When I decided it was time to wean my first child, I was at a loss. While breastfeeding had, thankfully and luckily, come to me pretty easily, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when it was time to wean. How was I supposed to go about this? Were there special considerations I had to keep in mind? Was it time to stop? How was I supposed to know? As in all things, lots of people had lots of thoughts. Some were helpful, but there were so many pieces of weaning advice I'm glad I ignored.
It's not that everyone's advice was categorically bad. In some cases people were simply sharing what had worked for them. But what works out brilliantly for one person isn't necessarily going to be helpful to someone else. In the end, I found weaning to be a lot like pretty much every other aspect of parenting I've yet encountered: muddle through, maybe a little anxious or panicked, and find the best fit for you, often by trying out some stuff that absolutely isn't working. (This is, incidentally, also how I shop for clothes.)
I know it may seem impossible to stop the whole breastfeeding things, sometimes. You think to yourself, "This kid is never going to be pried off my teat." But I promise, all breastfeeding children give up the boob at some point or another. And while the following guidelines might help some people reach their goals, they were best left by the wayside in my case:
"Wean After One Year"
A lot of Americans set a "one year mark" for breastfeeding. Unfortunately, most new mothers will not reach their nursing goals, one year or otherwise and for myriad of reasons. For those who do, one year is both the goal and the deadline, which is great if it works for you and your family. But some people hit one year and decide, "Actually, I think I'll keep going." And hey, that's great, too! Unfortunately, some of those people are often met with skepticism, disdain, or even straight-up disgust from other people.
"But you've been nursing for a year. Why keep going? You should just wean now."
I was one such person who often found herself on the receiving end of those aforementioned sentiments. It wasn't usually particularly malicious, but it was still annoying. And the truth is I had a lot of reasons to want to nurse beyond a year. Sometimes I would share those reasons, but other times I just shrugged and smiled because it was really no one's business when I stopped breastfeeding my child.
"Wean No Earlier Than Two Years"
"Well, actually," some people said to me when I mentioned weaning my children at 17 and 21 months, "The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until your child is 2 years old or older. So, really, you should keep going."
Except no. I'm done. A recommendation is by no means an obligation. By the time I weaned my kids I was very done to be finished breastfeeding.
Always beware the "well actually" people. Very little good comes after that particular phrase.
"Let The Child Dictate When You Stop"
I'm pretty sure if I breastfed until my children were ready to stop I would be a stooped old woman before I finally got my boobs back to myself.
I understand wanting to let your child have that comfort and nutrition for as long as they feel they need it... but I also understand that I am a person with wants and needs and at a certain point (that is different for everyone) breastfeeding is more detrimental to the mother than it is beneficial to the child. That's when I stop.
"Do It Gradually"
This is the standard advice for weaning, and I'm not saying it's bad advice at all. I had to take it with a grain of salt, though. So many people suggested I should drop a session a month/week/day until we got down to nothing. This would make it easier on the child and my body.
But while we had some set "sessions" every day, I mostly breastfed on demand. So the idea that I drop a set session didn't really make sense for me. In both instances, I had to go sort of cold turkey on both my kids. And yes, neither was nursing as frequently at the time of their weaning as they had been when they were newborns, but they were still going pretty strong. Weaning down those sessions gradually would have taken far longer than I was comfortable with.
"Wean By Going Away On A Trip"
This was very specific to me, but when my daughter was 13 months old I went on a five-day vacation. A couple people suggested this would be a great time to wean my daughter and maybe, if I'd wanted to, that would have been true. But I wasn't ready. Moreover, my daughter definitely wasn't ready. And I personally didn't like the idea of ghosting her and then coming back and pretending like I didn't know what she wanted the next time she asked to breastfeed. This strategy might be good for some people who find themselves in a similar situation, but it just wasn't for me.
"Don't Deviate From Your Plan"
You know how all the families in Game of Thrones have house words? "Winter Is Coming," "Fire And Blood," "Hear Me Roar," "We Do Not Sow," "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken," and all that jazz? If I had house words, as a mother, they would be "Be Ready To Deviate From The Plan," or "The Plan Is A Suggestion." I cannot think of a single parenting plan I have made that has not been altered, in one way or another, from its original concept.
Tinkering with the plan is the only plan I've got, folks. Weaning was no different.
"Buy Pretty New Bras To Reward Yourself"
In theory this sounds great, except one thing they don't tell you is that your boobs change a lot after you wean. What they look and feel like immediately following breastfeeding, and what they look like six months later, can be very different. I fluctuated a solid three cup sizes in that time before "settling in." Buying new bras is a great way to celebrate the end of this accomplishment... but wait a while.
"Drop Night Feedings Last"
I feel like this is probably good advice for most people. Because I feel like the spirit of this advice is "drop your baby's favorite session last" and most baby's favorite session (at least anecdotally) appears to be the one right before bed. This wasn't the case for either of my kids, though. My son's favorite was first thing in the morning (I think it was the baby equivalent of a Starbucks run) and my daughter's was after dinner. Leaving the night feeding last wouldn't have made too much sense.
"Avoid Familiar Nursing Positions & Places"
I guess I can see the logic here: you don't want a child to get all excited that you're going to breastfeed them and then hold back. But, honestly, continuing the routines of going to familiar nursing positions and places is the only thing that made weaning a somewhat manageable experience for anyone involved. It gave them everything about that routine and comfort that my kids loved, minus the milk. My son would suck his thumb, my daughter was suck on a pacifier, and we would just sit and cuddle for a bit the way we always had. Teaching my children, "Yes, breastfeeding is over, but look! We still have this" was key to successful weaning.
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