Five Things I Wish Somebody Told Me About Weaning
Yes, weaning. Whether it happens at two months or two years, it can be a really weird time. Maybe you feel relieved, like somebody finally gave back your freedom and your body. Maybe you feel guilty, like you did something wrong or didn’t try hard enough. Maybe you even feel a distinct loss of identity, like you aren’t sure how to be a mom without the “nursing” adjective. Maybe it’s a mix of all three, plus some other conflicting emotions I forgot to mention.
My baby weaned for good last week, right at the 10 month mark. I still, sometimes, can’t believe it. I keep waiting for him to change his mind and for everything to go back to “normal.” My husband goes on morning auto-pilot and brings him to bed and hands him off, before stopping and thinking about it, like…Oh. Right. We’ve begun taking turns putting each boy to bed, and while I really missed regular bedtime stories with Noah, I still really, REALLY miss my nighttime routine with Ezra, my baby, my boob man.
On the other hand, I don’t miss being bitten, or pinched, or slapped with a poundy little palm, or having my hair pulled. I like being able to wear THAT shirt or THAT dress, the ones without buttons or elastic. I like cocktails and another glass of wine and all the tuna sashimi I can eat.
Weaning Noah was easier, in a way, since we never had an exclusive nursing relationship to begin with. Going back to work full-time was a blow that my low supply and his poor suck and flow preference could not recover from, but that’s just how it went. Nothing more to be done. I tried to nurse him one morning and he pulled off and screamed until I gave him a bottle. I tried upping my pumping schedule that day, produced nothing, and couldn’t even get him to latch again that night. The end. Okay. My mom told me I did the exact same thing at the exact same age. Huh. Moving on.
So I was a little unprepared for the weaning this time, since it wasn’t so clear cut. I could, usually, convince and cajole Ezra into latching — even after a refusal earlier in the day. Was he done? No, he can’t be done. I better try again, keep going, keep offering. Turns out that I, philosophical advocate of “child-led weaning,” had absolutely no real idea what that meant in real life. A few things I wish I had known ahead of time:
1) Babies DO self-wean before a year, I don’t care what anyone says, SO THERE. When I first suspected that Ezra’s “distracted phase” was quite possibly something more than a phase, I consulted all my favorite books and websites for information about weaning, and how to tell if your baby was weaning. And was told over and over again that, essentially, it was all in my head, that babies don’t typically wean before 12 months, that it’s usually the mother misinterpreting a developmental stage. So…PHASE. Just a phase. And I’ll tell you what, that information made breastfeeding somewhat miserable, there at the end. How long was this phase going to LAST? Why was my baby being so DIFFICULT? What’s with the biting, the twisting, the boob strikes when he was clearly hungry? Snap out of it, baby! I was fighting a losing battle that I didn’t even know I was fighting; but I thought I was just being a diligent and informed nursing mom.
2). Your baby probably understands the process better than you do. Another thing that kept me soldiering on was the thought that I was WRONG about it, that I would stop and let my milk dry up and then OH THE HORRORS, Ezra would start rooting around and I would have nothing for him. Oh, God. Never happened. It’s eerie, almost like he has already forgotten that he ever nursed at all, or what my boobs were for. The last few times I tried nursing he regarded them as a curiosity — something to grab and poke rather than baby-bird dive-bomb at, like all those months before. If your baby is ready, he’s ready. Trust him, and your instincts.
3) You may continue to make milk for longer than you think. My supply was pathetic, by the end. I could not pump a drop, Ezra rarely nursed for more than a few minutes…so I assumed I would simply stop producing any milk rather quickly. A day, probably! And while I never had issues with leaking or engorgement, like many weaning moms, I did continue to have milk for more than a few days. It wasn’t a big deal physically, but oh, emotionally it tore me up. It kept tempting me to try ONE LAST TIME, to try to pump it, save it, something.
4) Phantom letdown! I KNOW there’s no more milk in there now, but…still. Like a phantom limb, I get these fake sensations of my milk letting down ALL THE TIME. Like, more than I did on a regular day of nursing. Does this ever…stop, do you know? It’s weird.
5) Any and all breastfeeding is successful breastfeeding. Okay, I actually already knew this one, but it’s important. I don’t care if you only nursed in the hospital, once or twice, or for a couple weeks, or months, or years. It doesn’t matter if always had to supplement with formula or pumped exclusively, or if nursed until your baby weaned or until you were ready and made the conscious decision to stop. You did it, and you rock. Be proud of what you accomplished, whatever that was, and don’t let anyone else’s breastfeeding yardstick make you feel like you fell short.