Weaning from breastfeeding can happen in a couple of ways. Sometimes the child takes the lead by refusing feeds, losing interest in nursing and generally showing Mom that he/she is done with the boob. [LC note: it is uncommon for a child to self-wean before age one. For more information, check out self-weaning on Kellymom, my favorite breastfeeding website].
Sometimes, a mother is ready to stop breastfeeding before the child shows signs of stopping. And that is FINE. It takes two to tango and both partners are important in this dance. [LC note: I think it is helpful to clarify your reasons for weaning before going for it. some women wean because they have been mistakenly told there is no benefit to the child after one year. If the decision to wean is made using bad or false advice, that could be upsetting later. But if a mom is ready because she just. is. done., then full steam ahead!]
That was my situation. I decided shortly after his 2nd birthday (14 Sept) that I was ready to be done, and we had our last nursing session on 5 Dec 2012. I didn’t want to abruptly stop nursing because 1) I went back and forth with my resolve to quit; 2) I wanted to make this as easy as possible on my son (since he would be losing a source of nutrition/comfort that he’d had since birth); and 3) I did NOT want to deal with engorgement. No ma’am.
Here are the steps I took to wean my son. I can’t remember how long each step took, but I didn’t move on to another step until my son was ready. This meant he had accepted the change, didn’t fuss/cry/complain about it anymore and had been that way for at least a few days (meaning I didn’t start a new change the minute I saw acceptance. Had to give the kid a little time to enjoy his new routine before I sprang another change on him!).
- First I eliminated any random day feeds so all we were doing was feeding right before bed. I had eliminated some random nighttime feeds months before (we started bed-sharing when he was 20 months old and he thought that meant all-night buffet. Nice try, buddy). We never nursed before nap, so I didn’t have to worry about that. Feeds before sleep are often the last to go, since most moms will do anything to avoid messing with their kid’s sleep. Those are the feeds that a child is often most resistant to losing, so best to give the child practice skipping other, less dear feeds before moving on to the big kahuna feeds
- Next I worked on not letting him fall asleep while nursing. This was the precursor to dropping the bedtime feed. If you get them in the habit of falling asleep after nursing vs. during nursing, it might make it easier for them to fall asleep when you take the nursing away. Some moms try to keep babies from falling asleep at the breast much earlier than I did, and awesome possum if that worked for them. I clung to anything that would make my boy sleep. what i did was let him nurse one side until he asked for the other. Then I’d let him nurse just until he was drowsy (fluttering eyes, slower/deeper breathing). Once I saw that, I’d unlatch him and cuddle a bit. He complained and fussed the first
fewseveral times, but I’d cuddle him close, rub his back, shush him, sing his calming songs (twinkle star and farmer in the dell) – basically any calming measure besides nursing. This step took the longest for me.
- Once he was a champ at falling asleep without the boob, I started restricting him to one side only. He could nurse all he wanted on one side (without falling asleep, of course!) but once he pulled off and said “Nursh other side!” he was done nursing for the night. We had some minor disagreements about this, but I’d calmly say “No other side” and do all the calming measures from step 2.
- After he was ok with only one side and it was getting closer to my chosen end-date, I started reducing his time at the breast until he was only nursing on one side for a few minutes each night. I didn’t watch the clock; I just let him nurse for a little bit and then I’d say, “Ok, all done! Time for night-night” and proceed with cuddling/comfort measures. I suppose a mother could use a watch to reduce the time by a minute each night, but that’s not how I roll.
- I had chosen 5 December to be our last night of nursing. I remember how bittersweet and conflicted I felt as we nursed (unbeknownst to my son) for the last time. The next night, 6 December, was my husband’s graduation from Airman Leadership School (ALS). I would be away at the ceremony at bedtime, so Colt would not be able to nurse. I had waited until my husband was done with ALS so that he could help at bedtime if Colt was very resistant to giving up his Nursh. Turns out he wasn’t as upset as I’d feared he’d be, because I never had to call in reinforcements at bedtime.
Reading through these steps, it sounds so easy, but I definitely struggled at times. Mostly with the emotional aspects of it and the guilt I felt for taking nursing away from my son. I went back and forth on if I was ready (which is part of the reason I took so long to wean) but realized I was starting to resent nursing, so knew it was time to stop! My son was probably 85% ready to wean. He wouldn’t have stopped on his own at that time, but he didn’t fuss much at the end.
He’s asked to nurse a handful of times since, but I just gently say no and try to distract him. A few times, he was having a massive cry and was screaming to nurse; that broke my heart to say no but I learned new ways to comfort him. Mostly he asked just to “check,” it seemed like. It’s been over 4 months, and I still get to cuddle him at bedtime as he falls asleep. That’s always been our special time and I’m glad it didn’t go away when breastfeeding did.
Weaning like that also helped me avoid any engorgement/discomfort <——— huge benefit for mom, as anyone who has experienced engorgement will tell you! I didn’t have any engorgement, which makes sense because by the end, each breast was only getting a few minutes of stimulation every 48 hours (one breast a night, switching breasts each night). Avoiding engorgement helped me reduce my risk of a clogged duct or mastitis. I think there would be nothing worse than having to deal with that while trying to stop nursing! Better to take it slow and just avoid that whole party.
Overall, what worked for me was honoring my feelings while respecting my son’s feelings, taking it slow and choosing a time that was (relatively) free of stress and when my husband would be able to help if needed (partner support is so important at every stage of breastfeeding!). What was your experience with weaning like? Any tips that helped you?