A friend wrote me recently saying she was about to start her daughter weaning from breastfeeding since she’s having a new baby soon. She wanted to know my thoughts on weaning generally and also emotionally. It hit home because for me weaning felt like…well… what it was. Admitting that my babies weren’t really babies anymore, although they’ll always be my babies.
First, breastfeeding can last anywhere from a few months to a few years depending on whether you choose a time to wean or whether you let your babies decide when they want to wean. My first two babies were 13 months apart and I knew I would not tandem breastfeed. So, I opted to wean my daughter around 11 months so that by 12 months she was on whole milk. That way when the baby came she wouldn’t think he stole her food. It worked well, except it was close enough together that when she felt sick or tired for the first few weeks she did try to breastfeed. Otherwise, she was fine.
I got pregnant with my third when my second child was 6 months old and by 9 months he simply would not drink breastmilk anymore. He didn’t like the taste, and in fact, he hadn’t liked it for the prior 3 months. I forced the issue and forced the issue and pumped and tried to continue. He simply wouldn’t have it. I almost died from the rejection. I exaggerate. But I do not exaggerate when I say that every time I tried to feed him for those 3 months I would say “you can’t do this to me…why, why, why????” Well, we survived. Here’s how.
This is when you choose a formula or a milk product you’ll give your baby. Of course, weaning also entails introducing rice cereal, fruits, veggies, etc but that happens at around 4-6 months and carries on with breastfeeding so that isn’t my focus here. With my daughter we chose whole milk. About one month later and after 3 days in the hospital with a UTI, we realized something was amiss. While in the hospital I noticed her rash went away and she was screaming less.
Since she was being fed no dairy while in the hospital I deduced she was dairy intolerant and so we switched her to goat’s milk. A few days later and all rashes gone, she was a happy camper. Eventually we switched to soy because here in Australia the only goat’s milk was about $5 a quart and since we do actually have to buy other groceries, we needed to get a more economic alternative. Prior to one year of age they recommend formula in lieu of whole milk, so it is essentially up to you which type you choose and how much or what mix you want to give your baby until they’re fully weaned.
This can be as simple as “the baby won’t drink anymore” or as systematic as eliminating one feeding per day per week until all are replaced with whole milk. Since I was weaning of my own choice in order to have my daughter weaned and content for at least a month before the new baby, I chose the latter. I was on 4 feedings a day and, one by one, eliminated a feed for a week. In effect, it took a month. Plus a few days when I had one morning feed left that I was stalling dropping.
The milk decreased little by little and there was no physical discomfort for me and there was a gradual discomfort for my daughter. My son, he was being forced to nurse which didn’t work so when I could tell he liked formula at 9 months, I just stopped nursing cold turkey. He was happier, I was sadder and life went on. The general rule I’ve heard is that you probably need to nurse a good 3 to 4 times a day to maintain an adequate milk supply. Therefore, unless you are a milk factory, know that you’ll be going downhill and go there quickly if you dip below that mark even in a gradual weaning process.
It may seem silly, or perhaps maybe not, but this was very difficult for me. I felt an almost tangible separation with both of my babies when they were being weaned. I had those intense melodramatic “they’ll go away to college soon and marry and I’ll never see them again” thoughts even though a 1-year-old is in just as much need of their mama as a baby baby. Am I the only one? I looked at it as the first step of many in that direction.
Afterwards, I almost expected that they’d somehow not really care about me that much. Oh so silly. Of course, that didn’t happen, but it did bring a level of freedom that afterwards I appreciated. If I was running errands I didn’t have to come straight home. I could leave the house for dinner and not worry about missing that last feeding of the day. It was a hard time but I suppose you trade in one privilege for many other joys.
If your baby wouldn’t take a bottle then weaning can actually feel freeing. If your baby is weaning itself and you aren’t “ready” then it can feel sad. If you are going back to work and don’t think pumping will work for you then weaning may also be bittersweet. There is something so special about knowing that you are sustaining your child personally from your own body and there is something ironically tragic about them not “needing” you anymore. Of course that’s silly. But since when do our emotions respond only to logic and rational?