There are a lot of reasons that you may be finding yourself at the end of your breastfeeding journey.
Are you pregnant and needing to wean your current nursling?
Are you finding yourself all touched out and just done with it?
Are you needing to start a new medication that may not be breastfeeding-friendly or about to under go surgery?
Did your work schedule change or are you having to go back to work?
Breastfeeding is special time between a mother and a child but unfortunately, there comes a time when you will eventually have to end that special bonding time and move on to a new phase in your child’s life. Weaning a breastfed child isn’t always the easiest thing in the world to do though.
All five of my children have breastfed to some extent in their lives and so I’ve had to go through that weaning process at five different stages. I was very fortunate with my last child, that I didn’t have too much of a hard time with the weaning process with her. (if you’d like to read more about the last time I fed my breastfeeding toddler, just click here) I’ve had other children that were very difficult though. So I’ve had the opportunity to be in a few different situations during the weaning process. Which has taught me a lot over the years.
Attached at the hip
All five of my children have been breastfed on-demand. Breastfeeding on demand, exclusively means that your little one most likely isn’t going to be too fond of a bottle or other people. This means that I was pretty much attached to them full time while they were breastfeeding. If I was going someplace, at least for the first year of their life, I had to make sure that I was able to take them with me. I couldn’t just decide that I wanted to go to a concert or a party or out to dinner without some kind of a plan because I never knew when they may decide they needed to eat and since they hated bottles and cups and really anything other than breast milk from the tap (me) a baby sitter or family member would’ve ended up being stuck with an extremely pissed off baby. So, for the first year, it was pretty much like I was still pregnant because I had a baby attached to me at all times.
It’s amazing how tiring being on demand 100% for another person can be.
So, what are you supposed to do when you’re done with it but you’ve got a stage 5 clinger who’s refusing to let go of the boob?
Lucky you should ask, because I’ve got some tips to help you through this process.
How to wean your breastfeeding child
Make a plan and get yourself prepared
The process of weaning isn’t going to be easy. Even for an “easily weaned” child, there are still going to be a few days that really suck. There will be crying, there will be pain, and there will be fighting… and that’s just from you.
I’m joking… kind of.
The weaning process is just as much of a transition process for you as a mom as it is for your child. It can take a pretty big toll on you mentally, even when you’re ready to stop breastfeeding. So you want to make sure that you prepare yourself mentally for those first few weeks.
There are going to be times when you ask yourself if what you are doing is the right thing.
Are you being selfish for stopping this?
Are you bad mom for making your child stop something that obviously brings them comfort?
Is there something else that you could have done instead of weaning?
Do you really need to take this medication or have this procedure or go to this new work schedule?
That’s just a few of the thoughts that are probably going to pop into your head during this process. And the answer to all of this is…
I’m doing what’s best for me and my child at this time.
Don’t beat yourself up and let your brain start to second guess what you are doing. You’re not a bad mom for needing or wanting to stop breastfeeding. Even if you’ve just done it for a day or a couple of weeks or a couple of years. You’ve done what is best for you and your child at that point and that’s awesome.
You’re also going to need to be prepared for the body changes that are going to occur during this process. You’re going to go through a lot while you’re weaning your child. You may experience some pretty intense breast pain or tenderness and you may have engorgement. This is not fun at all. I’ve heard people say that cabbage leaves helped them to get the engorgement to go down and to help with the pain. Personally I’ve always found that hand expressing just enough to relieve the pressure (but not enough to drain the breast) helps tremendously. Also, wearing a good supportive bra, heating pads or warm compresses, and breast pads are a great help. Also Ibuprofen and Tylenol is a huge help to relieve pain as well.
Something you may not be expecting or ready for is the hormone changes. Some women experience pretty significant mood changes while and just after they wean their child. There isn’t a lot of research that’s been done on the subject but it has been hypothesized that the cause for these mood changes are hormonal. One of the big changes that occurs in the body while you wean is a drop in the production in prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin is the hormone involved in milk production. Without this, your body is not able to produce milk like it should. Oxytocin is the other key hormone in breastfeeding. You’ve probably heard of oxytocin before. It’s also known as the “love” hormone. Oxytocin is the hormone that is required for milk ejection or “let-down”. This is also the hormone that helps with bonding and makes you and your baby feel warm, relaxed, and sometimes sleepy while breastfeeding. The more your baby breastfeeds, the more of the hormones you produce. So it only stands to reason that a sudden drop in these two very important hormones could have an effect on you as a weaning mother.
The shift in moods can be a subtle as feeling a little sadness or blue all the way up to some women saying that they felt like their PMS increased significantly or like they were on the verge of full blown depression or postpartum depression. So make sure that you are aware that this can happen and speak with a health care provider about your symptoms if they start to interfere with your daily life. These feeling can last for a few months until your hormone levels get straightened out, so just like with depression or anxiety any other time, this is an important thing to monitor and take seriously.
Seek out support
As you can imagine, just with your own changes this is a hard process. Add in a very unhappy baby or toddler and you may be in for a rough time. Make sure to have a support system lined up for yourself. Talk to your partner, close friend, or family member who you think may be able to help you through this process. When you are doubting yourself or if you are having a particularly hard time, reach out to them for support.
It helps to have someone in your corner that you’re able to complain to when you’re having a bad day or if you’ve had a hard night. And it’s even better if that person understands what you’re going through.
Preparing your child
Depending on the age of your child, you may be able to talk to your child and let them know what’s going to happen. Unfortunately though, this can be hard to do if your child is younger. I’ve never had the fortune to have a child old enough to really explain what’s about to happen but I still talk to them and let them know that we are going to stop breastfeeding but we can still cuddle and love on each other. They may not understand but I at least feel better when I talk to them about it.
Some moms like to prepare the child slowly stepping down on the breastfeeding sessions they have. That’s never worked for me though. Every time I’ve tried that, inevitably, I just end up continuing to breastfeed like normal. So I set a calendar date and that’s the last time I will breastfeed my baby. Going “cold turkey” isn’t fun but honestly in the end, it’s been easier for all of us.
What can you do to help the weaning process?
Change your routine
Most babies and toddlers have a breastfeeding routine. They like to breastfeed in the morning when they first wake up, again when it’s time to take a nap, when they are upset, and when it’s time for bed. Some like to breastfeed just after a meal. Some like to nurse after they have had a bath and are wanting to relax. Some will run over and try to breastfeed the second they see you sit down or while you’re watching TV. So it’s going to be in your best interest to change up the routine.
If your normal routine for bedtime is to take a shower, get dressed, brush teeth, then go sit in the babies room and breastfeed as they fall asleep… stop that. Make bath time a morning or afternoon thing. Before bed, start singing songs or reading a bed time story out on the sofa and then go lay down with them and sing more songs until they fall asleep. Find a favorite soothing song on Youtube or Spotify and let that play while you rub his back.
If you partner is around at bedtime, this may be a good time to have them take the baby and start doing the bedtime routine with them instead of you. While dad is putting baby to sleep, you go take a shower or read or go out for a walk. That will give your baby and spouse some much needed bonding time and you a bit of time for yourself.
That probably sounds funny to a non-breastfeeder but those of you that breastfeed know… the second your baby sees a boob, they are going to want to eat. So make sure that you keep things covered. If you’re taking a shower or changing clothes, you may need to make sure someone keeps your little one distracted in another room so that they don’t get tempted into trying to run up breastfeed.
Also, if you happen to bed-share, you may want to make sure that you have some tops that are not easily accessible. Higher neck lines, non-tank top style shirts are going to be the best way to keep little one from not trying to get at you while you are sleeping.
What can you do as the non-breastfeeding parent to help wean?
If you’re the spouse or friend of a breastfeeding mom and want to help them out as a support person, there is actually a lot that you can do to help them. More than you may have even realized.
If the breastfeeding mom is normally the one to handle bath time and bedtime. This is your chance to step in and take over. Even if she tells you “no, she’s got it” (I’ve got a bad habit of this) tell her to go rest or take a shower or read or something. Let her have a break and you spend time with the little one. You can also take over night time feedings for a bit. If you have a baby that is transitioning from breast to bottle, it can actually be easier for the non-breastfeeding spouse to take over feeding times. The baby is going to want to breastfeed off of breastfeeding mom but if offer a bottle they be more willing to take it from you.
Offer a shoulder or an ear or wine… Wine is always good
This process isn’t going to be easy for your friend or spouse. So let her vent. Even if you have absolutely zero idea what she means by her boobs feel like boulders and it hurts to move her arms, let her talk to you about it. Offer her a glass of wine and let her vent away her rough day. Remind her that she’s not a bad mom and that she’s doing the right thing when she says she feels like she’s failing. It’ll be more appreciated than you will ever know.
Get her out of the house
One of the best things you can do for a breastfeeding mom who is trying to wean a little one, is to offer her an excuse to step away for a minute. Ask her to meet you for coffee or a drink. Go out for a walk in the evening with her because bedtime will always be the hardest while weaning. Or just meet up for play dates during the day at the park or someplace outside of the house. This will help her and the child get used to new routines.
Rounding this all out
In the end, remember that you are doing the best thing for you and your child.
You’ve got this!
This process isn’t going to fun or easy but if you are ready to move on and cannot or don’t want to wait for the child to wean themselves there are things that you can do to make the process a little easier for you and your child.
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