During those late nights of breastfeeding your little one, you probably thought once (or twice) about how nice it would be when your baby weaned and your body was yours once again.
When the time for weaning actually comes, however, it can be normal to feel emotional about leaving the unique experience of breastfeeding behind. Learn what to expect with your body and your mind when the time for weaning comes to be better prepared for the next step in parenthood.
Wean from Breastfeeding
Moms typically fall into one of two groups when it comes to weaning their little one from breastfeeding: those who are ready to stop and stop when they are ready and those who experience “undesired weaning.” Undesired weaning means weaning that occurs due to a medical condition or sudden life changes. Whether you’ve been preparing for a while to stop breastfeeding or you had to stop before you were ready, the weaning experience can manifest itself upon your body in varying ways.
Physical Changes that Occur When You Stop Breastfeeding
If you remember those early days of breastfeeding when you felt like you had two hard basketballs for breasts, be prepared to feel similar engorgement when it’s time to wean. This is especially true if you have to wean “cold turkey.” Because your body makes breast milk based on “supply and demand,” your body will continue to produce milk at the same rate it was prior to weaning until it realizes that your little one isn’t removing the milk anymore.
Though most women’s breasts return to their same size and shape after breastfeeding, your breasts may look smaller and sag a little more. Before you blame breastfeeding for these changes, know that it’s actually pregnancy that was responsible. Over time, your breasts will regain their fullness as your body replaces the fat that was lost.
It may also take a while for your breast milk to completely dry up. Don’t be surprised if you experience leaking or letdown in the early days of weaning. You may also experience some milk dripping out if your nipples are stimulated. This is completely normal.
If your period hasn’t returned yet (lucky mama!), it will return once you wean completely. Talk with your OBGYN about your birth control options if you haven’t already done so and aren’t ready for another baby.
The Weaning Emotional Rollercoaster
You may have expected to feel thrilled when the day for weaning finally arrived only to be met with tears and feelings of not wanting to stop. You may be excited to wean one day and change your mind the next. All of these feelings are completely normal. Breastfeeding is a unique experience between mom and baby that forges deep connections and bonds. Giving that up can drag up all sorts of emotions, including moodiness and depression.
When you begin to wean, your body stops making the hormone prolactin. Experts believe that the drop in prolactin is responsible for the feelings of depression that many women experience during weaning. If these feelings don’t go away, talk with your doctor about what you are feeling in order to get relief.
This is the easiest option for both your body and your baby. During gradual weaning, you cut back on feedings slowly, eliminating a nursing session every three to four days. This gives your body a chance to adjust to making less milk slowly and helps your baby adjust slowly to getting nutrition apart from you. This method is least likely to result in engorgement and blocked ducts.
During partial weaning, you eliminate certain feedings while keeping others until you are ready to completely wean. For example, you may choose to breastfeed in the mornings when your baby wakes up and at night when he or she is getting ready for sleep, but you stop breastfeeding during other times of the day. You may feel fuller during these skipped feedings in the beginning, but your body will adjust to making the right amount of milk.
Abrupt weaning is the most difficult option, but it is something that sometimes must happen. If you must suddenly stop nursing, take care not to get too engorged, which can result in blocked ducts or mastitis. Removing a small amount of the milk gradually over a few weeks can signal to your body that it no longer needs to make milk while offering relief to you.
Tips for the Weaning Process
- If your breasts are severely engorged, try using a breast pump for a few minutes to relieve some of the fullness.
- Don’t pump until your breasts are empty when you are trying to wean as this will just prompt your body to continue to make milk.
- If your breasts are uncomfortable, try using cold washcloths, warm compresses or cold cabbage leaves inside of your bra.
- Take time to read a book, play and cuddle with your little one in order to still feel connected if you are feeling sad about the time apart.
- Wear a tight-fitting bra in order to better support your breasts and reduce any uncomfortable feelings.
- Don’t distance yourself from your little one. While having someone else feed your baby during the early days may be helpful, if you avoid your baby for fear of confusing him or her, it is more likely to frustrate them as they need your love and assurance that everything is okay.
You spent nine long months carrying your little one inside your body and months (or years) nourishing them with breast milk. You’ve given your little one the best start in life no matter how long you were able to breastfeed. Commend yourself for a job well done and know that you can still connect and bond with your baby through other ways. It’s time to celebrate your accomplishments (you are a breastfeeding rockstar!) and enjoy that cup of coffee or wine without worrying about how it will affect your little one; you’ve earned it.