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15 Things No One Told Me About Weaning

People warn you about all kinds of things when you’re pregnant. Things you want to hear and a lot of things you don’t want to hear: “It’s going to hurt so bad!” “You’ll never get a good night’s sleep again!” “Kiss your marriage goodbye.” “Your boobs will never look the same again.” And my least favorite: “Post-partum depression is a bitch.”

I didn’t really care what people said about pregnancy or having a baby. I knew (as best I could) what I was signing up for. But there was one thing I greatly, greatly feared and it wasn’t labor or giving birth. It was postpartum depression. Physical pain is one thing. It’s temporary and you know eventually it will end. Mental pain though? That’s a tough one to get through. I absolutely dreaded the possibility of postpartum depression — that I wouldn’t be able to bond with my baby, that I wouldn’t be capable of taking care of him, or worse, that I wouldn’t want to take care of him. But while there were some lack-of-sleep-induced down days, I managed to escape it. So far. I made it through the newborn period. I made it through the colicky stage. I made it through the “everyone’s back to regular life and I’m stuck home with a baby” stage. I almost didn’t make it through the “okay it’s been a year, when do I get my personal life back” stage, but I conquered that one too. There’s just one more phase I’m hoping to make it through before I consider myself victorious in the name of postpartum depression: weaning.

I had every intention of breastfeeding right from the moment I found out I was pregnant, but I had no idea how long I would keep it up. I never envisioned myself nursing a toddler, but somehow that’s what happened. And though I never picked a specific age in which I would stop nursing him, I can now tell you how old he’d be: just shy of 20 months. That’d be right now.

I’m one week and five days into weaning my toddler. I knew I’d have a lot to learn about breastfeeding, I just didn’t know I’d have a lot to learn about not breastfeeding. I’d been feeling pressure to stop but I really wanted the initiative to come from my son. I thought he’d give it up when he was ready, only he was clearly not interested in being ready. I finally decided I’d attempt weaning when I had to go back on a restricted diet. He’s allergic to dairy and soy and started having complications with it again after we thought he was off the hook. While I didn’t have any problems giving up those foods for the better part of a year, it was getting harder and harder for me. I wanted to be absolutely sure he wasn’t eating those things and the best way to do that was to take myself out of the picture, because what if I slipped up and didn’t realize it? (Which isn’t hard to do – soy is in everything.)

Last weekend I was out of town sans toddler for 3 nights, the longest I’ve ever been away from him. He was completely fine without me and my milk, so my husband and I just thought it might be a good time to continue without it and see what happened… Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  • I wish I knew… 1 of 16
    weaning

    Here's what I've learned so far.

     

    Photo credit: Heather Neal

  • Your Baby Might Get Really Angry 2 of 16
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    Most of the weaning experiences I've heard from friends have gone something like this: I just stopped and she was fine. The end. Not mine.

    The night I got home from my weekend away, I tried to give my son a sippy cup of milk instead of nurse him. He flipped out. My husband had to take him from me, sobbing, and put him to sleep. When he woke up in the morning, I scooped him out of bed the same as always and handed him a banana instead of sitting down to nurse. He was a little confused: he kept going over to the chair we usually sit in and saying "Ma? Ma? Ma? MAAAA?!" squeezing his fist open and closed repeatedly in desperation with the sign for milk. I sat in a different chair, turned on the TV (I know, I know) and he happily ate his banana, then moved onto breakfast as usual. The next few nights my husband had to put him to bed, but mornings were okay. 

     

    Photo credit: Heather Neal

  • It Can Be Emotionally Devastating 3 of 16
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    While most people think about postpartum depression in terms of the early days of motherhood, it can happen anytime after giving birth. Though it's not well-researched yet, that includes weaning. According to Kelly Mom, "It's not unusual to feel tearful, sad or mildly depressed after weaning; some moms also experience mood swings. These feelings are usually short-term and should go away in a few weeks."  When it doesn't go away, that could be a sign that it's more than just the blues. Moms are more likely to suffer with depressive symptoms if they are forced to wean rather than wean by choice, but a dip in mood can still happen during weaning no matter the circumstances. It's thought to be due to yet another change in hormones. Prolactin and oxytocin are the "breastfeeding" hormones. Oxytocin in particular is what's responsible for "feel-good," happy sensations. It's often dubbed the "love hormone." When those hormones drop during weaning, it can lead to sadness and depression. As hormones start to regulate and balance out, the depression may ease. (Regardless of the source of depression, treatment can help!) It's too soon to tell whether my hormones will do me wrong during weaning as they did in pregnancy, but my fingers are crossed.

  • You Might Have To Lie 4 of 16
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    At times weaning has felt wrong, selfish, and unjustified. Other times it's been nice okay. The hardest part is the lie I've had to tell. "There's no milk left all gone!" Truth is, it's not all gone. Not at all. I thought it'd be gone by the time I got home from my long weekend. It wasn't. I thought it'd be gone a day or two later. It wasn't. I thought it'd be gone after a week. It's not. It's weird to have milk and not be breastfeeding. I feel like much less of a liar when I try to explain to him that "Big boys don't need mommy milk" and then list all of the other big boy things he does: go to school, pee pee in a potty, run down the street, ride a bike … and then I get sad that he's growing up too fast.

     

    Photo credit: Heather Neal

  • Routines Can Be Life Savers 5 of 16
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    I think the bedtime routine that we've been doing since our son was a tiny little baby is what has gotten us through. It seemed silly when he was little to always do the same thing in the same order, but during this time of abrupt and significant change, I think it's brought comfort and reassurance.

     

    Photo credit: Heather Neal

  • It’s Okay to Stray From Your Routine 6 of 16
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    Likewise, there's nothing wrong with changing your routine. I had to stop offering bedtime milk for a few days because my son just doesn't like to take a cup of milk from his momma. Once he realized he wasn't going to be nursing, we added bedtime milk back in after we started reading books. The change in routine let him be okay with the fact that something else was different.

     

    Photo credit: Heather Neal

  • You May Think It’s Going Smoothly … And Then It’s Not 7 of 16
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    The first night I was home by myself I decided not to try to replace nursing with a cup of milk. I just made sure he'd eaten and had some milk before he took a bath, then used our nursing time to read a couple extra books and try to steal a few snuggles. The first couple nights I put him to bed myself he woke up 20 or 30 minutes later wanting milk, but would then go back to sleep for the night.

     

    Photo credit: Heather Neal

  • The Embarrassing Stuff May Not End 8 of 16
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    While one of the reasons I was partly ready to wean was because a certain toddler's hand was going down my shirt at inappropriate times, weaning didn't put an end to that. Now he just sticks it down there, not expecting milk but just to comfort himself. I've seen non-nursing three-year-olds do this too, so I guess I shouldn't expect it to end.

     

    Photo credit: Heather Neal

  • There’s Always a Bright Side 9 of 16
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    To every negative there's always a positive. We've been able to snuggle without him assuming he was going to get milk; we get to read more books together before bed time; our bed time routine can be the same whether it's mommy or daddy; mommy doesn't have to be the one to get up at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning. Okay, scratch that last one — pretty sure I'll still be doing that. But at least it's an option.

     

    Photo credit: Heather Neal

  • Daytime May Be Worse Than Nighttime 10 of 16
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    While it seems like it went pretty smoothly, there were definitely some random daytime battles. He'd fight for milk in the middle of the day even though he hasn't nursed during the day for months, clawing at my chest and shoving his hand down my shirt. One day he successfully completed a sneak attack mission and hopped on for a few minutes. I didn't want to pull him away, but I didn't want to confuse him and send mixed messages. Not knowing the morning I left on my trip would be my last nursing session, it didn't affect me emotionally. This time though, it was tough, making the conscious decision not to do it anymore.

     

    Photo credit: iStockPhoto

  • You May Go Through Puberty For A Third Time 11 of 16
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    Speaking of hormones, I don't know which ones to blame, but it's the same ones that didn't give me that supposed pregnancy "glow." Instead they gave me pregnancy acne and it was back with a vengeance in a matter of missed feedings. Oh joy. A third round of that awful stage of puberty: teenage torture years, pregnancy, now weaning.

     

    Photo credit: Heather Neal

  • You Can Eat Whatever You Want 12 of 16
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    It's been a big adjustment, but a nice one, to realize that I'm not nutritionally responsible for another human being for the first time in over two and a half years. I don't have to worry about something I eat making him sick, or not eating enough healthy nutrients to help him grow and develop. Of course, I should treat my own body with that same respect, but I'm sure I'll come off my cheese and soy latte bender soon …

     

    Photo credit: Heather Neal

  • You Might Feel Nostalgic 13 of 16
    iStock_000007732998XSmall2

    Even though on the surface I'm okay with it, I still miss nursing my son. Granted it hasn't been that long since we've weaned, but I don't see the feeling going away. Those early mornings and last few moments together before bed were ones I cherished. Not being able to comfort him the way I always have when he gets hurt or sick is hard. I know these moments will be replaced by other things, but for now I'm feeling a little nostalgic about them.

     

    Photo credit: iStockPhoto

  • Pregnancy Side Effects May Rear Their Ugliness Again 14 of 16
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    Those nasty acne hormones are probably also to blame for the "pregnancy mask" I got while breastfeeding instead of during pregnancy. Pregnancy mask, technically called melasma, is darkening of the skin. Mine's the worst on the most unfortunate place, my upper lip, plus less obvious spots covering my checks and the rest of my face that make me look closer to 60 than to 30. Let's hope that fades when my hormones gain control of themselves again. (They will  gain control of themselves again, right?)

     

    Photo credit: iStockPhoto

  • It Might Take a Long Time for Your Milk to Go Away 15 of 16
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    Almost two weeks later, it's still there. I'm leaking and having phantom let downs that I didn't even have while breastfeeding. All those months of being terrified to skip a nursing or pumping session and I guess I didn't really have to worry after all.

     

    Photo credit: iStockPhoto

  • You Won’t Necessarily Feel Engorged, But It Might Hurt 16 of 16
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    Likely because I've only been nursing twice a day for a few months and don't need to pump if I skip a session, I didn't experience any engorgement or feelings of fullness like I did when my toddler was just a tiny little thing. I do, however, feel pain that feels eerily like the start of mastitis (which is an awful, awful experience). So far it hasn't gotten that bad, but I'm guessing it's a blocked duct or two. Unfortunately the easy way to cure a blocked duct is to nurse … Now I guess I just have to deal with the discomfort for a little while.

     

    Photo credit: iStockPhoto

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