One of the hardest things I've ever done as a parent is weaning. I lucked out on breastfeeding — I caught on pretty quickly and didn't have any physical or emotional barriers that got in my way — but stopping breastfeeding? Yeah, that's a different story. The plans I made before actually weaning mostly went right out the window when it came time to actually start the process. I feel like an open window should be the mascot for parenting in general, because we all just throw so much damn stuff out of them.
When it comes to things going out proverbial windows, it can go a few ways. Some things casually fall out the window. Like "Hmm, I said no screen time until my kid is a 5-year-old post-toddler prodigy, but they've watched about an hour of these weird egg videos and it's been nothing short of blissful. I guess screen time rules went out the window" Other things go out of the window with a heave and a hefty chuckle, because you're amused by who misplaced your well-intentioned, principled stand was. Like "I'll never, ever, ever, ever co-sleep!" Other things fall out the window despite your desperately trying to cling to them as they slip out of your grasp. (Think Indy and Elsa in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.) Like, "I. Will. Not. Make. You. A. Separate. Dinner. You. Eat. What. We. Eat!"
When it came to all my weaning plans, generally speaking they either casually slipped or fell into another category, aptly labeled, "flung violently out the window while screaming in agony and frustration." Honestly, there's no way some of the things I planned were ever going to work and, well, I resented that. So, with that in mind, here are some of my favorite defenestrated weaning plans that I still hang onto. Like nostalgia, only more painful.
I'll Nurse For An Entire Year, And That's It
It seemed like a good number, 12 months, and it's the (minimum) duration recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Honestly, when I started out it felt a little on the long side, if anything. No one close to me ever nursed a baby for longer than nine months or so, and most formula fed altogether. I was committed to nursing, but I was also committed to not pushing too hard if attempting (unsuccessfully) to breastfeed was negatively affecting my mental health.
Not that figuring things out with my first child was always smooth sailing, but before I knew it my son was blowing out his birthday candle. (Or, you know, staring at it blankly while trying to eat cake, because he was one.) Nursing was still going strong so I thought, "OK. We'll keep at it."
I'll Just Let My Kid Self-Wean
Things are going so well and we've hit the one year mark so why change good thing, right? I mean, this isn't going to last for much longer, so I'll just let my kid figure it out and I'll follow in their breastfeeding footsteps.
OK, I'll Only Nurse For 18 Months. That's It.
OK this is lasting a lot longer than I thought. If it were up to my children, at the rate they were going, I'd probably have accompanied them to college.
After a while, for me, I was just done. Now my son I was able to wean just before the 18-month mark. My daughter? With the experience of my son under my belt, I knew whatever I said was going to be pushed back several months, so even 18-months was probably wistful.
I'll Go On A Post-Breastfeeding Diet
I am one of those unicorn women who loses a lot of weight from nursing alone. Within a month of giving birth, both times, I'd lost every pound I gained during pregnancy (plus an additional 10-15 pounds and yes, you have my permission to hate me just a little bit). And I was eating constantly. (Ok, you can hate me a lot a bit.)
I knew that the never-ending parade of hummus and granola bars wasn't going to fly after I weaned my hungry little cow babies (who were literally sucking all those extra calories out through my boobs). I knew I was going to have to calm down a little and realize that my body didn't need extra calories anymore, and I should make less ravenous eating decisions.
Wanna guess how well that went down? Yeah. Not so much. But hey, I found those 10 to 15 pounds again! So, I mean, I have that going for me.
I Won't Let Other People's Opinions Bother Me
Whether it was someone who wondered, "When are you actually going to stop breastfeeding, though?" in a faux-concerned, judgmental tone, or someone else asking, "Well, why are you weaning? I let my 5-year-old kid self-wean and it was beautiful!" in a faux-compassionate, judgmental tone; the opinions were never all that far away.
People made very clear what they thought I should be doing. I vowed long ago not to handle someone else's baggage or let it weigh down my own, but damned if these little asides didn't grate on my damn nerves. Weaning is tough and deeply personal, but it's also sort of uncertain, so hearing a choir of voices undermining you is just not helpful or appreciated. Even employing my most meditative Jedi mind-tricks couldn't counteract the judgmental nonsense.
I'll Stick With "Don't Offer, Don't Refuse"
This seems to be the most common standby I've heard from mothers who are attempting the weaning process. "I won't offer to nurse my child, but if they ask I won't refuse them."
Dudes. I have never offered to nurse my children. They never had to be prompted to eat. They were like ravenous boob Vikings: they just take what they want. So, "don't offer, don't refuse" is literally what we'd been doing since they were born. Of course, it took me attempting this method to realize that nothing was changing whatsoever.
I'll Night Wean First
That's easily said when you're not listening to a toddler scream in the middle of the night and you know that you have the power to end it. The siren song of getting the hell back to sleep is often too irresistible to even bother trying to stick to your guns on this one.
I'll Cut Out A Session At A Time, And Gradually
I should have realized that this method only works if you're actually on a schedule. I never really was. There were general times when I knew my kids would probably want milk, but they were sort of Bohemian about the whole affair. Boob grazers, if you will.
So, when I resolved to cut out the "noon-ish" session and my child wanted to nurse at 11:30, it was like, "OK, is this the noon-ish session or is this an addendum to the morning session? I don't even know anymore."
I'll Definitely Know When The Last Feeding Is The "Last Feeding"
Eventually after a few attempts, I wound up basically going cold turkey. A few times, it would seem. I'd be like, "OK, this is it. This is the last time I'm going to feed my baby. Enjoy this magical time," and I'd go to bed that night content but melancholy, but the next morning they would scream bloody murder as soon as they woke up and I caved.
Eventually though, it happened.
I'll Buy Breast Milk Jewelry As A Memento
Though I'll admit that I thought about this for about three minutes before ultimately deciding "Nah." Zero judgment to anyone who opts for it, of course. Anything that allows you to fondly remember the time you spent nursing your child is a lovely talisman. I can absolutely see the appeal, especially because I imagine if gives a sense of completion and closure to an activity that once took up so much time and energy (and, perhaps, no small amount of blood, sweat, and tears). But it's just definitely not my thing.
Weaning is going to look different for everyone. It wasn't even an identical process for me between my two kids, and the trick to getting it done was different for each child. For my son, whose favorite session was first thing in the morning, I learned to come into his room with a bowl of strawberries or a Fig Newton, so he forgot about nursing. For my daughter, whose favorite session was after dinner (I can only assume it was the toddler equivalent of having a cigarette after a meal), we replaced nursing with a "pacifier and a cuddle," and that seemed to satisfy her needs. The one thing each experience had in common, however, is that it did not go according to plan. You know, sort of like literally every other aspect of parenthood.