Only a few weeks ago, a mother disclosed to me, “Yeah, my husband told me to sleep on the couch. He didn’t want to be disturbed with me nursing the baby in bed.” I drew her into the conversation, and sure enough, he was exerting pressure to wean the baby, and she wasn’t ready.
Maybe you or someone you know has been in this or a similar situation. Some spouses or partners aren’t keen on initiating breastfeeding, and the whole issue escalates as the baby gets older. And, I’ve known women who say they’ve gotten a divorce because their husbands gave them pressure to wean before they were ready to. It’s not uncommon.
In a recent podcast, I interviewed author Amy Wright Glenn. She helped me to see five approaches that might help you or someone you know.
Have the conversation
Formal research studies have shown that often, couples have no conversation whatsoever about whether the baby is to be breastfed or formula fed. Consequently, misunderstandings fester. And, even among those who do talk about feeding method, the “how long” question might never have come up.
Try to have the conversation early in the game. It might possibly avert some of the pressure to wean. Might.
Develop empathy for the lens through which others view breastfeeding
Most of us see issues through the lens of our own experiences. Our values and beliefs come from early experiences and influences. Therefore, we can’t assume that our spouse or partner or anyone else is bad or wrong or deliberately cantankerous. Maybe they are just coming from a place of not knowing what’s good, what’s bad, what’s normal, and what’s harmful.
In this post, I’ve picked on spouses or partners. They are for sure the most influential. But unquestionably, mothers, sisters-in-law, or bowling buddies can exert pressure to wean. And anyone else may be ridiculing or intimidating you into doing or not doing something you believe in where it comes to breastfeeding—or parenting.
Spotting signs of deeper troubles
In that interview, Amy talked about how the pressure to wean might be a symptom of a bigger, more deep-seated problem. She mentioned that the Gottman Institute uses a four-pronged model to identify a rocky relationship:
Ask yourself: Does criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling characterize your interactions with your spouse? Have the frequent stressful conversations now spilled over into the context of breastfeeding? Also, have the conversations simply stopped, and you’re experiencing the stonewalling effect?
Move forward in a way that benefits the entire family
It’s easy to become stuck with such thoughts or words as, “he’s such a jerk” or “she’s such a pain” or “they’re always sticking their nose into my business.” But that doesn’t solve anything or help anyone to move forward. It keeps us stuck. Moving forward is rarely easy. But it’s a critical part of growing a healthy family.
Find good resources when you feel pressure to wean
Amy gave several good resources to help women who are dealing with a spouse who doesn’t want them to start breastfeeding, or who offers pressure to wean once after they start.
She mentioned her own article on child-led weaning, NPR’s segment on breastfeeding older children, and her books. She also mentioned the work of anthropologist Kathy Dettwiler. She reminded us about Traci Cassel’s website on evolutionary parenting.
Professional help is an excellent and often under-used resource. Often, individuals or couples feel reluctant to get professional help for their relationship issues. If you can work it out on your own, great. If not, there’s no shame in getting professional help before the issues fester into a completely fractured relationship.
How would you suggest that a mother cope with the pressure wean? Comment below, please.
This very issue is the WHY I want to become IBCLC trained. I am a NICU nurse 28 years. My personal experience was a husband who saw my breasts as serial and I even think used wrong on breastfeeding our children. Back then I was too under informed and undersupported to handle his views. I can’t change my pressured to wean in the first weeks of my children’s lives. But I can make a difference my patients/mothers.
Of course, this is a big root of the problem. In the US, breasts are seen as objectives to sell beer and motorcycles, not to feed babies. Grrrrr.