Q&A: Abrupt weaning, and autism (no causality!)

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Katy writes:

"As there's been some talk of weaning recently, I thought I'd email and ask a question about weaning abruptly.  We recently found out that our 18 month-old son has autism.  After scrambling to get him services (speech therapy etc.), the next thing on our list is to try eliminating gluten (wheat) and casein (dairy) from his diet which has had great results in many kids on the spectrum (as a side question, I'd love to hear from people who've had positive or negative results with this kind of dietary change). 

Anyway, we decided that Christmas break would be the best time to try it as he won't be in his full-time daycare/therapy program where they give him his lunch and snacks and we'll be able to fully monitor everything he eats.  However, I'm still nursing him and my options are either to wean him or cut out gluten and casein myself, something that rather daunts me as I'm a big dairy person and the holidays seem like an extra hard time to be on a special diet. So I'm thinking of weaning him; this also seems appealing as he's become a nursing maniac in the last month, constantly lifting up my shirt and wanting to nurse, as well as waking lots in the night demanding to nurse.  I'm feeling very frustrated with him as I feel like he's constantly pawing at my body and the night nursing involves lots of sucking, snoozing and groping of my other breast - to the point that my body feels so sensitive I could scream (and, of course, I'm not getting good sleep).  So my questions then are:

  1.  Is this just an awful time to wean if he's so interested?  What's going on with this 18 month nursing mania?

2.  If I weaned him, how would I deal with the constant demands for nursing?  He has limited language so I don't know how well just telling him that he can't nurse anymore would work.  I hate the idea of just saying no to him.

3.  How would I get my milk to dry up? (Moxie, you mentioned something about mint tea in the previous message about weaning - do you have other recommendations?)"

I'm sorry you got this diagnosis, but I'm glad you have a diagnosis. I'm hoping that other parents of kids with autism will jump in with help.

Answers in the order in which the questions were asked:

1. It depends on your definition of "awful." 18 months is just a tough time all-around, and if you're still nursing, it tends to be one of those times the mother just can't deal with it anymore. So, yes, it's going to be really difficult to wean at this age because he's so needy and wants it so much. But it might be worth it for you not to have him nursing anymore. So "awful" here is totally subjective, and you get to pick your own poison.

Personally, having nursed two kids through the 18-month I-can't-stand-this-for-one-more-second, it-makes-me-feel-like-a-worn-out-old-sow, stop-stop-for-the-love-of-all-that's-holy-stop phase, I think it's easier just to self-medicate through the nursing with chocolate and do the weaning in two or three months (why is 21 months so much easier than 18?). But if you have to do it now, you have to do it now.

2. You got me. That's another reason I waited the 18-month phase out. Someone out there has done this, though, and will have something for you.

3. Bear in mind that drying up your milk is NOT going to prevent your hormones dropping when you wean, so be really aware of that and do some extra T-Tapp Hoe-Downs every day, make sure to keep up your Omega 3s and B-complex vitamins, and get as much sleep as you can. PPD on top of all of this would not be good, so do whatever you can to prevent it during the weaning process.

The things I know that help dry up milk are mint and sage, so you can brew mint tea and alternate that with "tea" you make by boiling fresh sage leaves. These aren't going to hurt the kid if you're still nursing while drying up your milk.

If you want your milk to dry up more quickly, you can take the old-fashioned Sudafed (the kind that can make you drowsy) for a few days, which will dry up every liquid in your body, so you'll need extra handcream while you're taking it. But if you're still nursing while you're taking it, it can make your child either super-drowsy or hyper, so use with caution.

All-in-all, I think weaning over Christmas is going to really suck. But going off dairy and wheat yourself is going to really suck, too (eggnog! Christmas cookies!).  If it were me, I'd probably delay the entire project until January, but  you just have to decide which is going to cause the least problems for you.

Now, I'd really like to hear from parents of kids with autism, specifically about navigating the condition, and especially about dietary changes that can help. Thank you guys so much.