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When You Simply Have To Wean

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

You have helped me with cloth diapers, baby naming, and travel with multiple children, and now I’m hoping you can help me again. My eight month old son is not thriving. At all. I don’t want to say that he’s stopped growing, but he’s barely registering on the percentile chart (which I know is to be taken with a grain of salt). Developmentally, he is way ahead of the game and has been crawling since he was six months old. Now he climbs stairs and cruises like it’s his job…we’re excited for his first steps, which we anticipate any day now.

We’re relying on our family physician, along with a referral to get his nutritional needs straightened out, in addition to a boatload of tests and lab work which just make my heart break. As part of his “failure to thrive” diagnosis, we quickly determined that he is not nursing well. He had been, but he is just too busy / distracted to nurse now. However, give him a bottle and he’s all about it. Since we need to quantify his nutritional intake, I had been pumping and supplementing with formula to fill his bottles. Now we need to make the move to formula only, due to crazy supply issues (insert Mommy Guilt here). And so this brings me to my question: How do I go about weaning? I know the the baby is okay with a bottle, but what about my boobs? I’ve heard about cabbage, but how long do I do that? And is it going to take four days, or a month of rock hard boobs before the faucet finally turns off?

Weaning on short notice was not really in my plan, and so now I’m just shooting for making it as (realistically) comfortable as possible.

Thank you!

First of all, dude, I am sorry you and your little guy are going through this. I really hope his doctors get to the bottom of things quickly, AND that things really can be solved with a nice steady uptick in calories and nothing more.

And I also CAST THEE OUT, MOMMY GUILT. I hereby declare this to be a Judgment Free Zone, unlike every other article on weaning I pulled up this morning during a cursory do-I-have-my-basic-facts-right check, because man, nothing like reading over and over again that you don’t really have to wean and shouldn’t wean and it’s all in your head and blah blah blah…even though you do, in fact and in your particular case, have to wean. Shut up, Weaning Articles! Stop being annoying.

That said, I still don’t see any reason why you can’t wean your son semi-gradually instead of super-crazy abruptly, if only to prevent your own discomfort. Going cold-turkey with cabbage leaves would not be my first choice if there was any other way, since this isn’t a case of you taking dangerous medications or being physically separated from your son for a length of time. And since you seem to have a pumping schedule down already, you can definitely make this easier on yourself and avoid the strap-on boulder-boob feeling. (Not to mention the hormonal craziness that can take over when you have boobs full of milk and a brain full of signals that something must be wrong and where’s your baby and etc.)

The best way to purposely wean your baby is to take the Don’t Offer, Don’t Refuse route. If your son starts rooting and turning into your chest, nurse him. But once he pops off, distracted-like, don’t encourage him to get back on. Instead, have a bottle ready and give him that, just so you know he’s getting enough to eat per doctor’s orders. Likewise, if he’s crying and acting hungry but DOESN’T seem to be nuzzling around for the breast, skip offering it and go straight to the bottle.

To offset any discomfort that comes from your milk coming in sans rooting, keep pumping, but eliminate one pumping session each day until you’re down to zero. If you feel full and uncomfortable during the increased stretches of time between pumping sessions, by all means go for the cabbage leaves or cold compresses as needed. (Hot compresses and hot showers will trigger letdown, so you might want to try keeping your shower as tepid as possible until you’re done.)

In my experience as a fellow Crap Milk Supply veteran, your supply may dry up fairly quickly and painlessly. I felt Noah weaned pretty abruptly at five months — we were nursing three times a day (then oftentimes following up with a bottle) and I was pumping twice. Since he also was a distracted nurser with a very poor suck, our nursing sessions were increasingly short and probably didn’t really involve that much milk. One morning he literally woke up and would. Not. Latch. On. He pulled away and howled in misery instead, but then accepted a bottle and sucked it down happily. I pumped twice that day at work, as usual (though I produced very little), and tried nursing again in the afternoon. Same thing. He just wanted no part of it. I stopped offering, he never rooted again. I pumped once the next day and then…that was that. I was dried up. No pain, no engorgement, just…done. Any letdown feelings afterwards were strictly of the phantom variety.

With Ezra, it was more gradual, but only because I was fighting the process tooth and nail, repeatedly offering and offering him boob first and then frantically pumping and taking supplements in case it was a supply thing. But it wasn’t a supply thing. He was just done. Once I finally accepted that he was done, I realized how little milk he was actually drinking from me because I think I felt the need to pump exactly once and then…I was done too. So if you are having supply issues, your body may be pretty amenable to the weaning process and ready to stop with the milk already, with just a few basic cues from your baby and a step-down in pumping.

Also promise me you’ll take care of yourself — weaning AT BEST can be a very bittersweet, confusing thing, and doing it under pressure or stressful situations like yours might mean that your emotions will be a tougher thing to handle than any engorgement issues. I know a lot of weaning advice involves handing over feeding duties to a significant other, but if you find that upsetting or get pangs over OH NOES LOSS OF BONDING, by all means stay involved in the bottle feeding or let him nurse first — even if it’s for all of 15 seconds before he pulls away.

And once you’re done with weaning, go out and buy yourself some kick-ass bras or lingerie or cute tops that celebrate the Return Of Boobs For Decorative Purposes Only. Because they’re still pretty great, you know?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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