It happened! Now that I’ve gone a week without breastfeeding, I can officially say we’ve weaned. At 19+ months, it took several months longer than I’d planned, but after several setbacks and extreme laziness on my part, we are boob-free, baby. This was the most difficulty I’ve had weaning a baby — partly because it was the one thing that was guaranteed to put her back to sleep ASAP overnight. We’d been done during daylight hours for months, but in those overnight exhausted hours, it was always the path of least resistance. Some of it too was that I knew this was my last rodeo, so I wasn’t exactly in a big rush to cut her off.
For anyone who feels like weaning might never happen, take heart. You’ll get there! And there’s no rush. Even though there are those who are vocal about what your breastfeeding relationship should look like and when it should end, it’s really only up to you and your baby when you call it quits. Here are just a few things I’ve learned having weaned three kiddos.
Tips for Weaning the Boob-Loving Toddler
Take it slow. Don’t cut your baby off cold turkey. Not only will baby be like, “WHAT!” but your boobs will be like, “WHAT.” Start by cutting out the feeds that you think your baby won’t miss. After your milk production adjusts to that after a few days, cut out another. Slow and steady wins the race — and helps prevent pain and engorgement and plugged ducts.
Expect setbacks. Your baby might really miss that cuddling and comfort from you, and you may find yourself adding a session back to the rotation. Don’t get frustrated; try again in a couple of days. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back.
If baby is sick, expect more setbacks. My daughter had several colds and ear infections and allergic reactions where I was so glad I was still nursing as she was barely eating anything else. When baby is under the weather, you may feel like you’re back in the newborn days. I promise, once baby is feeling better, you can go back to cutting those sessions back out.
Have dad put the baby down. If you’ve been putting the baby down to nap or sleep for 18 months, the baby has that association of boob-to-sleep. Try having dad put the baby down to break that association. You can do it yourself, but expect the baby to throw himself at the boob until he’s used to not getting it at bedtime any more. (Bonus: I’ve found that breaking the nurse-to-sleep association both at nap and bedtime has always helped baby stay asleep longer — once they’re older than a year or so anyway.)
Delay and distract, distract, distract. If baby tends to get grumpy at a certain time — late afternoon was always our witching hour — that session can be tough to drop. You’ve got several options. Start trying to delay that feeding each day just a little longer and distract: give a small snack, a cup of milk, or start playing with exciting toys to get baby’s mind off what he’s missing out on.
A word about those overnight feeds. Many choose to cut out overnight feeds first. Or their babies just start sleeping through the night and this happens naturally. This is smart and/or lucky. If you’re like me, the overnight feeds are the last to go because every time the baby wakes up, she wants boob. This can also work, but can make for some difficult nights when you do finally cut those feeds out. The good news is that each night gets a little better, and you can always send daddy in to help you out and reinforce the message that boob ain’t happening in the overnight hours.
Shorten feeds. I knew that overnight feeds would be a battle to drop, so I started shortening them. I’d let her nurse for just a minute or two before she’d go back in the crib. She didn’t like this at first, but soon got used to it.
Cuddle, cuddle, cuddle. Remember, your toddler needs cuddles. I have to remind myself of this occasionally, particularly as I have independent older kids. Take time to replace nursing sessions with one-on-one snuggles.
Expect mixed feelings. You might be simultaneously ready to be done nursing and sad about that relationship ending. This is normal. Even five days after we quit, I had a moment of “Well, we don’t HAVE to quit. I could still nurse,” and I got really sad about it. I’m still sad about it, honestly, but I also know that we’re both just fine, too.
Don’t underestimate the hormones. If you’ve been pregnant you know the strength of hormones. Don’t forget about those suckers. You might feel some extreme emotional swings during and after weaning. You might also wake up with crazy night sweats like I’ve been doing. It should pass, but always see your doctor if it persists.
I must say, it’s nice to be done breastfeeding, even with that twinge of sadness. I had a moment when I realized that I didn’t need my nursing bras any more and I gleefully slam-dunked one of them into the trash. Next time I have a cold? ALL THE DRUGS.
What tips do you have for weaning a toddler? —Erin