In many ways, weaning is a lot like breastfeeding itself. It is a deeply personal decision many moms will have to make; It can be emotionally, physically, and otherwise painful; It's subject to a lot of really obnoxious social judgment from, well, everyone. As such, mothers can and will frequently second guess themselves no matter what they do or decide or attempt. And,like breastfeeding, weaning can be one of the best parenting decisions a mom can make for herself and her child. Regardless of all those obnoxious and disparate (not to mention unsolicited) opinions, weaning does not make you a bad mom. While I always knew that, deep down, well-meaning but judgmental factions within the breastfeeding advocacy community, and my own children, made me question just how good a mom I was when I eventually decided to wean.
By the time I decided to wean both of my toddlers, I knew I mentally and physically couldn't maintain breastfeeding any longer and simultaneously retain the overwhelmingly fond, happy, positive view of breastfeeding I was lucky enough to achieve in the first place. I was on the verge of being too drained, too tired, too emotional, and I wanted to get out before it overshadowed how much I had genuinely loved nursing my babies. Still, so much of what I read stressed that letting a child decide when they stop breastfeeding was the way to go. In fact, it's often stated as fact, depending on your source (but it's really just one perspective). This was not aided by the fact that my children, I suspect, would be nursing until they were in college if I let them. Their howling shrieks of righteous indignation and mourning were making me feel like the world's meanest mommy.
And yet, after I pushed the guilt aside and the worst of the tumultuous tantrums were done, I realized that, as I'd known all along, weaning when I did was the right choice for my family.
Everyone who breastfeeds or attempts breastfeeding has to decide, based on a great confluence of factors, what is best for them when it comes to how long to breastfeed, if ever. That could be a day or 5 years: there are no wrong answers here, people! Furthermore, and more importantly, you should never feel bad or be made to feel bad for what you've decided.
Breastfeeding Isn't On The "Good Mom" Rubric, In The First Place
Let's settle that right away. Breastfeeding isn't one of the little boxes you need to check off in order to get this distinction. Lots of good moms breastfeed, but they're not good moms because they breastfeed. Caring for your child, engaging with your child, doing what you can to ensure your child's happiness, broadening your child's horizons while setting boundaries: these are some of the things that make a good mom. Nothing you do or don't do with your breasts has anything to do with your motherhood.
Moreover, with the exception of extreme and sad situations, what you feed your child really isn't indicative of how good or bad a mother you are, either. So, really, this article could start and stop on this one point, but a) that would be lazy of me and b) it would ignore the fact that lots and lots of women (myself included) still feel guilt when the weaning, even if they logically know the aforementioned point. So, if I may, I'll continue...
Any Amount Of Time Spent Breastfeeding Is Beneficial
Breast milk is magic. So, too, is breastfeeding (or, you know, at least it can be). Whether you breastfed for a year, or six months, or a month, or a week, or a day, you have given your child the benefit of some awe-inspiring boob juice. So be proud of what you've given your child and don't second guess yourself on what else you could give.
Formula Is Healthy
Really, formula is pretty magical, too. It's a human-made concoction that provides a growing baby with all the nutrition they need to become chubby, happy, brilliant, amazing children. I'm thinking it's probably made by powerful wizards at Hogwarts (but this is just an, albeit awesome, theory). Depending on when you wean, you may not need to transition from breast milk to formula. However, if your child is under 12 months (or has particular health issues that require formula), rest easy knowing that while breast milk is amazing, formula is too and, if we're being honest, pretty damn close to breast milk.
Sometimes Breastfeeding Just Isn't Working Anymore
Whether you're having technical difficulties, or breastfeeding is painful, or your baby is having difficulty gaining weight, or you're just done being pawed at by a grabby and demanding toddler, there are lots and lots and lots of reasons to admit to everyone involved, "This isn't working anymore" and throwing in the proverbial towel.
Sometimes, It's Just Time To Move On
Do you remember in Pocahontas how whenever a big change was coming a wind would blow whimsical, multi-colored leaves around the titular princess and a magical tree would sing and she'd instinctively know that colonizers were coming, or that it was time to say goodbye, or how to speak English? (Yeah, there are a million problems with that movie and that's easily one of the smaller quibbles.) However, glaring problems with that movie aside, sometimes knowing when to wean is like the magical wind in Pocahontas. You suddenly just feel like, "Yep, this is happening. This is coming. It's time." Sometimes that certainty doesn't make one feel any better about it or feel less guilty (mom guilt: the struggle is real, guys) but this sixth sense and gut knowledge telling this is the right move is a real feeling and shouldn't be ignored based on the worry that you're somehow a bad mom.
There Are A Million Ways To Bond With Your Child, Aside From Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding, particularly past a year, is as much about bonding as anything else. It's a lovely, beautiful way to bond in many cases. I loved cuddling up with my kids and nursing them, even when they started doing "breastfeeding toddler yoga" and kicking me in the head while farting in my face while attached to my boob because they wanted to nurse from a headstand. (It was one of those things that was totally obnoxious, but even at the time I could see the comedy in it.) However, this sort of warm, fuzzy, memory creation is in no way reliant upon breastfeeding! Cuddling, wrestling, tickling, not to mention the non-physical stuff like reading, playing dollhouse, or singing, are all very much still on the table.
Breastfeeding Is Just One Way Some People Experience Many Of The Same Things Every Other Good Mom Does
The best thing about coming out of the other side of breastfeeding is knowing that, in some ways, breastfeeding never really goes away. That is to say that all of the positive emotions you felt (or hoped to feel but didn't) associated with breastfeeding, appear in your relationship with your child in new ways. Bath time, bedtime routine cuddle time, etc. It's like all of the maternal goodness of breastfeeding continues, with none of the milk blisters or plugged ducts.
Breastfeeding Is A Partnership
There's a reason it's often called a breastfeeding "relationship." If it isn't working for both people involved you don't have a one, or at least not a healthy one. When one person in a relationship isn't doing well, it's only a matter of time before both of you are less than optimal.
Your Well-Being Makes You A Good Mom
Even if your baby is clinging to your breast like it's the last lifeboat off a sinking ship, wailing for another nursing session and, over-all, making you feel like total crap about weaning, know that your decision to wean, even if the only reason is "I really don't want to nurse anymore, I'm done" is still the best decision. Your physical and mental health is far more important to being a "good mom" than continuing to breastfeed. Even more magical than the uncanny magic of breast milk is a mother who is the best version of herself.