When it comes to weaning, only you know when the time is right. After all, you’re the mother and the best judge.
Deciding not to nurse anymore is different for everyone. There are so many factors involved, including the age of your child (baby versus toddler), his/her adjustment to change, and any health issues you might have experienced (from the flu to mastitis).
Because I chose to wean later—after two—this is where my knowledge lies. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for at least a year.)
In short, weaning requires much patience, creativity, and support. Many mothers say that they never planned to breastfeed past their child’s first birthday. Yes, hello!
But most babies simply don’t wean naturally. The hardest part for me—and many mothers I know—was letting go of that physical connection. Weaning marks the end of your last body-to-body connection since your child was conceived.
Moreover, many mothers (including yours truly) realize that nursing does more than nourish and calm your child; it comforts you, too. When I was nursing, we’d moved across the country, and this transition was hard on both of us. Weaning wasn’t going to happen overnight.
Also, putting an end to nursing cold turkey could be traumatic for your child. After more than two years of nursing, however, I was sleep-deprived. Some nights, there was milk in one breast, but not in the other.
The best advice I ever got was to proceed slowly and patiently.
The beauty of weaning a toddler is the fact that you can talk to him/her. I explained to my daughter that we were going to say goodbye to Mama’s milk. (And, no, she wasn’t happy, which she told me!) Gradually, I started to skip feedings and offer substitutes. Let’s just say that vanilla ice cream worked much better than Vitamin D milk.
Experts say that bedtime feedings are the most challenging to end and it’s true. My daughter had gotten used to nursing a few times a night, and this had taken a toll on me. I was wide awake at 4 a.m. after she had nodded off again.
Fortunately, I had two girlfriends who’d recently weaned their daughters. They helped me come up with the idea of having a “Goodbye Mama’s Milk” party.
I spent weeks prepping my daughter about her “big girl” party, which would include a cake and a new doll. Every night, we talked about the fact that she’d be saying bye bye to Mama’s milk soon. She was prepared.
My friends helped me bake a sugar-free date cake (in the shape of breasts!) with whipped cream on top. We lit candles. Tears welled up in my eyes, and my daughter beamed.
That night, instead of nursing, she fell asleep with her hand on my breast. I took a deep breath and cried. No matter when you decide to wean, one parallel seems clear—it’s emotional.
Not only are your hormones in high gear as you stop producing milk, but you’re ending a physical connection with your child. This will be one of your child’s first lessons in independence—and yours in letting go.
If you’ve recently weaned—or are thinking about it—please chime in!
Rachel Sarah is the author of Single Mom Seeking: Play Dates, Blind Dates, and Other Dispatches from the Dating World. She founded the number one blog for single parents, Single Mom Seeking, and co-founded Singlemommyhood, a whole new way to think about life.