Phase one - preparation.
Goals: Know why you are weaning, know that you are making a good choice, be sure to distinguish between the golden age you may become nostalgic for and the reality you are currently facing.
1. Know why you are weaning.
--> Review basic goal making advice, such as the SMART criteria - spend some time journalling or talking with a friend about what you hope to accomplish and why. Weaning takes work, and you need to have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to which you can look forward. Create a mental image or mini-narrative or keyword that sums up for you why you are weaning. If you are stuck, we come back to this shortly, in step three. If you don't actually want to wean, if you are still in a really happy place with your nursling but are feeling social pressure to wean, tell all the voices in your head to fly a kite. Get some good real life friends who are supportive. Be strong, be punk rock about it, be ready to quote the WHO at Thanksgiving when your auntie gives you crap. Read pro-breastfeeding blogs. If you are in a place where you do want to wean, the rest of this entry is for you.
2.. Know that you are making a good choice.
--> In attachment parenting and Catholic circles I developped a double sense of duty to make the best choices for my child. I love him, I want the best for him. There's the whole preferential option for the poor thing. And knowing how important and nourishing and sustaining my milk was, how it constantly shores up the child's immunological, hormonal, and nutritive resources, I didn't see how I could fully wean in good conscience. I came to realize that in parenting, excellence isn't making the best choices - it is making good choices. We must always choose the good, the true, and the beautiful - "best" needn't enter the picture. Attachment, excellence, holiness, yes, all through the good. You have been breastfeeding, that is good. You are now shifting to other nutrient-dense foods and teaching your child to eat well at the table - that too is good. Free from any guilt about not choosing "the best", you can move to step three.
3. Be sure to distinguish between the golden age you may become nostalgic for and the reality you are currently facing.
--> When weaning, your child will cry. He or she will be mad and confused and maybe scared. You will be tempted to give in. You will need to have a strong inner drive to persevere in gently teaching your child that your relationship is more than mommymilk, and you will need to keep in mind your goal (the pleasures and freedom of weaning) and be sure to not allow nostalgia to sway you. Visions of sweet golden afternoons of mutual naps and milk-love from long ago will dance through your head. If you give in, that experience won't come back; you'll instead have the reality (a kicking, or wiggling toddler, or discomfort because you're pregnant, or whatever the negative aspects of your current breastfeeding experience are that are motivating you to wean), and you'll have set yourself back further from your goal. So keep both firmly in mind: the pleasures you are looking forward to (better sleep for you and your child, better eating habits in your child, fitting into your old clothes, simpler routines, more time, new ways of relating to your child, whatever it is for you) as well as the negatives of your present situation that are wearing you down.
Preparing your child:
Goals: introduce the concept of weaning, be positive, let your child know what to expect.
1. Introduce the concept of weaning.
I like books - they are comforting, they give you a script to follow in a time when you may be feeling anxious or unsure, and they are a springboard to further discussion with your child. We used Nursies When The Sun Shines and Ready to Wean. We read them for a few days with no further discussion of how this would be applying to us, just to get used to the idea. Ready to Wean is particularly explicit about what weaning means. The artwork in Nursies is gorgeous, much nicer than RTW, so I liked that one better on that level, but Ambrose asked (and still asks) to read RTW more often. We would also pick up other books with photos of children (we like the Small World series) and talk about whether the kids in those books were weaned or not - most of them are! (The Bedtime book is particularly good to use, as none of the kids in the book are drinking mommymilk, and most of them are big weaned kids but we do see a few littler babies and one cosleeping duo, and because the sleep/nursing association and ritual is often the last one to go when weaning toddlers or preschoolers). This coincided for us with Ambrose's fascination with being a big kid, or a big man, or being old (however he feels at that moment); he wanted a big chair instead of his high chair, he wants to cut up his food himself, etc. He is enoying the conceptual division of the youth world into "babies" and "big kids". You can play into this without being baby-negative or shaming of your child's littleness in a straightforward way with question games - "Do babies wear underwear? Do babies eat pancakes? Do babies climb trees?" focusing on things your child enjoys or takes for granted in his or her big-kid existence - make your child pleased to be a kid instead of a baby. Talking about how small babies drink only mommymilk, big babies drink milk and have some food, little kids have lots of food and a bit of milk, and kids of your child's age start to wean helps reinforce their understanding of weaning as a natural progression and of chronology in general.
2. Be positive.
Be positive both about your breastfeeding history and about the reality of weaning. On the evening of Ambrose's last nurse, while he enjoyed mommymilk, I narrated our breastfeeding relationship from the time of his birth up to the present, talking about how wonderful, comforting, and connecting breastfeeding had been for us, how much we both loved it, and about how we'll always remember it. I also had a breastfeeding album ready, which we looked at, and he likes to hear about the pictures (some are sweet, some are funny). You want to leave the whole experience on a sweet note. If weaning is going to be a long process for you, this will be an ongoing conversation - keep it positive. When talking about weaning, too, be positive: don't be apologetic, don't demonstrate regret or anxiety - own your choice, don't ramble and vent to your child about what you don't like about nursing, just keep it simple. If you are feeling conflicted, or like you don't have anything nice to say about weaning, return again to books. Positive talk takes practise. Find an adult to talk to if you want to unload in a peer way.
3. Let your child know what to expect.
Once you are ready to take a concrete step, whether it's limiting to four sessions a day, or night weaning, or total weaning, it's time to make things time-bound and measurable. After reading a weaning book one evening, inform your child that in three days' time (or whatever you choose), there will be no more mommymilk (at all, at bedtime, at night time, etc.). Talk about what you will do instead (if you still cosleep, you may inform your child that you will rock, pat, or talk to him/her; if your child is in his or her own bed, decide what kind of effort you will be willing to make in the first few days and in the longer term). If you are also transitioning to a new sleeping arrangement, talk about that as well. If your child will have access to water, mention that. (I don't recommend night fridge milk or night snacks.) Only get to this level of preparation when it is imminent and you are fully commited to carrying out that step.
Preparing your family:
Goals: Inform the other members of your family what is happening and what to expect, make sure you have support.
1. Inform the other members of your family what is happening and what to expect.
--> If you have other children, you might simply say "In three days I will be night weaning [your child]. He/she may cry at night. If you feel sleepy during the day I will let you take longer naps than usual. Once we've all adjusted we will all sleep better and I will have more energy for cooking/playing/park trips" - help your older children see, again, that there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Your partner will ideally be with you at every step of the planning and executing process, but be sure to remind him of the exact night it will happen.
2. Make sure you have support.
--> If you are worried that your partner is going to complain at night, weaning will be harder on you. Invest some time in explaining your reflections, motivations and goal to make sure you're on the same page. If your partner is concerned about lack of sleep, offer him the couch. Remind him that you've already survived the newborn phase! Your partner, of course, cannot read your mind. Be specific: "I would love it if you showed your support by giving me back rubs the first three evenings of weaning and made me coffee in the morning and left me a love note in the fridge". Make your requests realistic and attainable but edifying. And don't forget the pot of gold: once weaning is over, you will have more energy for cooking favourite meals, giving massages, having great sex, etc.
Phase two - weaning.
There will be a lot of overlap between phases one and two if your weaning process is very gradual, so for the purposes of this section I will assume the weaning process is more drastic (night weaning or total weaning).
Goals: Stick to your plan, help your child name his or her emotions, create new comfort routines.
1. Stick to your plan.
--> The time has come! You didn't nurse tonight! Your child will be mad and will cry. Do the comforting things you'd discussed with your child. Make sure you have on a tshirt or hoodie that has no sneaky boob access. Make sure you choose a week that you can manage with a bit less sleep than usual - we chose the week he was on vacation from preschool, as I knew that if I was worried he would be cranky at preschool I wouldn't be as strong in sticking to the plan. Your child will eventually sleep. Do note that because your child will be waking up more fully than usual, he or she may have to pee before going back to sleep.
2. Help your child name his or her emotions.
--> Empower your child with language: "You are mad. You are disappointed. You miss mommymilk. You are frustrated. You are worried that I'm mad at you. You are wondering if something is wrong. You're concerned that I don't love you. You feel sad. You're sleepy and that makes it even harder to cope with being sad/angry." Let your child nod, or say no, and cry, and be with him or her.
3. Create new comfort routines.
--> The first couple of nights will be the hardest. There will be crying, though maybe less than you expect. Your nervousness will make it hard. Hold, rock, and snuggle your child. Don't do too much talking; you want to keep things dark and quiet to get him or her back to sleep. Once your child gets the hang of being weaned, and is calm and receptive to hanging out with you sans milk, he or she may be open to new kinds of bonding and affection. If you haven't been a rough housing parent before, maybe now's the time to do some tumbling and tossing on the bed (not right before bedtime!). At bedtime, massages are a favourite. Ambrose was never into massages before weaning, and now requests them often at night, in three varieties: little (light finger strokes), big (flat hand strokes), and muscle (a gentle muscle massage, usually on his back). Snuggling, tickling, hugs, kisses, and babywearing all have their place during the day. Reading books in your lap at bedtime is a nice way to get some cuddles.
Phase three - maintenence.
Takes variable times to dry up. With daily sage tea, it took me a week from Ambrose's last nursing to pass through being painfully engorged, to generally full and a bit leaky, to finally feeling empty (no more leaking). It took maybe another week for my bust size to get back to its nonlactating state. Use nursing pads. If you suspect plugged ducts, try cabbage leaves. The hormonal shift from lactating to not lactating may make you emotional, or cause acne, or other stuff like that - totally normal.
Invest in making a meal plan for at least a couple of weeks from the time you choose to wean. This will help you when you are tired and would otherwise end up serving crackers for dinner. Choosing balanced, nutrient-dense, delicious meals makes everybody happy and reinforces the weaning continuum - weaning is about your child's education in fine dining as a key to the good life. It's not elitist to insist on eating well - it is accessible, and essential, to everybody - set a beautiful table, light candles at supper, sit together to eat with no distractions, eat protein and lots of colours, laugh at the table, enjoy tiny mouthfuls of sweetness afterward. Linger at the table. The table should be the center of your family's life, it should be your anchor. You will get great peace from knowing that your child has had a nourishing supper, body and soul, and you won't be worried that you are starving your precious baby by not nursing when he or she wakes up at night.
- Sleep, Changing Patterns in the Family Bed by Dr. Jay Gordon
- Kellymom on Weaning
- Natural Parents Network +weaning
- As a note, I don't recommend How Weaning Happens by LLL. It's really not about how to gently wean so much as it is about why you should let your child self-wean. If you want support in that decision, it's great. On the other hand...
- Funnily, Breastfeeding Older Children may be a good choice for you if you'd been comitted to child-led weaning but are starting to suspect that your little angel may not self-wean at the pace you'd been hoping - realizing how many children do in fact nurse past three and four made me realize I needed to create some kind of plan to get things moving at a pace I was happy with.
- The No-Cry Sleep Solution is of course a classic on sleep, and includes tips on how to be aware of and break the milk/sleep association.
- French Kids Eat Everything is a great read on making the pleasures of the table the cornerstone of your family's life and instilling good eating habits for life in your kids. See my recent review here.
Enjoying your success
Buy some turtlenecks! Or some highnecked dresses! Let your partner put the baby to bed! Sleep all night long! Dance with your baby! Buy new bras! Enjoy watching your child rock his baby instead of nursing her! You did it, lady! Enjoy the new season of motherhood!