As soon as I felt like I had breastfeeding "under control," I was thinking about weaning. I’m sure my rocky start had a lot to do with it, but it was nearly impossible for me to envision breastfeeding longer than a few months. Going past six months? A year? No way. However, just like I had no idea what I was doing at the beginning of breastfeeding, I had no idea how to end breastfeeding, either. So, I had a few questions I wanted (read: needed) answered. What does weaning feel like? How does it work? How painful will it be? Will it even be painful? Am I asking a ridiculous amount of questions because I'm not as emotionally prepared to wean as I thought I would be?
Turns out, I didn't wean my son off the ole boob until he was two-years-old and counting (figuratively ann literally), and the entire experience was surprisingly chill (at least, for us). Who would have guessed the girl who couldn't think about breastfeeding for longer than a few months, ended up breastfeeding for more than two years, right? Definitely not me, guys. Definitely not me.
Thankfully, while preparing to wean my son I realized that other moms are happy to dish about their weaning experiences. Like labor, sleep-training, trying to take cute family photos that look natural and many other aspects of motherhood, we don’t always know how it’s going to go until it actually happens. However, when it comes to seeing and/or hearing about what other moms have experienced, there are some consistent themes. Mainly feels. Lots and lots of feels. Perhaps my own emotions are so raw (my weaning experience is still super-fresh), but if the stories here are any indication, weaning is clearly a significant milestone for many moms. So, without further ado, here’s how other moms describe what weaning actually feels like:
"My daughter was off the boob before I was even prepared but I went with it. I decided to cut the morning nursing one day — we had already been bottle feeding what I pumped for the midday bottles — and then somehow that night I got delayed getting home and she took the bottle and bam, that was a whole day without the boob! I felt sad, and thought she'd be at me the next day but nope, she was fine. So I had to let go. Just like there's no perfect last cigarette, there's no perfect last boob moment with your LO. Sigh."
"I felt liberated! One day my son nursed, the next day he didn't ask, and I didn't offer. It was as if an invisible string between us had been cut; I was reclaiming my independence as he was finding his."
"I wish I could have weaned. I stayed at home with my son for a year and tried to wean then. He just wasn't having it. If I said no, he pawed my chest, cried, etc. A bottle of cow's milk or food did not pacify him.
At this point, he was nursing only once or twice a day, so I continued to avoid big fights with my baby. The lactation consultant I had worked with when my son was an infant helped me put boundaries around this — no nursing while mommy was eating, for example, because at this point I was tired of dropping whatever I was doing to nurse a child who had plenty of other sources of nutrition.
When my son was about two, I started getting lots of 'When are you going to stop that' questions from family and friends. They seemed to think I was trying to be some sort of 'Earth Mother' when, in reality, I wanted to stop. People always asked this question gently, but it was clear they thought things were getting a little weird — and my kid was only two!
Then, just before my son turned three, we were visiting family. He was so absorbed in playing with his cousins that he forgot to ask to nurse. I didn't offer. He didn't ask the next day, either. He did ask a few times after that, but I told him the milk was all gone, and he was OK with that.
In the end, he weaned himself, and it was easy."
"I didn't love breastfeeding but felt an unexpected sense of almost loss. I was really surprised by it because I had a very difficult time breastfeeding and was a regular at the breastfeeding clinic. I think that maybe it wasn't so much around breastfeeding itself but more so around letting go and my baby 'outgrowing' a stage. I read a sentence once in Brain, Child's anthology 'This is Childhood' about how the writer discovered that parenting for her was so intertwined with loss. I think that this is exactly what I've experienced with breastfeeding."
"It's a mixture of relief and sadness. I love having control over when my boobs get whipped out, but I miss that bonding time."
"Between December 2010 and March 2016, I was either pregnant or nursing all but four months. Personally, I found weaning itself was challenging but not difficult. How I felt after weaning my second child, however, was one of the worst things I've ever had to deal with. I slumped into a depression, not because I missed nursing or was sad to be done with it (I was ready and happy with my memories), but because my hormone levels needed time to readjust. I was extremely emotional, short-tempered, and crying all the time. I felt terrible, and it took me a little while to put two and two together to realize that my mood was connected to weaning.
Around the same time, I suddenly felt the need to run. I was not a runner and disliked physical activity, but I went for it. I soon found that after I ran, I was able to function for up to 36 hours. If I missed a run I was in tears by mid-day. So I just started getting in a few miles a day. Within a few months I was back to myself, and I still run because I really began to enjoy it!"
"My son weaned himself suddenly at 10 months. I had been prepared for a year, and I kept pumping so he could have breast milk for another couple of months. I wasn't prepared for the feeling of sadness that he was finished with that special bonding time. In fact, a few weeks after he stopped, he was fussy one night and I tried to nurse him for comfort. He looked up at me as if to say, 'Mom. You know we are so done with that phase. What are you doing?'"
"I'm currently nursing my 2.5 year old (our 4th) and he's starting to go longer and longer in between sessions. I'm feeling very sad about it — and I can tell he's 'off.' He's crankier and clingier, so we are spending lots of cuddle time as we both adjust to this. I think last night may end up being one of our last attempts."
"I breastfed all three of my children. I had to use a formula supplement because I didn't produce enough milk. With my first two, we both seemed ready to move on from breastfeeding because we decided when it ended. Because of health reasons, I had to cut the time I breastfed my son short. I went from breastfeeding him one day to stopping entirely the next day. I think we both felt like we weren't ready to move on."
"I was forced to start weaning with my second because of an unexpected chronic illness where I have to take meds every day. I was devastated as I was not ready to wean; she was 13 months old and I wanted to nurse longer, and [knowing that I wouldn't be having] another made it that much more heartbreaking, not being able to stop when I wanted. Emotionally I'm still struggling with it.
Physically it was hard because I had to do it abruptly but since I weaned before, I knew I had to pump and dump so I wouldn't get mastitis. Once I started not producing as much because of pumping I switched to manual expression, until they tapped out.
It's very hard when you aren't the one making the choice. I didn't know that last nursing session was my last. I would have held onto those moments a little longer and say goodbye."
"I've just day-weaned (as in, no longer pumping at work) my 17 month old and am not looking forward to going the rest of the way in the next six months or so. It still seems so important to her for comfort and as part of her routine. I think it'll be difficult and a bit sad for both of us."
"I was always so scared to wean (with both my boys). Like, how will they get enough nutrition?! How will they be comforted in the middle of the night when sick?! How will the SURVIVE?! Even though it was sad, it was cool to watch them sort of set out on their own, grow up a little, and actually thrive, even without nursing. Oh, and side note: my poor, poor little boobs. There's less there than I had to start out with!"
"I had totally different experiences with all three of my daughters. I weaned two of them around 12 months and my middle was mainly formula-fed. There was always a sadness to break that connection, but I was also ready for greater freedom."
"I've weaned two so far. Actually, they've really weaned themselves. One was 28 months old and one was 40 months old (!) and, in both cases, I was also nursing a younger baby, so I have to admit that my primary feeling was one of relief! It was such a gradual process that I didn't feel at all torn or nostalgic about the change. It really felt like a natural transition from baby to big(ger) kid."