I've been breastfeeding my son since he was born. After we crushed our typical beginner's struggles (a shallow latch, sore nipples, all that) breastfeeding became one of my favorite parts of being a mom. I love the closeness almost as much I loved being able to use my boobs to solve nearly all of my parenting problems. As we approach his second birthday, though, nursing is becoming more of a burden than a relief, so I'm trying to speed up our weaning process. Some of the best things you can do for a mom who's weaning (particularly if she's trying to wean a really strong-willed toddler)? Bust out all the old remedies she used to love when she first started breastfeeding, practice your best "I'm listening" face, and play with her little one while she hides with some Netflix and nine loads of previously unfolded laundry.
My long-standing breastfeeding goal was to "nurse until my son self-weans, or until I get sick of it (whichever comes first)." For the bulk of my nursing journey, nursing has been relatively uncomplicated, so it made sense to keep it going until my son decided to stop. Breastfeeding was my go-to for pretty much everything; food and immunity, of course, but it's also been my silencer after bumped heads and temper tantrums, and my snooze button when my son woke up earlier than I wanted him (or really, us) to. However, recently it has started to become kind of a drag, and when your heart and mind start sending you that, "Y'know, this really ain't working for me anymore," signal, it's important to listen.
Still, I've been kind of surprised by how hard weaning can be. I read about the possibility of post-weaning depression, but I wasn't really ready for how conflicted I'd feel about letting go of our nursing relationship (even now that it's more "con" than "pro"), or how tough it can be to hold onto the limits I've set for the time being (I'm pretty sure I say, "We only nurse at sleepy times!" about eighty times a day). I also wasn't prepared for my boobs to feel almost as weird as they did when I first gave birth. So it's super nice when my partner and friends help out in the following ways:
Help Distract Her Kid
Distraction is a great tool for weaning an older baby or toddler, though if the little one in question would rather not wean, they sometimes hit a wall where they just flat out won't accept attempts at distraction from the mom whose boobs they really want. Helping redirect their attention when they just won't leave Mom alone is so clutch.
...Or Offer To Babysit For A Bit
Especially if the weaning little one is a reluctant toddler, sometimes it's just easier for everybody if mom and kid are separated for a little while, so the little one can stop being obsessed with getting to the breasts mom doesn't want to share at the moment, and can focus on having fun (and probably, other food) with someone else. If they're giving up a nursing session at a certain time, maybe volunteer to come play with the kiddo while she takes a bath or goes for a walk or whatever.
Help Make Sure They Have Lots Of Alternative Foods Handy
If the mom in your life is weaning a younger baby, offer to help out with feeding formula and cleaning bottles. If she's weaning an older baby or toddler, help keep the little one stuffed full of their other favorite drinks, solid meals, and snacks. (Bonus points if you learn her little one's code-word for breastfeeding, so you can help her run interference right away.)
Help With Home Remedies Whenever You Can
As we keep on this weaning grind, I'm finding myself leaning on a lot of the same cold packs, nipple butter, and stuff that I relied on at the beginning of our breastfeeding journey. If your partner or someone you live with is weaning, help make sure her cold packs are in the freezer when they're not in use, or that there's still ibuprofen in the medicine cabinet.
Make Sure She Knows She Can Talk To You
"I know weaning can be tough, so please feel free to reach out to me if you ever need someone to talk to," said every amazing friend of a weaning mom (or any mom, or any kind of human, really).
Listen And Empathize
There's more to weaning than just not nursing your baby anymore. (Super unfair. As the not-so-wise but occasionally on-point George Costanza once yelled, "Why must there always be a problem?! You'd think just once I could get a break!") Offering a listening, empathetic ear for all those unforeseen hiccups and pitfalls is one of the greatest things you could possibly do.
Also? Don't be one of those people who makes other people's parenting choices about them. In the weaning context, that looks like dismissing a mom's emotional distress ("Ugh, what are you whining about?") because you never breastfed or didn't like nursing anyway, or dropping an I-told-you-so on a mom whom you always thought would have to stop breastfeeding sooner than she said. That all falls in the category of judgment, and judgment is basically the opposite of empathy.
Send Her Words Of Encouragement
Most moms trying to wean need encouragement and reassurance, even if we don't always admit it out loud. Often, weaning can bring up fears of being inadequate (especially if a mom has to wean earlier than she originally wanted), or worries about changing her relationship with her nursing child, or conflicted feelings about weaning overall. Plus, there's a good chance she's having to deal with a lot more crying than she's used to. Chances are, she could use some positivity to help her keep going.
Cut Her Some Slack If She's A Bit On Edge
When you go from nursing a lot to nursing less or not at all, your hormones shift (again. It never ends...). Plus, the reason behind weaning — troubles with breastfeeding, some kind of physical hardship, her precious little baby growing up way too damn fast and seriously, just slow down already — is often a really emotional thing for a mom. Basically, there's a lot of potential for crabbiness and other wayward emotions at this time, so if you know a mom is weaning and she's a little more short-tempered or weepy or whatever than usual, go easy on her. Weaning is hard.
Offer To Share Some Weaning Tips
If you've successfully weaned a baby or toddler, let her know you're happy to share any tips and tricks you found helpful. Not only does that open an opportunity to share some wisdom she might find useful, but by asking if she'd like to hear your advice instead of just giving it to her, you earn a place among the wonderful, saintly people who don't drop unsolicited advice on moms.
Make Her Laugh
Humor is almost always a welcome addition to anyone's life, for any reason. But laughter is especially awesome when you're having a tough time, and a big transition like weaning is often a tough time for a lot of folks. Cracking some jokes here and there, texting some funny links, or tagging her into a post you know will crack her up on Facebook, can bring a much-needed smile to a mom's face after a day of enduring weaning baby crabbiness, or her own shifting hormones.