My husband and I started watching “Jane the Virgin” when it first came out a couple of years ago. We’ve been pretty big fans. I also have to compliment the show’s writers because their depiction of birth and breastfeeding was closer to life than many I’ve seen on TV. However, I have to take issue with Jane’s weaning of her son Matteo. Jane ends up exclusively pumping for a while when Matteo refuses to nurse after she goes to a writers’ retreat for her class, but comes to a point where pumping at night is becoming a drain. She talks about it with Matteo’s father, Raphael and Raphael (who has absolutely zero experience with breastfeeding) says that Jane should just wean Matteo. Jane asks about what if Matteo loses a few IQ points or gets sick. Raphael says that Matteo just started solids and he’ll be fine. So Jane weans.
Now first of all, let me say that weaning is a very personal decision for every mother. However, Jane wasn’t limited to just two options (keep pumping round the clock or wean). I will be doing one-on-one classes for those who desire it once I complete my certification, so let’s imagine for a few minutes that Jane and Raphael came to me for some help.
Me: So Jane, what brings you here today?
Jane: Well, I’m exhausted. My son Matteo stopped nursing a few months ago and I’ve been exclusively pumping ever since. I’m waking up at night to pump, I’m in grad school and I’m working and everything is just wearing me out.
Raphael: I think she should just wean. Matteo has started solids and I think Jane needs to take care of herself more. Lots of babies are formula fed. I think Matteo needs a mother who is well-rested and feeling well more than breastmilk.
Me: Wow, Jane! Exclusive pumping can be a hard road, so good job to you! I can see that you both care a great deal about Matteo and want what’s best for him. And Raphael, I can tell you really care a lot about Jane. I can understand why you’re so tired, Jane. That’s a lot you have on your plate! So, I’m looking at your intake form and you say that Matteo is healthy and not having any problems with weight or nutrition. Jane, how do you feel about pumping?
Jane: Well, I loved breastfeeding, but he just stopped taking the breast. Day time pumping isn’t too bad. It’s the night time pumping sessions that are killing me.
Me: And you indicated that you haven’t been in touch with any breastfeeding help until now.
Jane: Yeah, that’s right.
Me: And your milk supply has been steady?
Me: Well Jane, I have a very simple solution for you. Stop pumping at night.
Me: Since Matteo has started solids and he’s doing well and you’re not having any supply issues, you could just stop pumping at night. It’s expected that babies will start sleeping at longer stretches by this time anyway. Just pump for him during the day. Breastfeeding isn’t an all or nothing endeavor. Any milk he gets from you will still increase his immune function. As for IQ, breastfeeding has been shown to be beneficial to cognitive development, but intelligence is influenced by many factors. Watch him to make sure that he’s getting enough to eat and keep in touch with his pediatrician in case he does need supplementation, but even with eliminating night pumping sessions you may not need to introduce any other supplements. Would like to try to get Matteo breastfeeding again so that when you are together you can feed him instead of pumping?
Jane: Is that even possible?!
Me: Well, I can’t make any promises, but some babies have been known to refuse the breast when they feel a big stress from separation or an upset to their daily routine, like a big move. But it is possible to get them to nurse again with some patience. Skin-to-skin contact and keep offering the breast are strategies that can help get a baby back to nursing.
Jane: That would be great!
Me: OK then! I’m also going to give you the contact info for your local La Leche League group. You don’t have to go it alone. Sometimes we get the impression from family, friends, health care professionals and even TV shows that breastfeeding is like a rare orchid that blooms only when the conditions are perfect. The reality is that everything doesn’t have to perfectly for you to breastfeed your baby. You may encounter problems, but there are a lot of ways to solve these problems before weaning.
Jane: I can’t believe I almost weaned Matteo when there was such a simple solution.
Me: You’re doing a great job, Jane. And now you’re going to have a great support system to help you.