By Erin Quinn-Kong
My daughter, who turned 1 in July, loved breastfeeding from the start. When she was mere weeks old, we nicknamed her Snapping Turtle because she would snap her tiny mouth onto my boob as soon as I pulled my shirt up. (She also had a horrible shallow latch that made my toes curl. Luckily, after about two months of breastfeeding all day, everyday, my nipples seemed to toughen up and the pain just magically disappeared.) It’s no surprise the girl is equally enthusiastic about food: steak, salmon, peaches, cheese, broccoli—she loves it all. I delight in watching her eat. She is not afraid to double fist her food, shoveling it into her mouth while making adorable lip-smacking noises.
Now that she’s had her first birthday and is eating three meals and a snack each day, I was ready to start weaning. (Plus, I wanted ownership of my body back—and to hopefully lose the 15 pounds that have hitched a ride to my stomach and thighs and don’t want to get off.) What has been most surprising during this transition is how little information there is on weaning. Many a night, I’ve googled obsessively, reading what little step-by-step instruction I could find. I found very little help online beyond these articles from La Leche League, Kelly Mom and Dr. Sears, which read a little guilt-trippy to me. Like many things about parenthood, I just had to wing it. Here’s what I learned during my journey:
Transitioning to milk (and formula) wasn’t that big a deal. I am very proud to have breastfed exclusively for 10 and a half months (yep, I have to include that half!) After six months of pumping multiple times a day at work so my daughter would have breast milk at daycare—and breastfeeding on demand at home—I found that once she hit nine months old my supply via pumping plummeted. And with a stressful job and a time-consuming side gig (ahem, this site), I just didn’t have it in me to try all the breastfeeding tricks to boost supply: Mother’s Milk tea, fenugreek, etc. That was my cue to start the transition. To supplement my pumping sessions, I began dipping into my paltry 50-ounce freezer stash, vowing that I’d start supplementing with formula once that ran out. (Yes, I fretted about this a bit. I wanted to breastfeed her entire first year, but it is exhausting. It was time to give myself a break.) I kept pumping at work, but I dropped from three sessions a day to two, and then to one as time went on. By the time my little one was 10 and a half months old, it was time for formula while she was at daycare. I was worried that she wouldn’t like the taste and would refuse the bottle filled with it. Well, guess what? She sucked it down, just like breast milk. (And she hasn’t grown two heads—it’s a miracle!) And the same thing happened six weeks later when we started giving her whole milk after her first birthday. As usual, I worried for no reason.
Go your own way. When my daughter turned 1, we were down to nursing twice a day: morning and bedtime. Most of the articles I read suggested cutting the morning feed first, as babies are more comforted by the night feed. Well, whomever wrote those articles hasn’t met my baby. The first morning I tried to give her a bottle of milk in lieu of our usual nursing session, she was pissed. The morning nursing session was like her morning coffee—she needed it to power through the day. I went ahead and nursed her, deciding to try the bottle again at bedtime. And wouldn’t you know it—she fell asleep like a champ. (And in the few weeks since, we’ve transitioned to teeth brushing and then water before bed.) The first morning I tried to give her a bottle of milk in lieu of our usual nursing session, she was pissed. The morning nursing session was like her morning coffee—she needed it to power through the day.
Take it slow. The one thing every article and blog I read recommended was taking weaning slowly. Stopping abruptly can cause lots of problems, including pain and mastitis. I was worried about cutting down to just one feeding—going from 12 hours between nursing sessions to 24 hours is daunting—but thankfully, I didn’t have much engorgement or tenderness. I was moody and headache-y, though. My period was arriving around the same time, and I definitely felt it. Luckily, my mom was in town, so I was able to take afternoon naps and relax a bit more than usual. Advil was also a lifesaver during that time.
Ask for help. I waited 10 days before cutting the final feeding, and I made sure my husband was aware what was coming. We had cold cabbage leaves at the ready for any pain and engorgement, and I enlisted him to wake up with the baby those first few mornings to distract her and give her milk and breakfast, completely taking myself out of the equation. He was all for it, and our plan went off without a hitch. (I was also lucky that while my daughter loves breastfeeding, she was never one to beg or cry for it, and never even lifted my shirt in protest.)
You have to ride out the pain. My last feeding was on a Tuesday morning. By Thursday morning, I felt nauseated and just overall blah. While my boobs definitely felt tight, I didn’t have any pain until Friday, when I realized I had a hard spot to the left of one nipple. I’m terrified of getting mastitis, so to combat what was likely a clogged milk duct, I decided to let my daughter nurse for a minute to get it out (I couldn’t bear to break out the pump). I counted to 60 as she nursed on the right side and then the left—it was actually really sweet, knowing it was her last nursing session as she looked up at me with her giant hazel eyes—and, just like that, we were done. The sore spot was gone, and we went about our day. By the weekend, I felt more engorged, but I just used cabbage leaves that I washed and kept in the freezer to relieve the pain. (Side note: It’s going to be a very long time before I can eat cabbage again—that smell!) By Monday, I felt 100 percent—no pain, no nausea, no engorgement. Hallelujah!
Weaning affects every woman differently. While I honestly feel great and had few side effects during the weaning process, other women have written about depression, sadness and even extreme exhaustion during weaning. If you are one of those women, that’s even more reason to ask for help. It’s a huge physical, emotional and hormonal change, and you shouldn’t have to go it alone.
Babies grow up. In my 13 months as a parent, I’ve learned the only constant is change. As soon as we get used to my daughter rolling over, she’s crawling, then pulling up, then walking. Soon, I’m sure she’ll be doing math problems at the kitchen table. Instead of mourning the death of our breastfeeding relationship, which I will always cherish, I am celebrating everything there is to come. Bring it on.
This article originally appeared on Modernae.com