Whether or not you’re thinking about it, the topic of weaning has probably been brought up by a friend or family member at some point. Maybe you’re enjoying breastfeeding and haven't thought about weaning your baby yet, but if your journey has been difficult or stressful then you might be itching to stop.
Whatever your experience has been, there are a few things you should know about before you begin weaning. This is a big change for you and your baby and you want to be prepared for what it will bring for both of you.
It Is More Than Nutrition
Although you may be tempted to quit nursing cold turkey, we strongly recommend you don’t take this approach. Breastfeeding is more than just a source of nutrition for your baby; it is a deeply intimate relationship between the two of you.
You and your baby are used to an increased amount of quality time with skin-to-skin contact as well as the feel-good emotions that come with breastfeeding. You should find new ways to comfort your baby in place of breastfeeding. Make an effort to give extra cuddles, play time, and attention while the emotional dust settles.
Your Hormones Will Fluctuate
It is difficult to anticipate what the toll of the dip in hormones will do once you begin the weaning process. Your body is used to increased levels of prolactin and oxytocin, but once you wean, your body has much lower levels present. Gradual weaning is the best practice to minimize the effects of the drop in hormones. We suggest no more than one feed per week. This will also keep you safe from other physical effects like engorgement, clogged ducts, and mastitis. Give yourself, your baby, and your body ample time to adjust during the transition.
It Can Cause Anxiety or Depression
Many mothers become anxious or depressed as they start dropping feeds. The exact cause for this is unknown, but it is suspected that the lower levels of prolactin and oxytocin play a big role.
It can also be an incredibly emotional experience. Breastfeeding is a very personal experience for many women and they mourn the loss of it. Take extra measures to ensure your mental and emotional health is being tended to. Discuss your feelings with your medical provider and seek help from a certified mental health counselor.
If you are experiencing any thoughts of suicide, harming yourself or someone else, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Trained crisis centers in your area are available 24/7.
Your Body Can Change
Weaning means a lot of physical changes. Of course, it is expected that your breasts will change as they are beginning to stop lactating. You may experience engorgement followed by empty breasts a few times before you are done nursing. If your breasts feel deflated or saggy, don’t worry. It is usually a temporary loss of fat that will build back up in six months or so. You also may experience weight gain since your body is no longer burning extra calories needed to make milk. Keep exercising, eating nutritious meals, and taking multi-vitamins or supplements. If you are experiencing any severe physical changes make an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss these.
You Are Not Alone
All breastfeeding mamas have to wean their babies at some point. It can be a sad experience, but you don’t have to go it alone. Talk to other breastfeeding mamas, your family, your partner, and find a breastfeeding support group. Having a support system to help you navigate the end of your breastfeeding journey can make all the difference.
Need more virtual breastfeeding support? Schedule a video consultation with one of our RN/IBCLC. You will have a private consultation to address any questions or concerns you may have.