I just put on a normal bra for the first time in about a year, and you know what it felt like?
It felt like freedom. Then I put on a dress that is entirely not conducive to nursing (unless of course, I would yank the dress from the skirt up all the way to my collar bone).
And you know what that felt like?
It felt like even more freedom. It made me feel normal again.
At the same time, I feel incredibly sad.
This morning was probably the last time I will nurse my son ever again. There are tears in my eyes just thinking about it, as my son and I will never be physically connected in that way ever again.
So I’m trying not to think about it.
Weaning a child from breastfeeding is a bag filled with mixed emotions: freedom, independence, sadness, heart-ache, ambivalence, guilt.
If you are a future or current breastfeeding mom, you may be wondering about how to wean, when to wean, what to expect emotionally, and how to emotionally cope with weaning.
Today I’d like to address those topics, and if you already stopped breastfeeding, this post may offer a few thoughts for reflection on your breastfeeding relationship and experience.
1. When to wean from breastfeeding.
There is no precise methodology to determine exactly when to wean; however, there are often a few signals, cueing mothers that it may be a reasonable time to wean.
Before weaning, it is helpful to ‘set the stage,’ in essence creating an optimal situation for weaning.
Consider following the criteria in order to make the weaning process easier for you and your child:
- The child is tolerating a good quantity and variety of solid foods.
- The child no longer uses breastfeeding as a sleep prop.
- The child no longer uses breastfeeding for comfort.
- The child no longer receives night feedings except on rare occasion.
- The child seems to be losing interest.
- The child is capable of taking a sippy cup or bottle.
- Mom feels as emotionally ready as possible.
While these criteria are not required, they may simply offer an easier transition. When choosing an ideal time to wean, avoid weaning completely during big life changes, such as moving, family separation, deployments, travel, etc.
Try weaning during a time when minimal other changes are occurring to make the transition easier.
2. How to wean from breastfeeding.
It is most common to start weaning by first dropping the feeding your child likes the least. Dropping an afternoon feeding is a good place to start. Go ahead and offer a bottle or sippy of milk or formula in place of the breast. After 3-7+ days, chose the next feeding to drop. Continue repeating this process until all feedings are dropped.
Consider dropping the morning and bedtime feedings last: eliminating a morning or bedtime feeding early in the weaning process will create a longer interval between breast stimulation and may contribute to uncomfortable engorgement.
When only the morning and night feedings remain, go ahead and drop whichever one is least important to you and your child. Then drop your last remaining feeding.
You may also chose to wean by limiting the amount time at any given nursing session, and then offer a sippy of milk after nursing when the baby or toddler eats solids.
This will ensure the baby gets enough milk overall, but still allow them to nurse during regularly expected times. After continually decreasing the time, go ahead and drop the feeding all together.
You can also bump up solids during this time if your baby is ready. I love using these Happy Tot pouches on the go and in a pinch because they are packed with nutrition your baby or tot needs.
3. What to expect emotionally during the transition.
There are many emotional twists and turns when weaning from breastfeeding, especially at the very end when weaning is completed. Expect bittersweet emotions.
When you lead the weaning process, the child might experience frustration, irritation, or anger towards you. When the child leads the process, it’s not uncommon for mothers to feel rejected.
It’s okay to feel both excitement and sadness over this big change. It is also very common for moms to experience guilt.
Remember that weaning from breastfeeding is completely natural, and you provided your child with the beautiful gift of breastfeeding, no matter the duration of time.
We are all doing the best for our children in the best way we know how. If you or your child are experiencing a challenging time, feel free to extend out the weaning process as long as you feel is necessary.
There is no wrong timetable here.
4. How to better cope with the transition.
Try connecting with your child in other special ways with lots of extra snuggles and kisses along the way. If your child is willing, you could even offer a bottle or sippy while snuggling in the rocking chair to feel close and connected.
Aim for some additional quality one-on-one playtime with your child that is separate from other family members to also help you connect.
You can also gently suggest other activities at a typical nursing time to help keep both your minds off breastfeeding. Offer a meal, snack or drink of water.
Go outside to blow bubbles or walk with the stroller. Discover a crayon that needs some paper. Become a horsey who needs a rider. Utilize any activity that may provide a healthy distraction for you and your child.
During the first few months of your tiny baby’s life, starting to breastfeed is much harder than we moms could perhaps ever anticipate (at least it was that way for me).
Stopping breastfeeding is not met with any fewer challenges. Take as much time as you need to decide exactly when and how to wean. If needed, weaning over the course of several months can allow both you and your child to more easily transition.
Expect mixed feelings during the transition; it’s completely normal. Make time to connect with your baby in fun new ways and remember to seek out support from other moms if you need it.
And lastly, take time to enjoy things that are less feasible when breastfeeding: drink a pot of coffee, enjoy some wine, or take a full day away while your spouse tends to the kids. Yes, please!
Want more on motherhood?
- 5 Sample Daily Toddler Schedules from Real Moms
- 2 Year Old Not Listening? Try This Remarkable Tip
- Why I Finally Quit Doing It All
- Dear Mom Who Feels Like a Terrible Mother
What are your thoughts about weaning from breastfeeding? What was your experience? I’d love to hear your ideas!
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