If you are reading this, you either have weaned, are planning to wean, or know that, someday, you will have to wean. No matter where you are on that spectrum, you're probably aware that this is one of those "big decisions." Choosing when to stop breastfeeding is extremely personal, and there's no set age or "right time" to give it up. What's best varies from person to person, so whenever that time comes I humbly submit the things every breastfeeding mom should do the week before she starts weaning.
So when do you know it's time? Some people let their children decide and opt for self-weaning. Other people, for any number of reasons, find breastfeeding to be unbearable or unsustainable after a while. In my case, I just felt it in my gut: I was done, and I knew my children would be OK if we stopped. A lot of it, I think, boiled down to the fact that I loved breastfeeding. I know that's a crazy statement for some people who have a really difficult time feeding their children with their bodies, but I did. I tripped into a perfect storm of luck and privilege and it worked out really well.
But as my children got into their toddler years, the warm glow surrounding all things breastfeeding started to feel like a mildly oppressive swelter. Our nursing sessions grew much shorter, yet somehow, at times, more frequent. I began to feel a bit like a bowl of stale pretzels at a bar: no one eats those for any other reason than mindlessly snacking. My kids, it seemed, were nursing more out of habit than want or need. I knew if this kept up I wouldn't love breastfeeding anymore, and I didn't want to quit on a bad day (or worse: after a long string of bad days) after such a good run. So I decided to prepare for weaning. I found the following steps to be helpful.
Make A Plan
Despite what I once thought, it is my experience that, "I'll just stop on [insert date here]" isn't a sufficient plan. Maybe it works for some people, but I found myself getting frantic and feeling helpless when my baby wanted to nurse. There is no single plan to successfully wean; it differs from person to person and will often be discovered through trial and error. But it helps, in the lead-up to the main event, to have some alternative to panicking in your back pocket.
In my case, I decided that when my children wanted to breastfeed (at that point we were down to nights and mornings), I would sit and cuddle them with their favorite comfort objects. For my son, that was his blankie and his thumb. My daughter preferred her pacifier. By and large, this worked pretty well for us.
Be Prepared To Deviate From Your Plan
When I decided to wean my son, I nursed him one last time when he went to bed, breathing it all in because I knew it was our last time, and prepared to start the weaning process the next day. Well, turns out that he was having none of it when he woke up the next day and I had miscalculated. Turns out, his morning session was way harder for him to give up than his evening. So I nursed him again because I was completely caught off-guard by his insane angry screaming.
That evening I followed through with my "cuddle instead of nursing" plan and it went very well, but I knew the next morning we ran the risk of another complete cranky wake-up and melt-down: the plan had to change.
The next morning, true to form, he threw another fit, wanting to breastfeed. but I'd adjusted my plan. Instead of fruitlessly cuddling him, I gave him his favorite snack: a Fig Newton. A few days of that and he was set.
Depending on the circumstances of your breastfeeding experience, you may want to get some pictures or video of you nursing your child. This is something that may well have occupied countless hours of your time; an activity around which you had to fit all other activities. It makes sense that you might want it commemorated in some way.
Like I said: I loved breastfeeding and now that it's over for me I still look back at those images fondly.
Drown Out Any & All Non-Medical Opinions That Are Pissing You Off Or Making You Second Guess Yourself
"You know, I nursed my babies for X more months and I'm so glad I did."
"Do you really want to stop?"
"Have you talked to a pediatrician about this? Or a lactation consultant? Have you gone to a La Leche League meeting?"
Here's who you should be making this decision with: your medical care providers (yours and your babies) and the mama in the mirror. And, honestly, the mama in the mirror gets first and final say. The medical professionals are there as consultants, really. Other people don't even matter (and often don't know what they're talking about anyway).
Talk About It
This is absolutely a personal decision, but it might help you process things to talk about it with someone. Your partner, your friend, your therapist, your mom or sister — any comforting and comfortable person. Open up about your plans, your excitement, your anxiety: anything you're thinking or feeling about this process. It's a lot, after all, and a big step for you and your baby. Hearing some of it out loud might ease you along your way.
Be Aware Of & Prepare For A Hormone Shift
Personally speaking, this was a non-issue for me the first time around and a huge, unexpected, and unpleasant surprise the second.
Weaning is going to do a number on your hormone production and levels. Some don't even register these changes; it's like sleeping through a thunderstorm. Others will get caught in the thunderstorm, soaked to the bone and windblown, and it will take them getting struck by lightning to even realize something bad is going down. Being aware that the storm is coming helps you prepare for the possibility of being stuck in a downpour.
Resist The Urge To Buy New Bras Right Away
Your boobs will not settle on their permanent evolution until about six months after you wean. Often, women will find that their breasts deflate and shrink after weaning only to puff back up again a half a year later. For those of us who cannot turn from the siren call of the lingerie section — so much pretty lace! colors other than beige! — we find ourselves eight months in popping out of our C cups that are now DDs and getting jabbed in the right boobs with underwire.
Just wait or, at the very least, don't go on a shopping spree right away.
Stock Up On Cabbage & Pseudoephedrine
No, you're not going to be making a lot of coleslaw or pull a Walter White/Heisenberg — these items can be used to help treat engorgement (a common side effect of weaning) and help dry up your milk supply respectively. Cabbage leaf compresses and judiciously taken decongestants (Sudafed, for example) can help relieve the discomfort that may accompany weaning.
Make Peace With Your Decision
Take this week of prep time to think everything through and be cool with it. Don't beat yourself up and don't second guess yourself. There's a reason you've decided this is it, and no one else knows your situation or your baby better than you. If this is what you want this is how it will be and everything will be fine.
Celebrate Yourself & Your Baby
Because even under the best possible circumstances, breastfeeding is not easy. Feel free to pat yourself on the back for any amount of time you spent doing it. Bask in the accomplishment, appreciate any good times you may have had in the process, and congratulate your baby on the role they played eating and growing however they could. This is a milestone worth a little bit of fuss, so enjoy it.