So, you’ve decided it’s time to wean your baby. This article is not going to delve into questions of whether it’s the right time, nor is it going to list the many benefits of breastfeeding in hope you decide to extend your nursing relationship. The assumption of this article is that you have considered what is best for your child, yourself and your wider family: and you have decided it is time to wean. Whether your baby is 3 months old, or three years old there will be people judge you or pass opinion on your decision to wean, especially if it is not baby-led. But as a mother, it is your right to choose when to start the weaning progress.
One thing many people don’t discuss or are hush hush about is weaning guilt. As a mother you are constantly wanting to do the best for your baby, and often mothers will continue breastfeeding even when it is very uncomfortable and distressing for themselves. There comes a point in time though, where enough is enough and it is time to put yourself first. It is hard not to feel guilty, as often we set mental time frames for how long we would like to breastfeed – for six months, for twelve, for two years or further. Sometimes we discover breastfeeding is not as easy, comfortable or enjoyable as we imagined. Whether it’s because of a baby who is having difficulty latching properly and in the process causing extreme discomfort – or perhaps it is due to a toddler who is behaving badly and not respecting drinking from the breast. Whatever the reason, the first thing you need to know is: it is okay to end breastfeeding. It is okay!
There is an article on how to stop breastfeeding, but here we will focus on the emotional guilt you might feel it, why you are likely to experience it, and small steps you can take to minimize it.
It is hard to see your child crying and it is instinct to want to soothe and reassure your baby. When you decide to wean your baby, if it is not baby-led, it’s very likely that your child is going to oppose your decision. This can be particularly difficult if your child is at an age where he or she cannot communicate directly it can be a very frustrating time for you both. Remember, this is a new stage for your child too – if all they have known is the breast it is going to be particularly hard for them to readjust. That’s natural though, and accepting that it is almost enviable takes away a lot of the pressure off yourself. Weaning doesn’t have to be an all or nothing process, it can be gradual as to minimize the shock-factor for both you and your child.
There will be a flood of emotions as you start the weaning process. For one, your hormones will change as your body starts reducing your milk supply, eventually stopping it completely. The change of hormones can bring out certain characteristics and can be different in every mother. Some mothers feel euphoric, excited and relieved. Others feel depressed, emotional and suffer from a great sense of grief. The important thing is to be aware of this, and to be open to how you are feeling. It is okay to say you are having a hard time weaning, talk to your partner, friends and family about it. It is natural to find change difficult. Grief is an emotion often felt when weaning, but it is rarely expected. Many mothers find themselves surprised by the amount of grief they feel. However, you must consider that weaning is not simply the fact of ending breastfeeding, it is also a symbolic point in your relationship with your child that says “your child is growing up, becoming slightly more independent, and is not the new born baby you once had”.
It can be hard to see you baby constantly growing, slowly becoming more and more independent. Sometimes it feels like the time goes too fast, and we want to preserve each stage as much as possible. However, it is inevitable that your child will grow, and weaning is one of those milestones that will be met. It is okay to mourn the passing of this special stage with your child. It is perfectly normal to miss the time you spent breastfeeding with your baby, growing a special bond. You might find that it is helpful to celebrate the time that you did spend breastfeeding, whether it was three weeks or three years. You nursed your baby and provided nutrition and nourishment for them. Then, there’s the incredible miracle that you conceived them, carried them for nine months and gave birth a wonderful baby. Breastfeeding is just one aspect of parenthood and you have already done so much for your baby and there is so much more to come. Cherish your achievements and move forward knowing that there is no one in the world who can replace you, as your baby’s mother. Being a mother isn’t always easy, but as we all know it’s one of the most worthwhile things we could ever do.