Parents

What The Emotional Journey Of Weaning A Baby Is Really Like

It's complicated.

There's a lot of information available to mothers about how to start breastfeeding and support it, but relatively little about what happens when it's time -- for one reason or another -- for it to end.

But for many women, weaning is complicated, whether they breastfed for two hours or two years. Some feel sad; others are buoyed by a sense of freedom. Some women's breasts swell and ache, while for others, weaning represents welcome relief from constant discomfort. For many, it's a complex mix -- a process that is fluid and emotionally charged. Here, 12 HuffPost Parents readers get real about what it's truly like to wean:

***

"I realized I was experiencing something similar to postpartum depression."

I have three boys and breastfed them all for 14 months, give or take. My second son was difficult. I had returned to work and decided that because he was only nursing in the morning and at night, and I didn't want to have to deal with the hassle of pumping, we'd stop -- but he wasn't ready. He would cry, climb on my lap and try to pull down my shirt. My older son just sort of forgot about breastfeeding, but my second cried about for almost two months. I tried to distract him and stick to a bedtime routine of bath and reading a book, but he would still try to give nursing cues.

Subsequently, in the months after weaning him I became so emotional. I would cry all the time and I didn't know what was wrong with me. It wasn't until I read an article from the blogger Joanna Goddard that I realized I was experiencing something similar to postpartum depression. My OB told me it was normal to feel hormonal shifts, and we ultimately decided I didn't need to go on any medication, but I kept in contact with my doctor in case I needed anything. Altogether, it was almost five months until I felt really good again. -- Christina, 36, California

***
"My milk dried up within three days, and I was ecstatic."
My first daughter was 19 months when she weaned, and I was so happy! We had already stopped nursing during the day, due to daycare and work. Then one night she didn't ask for the breast (meaning, she slept through the night without nursing) and I didn't offer. My milk dried up within three days, and I was ecstatic. Breastfeeding isn't actually something I enjoyed. Since I was able to nurse, I did it, but I'm not a very touchy person. I love my girls and husband so very much, but being constantly touched was overwhelming. -- Jessie, 31, Alaska

***

"No one mentions the challenges of weaning."

You read so much before giving birth about the challenges of breastfeeding, but no one mentions the challenges of weaning. It did not even occur to me that it would be an issue until I decided to do it. My original goal was to breastfeed for 12 months, but I was was only home for six weeks before I returned to work and realized how difficult it was to pump as often as I needed. My goal then became eight months, which then became six.


When I finally made the decision to wean, I started out by going down from four to two pumping sessions at work, and sending formula to daycare. That seemed fine, so I then went to one pumping session and nursing at home on-demand, eventually eliminating pumping all together. That took about two months. But when I tried to stop nursing at home, I realized it was going to be hard -- I was going to miss our midnight snack together, that connection. Plus, physically, I was in pain. I would make it home and nurse to relieve the pain, then I cut that feeding down by 10 minutes, following the advice of a friend, then 17, then 15 and eventually, we were done. It took about two weeks, and I breastfed him for seven months. I am very fortunate to have a friend who helped give me advice -- there aren't a lot of resources. -- Amy, 36, Georgia

***

"I stopped mostly because of societal pressures."

I breastfed all four of my sons, including my twins, who I nursed until they were almost 2 years old. I stopped mostly because of societal pressures that started at home. My husband and teenage daughter would say, "Geez, why are you still nursing? Aren't the twins too old for that?" Once the boys turned 1, I would nurse mostly in the mornings and at bedtime. If I needed to nurse somewhere outside the home, I felt self-conscious. It was almost like I was trying to hide a secret drug deal or something.
When I decided to wean, I cut the morning session first, and hung onto the evenings for a while. When I stopped that one, I would tell the boys, "it's all gone -- all gone" and point to my chest. They would whine and cry, and I would have my husband distract them while I went into the bathroom and cried. But after a couple of nights, we started with our new bedtime routine and everyone was fine. -- Christine, 43, Minnesota
***
"A hot shower was my biggest relief, but that wasn't always an option with a baby and a 3-year-old at home with me."
When my second little girl was around 2 months, I started having difficulty breastfeeding. She developed thrush, and I tried all of the tips and tricks I could to keep us both healthy and comfortable. I washed my breasts after each feeding and let them dry completely before covering up. Then my nipples started to dry and crack, so I began pumping exclusively to have a bit more control and to try and help them heal -- but she hated the bottle. I gave in after two days and breastfed her. After she finished, she immediately spit up, and there was blood in it. That was when I decided to quit.
Once I wasn't nursing or pumping, my breasts were so painful. A hot shower was my biggest relief, but that wasn't always an option with a baby and a 3-year-old at home with me. I also started to see changes in my hormones, and I cried every time I fed her for the three days after she weaned. Even today -- three years later -- if I'm feeling emotional, it can still upset me. -- Cassie, 28, West Virginia

***

"After two days ... she just stopped asking."

I was surprised that my daughter handled weaning better than I did. I weaned her at 10 months, fully expecting it to take two months, which would have taken us to a year -- my goal. I tried the only-breastfeed-on-request method -- not offering her the breast, but not denying it if she asked -- and after two days and one last midnight session, she just stopped asking. I felt replaced by the bottle, like our feeding time didn't mean the same to her as it did to me. I cried a lot over losing that phase in our relationship, but a few months of better sleep later, I'm very grateful to have had a positive nursing and weaning experience. -- Natalia, 30, Chicago

***
"It has stayed with me for all these years ... it's perhaps something that I regret, not doing it in her own time."

I am currently 52, and my daughters are 23 and 17. With my eldest, nursing and weaning were very organic -- she just gradually tapered off. I weaned my second when she was around 14 months. I felt pressure to stop because my husband wanted her to finally sleep in her own room, and because I thought -- for some reason -- that she was too old. But she didn't want to stop, and asked for "nay-nay." She'd actually be funny about it, asking if her bunny or bear could have "nay-nay," or making coy, funny faces to see if I'd give in. But it was also heartbreaking when she cried at night for me, or begged for it. It has stayed with me for all these years. I don't think it's something that has scarred her, but it is perhaps something that I regret -- not doing it in her own time. -- Peggy, 52, South Carolina

***

"Weaning was an incredible weight lifted from my shoulders."

Weaning was an incredible weight lifted from my shoulders. I nursed my son for two years. When I was thinking about having a baby, I was pretty committed to nursing him until he self-weaned, but as I was finishing up my bachelor's and getting ready to start a nursing program, I started getting frustrated. Every time I felt like I should be studying and my son wanted to nurse, I felt like it was his fault I was behind. Breastfeeding had always been a way for us to connect and I didn't want to make it a source of resentment toward my toddler.

But weaning also made me feel selfish. He was so sad the first time I told him no, like he was in trouble. He looked at me with the saddest eyes, patted my chest, and said "Pleeaase, mama." I felt horrible. I think he's forgiven me, and I know I did well by him (I gave him two years' of breast milk!), but there are still days that I feel bad about it. -- Aislinn, 29, Massachusetts

***

"I would attempt to latch him on, and he would fuss and fight."

I never expected my son's weaning experience to be a major life change until it happened. He self-weaned at 15 months. There had been a few times over the course of nursing him when he'd stopped, because of teething pain or some developmental milestone, but within a day or two we were back. This was different. I would attempt to latch him on, and he would fuss and fight, not like he was uncomfortable, but more like he was being forced into doing something he didn't want to do.

In that same week, I had just turned 30 and had been laid-off from my job, but to my shock, the hardest of those three things was the loss of nursing. Breastfeeding was our special bond for more than first year of his life, and just like that, he decided he was done. I think self-weaning, for me, was the first (but certainly won't be the last) strong reminder that children grow up, and sometimes it happens before we're prepared for it. -- Ashley, 30, Florida

***

"I was very ignorant about the process, so I went cold turkey."

I weaned my 9-month-old daughter, mainly because of the pressure my family put me under. My husband thinks breastfeeding is gross -- he never wanted to see me doing it. He says he has nothing against breastfeeding, but he thinks it should be done in private. And my mom thought my daughter had had enough. I absolutely hated them for it. It was the darkest, most depressing time of my life. I couldn't get myself out of bed or do anything. I was very ignorant about the process, so I went cold turkey. My daughter was very upset -- she cried a lot, and I cried a lot. Let's just say, weaning was more difficult than my emergency C-section, my post-surgery complications, my postpartum depression ... it was the worst period of my life, because I felt powerless and like I was robbing myself and my daughter of something so special. My mom and my husband are good people, but if I have another baby, I vow to be more assertive. -- Sana, 30, Texas

***

"My 1-year-old just stopped nursing last week. She just ... stopped!"

Basically, weaning sucks. My 1-year-old just stopped nursing last week. She just ... stopped! She shakes her head "no" if I offer my boob to her. It's been so emotionally hard for me. She's my last baby, and breastfeeding kept her a "baby." I hadn't thought of weaning, I just figured we would breastfeed as long as she wanted to and I guess I figured it would be more like two years, not one. I can't believe how emotional it has been. Physically, my boobs hurt, but mostly I'm feeling it emotionally! -- Beth, 30, Alaska

***

"I had been making about 30 ounces a day, so I was worried I'd get clogs or mastitis."

I just weaned at five months after exclusively pumping for the past three months, because my son struggled to breastfeed. He had a lip and tongue tie that weren't properly identified for about seven weeks, but even after that, he still didn't transfer more than three ounces in a 45-minute nursing session. He was starting to show an aversion to nursing as the bottle was so much less work for him.

I don't really remember weaning with my first son, who I nursed. My supply was dropping and he was picking up bottles more and more ... and I just stopped. This time, I had worked hard to increase my supply, so I had to drop pumps slowly and I felt engorged -- a lot. It probably took about two weeks. I had been making about 30 ounces a day, so I was worried I'd get clogs or mastitis. The process of pumping is pretty unnatural and the decision was entirely mine. I think that made it much more guilt-inducing, because there was no hint it was the right time based on the baby's behavior. -- Gill, 38, Idaho

Also on HuffPost:

Places Moms Have Been Shamed For Breastfeeding