As a dedicated breastfeeding mom, I was in no hurry to wean my baby, so I didn’t put too much thought into how it would go when he did inevitably stop breastfeeding. Call me naive, but despite warnings from friends about the possibility of developing depression after weaning my baby, I honestly thought it would be fine. After all, I'd lived through postpartum depression, and I'd come out OK. Even if I did become depressed after weaning my baby, I figured that I could deal with whatever came my way, but nobody warned me that the physical effects of weaning could be hell on earth.
In fact, to be perfectly honest, I was kind of relieved at the prospect of no longer breastfeeding. Sure, I loved breastfeeding him, but he seemed to want to breastfeed constantly, and I was sure there’d be some major upsides to no longer having a kid on my boob 24/7.
I committed to letting him self-wean once we made it past the one-year mark, and I decided to do it gradually. I figured the slow transition would make it less of a big deal. But when my son suddenly weaned at 19 months, it wasn’t just my emotions that were thrown for a loop — it was also my entire body.
My son caught the flu sometime over the holidays, despite having had his flu shot in the fall. He got hit with an ear infection right after, which the doctor referred to as a “secondary infection,” and at that point he was basically too stuffed-up to breastfeed at all. I was worried about him, but was assured that these things happen. As soon as he felt better, the doctor informed me, he’d be back on the boob.
The realization that my baby would no longer be breastfeeding was pretty freaking emotional for me. I hadn’t expected it to happen anytime soon, and there was absolutely no warning that he was interested in weaning.
When a baby stops breastfeeding suddenly, it’s usually called a nursing strike. I was told over and over again by friends, lactation consultants, and the doctor that if the breastfeeding parent just maintains their supply and is patient, most kids come back around to the boob in a couple of days. But that’s not what happened. Instead, as he slowly recovered from his illness, my son stopped breastfeeding altogether. Because he was more than 1 year old, he was already eating solid foods several times a day, so not breastfeeding wasn't exactly a death sentence for him. It was like he realized that hey, he wasn’t breastfeeding anymore, and he was totally fine. But after two weeks, I had to admit the truth: My baby had self-weaned.
The realization that my baby would no longer be breastfeeding was pretty freaking emotional for me. I hadn’t expected it to happen anytime soon, and there was absolutely no warning that he was interested in weaning. At 19 months old, he was still pretty obsessed with the breast. But I wasn't exactly devastated by the transition, since I'd expected to experience some emotional upheaval when he stopped breastfeeding. What took me completely by surprise, however, were the physical side effects of weaning. Apparently, when you stop breastfeeding, there's a pretty massive hormonal change that takes place in your body. I knew that in theory, but I had no idea how dramatic it would be.
I was totally exhausted, depleted, and utterly unable to do anything but sit on the couch and stare off into the distance, wondering how soon bedtime was.
The most obvious change was that my boobs hurt. In itself, this wasn't surprising: my body was used to making a ton of milk for my growing toddler, and now that he wasn't breastfeeding it would feel uncomfortable when my breasts got full. KellyMom.com suggests pumping or manually expressing milk to relieve this kind of pain. But even after my body really wasn’t making all that much milk anymore, my boobs would sometimes hurt. Just out of nowhere, there would be a sharp pain, and then a dull ache. The weirdest part was the tingling sensation: a few times a day, the “pins and needles” feeling that sometimes happens if your foot falls asleep started shooting through my breasts. It wasn’t fun, and it just drew more attention to a part of my body that I was honestly just trying to ignore.
Then there was the tiredness. While everything about being a mom can make you tired, this was some next-level fatigue. I was totally exhausted, depleted, and utterly unable to do anything but sit on the couch and stare off into the distance, wondering how soon bedtime was. The only comparison I can come up with is the exhaustion you feel during the first trimester of pregnancy.
In addition to being a walking zombie and having weird tingle-tits, there was the nausea. At first, it didn’t even occur to me that my sudden queasiness could be related to not breastfeeding anymore, but I did some digging, and it turns out that nausea can be a symptom of weaning.
I was so angry: Why had no one warned me?
The end of breastfeeding is a pretty huge transition for everyone involved, but being physically uncomfortable made everything harder to deal with. Suddenly, my whole family was adjusting to brand-new feeding routines. Most of our old routines were built around a lot of breastfeeding, so once that wasn't happening, we all had to adjust. It would have been challenging enough without being physically miserable on top of it all, but I was physically miserable. I was so angry: Why had no one warned me? How come nobody talks about how terrible it feels? Maybe it’s different for everyone, but in my case, it was pretty hellish.
Despite feeling like it would go on forever and ever — that I’d just be crying, nauseous, and exhausted until my child went off to college — it didn’t. Sometime after the two-week mark I started to feel slightly more like a human being. And then one day I realized I wasn’t falling asleep standing up, and I had this fiercely independent little toddler to enjoy life with.
I’m still a little sad about the end of our breastfeeding relationship, and I think I will be for a long time. But I’m gradually starting to enjoy the good things about being a mom who gets to keep her boobs in her shirt. These days I can actually cuddle with my kid without him asking for a quick sip of milk, and it turns out cuddling is awesome. I'm no longer constantly thirsty from having all the water leeched out of me by another person. And when I get dressed in the morning, I never have to think, "Oh, I can't wear that, it'll be too hard to pull my tits out."
Weaning was a hellish nightmare that I thought would never end, but now I can honestly say that life on the other side isn't too bad.