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Common Myths About Weaning

MYTH: My husband/partner wants me to wean.

FACT: Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for fathers and mothers to differ in their commitment to breastfeeding. When such differences exist, typically it is the mother who wants to continue nursing and the father who is pressuring her to wean (although, occasionally, it can be the other way around). All too often, a couple's overt disagreement over weaning is just one manifestation of broader conflict in the parental relationship. The way parents resolve their differing opinions about weaning usually reflects the way they handle other potential areas of conflict. Do they mutually encourage the expression of each other's feelings in a safe, accepting, and nonjudgmental atmosphere? Are they willing to compromise and negotiate mutually acceptable solutions? Or does one member dominate the relationship and impose his or her will on the other?

In my experience, when women give in to their husbands' demands about weaning, inevitable lingering resentment can further erode their relationship. Instead of passively submitting to a partner's demands, I would urge breastfeeding women to explore other possible motives their partners may have for advocating weaning. Maybe he feels the breasts are off-limits sexually as long as the mother is lactating. Perhaps he is jealous of the intimate bond between a nursing mother and baby. Maybe he is not sure what role he can play in the breastfeeding relationship. Often the husband's desire to see the baby weaned is simply a misdirected attempt to gain more of his partner's time and attention.

I recall a nurse who returned to work at the hospital while still breastfeeding her four-month-old baby. Juggling new parenthood, full-time employment, and breastfeeding left her little time or energy for nurturing her relationship with her husband. One day, she confided in me that her husband was pressuring her to wean the baby. After talking with her further, I began to suspect that the real issue behind her husband's demand was not whether she should continue breastfeeding. Rather, the conflict was about how they could renegotiate their marital relationship in the face of recent childbirth and dual-career parenting. This insight spurred the nurse to make some essential alterations in her schedule and to redirect some of her limited energies into her husband and her marriage. With a little extra attention from his wife, the husband stopped mentioning breastfeeding and no longer blamed it for making his partner unavailable to him. Once she began acknowledging him more, the husband became more willing to help his wife in practical ways that left her more energy for him. If breastfeeding seems to be impacting your marital relationship adversely, I urge you to review the section on the role of the father in the breastfeeding family.

Please also bear in mind that babies are extremely perceptive little beings who can detect divergent parental attitudes about nursing. I have observed older babies who seemed acutely aware of their father's resentment toward breastfeeding. This caused anxiety for the youngsters whenever they needed to nurse in their fathers' presence.

From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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