I knew breastfeeding might be hard, but had no idea weaning would seem impossible

Guest post by Monk-Monk
Photo by Sherry Insley

The breastfeeding relationship my son and I shared started out rocky. The lactation consultant in the hospital diagnosed me with “flat nipples” at day two and handed me a nipple shield to take home. Confused and frustrated, I spent hours trying to get the latch perfect (both with the shield and without), spent hours Googling different techniques, watching YouTube videos for how to get it “just right,” and cried… a lot. My husband made late-night phone calls to La Leche League mothers while we fed our baby expressed milk from a spoon as to not induce “nipple confusion.” There was my fury when the pediatrician suggested supplementing at the 10 day mark and gave my son a dose of formula in the office, right in front of me. The first six weeks or so were emotionally draining. I hated the nipple shield, diagnosed myself with over-active letdown, and thought about quitting the whole darn thing.

We finally got the hang of it, mostly, though it wasn’t always smooth sailing. He refused all bottles when I went off maternity leave, and only drank straight from the tap (I see keg stands in this kid’s future). But the exhaustion of reverse cycling (nursing 8-10 times at night to make up for lack of caloric intake during the day) was exhausting to say the least. I remember asking numerous times, “Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be this hard?”

In my idealist pre-baby moments I had hoped for a blissful 12 months of nursing. And then what? Well, um, hmm, I guess we would just… stop? The logistics of weaning hadn’t crossed my mind. I figured it’d just be “natural,” and just… happen? But, as I learned with the start of my breastfeeding relationship, there is nothing easy about the whole breastfeeding thing.

So here I am, with a lovely 18 month old son and we are still breastfeeding. Our 12 month goal came and went, and I didn’t really think about weaning because we had “just gotten the hang of it.” Maybe it’s like “bonking” in running, but I have hit this point where I was mentally and physically and emotionally exhausted from breastfeeding. Unfortunately, it’s one of my kid’s favorite activities. He refuses a pacifier and has zero interest in snuggling with a lovey. He knows what he wants, and what he wants is Mama… and preferably without her shirt on.

It’s complicated. On one hand I feel proud to have been able to get this far, and I’m happy to see that my son and I are bonded together in such an extraordinary way. On the other hand, I would like to have my body back and get more than four hours of sleep in a row. But it’s not just as easy as “cold turkey,” especially for a kid with very few other coping techniques.

I’ve come across the advice “If mom isn’t happy, then do something differently,” but that’s not all that helpful in the long-run. I’ve found a few gentle weaning tips online, but the prospect of a few more months of diligence and consistency seems daunting and exhausting. And my friends aren’t much help, either. While they’re in various stages of breastfeeding, we’re all trying to figure out when it’s right to stop breastfeeding and how to go about doing it.

So why, if my start to breastfeeding was so hard, did I expect it to just be easy stopping? Weaning is complicated, full of many conflicting emotions. Right now I’m trying to just take a few deep breaths and go with the flow. He can’t breastfeed forever… right?

Comments on I knew breastfeeding might be hard, but had no idea weaning would seem impossible

  1. Maybe start by setting some limits on when and where you nurse? This seems to be working for us. I haven’t allowed my 20-mos old daughter to nurse outside the home (except when we’re gone ALL day) for a while. I recently partially night-weaned her by doing something similar to Dr. Jay Gordon’s night-weaning method (google it). She was an every-two-hrs nurser throughout the night. I decided that I would no longer nurse her from 11 PM until 5 AM, and explained this to her (a great thing about weaning at this age… they’re capable of understanding!). We cosleep, and I nurse her to sleep as normal, but if she wakes up and wants to nurse after 11 PM, I explain that it is time for sleeping, not nursing, but she can cuddle with me if she wants. (I also turn my shirt backwards so my boobs aren’t just hanging out there– very important!) We had a rough few nights, but now she is doing great– she’s sleeping much longer stretches, is willing to be comforted back to sleep by my husband too, and asks for “cuddles” more often now… it’s really sweet to feel that nursing isn’t the only way I can physically comfort her. It’s gone MUCH better than our failed attempts to sleep-train her or move her to a crib, and it just feels right… and helps me see how I can guide her toward weaning, even though she seems like the kind of kid who would not give up nursing on her own any time soon. It’s also pretty sweet to hear her say “hooray! Nurse!” when I finally let her nurse once it’s light out.

    Congratulations for sticking with this, and good luck transitioning to this next phase in parenting!

    • Thanks! Off to google that now, sounds good! I’ve started to tell him that when it’s morning and he sees light in his window, but I also want to limit how many times he can nurse on each side! The other night he fell asleep (after nursing about an hour before) drinking some water from his sippy cup.

  2. My daughter is now 2 and I weaned her at around 19 months. We had started cutting down on breastfeeding although I had originally planned to go to 2 years with her. She actually got really sick in December and January and would want to nurse but then immediately puke up all the milk. So we had to stop. My husband actually took her to his parents house for a few days to get a start on the weaning and then when they came back I just didn’t continue. Knowing that I had to stop because she was sick made it easier for me to hold my ground. She actually still pretends to breastfeed on occasion which I think it kind of cute… she doesn’t put her mouth on my nipple, just touches her lips to it for a minute or so and then goes on to do something else.

  3. Best of luck. Nightweaning at 10 months gave me some breathing space to keep nursing my twins overall. At 20 months I’m still nursing , just recently reduced from 6x a day to 4x. Its hard to set limits – they ask and I feel mean refusing but I can’t handle more of that. Ive heard good things about Dr Jay Gordon nightweaning his method which can be used with cosleeping. Or just have daddy sleep with child for 3 nights straight.

  4. Probably not as helpful as this could be, because I do not have children, but I was breastfed until I was around 4 years old (but at that point it was only for comfort, not several times a day). My mom breastfed three out of her four children until they self-weaned. She breastfed the oldest child until he was 6months old because it was the seventies,… and her doctor told her it wasn’t healthy to breastfeed more than 6 months. For her next three, she joined La Leche League and learned that this doctor just had a stick up his… um… opinion.

    A lot of what I’ve read in my breastfeeding research indicates that a good place to start weaning a child who is used to nursing all the time, is to allow nursing when they ask, but to stop offering, even when they are upset. You offer them snuggles, hugs, kisses, a story, etc, but breastfeeding only happens when your child specifically asks for it. Obviously, this doesn’t stop it, but might be a place to start?

  5. I’m in the SAME boat, how did we end up in this boat??? I thought, like the books said, I’d cut a feeding out, one week at a time, until he was drinking whole milk and that’d be that. Instead my boy is a year and half, and while I’ve successfully gone from nursing on demand to a nursing schedule, he still asks for milk ALL day. Geesh. I’m going to spend the next while reading through all these comments for what worked for other people. Just know, that when the boat is rocking, you’re not alone Mama.

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