Weaning, apart from birth stories and sleeping habits, is probably one of the most discussed topics among mothers - or at least in my circles. When to do it, how to do it, go cold turkey or gently wean over months, which feeding session to kick first, etc. etc.
Generally, as with most things kids-related, I think the "right" way depends greatly on many circumstances and the temper of your child. A dear friend of mine knew her daughter was an either/or person, so cold turkey it was - and it worked splendidly. Lily and I had a more gradual approach, but I was surprised how quickly and smoothly it actually happened in the end.
Before I delve into the nitty-gritty bits of our weaning story, there is something I have to get off my (now milk-less) chest first. When I got pregnant again, most women I talked to behaved as if this NEEDED to mean I stop breastfeeding. As if these were clearly co-related things. My mum always stopped breastfeeding when she fell pregnant with her next child and a friend of mine also put it quite clearly that a new pregnancy meant quitting breastfeeding her previous child.
From my mum I know it was because she had terrible pain in her breasts while breastfeeding and being pregnant, and I guess that's a reason why many women quit breastfeeding when falling pregnant again, but let me make this very clear: Being pregnant again does NOT mean you have to stop breastfeeding your previous child. The reason I am stating this so clearly because I am slightly weary of the definite statements some women - without meaning any harm, I am sure - throw out regarding their own experience. These statements can fester in other women's minds and actually create problems where there aren't any. The same goes for pregnancy and birth, which I am sadly experiencing again now, but I want to dedicate a blog post to the negative language about birth, so I won't digress now.
Apart from women telling me there is basically a co-relation between weaning and pregnancy, my obgyn also pointed out I should wean Lily, not only physically, but also emotionally, to prepare for the new baby. While certainly meant with the best intentions, it put a lot of stress on me. Suddenly I felt like I HAD to stop and it cost Lily and me a lot of tears when I tried to push through my half-baked, non-enthusiastic attempts to wean her off me.
Thankfully, I quickly decided to give a fuck on what people said. Weaning - and here I am talking in general terms again - is something that affects only two people: mama and baby. Only these two get to decide the how and when. No, your partner doesn't have a say in when "he gets the boob back", neither does your obgyn, nor your own mum or mother-in-law.
Long story short, my breasts didn't ache and I actually deemed the breastfeeding sessions with Lily even more special, knowing my body could nourish one baby from the outside and one from the inside.
While tandem feeding my babies was something I could imagine, I felt increasingly drained as I entered the second trimester. My plan was to wean Lily after Christmas, but in early December she had a bad bout of teething and wanted to be on my boob basically all night. With every night I felt more and more drained until I decided I couldn't go on like this anymore. Following the tip from one of my sleep books, I decided to block the boob for the night. I would feed her into sleep, dream-feed her once I went to bed, but then only feed from six o'clock onwards.
I won't lie. The first nights were terrible. I had heard stories of women telling me dreamily that they sat down their 11-month-old baby and had a chat about not breastfeeding anymore and the baby understood and it was all lovey-dovey. If that is actually what happens for some women (which I severely doubt, I think you just don't remember the drama that led to the result), good for you, but Lily didn't let go easily.
She screamed, she tossed, she hit me, she was desperate. Here I want to say one crucial thing about weaning and how I experienced it. You need to be ready. Emotionally and time-wise. As I mentioned, I had some half-baked attempts before where it was ME who wasn't ready to let go and I wasn't determined enough. You. Need. To. Be. Ready. Only if you are ready and have calmly made the decision, can you muster the love, patience and understanding to guide your child through this difficult patch. Also, it helps if your partner has the time to help you through these endless nights.
While I stayed strict with no breastfeeding, I held Lily, I explained to her booby was asleep, until she slowly became calmer and calmer. The tantrums grew shorter with each night and by the fifth night, something miraculous happened.
She started sleeping through the night.
She'd NEVER slept through the night before. Never. I remember I woke up and checked my phone clock and it was six o'clock. I was in awe (and shock). Of course, there were setbacks again (18-month-sleep-regression, am I right?), but generally, her sleep changed incredibly after weaning. She seemed to literally step from baby to toddlerhood.
From here one, it was easier. Two weeks later, I dropped the nap feed. Tantrums, tears, fits, the usual, but they lasted even shorter and soon she snuggled into my arm and fell asleep there. No booby, no tantrum AND she fell asleep within 10 to 15 minutes. When I suggested a few days later to just not have the booby for sleep time, she rolled over, snuggled into my arm like for nap time, and weaning was complete.
Actually, it was complete far too quickly for me. I remember I had this romantic idea of us having one last feed before ending it. The organic ending that acually happened rendered me overwhelmed, but I could refrain from feeding her one last time for my sake - for that would have been selfish and unfair.
And that was it. She didn't ask for the boob anymore and now, even when I run around naked, she doesn't seem interested in my breasts anymore. She still needs her extra cuddles to make up for the intimacy we shared, but our bond morphed into something more mature, something more toddlery.
Now, she gets a milk bottle for each nap and sleep time. She never falls asleep with the bottle like with the boob, but she was quite hungry in the first weeks after weaning, and the milk helps her pump up those calories during the night. The warmth of the milk is also soothing for her, but as I said, this might differ from child to child.
So, in summary, I can say these were the most important stepping stones to our successful weaning story:
- be determined when you want to stop. You child needs you to be strong about this decision, otherwise it's just confusing.
- make time to wean - and get someone on board to help you. There may be a few sleepless nights involved.
- ensure you're emotionally ready to wean: it's not fair to take the breast away from your baby and not be prepared to deal with the fallout calmly and like the adult that you are.
- be prepared to offer alternatives to your child: this may be a milk bottle or little snacks (remember, your baby doesn't get the milk calories anymore, so they might actually be hungry during this transition). But also emotional alternatives like cuddling, stroking, singing, or whatever you two enjoy.
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