“Boobies?” she asked me while sitting across from me on Dada’s lap, in the rocking chair. I smiled and her dad continued to read.
We switched the bedtime routine for the very first time: dad was rocking and reading, mama was sitting on the ottoman watching. After the book was done, my daughter hugged and kissed us both, and to my total surprise, she happily went into her crib.
That. Was. That.
I was almost…hurt. The night before was our last time nursing. I didn’t get a photo, I didn’t live in every last moment, I didn’t get a cry in, and I didn’t glance down at my daughter suckling and say to myself This is the last time.
Two years and eight days of breastfeeding my baby exclusively and on-demand and it all came down to a simple and easy goodbye. I saved multiple weaning articles to read beforehand which I never got to. I cried each time I even THOUGHT about weaning. It broke my heart to take away something my daughter loved so much and I honestly felt like I couldn’t do it.
Knowing it was coming, days before the final night I was anxious and doubting myself, trying to forever remember the feeling of her on my breast and against my skin. In the end, the very slow weaning process we chose was really effective for us both.
She was more ready than I had thought; we both were.
There are many reasons mamas want to wean, or have to wean, and many ways to actually wean. The way I weaned does not mean it’s the only way, it was just the safest and best way for me and my family. Deciding when that is will be a very personal decision, left up to you and your baby.
I can tell you that: “…the United States Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Word Health Organization (WHO), and the Canadian Paediatric Society for at least the first two years of life, and beyond for as long as mutually desired.”
If a baby is allowed to self-wean, meaning, until they naturally outgrow the need, independent of culture, they will do so somewhere between the age of 3-7! Early weaning will leave you without your best tool: nursing soothes, calms, helps to decreases pain and illnesses.
I chose to start our process when we found out we were expecting baby #2 and I knew that tandem feeding (breastfeeding both your older and younger kids) was not for me—though unless suggested by your OB or midwife due to preterm pregnancy symptoms or history, pregnancy does not mean you have to wean.
Regardless of your reason to wean, the most natural way is with a gradual spacing in between feeds and decreasing time at the breast. This minimizes the emotional effects on your baby and helps to ensure you do not get plugged ducts or mastitis.
The tips I am about to give you will be for weaning toddlers (about 18 months and older), who will best understand you, work with you in the weaning process, and can be reasoned with. I began my weaning process June 15th and my daughter was weaned by September 29th, a total of 15 weeks and 1 day. If you are weaning earlier, many of these tips will still apply, but most important, wean as gradually as possible.
1. Don’t offer, don’t refuse. Simple as that.
2. Set a goal.
Figure out when you’d like to be done. You may get there and change your mind and need more time, or be ready sooner. I chose to finish somewhere between 16 and 20 weeks pregnant, because breast milk turns back to colostrum around this time, and I wanted to give my daughter enough time to adjust before her new sibling came. Some babies like the new saltier flavor, others dislike it, but your supply significantly changes at this point.
Try offering a snack, water, a favorite toy, or go into a different room.
4. Start to refuse some of the time.
Pick a few feedings you want to keep. I chose to continue my morning feed, naptime, and bedtime. These three made going to sleep easier, as breastfeeding helps babes fall asleep.
5. Negotiate and reason.
This can help your child feel like a part of the decision. For example, “We can’t nurse right now, because we only nurse in the morning when you wake, at naptime, and at bedtime. Remember?”
6. Talk to your baby about weaning.
7. Reduce feedings one at a time, over a few weeks to months, to get to one feeding a day.
I started by removing the morning feeding because it was the easiest transition for us. Instead of morning boob, my husband played with my daughter downstairs and fed her breakfast. She forgot about this feed after one day.
Next, we removed the nap time feeding by switching our routine. Instead of rocking her in the rocking chair and putting her in her crib, I put her in the stroller, walked outside, and calmly told her when she was upset to close her eyes, and it was time for a nap. After two to three days of fighting it, she became a champion stroller sleeper. We left the bedtime feeding for last.
8. Start decreasing the time spent at the breast.
Instead of letting my daughter feed from the start of the bedtime book, I told her she could nurse after daddy had finished reading. From there, I would say it was time to go to sleep faster and faster until she was only nursing for a couple of minutes.
9. Change your routine.
Start new rituals while you are still nursing so they feel normal when you’ve stopped, avoid the places where nursing normally occurs, and have your partner take a more active role in routines.
10. Giggle and smile when your babe asks for boob and make it sweet and silly.
“We can’t nurse silly girl! Mama has no more milk!”
11. Give reasons.
“Only babies have booby, not big girls like you.”
12. Cuddle, let your baby see, touch, snuggle and kiss your breasts.
Make plenty of time for giving your baby attention. They definitely will miss those warm booby snuggles and you will want and need to find new ways to be close and connect.
13. Take care of your breasts!
The slower this process is, the least amount of risk you have for plugged ducts and mastitis (infection in the breast). Your supply will slowly decrease as feeding decreases. If you are feeling very full at first, you should express just enough milk to get relief, leaving milk in the breast and triggering your brain to slow down production. Use ice packs and take ibuprofen to reduce swelling and discomfort.
Weaning is the end to an incredibly unique relationship you share with your child. There is no reason to stop before you and your baby are ready, and the longer you share in this breastfeeding journey, the better it is for you and your LO.
By weaning your baby when he is ready, you will have met his physical and emotional needs, in the most normal and healthy way. Even when weaning, the milk’s protective factors so your baby stays protected all the way to the end.
Whatever your baby’s age, weaning is a huge change and absolutely okay for both of you to mourn. When the time is right for you, try to remember to go slow and steady, do it safely and with love. Have some tissues, and have a camera ready for that last day of beautiful cuddly suckling so you don’t miss it like I did.
And once you’ve made it through, I am sending you a huge congratulatory high five.
*It is recommended not to introduce cows milk until your child reaches 1 year, so if you are weaning anytime before the year mark, slowly introducing/replacing with formula will be part of your weaning process.