Weaning is, hands down, one of the hardest parenting decisions I've ever made. Or, rather, weaning was one of the easiest parenting decisions I've ever made (when I was done I was ready to be done) but the follow-through was intense physically, emotionally, socially, and psychologically. I've been through this journey twice, and so I thought I could share some of my experience and highlight some things every mom needs to know to survive weaning. Because, as in pretty much all parenting issues, we can glean knowledge and insight from one another.
I should preface all this by saying that no two women are going to wean exactly the same. Additionally, I weaned my kids far later than most people do, well past a year. This isn't a brag, but rather a way to highlight that weaning an infant who will still need formula looks different from weaning a toddler who is nursing mainly out of habit and gets the majority of their nutrition from non-breast sources. Nevertheless, I think there are some things I picked up in my own experience that can apply to a number of different situations.
So: you're going to wean. Congratulations! This is the beginning of an exciting and lovely new chapter in your life as a mom. Now please mind the following guidelines so that you can get through it without pulling out whatever hair is left on your head after all that postpartum shedding.
Your Child Might Not Make It Easy For You
If your kids are like mine, they are going to fight you for ongoing access to your breasts. I swear my kids thought they owned them, and they did not give them up without a fight... a screaming, weepy fight that cut through my tender mama heart like a hot knife through butter.
Look, we're moms: we want our babies to be happy, especially if it's within our power. So denying them something you know makes them happy can be really rough and make you feel like total crap. So know up front that there's a good chance that you're going to feel like crap at some point in this process.
You're Not A Bad Mom
No, really. It sucks to hear your kids cry, and you might feel mean, but if you're weaning it's because you've made a decision that you know is best for your body and wellbeing. And, trust me, your child is going to be helped far more by a mom making empowered decisions than they will be by breast milk. After all, it's not like you're cutting them off from all food, just the kind you've been cranking out of your nipples for however long you've been nursing. If they're under a year there's formula! If they're over a year there's a plethora of solids and other kinds of milk that can fill the void.
Breastfeeding is not something that is required of "good mothers." You can be a good mom even when you don't, so don't beat yourself up.
You Don't Owe Anyone An Explanation
Not your partner, not your friends, not your mom, not your breastfeeding support group, not some random jerk on Facebook who gives you a million unsolicited suggestions about how to continue nursing because she's weirdly invested in changing your mind. The only person you probably should discuss your decision with is your child, if they are of an age where such a chat would make sense to them. (Though, even if they're too little to understand, saying it out loud to them might be helpful for you.)
My kids were older — 17 months and 21 months — and while we weren't having deep philosophical discussions on Kant at those ages I still managed to talk to them about weaning and how we can cuddle in new ways.
You Should Talk About Your Feelings
Because you might have them... you might even have a lot of them! It's helpful to be able to talk about your experiences weaning and to feel heard, particularly since while there are more and more resources and supports out there for moms who want to make breastfeeding work (though, don't get it twisted, not nearly enough) there's surprisingly little to help a mom who has decided to wean. So much of it is self-guided and there's not a lot to speak to the emotions you might go through in the process. So find a person (or tribe of people) that you feel safe opening up to.
Your Hormones Might Go A Little Loopy
They might not! I didn't go through any kind of hormonal crisis when I weaned my son. But when I weaned my daughter... whoo boy. That was rough. Maybe it was the culmination of three pregnancies and three years of breastfeeding in under five years. Maybe there was some subconscious knowledge that this was my last baby that put me over the edge. Maybe it was just luck of the draw. But the point is I was a hot mess who couldn't cope with life for a solid couple months there. Once I linked that constant state of agitation to hormone difference that resulted from weaning things became more manageable (and, eventually, went away all together once my body regulated itself). So the sooner you're aware this might be an issue the better.
So, About Your Boobs...
"Oh breastfeeding doesn't change your breasts!" say well-meaning breastfeeding activists. "Don't let worrying about sagging dissuade you!"
Folks? Breastfeeding can absolutely change your breasts. Like... completely and absolutely. Always? No. It's not a foregone conclusion. First time around, weaning my son at 17 months, they were completely unchanged. And I bought the line of "breastfeeding doesn't change your boobs."
Then I weaned my daughter, and I learned that whether or not your breasts change has to do with luck.
My boobs looked like they could cough dust. Fortunately they puffed back to normal within six months or so, but there was a definitely a period of deflation.
Your Milk Doesn't Dry Up Immediately
This surprises a lot of people. Depending on your body and how long you've been nursing, it can take months for your body to stop producing milk entirely. This is particularly relevant information for any sexual partners you may have.
The Signs Of Mastitis
Many nursing parents wean with little to no difficulty, physically speaking. But depending on how quickly you've weaned (cold turkey or gradually), how frequently you were nursing before you stopped, and (again) your body's particular peccadilloes, you may experience engorgement, pain, and even mastitis. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of mastitis, because that is something you're absolutely going to want to nip in the bud.
The Healing Power Of Cabbages
I didn't do this myself, but apparently cabbage leaves down your bra can seriously help engorgement. This feels like an old wives tale but, apparently, some of those old wives were actually powerful witches who knew WTF to do with a cabbage.
It Might Take A Few Tries
I never weaned on my first attempt. It took a while to figure out exactly how I was going to go about it. That's OK. It doesn't make you a failure or inconsistent or a pushover. It means you need time to regroup and make a new plan
You Deserve A Round Of Applause
This is hard stuff you're about to do. And breastfeeding can be crazy tough, too! Double applause! Ya done good, mama! Congratulations on this milestone!