The End of Your Breastfeeding Journey

Weaning from breastfeeding can take many different paths.

It may be your decision. You had a goal to breastfeed for a certain length of time and may be looking forward to weaning. On the other hand, you may be really enjoying breastfeeding, but still feel like you should stop when you had planned, but you’re dreading it. It may feel like it is “just time.”

It may be your baby’s decision.You may have decided that it would happen when it happens, and you would let your baby decide when he was done with breastfeeding. It may happen abruptly. It may be a gradual process. Someone may have told you that you have to or should wean.

You may wonder why I am devoting a whole post to weaning. You might ask, “Don’t you just stop?” You can if your baby is breastfeeding once or twice a day. You will need a plan if your baby is breastfeeding more than a couple of times a day.

Why Wean?

Moms have many different reasons to wean and it happens at many different times.

Reasons for weaning

  • They have met their goal for how long they planned to breastfeed

    Photo credit: koadmunkee on Visualhunt / CC BY

  •  A breastfeeding challenge that they did not feel they would be able to solve
  •  Someone has told them they should
    • A misinformed doctor
    • A misinformed nurse
    • A family member who thinks they should
    • Anyone whose opinion they listen to
  • Taking a drug that is contraindicated with breastfeeding
  • They experience an illness
    • They may need all their strength to deal with the disease
    • The illness may have caused a severe drop in their milk supply, and they are unable to get it back up
  • They feel like it is “just time”
  • They want their body back
  • Their baby stops wanting to
  • One mom told me she wanted to wean because breastfeeding made her baby poop too much
  • Another mom said breastfeeding really put a crimp in her and her husband’s social life

           Ways to Wean

  • If it is possible, gradual weaning is best
    • Write down how many times a day your baby is breastfeeding
    • Pick a feeding or pumping that is least convenient and eliminate it
      • Log when feedings are dropped
        • This is especially helpful if your baby is breastfeeding frequently
    • Wait a couple of days so that your body can adjust to the change and then repeat until you are not feeding or pumping anymore
  • If your baby decides just to stop and you decide that is what you want to do also, but he was still breastfeeding several times a day, go ahead and pump when he would have breastfed and then gradually drop the pumpings, until you are no longer pumping at all
    • You can feed the milk in a bottle or cup as long as it is available unless you are taking a drug contraindicated with breastfeeding
  • Cold turkey – you just stop

    Photo credit: Shyn Darkly on Visualhunt.com / CC BY

 

Problems

If you’re a mom who has lots and lots of milk then wean very gradually if you can. This will help you avoid plugged ducts or significant discomfort.

To deal with the discomfort, try this:

  • Ice packs
  • Cabbage leaves (yes, you read that right)
  • Ibuprofen
  • A supportive bra
  • If you get really uncomfortable and want to pump, make sure you pump only until you are more comfortable and not until you are well drained
  • Peppermint tea or candy can help decrease milk supply
  • Sage can reduce milk supply
    • Drink it as a tea
    • Take sage in capsules
    • Put it in soups (this will be less effective but in combination with something else can help
  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Birth control pills that contain estrogen

Misinterpreting your baby’s signals

Moms may think their baby wants to wean when he is just going through a normal phase of being distracted:

  • These are normal developmental phases
  • They start at about four months
  • They come and go
  • Nursing in a quiet, dark place can help
  • A nursing cover can help
  • Asking people not to talk to you when you are nursing can help
  • If your baby is fussy at your breast because of a decreased milk supply
    • Build up your milk supply
  • Nursing strikes
    • When a baby suddenly refuses to nurse

The AAP recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months and then, with the addition of complementary foods, continuing to breastfeed for at least a full year. If your baby is distracted or has a nursing strike, and you planned to breastfeed a full year, weaning should not be an option. You may be asking, but what can I do if my baby won’t breastfeed?

Breastfeeding and Boundaries

There are times when a mom decides to wean because her little one wants to breastfeed more than she wants to and it is making her feel overwhelmed and out of control of the situation.

Breastfeeding can be one of the first places that you set boundaries for your kiddo. You can refuse to nurse if he is getting grabby with your clothes. It is probably also time to set boundaries if your toddler wants to breastfeed every 20 minutes. A firm no with an explanation, and following through will usually help. I’m not promising that there won’t be a tantrum or two or even ten. It might be your baby’s tantrum, or it might be your tantrum. It might even be a joint tantrum. However, you’re the adult. You get the final word.

I knew one mom who was going to let her little one wean according to his schedule, but she really didn’t want to do the middle of the night sessions anymore. He was two years old. I suggested that she tell him he could only nurse when the sun was up in the morning. She told him this one night when he kept asking. He looked outside and said longingly, “Come up sun!” She set the boundary, and he understood it.

If you think your eight or nine month old wants to wean, but you know they are supposed to breastfeed until a year, you have a couple of different options. You can keep offering the breast, or you can pump and continue to breast milk feed.

Sometimes we need to overrule our children’s bad decisions. This may be the first time, but it certainly won’t be the last time. Think about if your two year old decided that he wasn’t going to use a car seat anymore. How about if he announced that he was only going to eat ice, cake, and cookies from now on. You’d probably overrule those decisions. At least I hope you would. I’m going to admit that I still can’t wrap my head around a mom who capitulates to her child refusing to eat anything other than chicken nuggets from the place with the golden arches.

I worked with someone whose eight month old went on a nursing strike, and we talked about how to deal with it. She stopped offering the breast because he would scream when she did, but she would make it available when they were cuddling. After three full weeks, he turned and latched on. She was so happy.  She said he turned to her and looked at her as if he was saying, “What’s the big deal?” He went on to breastfeed for well past his first birthday.

Feelings

Was your breastfeeding journey a happy one? Did you meet your goal of how long you wanted to breastfeed? Did your struggle and came to the difficult decision that it was time to move on from your breastfeeding challenges? Whichever experience you had, it can help to preserve those memories when they are fresh in your mind. I encourage you to write down your breastfeeding story. If you’d like to share it with other moms, contact me. If you want to keep it private, put it in an envelope and keep it where you keep your important papers or other memories.

Especially if it was a stressful experience, sometimes it can help to go back and remember it and realize how as a mom you have made good memories since that time. Possibly you have had other challenges, as you most surely will as a mom.

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One Last Thought

Whichever way your breastfeeding journey ends, being a mom is in itself a job well done.

Next Time

Ten steps to making breastfeeding easier!