty ground and trees around us and the women seemed perfectly comfortable.  From the lap of one, tiny legs kicked and a little arm waved absently.  I smiled.  Yes, love; a mother and her baby.  He knew exactly what the word meant.  The mother looked down at the infant in her lap and I noticed the baby was feeding.

Yes, this was love.  Not the only expression of love available to mothers but one the little boy next to me understood.  A mother feeding her child, a parent meeting their child’s needs.  Love.

I couldn’t wait for break time when the kids would scamper off to play.  This woman, sitting there in the dirt feeding her baby, drew me and she didn’t know it.  Her baby was younger than my nursling but she was the first woman I had seen breastfeeding since before we had arrived in India and I was ready to sit with her and just be.  When my students were occupied writing their words this time in bright colors in our sketch book, I braved the few steps away to say hi but as soon as she saw me approaching, she took her child off her breast and sat her up.  The baby cried, understandably upset that her meal had been interrupted.  The mother comforted her and I apologized, excusing myself.  Never wanting to get in the way of a child and their food, I headed back to my small workshop.

The women were stunning, completely comfortable sitting there in the dirt under the shade of a tree just feet away from the extra large pot over an open flame cooking the rice for lunch for the entire school.  Nobody was phased by their presence or the baby being fed.  When the break came, Sugarbaby had already joined me hanging out with my group of students and as soon as the students were released to escape their swarm of attention, she wanted to nurse.  Scooping her up, I headed back over to where the mom was still seated breastfeeding now chatting with her companion.  Once again, she went to remove her daughter from her breast as I approached but I indicated that I didn’t want to disrupt her baby’s meal, I just wanted to sit with her while I breastfed my nursling too.  She smiled and bobbled her head with a somewhat nervous expression.  Sugarbaby and I got comfortable on the ground and she hungrily latched quickly and sighed with contentment.  When I looked up from my contented toddler, the other mother was staring at me with a small smile and her friend seemed to approve.

Photo by Abby Camarata of bump2baby Birth Photography, used with permission.

Photo by Abby Camarata of bump2baby Birth Photography, used with permission.

At first we just sat there quietly feeding our children.  Then we sat smiling and taking in the children playing around us.  After a moment she reached over and lightly brushed Sugarbaby’s arm and patted her head.  Following her cues, I reached out and gently stroked her daughter’s silky ebony hair.  I wanted to ask questions but had been teaching and was grateful for the break from talking.  Plus I strongly suspected neither of the women spoke any English and I certainly didn’t speak Telegu.  Finally breaking our silence, I ventured to ask if they spoke English and though they were friendly, it was clear they didn’t understand me.  So we sat for a bit smiling and occasionally affectionally touching each other’s baby.

Our moment together was brief and I did eventually ask an interpreter to join us so we could communicate but just being there in the dirt together was powerful.  In spite of a lack of words, we understood some things about each other.  Our tongues couldn’t form words the other would understand yet we spoke the language of motherhood.  The challenges we each faced may be different and in many ways we couldn’t imagine each others’ struggles but still, we care for our children, feed them, sacrificed for them, and seek education and opportunity for them.  Outside of my usual cultural context, even as experienced as I am in breastfeeding, I found comfort in their presence.  A simple support of understanding in the dirt.

Without even saying a word, these women reminded me that support, breastfeeding or otherwise, isn’t always about sharing all the same experiences, speaking the same language, or even being able to help each other with information and answers.  Sometimes, it’s just about sitting together in the dirt, as we live our own realities of the mundane but important.  Sometimes, it’s that we’re not alone.

If you are interested in ways you can sit in the dirt with other parents in India through a financial donation, consider sponsoring a child with a school scholarship at $40/month.  More information on child sponsorship can be found here.

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I can’t wait to stop writing about breastfeeding in public

Some day I won’t write another thing about breastfeeding in public.  Because I won’t have to.  Eventually, some day, everyone will have grown weary of the debate and realize just how silly it is.  Mothers feeding their babies will be left alone, in peace to care for their children by meeting their needs for food and comfort.  In time the fact that message boards and news broadcasts filled up with comments arguing about the “appropriateness” of feeding babies in public will seem ridiculous and celebrities that dissed women that breastfeed in public will be dismissed as ignorant and intolerant.  In a lesser but similar way that we feel looking back at other civil justice issues and wonder how in the world anyone could ever have had any question about where people sit on a bus or what water fountains they drink from, breastfeeding in public debates will be an embarrassing mark on our social history.  As a society we won’t bat a collective eyelash at a woman breastfeeding in public whether she’s using a cover or not.  The idea that a women is permitted or not permitted to feed her child in public will seem as archaic as women not being permitted to vote.  There won’t be polls posted on news affiliate sites and Facebook pages won’t explode with heated arguments that resort to name calling to prove one’s point about how inappropriate/appropriate it is to breastfeed in public.  Instead, it will just be normal and nobody will even care any more and maybe they’ll take up some more important issue to pour their passionate energy into.  Some day.  Apparently, not today.

Please don’t tell me it could all be avoided if women just had some “decency” and used a cover or went some place private.  That’s not the issue nor is it the solution, women should not be ostracized from society for feeding their babies and covering is a personal choice much like clothing choices.  Not that it helps, plenty of women are harassed for breastfeeding even when they choose to cover.

The comments in those online threads often quickly turn to comparing breastfeeding to some other bodily function that people find disgusting and “nobody wants to see.”  Comments like:  “If breastfeeding in public is acceptable then I should be able to just piss anywhere I need to!”  “That’s disgusting, why can’t they just pump and use a bottle?  I don’t want to see someone getting a blow job while I’m shopping and I don’t want to see breastfeeding.”  “We go to the bathroom to take a dump and don’t just crap on the sidewalk, women can go to the bathroom to pull out their boob, we don’t have to see it.”  “If a woman can just whip out her boob and stick it in a baby’s mouth, I should be able to just whip out my dick and jerk off.”  And more, so many more.  I usually roll my eyes and move on dismissing the writer as someone that doesn’t understand some very basic and crucial differences that flaw their comparison rendering it completely invalid and not worth my time.  Moving on is also to keep me from commenting “well, when you’re ready to prepare a bottle of piss or serve up some human shit in a beautiful dish for your dinner guests and when grocery store shelves are stocked with products claiming to be ‘as good as human urine/feces’ then I might hear your point.”  But then it happened in real life and I couldn’t bite my tongue and roll my eyes in time to not decidedly educate the poor individual that would dare to compare breastfeeding in public to taking a dump in public in my presence.  As it turns out, maybe people really are confused on some of these basic differences.  I decided to see what a larger sample size thought of the issue and how breastfeeding in public compared to these body functions commonly argued as being equally as disgusting (their words, not mine) as breastfeeding in public.  To gather some admittedly biased information considering my poll group consists of fans of The Leaky Boob  (and some got very confused that I’d even ask such a question, a few were a bit upset, they didn’t expect to see that kind of question there and I can’t blame them) I asked the followers of TLB FB, Jessica The Leaky Boob Facebook page, and my own personal friends to vote which was the most disgusting: urinating in public, defecating in public, sex in public, blow job/masturbation in public, and breastfeeding in public.  The results:

In case you’re wondering, breastfeeding didn’t make it on the graph.  Nobody in our unscientific and poorly constructed poll voted for breastfeeding as being the most disgusting option of the 5.  But since not everyone followed the directions (to only pick one that was most disgusting) we ended up with another pie chart illustrating how many of those polled think  urinating in public, defecating in public, sex in public, and blow job/masturbation in public is more disgusting than breastfeeding in public.

 

 While it could be argued that this sample is biased and not indicative of the general population given that they were drawn from a breastfeeding support community, I still would argue that they all make a good point that even those not in favor of breastfeeding would find valid.  However, in case some have yet to understand how it could possibly be that breastfeeding in public is considered less gross than defecating, urinating, masturbating, oral sex, or intercourse in public I created two tables and some notes in order to help clarify.  You can find those here.  It would make me very happy if you went and checked those out, I actually made myself sick doing the research for those puppies.  Reading that much about poop while pregnant and dealing with HG is asking for trouble.

Some day my dream will be a reality and I will stop writing about breastfeeding in public.  Nurse-ins will be a thing of the past and idiotic celebrities won’t be concerned about the PR nightmare they create for themselves simply because we’ll have all moved on and they won’t be saying stupid comments about breastfeeding in public.  Kasey Kahne and Kim Kardashian (what’s with the Ks?) will be cited as examples of ignorance regarding breastfeeding and society’s attempts to control and shame women for their bodies and mothering for future generations.  For now though, I’ll keep talking about it even though I’m tired of saying the same things and I’ll be grateful for moments of sanity in rational mainstream media articles like this.  But to keep it interesting I’m going to have to start making fun of the people ignorant enough to be serious about certain comparisons.  I just can’t help it, when someone confuses urine or feces for breastmilk or thinks there’s something similar with breastfeeding and masturbating in public, I have to laugh at the absurdity or I’ll go crazy.

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