When it was time to wean my children, I was in no way prepared. For so many reasons, weaning is one of the biggest challenges I've experienced as a parent. In fact, personally, I found weaning harder than breastfeeding. That's not to say that breastfeeding was easy, but I had pretty good luck with the former. I cannot say the same about the latter.
I recognize that my experience with weaning is not typical, especially because my kids were toddlers by the time I decided to stop breastfeeding. Physically, emotionally, and in every other way, I was just done. I had loved nursing my kids, and I knew that if I kept it up it would have tainted the experience for me and, eventually, for them. I also wanted to quit while I was ahead, because I knew I was fortunate that it was a pleasant experience for as long as it was. The problem, however, was that while I was ready to be done, my kids didn't want to stop nursing. Like, at all. Learning to breastfeed, for both me and my babies, was a collaborative effort. Weaning was a whole lot more adversarial, and toddlers are wily and fierce adversaries.
The good news is that we all got through it and I don't think any of us sustained any long-term damage. In fact, we all appear to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. But there are lots of reasons that made the experience, well, less than pleasant, and certainly harder than breastfeeding had been. For example:
Because There's No Bipartisan Agreement
If you've chosen to breastfeed, both you and your infant want breastfeeding to happen. It's not like your baby is on the other end of your boob thinking, "Actually, is this milk keto friendly? Is there gluten in it? I'm, like, kind of a health nut." Baby wants milk of some sort or another, and while there are certainly things infants do that make breastfeeding difficult, it's not like they're doing it on purpose. They want to eat, they just need some help figuring out how.
Weaning, on the other hand, is something you might be ready for, but your baby is like, "F*ck you, lady. You're going to have to fight me for access to the milk bar." At least this was how it went down with both of my willful, stubborn children. It wasn't pretty.
Because Breastfeeding Resolves Itself One Way Or The Other
If breastfeeding isn't working out, for a variety of reasons, you'll have to supplement or completely switch over to formula. The alternative is a starving child, so breastfeeding difficulties can only be mitigated for so long, right? I certainly don't mean to understate how difficult that can be. I understand, completely, that breastfeeding challenges can be devastating for many women. But at least in that situation your choices are pretty clear cut. In the end, there's only so much you can do, and only a few decisions you're faced with making.
With weaning, technically you can breastfeed for, like, years and years, so it's a lot less cut and dry than the decision to wean once breastfeeding has been established.
Because There's No Wondering If They're "Ready" To Breastfeed
Again, your baby is born hungry. My kids were latched on within 30 minutes of being born. They have numerous reflexes and adaptations that equip them to eat, but you can't really say the same about weaning. I spent months trying to answer questions like: "Do they need to keep nursing? Do I want to continue? When can we stop? Is this a sign that they're ready? Is that? Or will I traumatize them and ruin their ability to trust anyone ever again if I wean them too soon?"
Because There Are Fewer Resources On Weaning
There's not a whole lot of breastfeeding information accessible to a lot of people. But there's even less information, in my experience, on weaning. It makes sense, because learning how to breastfeed (if that's how you've decided to feed your baby) is more essential to master in a timely fashion than learning how to wean, but that doesn't mean a mom couldn't use another forum/book/website or two teaching her how to get her little one off the boob.
Because You Don't Need Those "Extra" Snacks Anymore
Breastfeeding mothers need extra calories to support breastfeeding. This means more delicious snacks. Once you wean you don't need that anymore.
Though, honestly, ask if my snacking habits have changed even a little bit since weaning my children. My baby might not need that 3:00 p.m. granola bar anymore, but I need it.
Because It Takes Longer For Your Milk To Go Away
It can be frustrating for your milk to take up to five days to come in. But if you thought it was just going to evaporate as soon as your baby stopped nursing, have I got news for you: that can take months to go away. It's usually pretty unobtrusive (particularly after a while) but it's still weird. It's like, go away, milk, no one wants you here.
Because You Have To Admit Your Baby Is Growing Up
Because It Can Take *Forever*
I'm not just talking about the process of your milk drying up, either. I mean that the weaning process can be a while, depending on how you do it. If you let your child self-wean you might be looking at a months (years) long process from start to finish. You might wind up slowly eliminating feedings over the course of weeks or months. You may try to go cold-turkey several times before it finally sticks. Point is, from the planning stages to successful weaning will very likely be a process and take longer than you'd initially imagined.
Because Weaning Is The *Real* "Deflategate"
Bless you, formerly breastfeeding boobs. You'll very likely fluff back up again in time, but for now we salute your efforts and sacrifice.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.