There is much writing and discussion about how transitioning away from breastfeeding can be difficult for mothers. It’s a topic that is more complex than it tends to get credit for, too. Beyond the simple sense of loss that can come with the weaning process, there are contradictions. A George Washington University reproductive psychiatrist’s summary of this stage of raising a child referred to “layered and nuanced” emotions. The mother is often happy to “have her body back,” but also feel a deep sense of grief at the end of a very particular kind of bond.
What isn’t always considered carefully enough is that there is also, often, a sense of conflict in babies at this stage. In many cases, a child will signal that he or she is ready to transition away from breastfeeding. Or, if the process is difficult, the ultimate adjustment will work itself out. But even if the child is ready to drink from a cup or bottle, and transition to soft foods, there can be issues with the loss of the actual act of breastfeeding. Or to put things more simply, many children have oral sensory needs that are left unsatisfied during and following the weaning process.
The first thing to understand regarding oral sensory needs and breastfeeding is that this is entirely ordinary. Much of the talk around oral sensory issues in general tends to center on children with autism or developmental disorders. But in actuality many children, with or without specific conditions, will demonstrate a need to chew and satisfy oral urges. It’s a normal thing, but still something that needs to be addressed.
But how should it be addressed once you’ve stopped breastfeeding? Or even if oral sensory needs are particularly demanding while you’re still breastfeeding?
Introduce Other Oral Stimuli
A previous “How To Guide” on weaning actually delved into this idea already! And it’s one of the simplest and most straightforward solutions out there. While you of course need to be careful about avoiding choking hazards and providing appropriate materials, it can be immensely helpful to give your baby something to chew and suck on in order to satisfy their oral sensory needs without breastfeeding.
Furthermore, if you look into safe chews, chews that teach good oral habits and the like, and you’ll be doing your child a favor! You’ll be helping with oral sensory needs and teaching the beginnings of proper oral hygiene and digestion in the process. Our own Sensory Teether Tubes exemplify this kind of dual benefit, in that they both address sensory needs (satisfying needs and decreasing gagging during breastfeeding for instance) and assist development. Beyond just providing something to chew on, Teether Tubes actually help children to map their mouths from a sensory perspective, which is a necessary aspect of oral development.
Consult a Pediatrician or Nurse Specialist
If the issue is particularly trying, or you’re struggling to find solutions on your own, you can also consult a medical professional. The first step will typically be to discuss the matter with your child’s pediatrician. More and more however, nurse specialists are also available for these types of specific consultations. A bevy of relatively new opportunities for RNs seeking additional education in their field now exists online, and this is leading to nurses filling more specific roles. Now, “nursing specialist” is listed among the popular nursing careers highlighted by Maryville University — and it can refer even to work as specific as assistance with nursing and weaning. Whatever course you choose — your pediatrician or a nurse specializing in these issues — it can certainly be comforting to know that professional medical help is available.
Introduce New Solid Foods
Introducing solid foods is also a necessary step en route to addressing oral sensory needs, because it starts you on the path toward more solids that can help to satisfy some of that innate need to chew. As VeryWellMind’s piece on introducing solids makes note of, this is actually a process you can (and perhaps should, some would argue) start while you’re still breastfeeding. You must consider safety, potential allergies, and your child’s preparedness for the introduction. But provided all of this is taken into account, introducing some small, light, simple solids is a first step toward teaching your baby to chew when eating. Eventually (but not yet!) this opens the door to carrots, small crackers, and other satisfying “chew foods!”
Try Gums MassageFinally, if you’re attempting all of the above and your child is still showing signs of anxiety or discomfort relating to oral sensory needs, you have the option of trying direct stimulation in the form of gums massage. This may sound like a strange step to take, but it’s one some parents have success with (and it may well be something a doctor or nurse suggests or demonstrates). It’s a decollate process involving gloves and a child coaxed into relaxation. But it can help to soothe and relax the mouth, and — for a time — reduce the urge to chew and teethe.
These are challenging topics, and struggling with them is completely ordinary. But you can manage your child’s oral sensory needs during breastfeeding and following the weaning process, and you and the child will both be happier for it!
Written by Alisha C Hayton
Exclusive for sensominds.com
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