Nothing felt natural about breastfeeding in the beginning. It hurt. I was raw and engorged. I had so many questions: Was he eating enough? How could I tell how much he was eating? Was he always going to want to nurse that much? I’ll be honest - I was miserable. My son wouldn’t stop crying, and I can’t count how many times I felt like I’d reached my breaking point. Then there was the breast pump I needed to figure out before I returned to work; I was intimidated and overwhelmed just by the thought of it.
My son lost 12% of his body weight in the first three days of his life because it took that long for my milk to come in. I had no idea that could happen, and I felt like a complete failure. My job was to feed and nurture our son, and there he was, on the brink of failure to thrive at less than a week old.
Fortunately, our pediatrician was supportive of my desire to breastfeed and gave me a chance to let my milk come in. After a weekend at home, my milk came in, and my baby started gaining. He went from the 17th to the 47th percentile in a month. That was the encouragement I needed to keep going.
Things went well for the next couple of months. I figured out how to use my pump (shout out to Spectra and their amazing support groups) and started building a freezer stash. I looked forward to returning to work – and feeling like I had my professional identity back – and I was determined to continue breastfeeding while working full-time.
Just when I got into the swing of things, I came down with mastitis.
Oh, you didn’t know flanges come in different sizes? Oh, you’ve been using size 24? You’re actually size 30 (*stares blankly at the lactation consultant*). Oh, your baby’s been sleeping through the night since he was eight weeks old, but you haven’t been getting up to pump in the middle of the night because you desperately need the rest? Well, congratulations! You’ve got the perfect recipe for mastitis!
If you’ve never experienced the pain of mastitis, count your blessings. I thought it was going to abruptly end our nursing journey. The pain was awful, and nursing through it was one of the harder things I’ve had to do.
Despite coming down with mastitis twice, I pushed through. My initial goal was to breastfeed for six months. As six months came and went, I told myself I could make it a year. In the meantime, my freezer stash continued to grow. I quickly realized I had way too much milk, so I signed up to become a donor. I donated both to a local milk bank and privately to local moms in need. I also was able to exclusively feed a baby in my hometown for months when her mother wasn’t able to produce. I was obsessive about tracking every ounce I donated, and I’m so proud to say I donated 3,668 ounces of breast milk over a seven-month period.
When my son turned a year old, we started the gradual weaning process. I never thought I’d be the mom saying I missed nursing my child. If I’m being totally honest, I definitely used to judge women who nursed older children. In my defense, I was young and had no children of my own, so I didn’t get it. Now I do.
I’m sad because this chapter of our lives is over, and I’ll never get it back. But I smile because my little boy is here (and THRIVING!) because of me and what my body was able to provide him. And that’s something I can hang my hat on.
I couldn’t have been successful on this journey without my support system. Sometimes we need someone to remind us just how amazing we are, and for me, that’s my husband. He advocated for me and encouraged me when I felt like I was failing. I think it’s important for all of us to have someone, whether it’s a spouse, parent, sibling, or friend.
I learned so many tips and tricks that were helpful during my journey, so I wanted to share a few of my favorite weaning tips (make sure to reach out to a health care professional, like your OB, a lactation counselor, or an IBCLC, with any questions you might have):
Mom-to-Mom Tips for Weaning
Take it slow!
Just as it took some time to establish a good breastfeeding routine, it’ll take some time for your body and your baby to adjust to weaning.
Solid food is your friend.
It may help to wean once your baby has shown interest in solid foods; solids can help divert attention from nursing.
If you’re both pumping and nursing, consider breaking up with the pump first.
I found it easier to wean myself from pumping first. I didn't start weaning from breastfeeding until a month or two later. It was much more manageable for me to not have to drag a pump around everywhere I went, and it gradually decreased my supply with minimal discomfort.
Prioritize your feedings.
Start with eliminating the least significant feed first. Mine happened to be his 3 pm "snack." We just skipped it one day and went straight to a solid food snack. Then every few days, I would eliminate another feeding.
Timing is everything.
Let your body guide your weaning. Some moms can eliminate a feeding every few days, and some need a week or more. If you’re experiencing discomfort, take some more time before dropping the next feed. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
But what about bedtime?
I’ve known a lot of moms who eliminate the bedtime feeding last. Many consider it the hardest one to eliminate since babies are frequently nursed to sleep or soothed by the nursing ritual. I found it helpful to have my husband take over the bedtime routine for a few nights. Our son never cried for me because he was happy being with Dad, and he knew Dad didn't have any milk!
Get some fresh air!
Plan some fun outings during times you would normally be nursing. Out-of-the ordinary activities (especially those outside of your home) keep your baby engaged and not thinking about nursing. It doesn't have to be anything extravagant. Even a trip to Target would work!
Take care of yourself - mentally and physically.
Weaning from that last feeding was hard on me emotionally. I made a point to schedule some time for myself so I wasn't moping around the house. Schedule dinner with a friend, get a massage, or go for a walk.
Use your support system!
Whether it's your significant other, mom, best friend, other moms in a mom group, or neighbors, lean on them for support! Your baby is not the only one who will need support and comfort during the weaning process.
I have yet to meet a mom who didn’t face at least a few challenges along her breastfeeding journey. Though our experiences may differ, we need to talk to each other about our struggles. On social media, we often only see picture-perfect families, and that can be discouraging to the struggling mom who feels like she’s failing. I want to challenge all of us to normalize breastfeeding, and that means everything – all the ups and downs. You never know, sharing your breastfeeding struggles openly might help another mom who’s in the same boat. Together, we are stronger.