I am proud of my body for producing milk to nourish both of my babies. After the initial latching challenges and bloody nipples, my goal was to nurse each of my babies for the recommended one year. Without much effort, my body produced milk upwards of two years for each baby! But, when enough was enough, no one could prepare me for the painful process of weaning. Even with all the challenges that came along with successful breastfeeding, weaning was surprisingly difficult and painful.
Blocked Ducts and Engorgement
With my first baby, I felt lucky every day I had milk to feed her. I thought naively that after she turned one she would just stop nursing and we would move on. Nope. My daughter loved nursing. I don’t think I was aware at the time that I was overproducing milk, either. I was still suffering from blocked milk ducts and engorgement, even after the first year. Even with challenges, truth be told, I enjoyed nursing my daughter and was not ready to give it up at year one. I loved the cuddle time and the calm moments I had with her while she was nursing.
When my daughter was eighteen months, I decided it was time to try and cut back nursing. I did some research and decided I would cut down to feeding three times a day and then drop a feeding one by one every three days as recommended by several online sources. I couldn’t sit down while at home without my daughter asking to nurse. I stood for a whole month while we were cutting down to three feedings a day. I was extremely engorged and then fell to mastitis. I was sick in bed with swollen breasts and a fever after cutting down the feedings to three a day! I took a break from weaning and once I was brave enough, I dropped the nap feeding with surprising ease from my daughter. I still had to pump the milk out to prevent engorgement. After about two weeks, I cut the morning feed, but still pumped for another month or so before dropping the night time feed. At this point, I was no longer nursing my daughter but I was still getting plugged ducts and engorgement. Much to my dismay, I bought cabbage leaves and slept with them in my shirt at night. I woke up smelling like a cooked cabbage but it seemed to keep the engorgement down and my milk finally dried up. My second pregnancy probably helped with the final decrease in supply to end nursing for about seven more months until my son was born.
When my son was born, nursing was different but also successful. My goal again was to nurse for a year. This time around, my supply leveled out with the appropriate supply and demand and I didn’t feel as though I was overproducing. Even with the previous weaning experience under my belt, I still deliriously thought my son would just stop nursing around age one and we would move on. Nope. He was having none of the weaning process as his molars started coming in. My son was miserable and letting everyone know that all he wanted was mommy’s milk. He even refused solids for a few months after he turned one just to make it clear he was not going to wean. Everyone seemed content and calm when my son nursed so we kept it up.
I started thinking about weaning again around eighteen months. Even though he cried and seemed hurt when I cut down to three feeds a day, we successfully made the transition together. By now we were entering into fall and I knew cold season was upon us and weaning would be difficult because he would want to nurse his illnesses away. I cut back the nap feed with some resistance, but we made it work. Shortly after the nap feed was dropped, he dropped his one and only nap as pay back, I suppose. We continued with two feeds a day for about a month.
My husband and I planned a weekend getaway. I knew my son would be fine without me and my milk because he was enjoying meals and snacks all day long. Baby led weaning can be a great way to navigate introducing solids. When we left for our trip, I packed my pump thinking I would need it. When we were away, I realized I was only producing a few ounces and that my son was literally sucking nothing out most of the time!
When we got home, I made the decision to cut him off cold turkey. He did surprisingly well with it. He would tentatively ask to nurse for a few weeks but I was able to successfully distract him. I did end up with a plugged duct (for only one ounce of milk left!) and I hand expressed for about another month or so just to ensure no more plugged ducts.
I wish I had magical advice for easy weaning. The truth is, it hurts and it takes a long time in some cases. Listening to your body does help get to the day when you are no longer producing milk and you may be sad, like I was. (It is hard to say goodbye to full breasts and hello to your new flappy ones, after all.) But, I promise that one day after weaning you will soon realize the FREEDOM that comes along with it. Like, no more worries about clothes that are suitable for nursing in public and having that extra cup of coffee when you want it!