Before I became a mother, I had a very specific picture of what motherhood looked like. In fact, that picture terrified me, as the list of things I thought I "had to do," was a long and intimidating one. It turns out, rarely is that list feasible, and I have realized that I need (and should) mold motherhood to fit my life, not the other way around. That definitely came in handy when breastfeeding started, and ended, and I realized that there are things you don't have to do when you're weaning, even though everyone says you do. Just like every other aspect of motherhood, what is expected of moms when they're weaning is usually unrealistic and unkind and not a benchmark any mother should hold herself to.
I was thankful for the ability to breastfeed, as it was an experience I was looking forward to sharing with my son. Benefits aside, I had a traumatic pregnancy and birth, that I was hoping breastfeeding could somehow, someway, nullify. It didn't exactly work that way, but breastfeeding did provide me (and my son) the comfort I was searching for. Sure, it was exhausting and it was draining (pun intended) and it was difficult at times, but I will never forget those late nights or early mornings, when I would feed my son with my eyes closed, holding him tight, smelling the top of his head and feeling at peace. I mean, that's the stuff right there, moms. That's the stuff.
That's also why, when my son self-weaned at seven months, I was sad. While I was looking forward to, finally, having full body autonomy, I knew I would miss the breastfeeding moments I was able to have with my son. I also knew that, according to many, I was ending my breastfeeding experience way too early. I found myself feeling obligated to hold myself to that unrealistic standard, and do things (or say things) during the weaning process that somehow excused the end of my personal breastfeeding journey. Yeah, I didn't have to do any of those things, and if I ever breastfeed for a second time, when it comes time for it to end, I won't be doing the following, again.
I had plans to breastfeed for at least a year, but those plans fell through for reasons I still don't completely understand. After 7 months, my son just wasn't interested in breastfeeding anymore, and I felt immensely guilty. Was it something I did? Did I initiate his weaning? What in the hell was going on?!
Weaning will, eventually and for everyone, happen. When it happens depends, of course, and it's different for everyone, but it will happen. So why feel guilty about the inevitable? Why put the burden of facilitating a two-way relationship, entirely on yourself? Sometimes, the other party just doesn't want your boob anymore. Not a whole lot you can do about that, moms, so don't feel guilty. And if it was your call and you wanted to wean, and initiated the process, don't feel guilty. You're using your body to sustain another human. You get to call the shots when it comes to your own body.
Initiate Weaning At A Specific Age...
You don't have to wean your kid unless a doctor says it's medically necessary (i.e. you're worried about specific allergens or your baby isn't getting enough to eat). There's not some magical age where, all of a sudden, you have to stop breastfeeding. This is your unique relationship with your baby. You two get to decide when it's over.
...Or Wait Until Your Baby Is A Specific Age Before You Wean
Simultaneously, there isn't a magical age you have to reach before you consider breastfeeding. While The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends mothers breastfeed for one year, and the World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years, you're the only one in charge of your body. If circumstances come up and you're no longer able, or willing, to breastfeed, that's your call.
Wean In A Specific Amount Of Time
Every weaning process is different for every woman and baby. Some babies are weaned in a few days; some, a few weeks; some, a few months. It all depends on what the mother, and baby, feel comfortable with. While my son self-weaned, which made it seem like the majority of our feeding sessions all but ended abruptly (he still loved nighttime feeding), many other babies will insist the process take a significant amount of time. There's no timetable you should hold yourself, or your baby, to. This is your call, mom.
Drop All Feedings, All At Once
You don't have to go "cold turkey" when it comes to weaning. First and foremost, that's probably going to hurt, and cold compresses can only do so much. Secondly, breastfeeding is (or can be) an emotional experience, and suddenly ending it can be hard on mom and baby. Kids tend to like the morning feedings and the night feedings the best, as they are just as much about comfort as they are about nutrition. So, if you're starting the weaning process, try cutting out a mid-day feeding by distracting your kid, and seeing if they even ask for that usual breastfeeding session. You can give them solid foods, then start playing, and perhaps they'll skip it without realizing what has happened. Once that feeding is out of the picture, you can start working on the others.
How you decide to wean is up to you, and you definitely don't have to end it abruptly (if you don't want to).
Refuse Feedings To Your Kid
You don't have to refuse feedings in the name of "weaning," if you don't want to. If your kid is asking for a breastfeeding session, please feel free to indulge. You won't "ruin" weaning. Sometimes, they're distracted and don't notice they missed a session, but sometimes they're not, so if you're letting your kid call the weaning shots, don't feel like you have to guide them by refusing a feeding session or setting a strict schedule.
Explain The Reasons Why You're Weaning
You don't owe anyone an explanation for why you're weaning. Not. At. All. This is a personal experience you are sharing with your baby, and the reasons why it ends is no one's business. If you're weaning because you're suffering from postpartum depression, and you need to take medication that make breastfeeding no longer safe, that is your business. If you're weaning because you're simply exhausted and don't want to breastfeed anymore, that's your business. If you're weaning because your kid has initiated it, that's you're business.
Apologize For Weaning
You don't have to apologize to anyone. Hell, you don't even have to apologize to your baby. This is your body, mom, and you get to decide what you do with your body. No one else. Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience (and one I am so thankful I was able to have) but it is also difficult. When it ends is entirely up to you, and you don't owe anyone an apology.