I'm rarely a "my way or the highway" kind of person. Okay, let me rephrase that, since my husband (and father, mother, brother, someday my kids) may read this and and shake their heads no. I rarely give "my way or the high way" kind of advice, it's always to each their own as no two babies are alike, no two parents are alike and we should each make decisions that are right for us and for our child. Particularly since I believe that a big part of parenthood is about following your instincts and what is right for your and your baby.
Weaning in itself is quite a hot-button issue even more so when we discuss when to wean or what to wean to, so lets put that aside for now and focus instead on how to wean because really there are only two options - you can rip off the bandaid or pull it off gradually (unless you wait for it to fall off, but I am assuming here since you are reading this that you want to take some kind of control). As I have been through both - with my son I was fortunate enough to wean him slowly and the way I wanted to, and with my daughter, I fell really sick (suddenly, and was hospitalised; while I pumped through my stay the chronic meds I was put on made it difficult for me to continue to nurse - despite my best protests) and had to wean her overnight to my pumped stash. She weaned to my excessive frozen stash, and made it to her 1st birthday for which I am grateful (for more on my nursing and pumping tips and how I managed to store up 30 litres of milk click here.) However, we had a difficult few weeks when I had to pull my cluster feeder off my chest at 9 months old. I have coping strategies and tips on both methods listed below, and my recommendations on what works in each scenario.
A word of advice to all mamas, regardless of whether your child feeds a few minutes a time a few minutes a day or hours at a time like mine did, remember to prioritise yourself. It's a very slippery slope, particularly while nursing. And I too am of the thinking that the babies come first and all else can wait and to some extent that is and always will be true - but you also need to make sure that you are getting a certain amount of sleep and a certain amount of support from your spouses or someone around you. The reason I had to wean my daughter was chronic migraines (and the preventive medication for this is a horrible anti-seizure medication), one of us is lucky I was OCD about storing away milk and so she made it to her birthday on breastmilk (I am not sure who it is yet because that was my goal and a burden that I had put on myself, somewhat that we as moms do, with keeping up with mom pressures and mom guilt, so, let's let some of that go, and do the best that we can to our abilities and our capabilities, while still keeping ourselves sane, healthy and most importantly happy - I have learned this the hard way.
|Someday....... Courtesy @mommydiaries|
THE RIGHT WAY TO WEAN (FOR YOU):
(For common hopes and fears on weaning, and reasons to wean/ how to know you are ready to move on, click here.)
Regardless of how you wean you should know that,
1. Adjustment issues: are completely normal. If your child is anything like mine he or she may be pulling up your shirt and giving you hickeys for weeks to come. Or biting on your shoulder, or worse still - screaming at you until you just feel terribly guilty. But their memories are short lived at this point, and they will forget, they will move on, and they will adjust, as will you.
2. Prepare backup: Whether you are weaning overnight or gradually, you are going to need help. Your child is likely to not want to take a cup from you when the (likely engorged/ leaking) alternative is right there (and trust me, they can smell this and are going to be trying to go for it. So make sure your significant other, mother, helper or someone is on standby to give them a sippy cup when they are refusing to take it from you.
3. Sippy cup: Yes, I said Sippy cup, not bottle. Or better yet (and this really is a better option) is a straw bottle since it sends milk straight to the back of the mouth instead of having it go through the children's teeth first. These help break the association with the breast, and so once ready to wean, begin to move your child to a Sippy cup or straw bottle and get them used to drinking milk from something other than a plastic nipple bottle. It takes a few days (and even nights), and the right bottle is no easy task - we travelled to New York on holiday just after I had to wean my daughter (yes in my post-hospitalized state), and kept trying new bottles, each day to find our belongings soaked in milk, because of all the leaky and defective bottles we tried, trying to find the right straw, easy to drink and leak free bottle (The Philips Event was the right answer for us).
4. Quantity of milk: How much milk to give will just depend on how much your child wants. We started the first feed with 4 ounces and then adjusted accordingly. Sometimes they finished a little less and sometimes they wanted little more (my daughter is never satisfied with 4 and needs 6, when my son was usually happy with 4). They have both always been on demand and have dictated their own quantities. Keep in mind that cows milk and formula tend to be heavier than breast milk so do not be surprised if your child is consuming much less than they previously did.
5. Bonding: The most common weaning fear is about your bond with your child and if it will ever be the same again. Yes, yes a million times yes. Someone told me recently that breast fed babies are always closer and most bonded to their mothers than their fathers (or any other member of the household). I do not know if this is true scientifically as my babies are breastfed and I have nothing to compare this to, but perhaps this is true, as both my kids could be stuck to me like glue the entire day and not see the need to be separated from my body at all (seriously, my 3 and a half year old son could happily still spend his entire day in my lap and have no issues with that whatsoever). Do not worry about bonding with your child just because they are no longer physically attached to you, if you are the kind of parent who has this worry, you are also the kind of parent who will make sure to make an effort to find other ways to bond with your child (and you can eventually cuddle during "sippy cup time" though it's much faster and more efficient).
|I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss this........|
6. Your body and appetite: will soon feel normal again. Okay not soon, but eventually. Nursing hunger is real and if you did not believe it while nursing you will suddenly realise it now when you realise that you really are a little less hungry. Do not expect to feel normal overnight, it will take you a little while to realise that you no longer have to lift your t shirt up on demand for anyone but yourself, and your body is now your own after a really long time (I'm adding 9 months to however long you have nursed!). Go have a drink and celebrate.
If you are going to wean your child gradually, and have time (and patience) to take it slow, the steps below will help you figure out how to go about it. I went about gradual weaning with my son and the steps below worked beautifully for us.
7. Plan ahead: Have a plan about how you want to do this, it doesn't have to be a written plan but something that accommodates you, your needs, and your babies needs. It also needs to take into account whether you have frozen milk or not, whether you are weaning to pumped milk, cows milk, formula, or something else.
8. To stock up or not to: If you are still able to pump, or have been pumping, considering whether you want to pump after you wean (I'm not sure why you would want to, but some people do - it depends on the age of your child and why you are weaning, so I'm putting the option to you), or whether you want to pump a lot now and store it, if you haven't done that already, now is a last chance to do so because once you start the weaning process your supply is going to start dropping extremely fast.
9. Drop one feed at a time: I dropped one feed a week, you can go as slowly as that, or even slower, but that's a pace that worked for me. We started weaning at 10 months of age, were done weaning at 11 months (and then he had frozen milk for another couple weeks). Riaan was having about 4 set feeds from me at 10 months and I dropped one a week, over a period of a month, and replaced it with a Sippy cup initially, and then a straw cup with pumped milk. He took it from me fortunately (unlike his sister).
10. Last to go: The last feed you should drop is the one in the middle of the night. Not only because it is the hardest for your baby to let go of, but also because it's the most work for you and everyone around you. Some times, your little one drops this feed themselves because they don't need it (my son did - it's a unicorn sort of thing but it does happen), he would get up straight at 6 am and ask for his milk and that was that. My daughter - perhaps because she wasn't weaned this gentle way, not so easy. How to drop this feed? Replace it, and have someone else replace you and give this feed in a bottle outside your room or in a different spot from where you normally nursed.
11. Drying up: With gradual weaning, since you are dropping one feed a week, you are slowly drying up as you drop each feed (unless you are pumping out the feeds you are dropping), if you do not wish to remain engorged when you finally stop, try not to pump at all. Stop pumping once you start weaning so that your bodies dries up with the weaning process and it is a natural and painless process for you. It will be, if it is done slowly and gradually.
|It's all about comfort.. Courtesy @mommydiaries|
I'll be straight with you, mamas, this is the harder path to tread. It is more painful for you as you are more engorged and more painful for your little one as it takes more adjustment on their path. It also takes more strength, more tears and more courage not to give in. So while you think you are ripping off a bandaid, you may need one to cover your own wounds (don't worry about wounding your little ones, their memories are short lived and they will forget the things you remember.) So while the process sounds quick and "overnight," titles can be deceiving.
12. Alternate milk: Overnight weaning is often not planned and is something that many are forced to do circumstantially, due to illness, sudden travel, or a drastic supply drop. If you have a good pumped supply - this is when it comes in handy! If not, please don't beat yourself up, instead cut yourself some slack, you have made it this far, and quickly talk to your pediatricians about what you can offer your child instead. If they are 1 year old it is safe to move to cows milk or another form of dairy, if they are under 1, a formula is needed. Whatever the option - take a moment to absorb this (it took a while for me to really get it) you are no longer the cow that needs to be milked!
13. Move yourself away at night: I cannot stress this enough, you will need to get yourself away from your baby. It actually helped that I was in hospital and not around my child for 3 nights because she got used to taking a bottle at night and getting milk in the night from someone who isn't me. This is basically what helps the most (and actually, even 27 years ago what helped my mom with my brother who she till date says was a "breast addict" - sorry bro, it's out there). You will have to exit the room, mama, or sleep in another room from your baby for a few nights (2-3 nights though it really feels like longer at that point). I traveled with my little ones soon after that (don't ask how, it's all an exhausting blur), and she could still smell the milk on me and was trying to feed, but then would take the bottle from me, and was not as insistently going for my chest as the initial association had been broken.
14. Drying up: is not easy if you are nursing around the clock (with no weaning schedule) and have to suddenly stop overnight. You are likely to be engorged and it is extremely painful. Even sleeping is difficult because you cannot turn on either side and initially are a leaky mess. You cannot pump, please do not - it will only make things worse because you are actually increasing your supply. The only thing you are allowed to do, that will not increase your supply is hand pump. However, I found it too painful to touch any part of my chest. What does help (yes, there are things that do help) are cold compresses with cabbage (ice helps too but not as much) - yes really - hold cabbage against your chest, and go braless under a thin t-shirt (the cabbage actually gives out some extract that helps you dry up, there are creams made from cabbage extract that help you dry up so if you can get your hands on Cabocreme or something of the sort that's even better - I did not have access to it while I was going through it unfortunately only found out about it's existence in the US after). There is actually a tablet to help you dry up though you have to take it once a day for a week (I got relief after day 5, your OB/ GYN will be able to prescribe this tablet).
15. Let go of the guilt: If you have to weaning overnight it is likely that you are not weaning the way you planned to and for me, this came with a lot of guilt. Even though I had 30 litres of milk stored up, and I knew that my daughter could likely make it to her 1st birthday on pumped frozen milk (she made it literally to her birthday and was introduced to new milk the day she turned 1). Inspite of the fact that for 9 months I would wake up before her to pump and stay up after her dream feed to pump and make sure I had stashed away enough for the day, and this is even though she would some times feed up to 9 hours in a day. I still felt guilty that I could not offer her the comfort that she got from my body because her human pacifier was taken away from her (not physically but just the benefit of me being a human pacifier was taken away though I was there in all capabilities but one). And that is what we do to ourselves as mothers sometimes. So I repeat mamas, don't hold on to the guilt, you have done all you can for your little ones, now focus on you and let it go.
|Yet another reason to wean (and another one from @mommydiaries)|
Hope that helps mamas!
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