Breastfeeding is hard. Because of practical difficulties (latch, milk production, and babies who just don't get it) and the systemic failures that don't do enough to support parents who would like to nurse, many women are forced to give up breastfeeding before they'd like to. But, if you're lucky, you'll get to experience the physical and emotional challenge of weaning. And there are things that'll definitely happen when you try to wean for the first time that will add to that difficulty.
I was one of the lucky ones to deal with the hell on earth that is weaning. And I weaned my kids "late," since they were 16 and 21 months. The challenges I faced, therefore, might be different than those of a mom who weaned at, say, six months. Or a mom who weans a 7 year old. And yet in talking to lots of moms who have weaned at all different ages, many of these issues are pretty universal (or universal enough, with some unique spins on the same basic issues).
Of course, I make no guarantees that you will definitely encounter all of these issues. I mean, I'm not a fortune teller and I can't predict the future, my friends. But you will if you're anything like me (and even if you're not, there's a good chance you'll wind up ticking off several boxes).
Your First Strategy Will Fail
I think that's important to bear in mind that when your first strategies fails, you didn't fail. Your child didn't fail. The strategy did. It was not the strategy for you. There are lots of ways to go about weaning a child, including but certainly not limited to: gradually, cold turkey, and with the use of vinegar (no, really!). It may take some fiddling (and time) to figure out which one is going to be the most comfortable for you.
You'll Wonder How You're Going To Manage To Succeed
Weaning is hard. Personally I found it a lot harder than breastfeeding itself. Part of that is because I was fortunate and breastfeeding came relatively easily to me... but weaning is unequivocally difficult to figure out, no matter when you do it.
You'll Feel Guilty
Even though, on paper, I was like, "I'm done. This is it. I'm confident in my decision and this is what's right for me," I still had feelings of "OMG I AM TAKING MY BABY'S MILK AND I AM A MONSTER!" I knew that was silly, of course, and that if breastfeeding isn't working for one person in the breastfeeding relationship then it's not working at all. But knowing something and feeling something are two very different things sometimes.
You'll Constantly Swat Away Overly-Familiar Hands
I mean, to be fair, those hands are attached to a child that has grown accustomed to your breasts being a buffet. In other words, it's a tough habit to break. Still, it can be annoying. Oh, and be prepared to be doing this long after they've weaned. I stopped nursing my son at about 16 months and he continued to put his hand down my cleavage (both absentmindedly and when he needed comfort) for years afterward.
You'll Worry About Your Baby
"What if this breaks them? What if it's psychologically damaging? What if they hate me? What if this is the end of our closeness? What if this ruins their immune system? What if I didn't nurse them long enough? What if?"
They're going to be fine. Relax, mama.
You'll Worry About Your Boobs
It doesn't take long, in some cases, for your boobs to change after breastfeeding. (And to all of those people who says that doesn't happen I say this: just because it didn't happen to you doesn't mean it doesn't happen or, for that matter, won't happen to you in the future.) Some people have to deal with engorgement when they wean, which sucks and can be a reason for worry. Other people will notice other differences... in the parlance of Seinfeld: shrinkage.
(Don't worry: in many cases they shrink down only to increase in size again within a few months, so give it time.)
You'll Wonder When, Exactly, You're Going To Stop Lactating
It'll take months, probably. Don't worry. It's normal, even if it's disconcerting... especially during sex.
You'll Have Feels
After all, weaning is a big milestone. In Biblical days it was their version of a huge first birthday party/cake smash. Breastfeeding was also very likely a big and/or important aspect of your relationship with your baby up until now, and a continued connection of your two bodies that started in pregnancy. And now it's gone! That's a lot! Talk about your feelings and know that, if you're feeling it, some other mother almost certainly has, too. You're not alone!
You'll Have Hormonal Feels
Separate from your straight-up emotional feels about this being an important milestone in both your child's life and your life as a mother, you'll experience hormonal feels. There's a big shift going on when you wean, so it's very normal to just feel a little out of sorts. Talk to your care provider and, in my experience, try cardio (which is hardly a panacea, but it helped me).
You'll Realize Just How Stretch Out Your Shirts Are
It's easy to ignore it when your child is constantly pulling at your shirts anyway, but now that your boobs are (mostly) left alone you'll realize just how saggy your poor t-shirts have become.
You'll Weep At The Sight Of Your Old Bras
Remember when I said your boobs could very likely change? Yeah, your old bras just might not cut it anymore. This is particularly sad if they were nice. (But, again, don't throw them out just yet: your boobs might "puff back" to their original size and or shape.)
You'll Buy New Bras
At least for the interim, because if you're someone who chooses to wear a bra the old ones are not doing their job. I recommend a small assortment of something cheap and then get your new, permanent collection in a few months once your body has done what it's going to do.
You'll Find New Ways To Bond
The first night I put my son to bed without nursing him, I handed him his blanket, encouraged him to suck his thumb (he did that anyway), and shushed him gently as he began to whimper to breastfeed. "It's OK," I reassured him. "I'm here. We're just learning a new way to cuddle."
And it started off as a reassurance to him, but it became a mantra I used to emotionally work my way through weaning. And the best part about it all was that it was (and still is) absolutely true. The same love and nurturing I gave my children through breastfeeding was still there on the other side of it; just manifested in different, exciting, new ways.