I've complained about this before and I'll complain about it until I see improvements: weaning moms get no love. Even among breastfeeding parents, in my experience, it's not a subject that's discussed all that much and, as a result, there are mistakes every weaning mom will make.
It's not like weaning moms are some niche group here, people. According to the CDC, 80 percent of moms who give birth breastfeed for at least some amount of time. This, of course, means most moms will also have to deal with weaning. And the issue isn't as cut and dry as "just stop nursing," either physically or emotionally. There's a lot to deal with, figure out, and consider when it comes to deciding to stop breastfeeding, and a lot of people don't even know to ask about them.
I weaned my children at 17 and 21 months respectively, and the process was mostly just a series of missteps and lucky guesses. The plethora of materials I'd turned to in an attempt to acquire some help with breastfeeding largely came up lacking when the subject of weaning came up. Part of this was a lack of information, and part of it was a bias from (some) otherwise excellent against parents being the one to start the weaning process — they often spent more time encouraging parents to allow their child to self-wean whenever they were ready than providing guidance.
Frankly, it's super disheartening to go out into the wilds of the internet to say, "Hey, there's this thing I know is right for me and I would like some help with," only to have the internet respond either, "Are you sure? You're probably not sure. Just forget about that" or "New phone, who's this?" So what are some of the pitfalls I would have loved to have avoided (or at least had someone to hold my hand through)? So many, my friends, including the following:
When You Think It Will Happen On Your First, Half-Hearted Attempt
Personally, I thought about weaning well before I actually made any serious efforts. In fact, even my first efforts were more dipping my toe in the water to see what I was up against, than actually making a plan to stop nursing. But, secretly, each time I made that first "kind-of-attempt" at weaning, I hoped that it would just take without any real concerted effort on my end. Ha. No. My kids were like, "You will pry this nipple from my cold, dead latch."
When You Think It Will Happen Right Away
Even after you put some muscle behind your attempts, weaning isn't usually something that is going to happen in one go. Most lactation consultants will recommend a gradual "phasing out" plan in which you will eliminate feedings one at a time rather than go cold turkey. And even if you plan to go cold turkey, you might find yourself falling off the wagon because the adjustment from all to nothing so soon proves a bit too much for everyone involved. It's OK. That can often be a valuable part of the process.
When You Let Someone Make You Second-Guess Your Decision
Whether it's that relatively who breathes a sigh of relief that you're finally kicking your kid off the boob (not-so-subtly hinting that you've already failed by not weaning soon enough) or your frenemy who doesn't come out and say that she thinks you're being cruel but goes on and on about how natural and beautiful self-weaning is and how she wouldn't want to traumatize her kids, you will hear a lot of opinions about what you're doing. Never make the mistake of thinking that any of those opinions actually matter — this is between you and your baby. Period.
When You Compare Yourself To Other Nursing Moms
I feel like this will happen no matter when you wean your children: you'll always look to someone who did it for longer than you did. (Or maybe I'm just revealing how naturally competitive I am as a person: #Ravenclaw #NoApologies)
I nursed my kids for a (relatively) long-ass time. My daughter was just shy of 2. Even so, I was like, "Yeah, but I know this one lady who nursed until her kid was 4." Never mind that nursing until my child was 4 was absolutely not for me and that I had no interest in continuing any longer than I did. Just the knowledge that someone else went longer was enough to make me get all ruffled and insecure. This was complete nonsense, and it would have been nonsense at any point, mind you. If you want to stop nursing after a month or a week or a day, that's reason enough to stop. It's not a contest. (Trust me: if it was a contest, I would have gotten really competitive about it.)
When You Think Your Milk Will Dry Up Immediately
Like, not unreasonable, right? After all, isn't the whole premise of nursing a "demand and supply" issue? If there's not demand, why bother having a supply?
Except your body has gotten into a groove with this whole lactation stuff, so it takes some time for the factory to quit production. We're talking months for some moms. So don't expect the magical boob genie to appear from her bottle to come and blink away your milk. There is, in fact, no magical boob genie. (Trust: no one is more disappointed by this fact than me, because I feel like we would be BFFs.)
When You Feel Guilty
You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about (seriously, I promise), but I don't think I've met more than a few moms who didn't feel some level of guilt about weaning. I certainly did. My children were little boob-goblins, so I sincerely wonder when they would have weaned on their own had I not hurried things along. I felt bad about taking away something they loved but, since this is a breastfeeding relationship, if it doesn't work for both people it doesn't work, period, and I was done.
As it turns out, all the really good stuff I had associated with breastfeeding — love, nourishment, closeness, comfort — can very easily exist between a parent and child without breastfeeding.
When You Buy New Bras Too Soon
My boobs were almost unrecognizable after I weaned my second child. Like, significantly smaller, differently shaped, and (frankly) sort of sad looking. Still, I did my best to feel better about my changed body and bought myself some new, non-nursing bras for the first time in years. The problem? I bought them too soon after I weaned.
Turns out, lots of women's breasts increase in size around six months after weaning. So all the fancy new lacy things I picked up stopped fitting after a few months of wear and I had to schlep out again. Point is, you may need to give your body more time than you'd think to sort itself out.
When You Don't Associate Mood Changes With Weaning
When you wean, your body goes through dramatic hormonal changes, so you're absolutely prone to changes in mood (including depression). But whereas we often talk about the fact that pregnant and postpartum moms can be super-emotional, we don't extend the same discussion to weaning moms, even though it's the exact same issues at play. So word to the wise (and from my own experience): as you begin weaning, remind yourself that your body (and brain, obviously, since it's a part of your body) are going to see this as a big deal. If something feels off, knowing that it could be associated with weaning (and can be discussed with your doctor in relation to the weaning experience) can prove helpful.
Honestly, sometimes just knowing there is a physiological reason you're feeling out of sorts can make you feel a little bit better.
When You Think Your Period Will Go Back To Normal In Short Order
So you think now that you're not nursing anymore you're going to just go back to your regularly scheduled menses? Ha! Oh girl, you're funny! Yeah, no.
I mean, is it possible? Certainly. Some folks go back to clockwork-style periods even before they've weaned. I envy them. However, my body, which basically spent over five years pregnant or nursing, was like, "Oh, you think we're going to pretend like nothing ever happened? B*tch, we remember what you put us through with those babies, and we are going to make you pay for it. I've already talked to Ovaries and Uterus and they are going to take you by surprise every damn time from now on."
When You Don't Prep For Engorgement, Mastitis, Plugged Ducts, Etc.
It may not happen to you (it didn't happen to me, actually, either time I weaned) but such issues often arise while weaning. Speaking as someone who has dealt with all three of the aforementioned problems, I highly suggest being ready for them just in case, including knowing the signs of mastitis, having hot compresses at the ready, and being prepared to call your doctor/care provider sooner rather than later.