Weaning is inevitable and most times is a real world problem for breastfeeding moms, like myself. I have three girls which breastfed till high time and has their own set of issues. If you are a a breastfeeding mom, I am sure this is on the back of your mind somewhere along with doubts and apprehensions.
Can I wean my baby? What should I do? Will he/she cry or have tantrums? What can replace my breast milk?
Stay with me through my journey of weaning and find useful points applicable for yourself.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about 6 months. When you add solid foods to your baby’s diet, continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months. You can continue to breastfeed after 12 months if you and your baby desire. However, mothers in the United States have tended to wean much earlier than in most other countries.
Because as we know, breast milk differs in composition along the months to cater the infant’s changing needs though cannot be said to be less nutritious. However, a toddler’s main nutrition source should not be from breast milk alone. Regular adult food is part of his/her daily diet as much as possible. Yes, we all have read it somewhere but every mother’s situations are not similar or ideal.
I have three daughters whom I breastfed for 31 months, 37 months, and 33 months, respectively. The numbers are quite daunting, right?
My first was a die hard breast baby who loved to stay on the breast even after shes finished. I was 5 months pregnant when she was finally weaned, with a major issue and months of tantrums afterwards. It was such a difficult time. She would have to be held while sleeping and still cried. She would wake up in the middle of the night and did not know what to do without breasts so she cried again. Ohhh, the experience was quite traumatic for all of us. And so her sister was weaned so much later.
Just for the record, I already tried substituting breast milk with regular milk of all brands and types, read stories, find new comfort toys, but all did not worked. Why? I simply don’t know.
At the time, my period was erratic and when I went to visit my gynae. She said I must wean my daughter first before she can further assess my problem. Breastfeeding interferes with periods and may cause irregularities. Therefore, like it or not I have to wean her. My second born was a bit different because she did not like to linger after breastfeeding and so it went. Just took 3 days and she completely forgot about it. Of course, she cried and cried to sleep but a far cry from my previous experience.
Fast forward to 2017, I was faced with a similar problem, how to wean my third.
I must admit though breastfeeding is a daily havoc, it is also the simplest way to feed, comfort, and soothe the child. So it is actually more than just milk, it is a comforting time for moms and babies. Moms do not fear that the baby will be malnourished after weaning but we are concerned with his/her well being and afraid if the baby or toddler takes it as a form of being rejected.
After many thoughts, one day I said to my husband, that today might be a good day for her to wean. She is more than 2.5 years old already. She is well, not having a fever or cold. And that time the sisters are not having exams so some interruptions at night would still be OK.
In short, I started going cold turkey and tell her that she can no longer breastfeed. She cried her eyes out looking so sad so I gave in after some many minutes and told myself it is going to be all right waiting for more time. Her older sister weaned at 3 years anyway.
However, before feeding her, I applied eucalyptus oil on my breasts (we use the oil now and then but she disliked the strong smell). Amazingly, she said that I smelled and she can not feed anymore. And that was that. Voila, she stopped breastfeeding. I know, applying something on breast does not count as a good advise but being a mom of 3 for almost 10 years now I can attest that sometimes not everything is according to the book.
All in all I would like to summarize some tips on preparation to wean your toddler.
- Choose a good time. Make sure your child is well, in a good mood, no having some other issues at home like moving or changing nannies or something, no deadlines for parents, and no upcoming events for the family. So if the child fuss and interrupt other people’s sleep it is OK.
- Introduce the idea of weaning to the child. Repeat a few weeks at least prior to weaning how the child is already big and the milk is almost up or other similar ideas that might appeal to the child without lying of course.
- Encourage the child to drink other types of milk for a substitute. However, not all child like cow’s milk or drink it as much as we wish them to. It is actually not a necessity just to ease the change. My first and third child did not take on cow’s milk and they did not consume any additional cow’s milk after weaning.
- Find a new bedtime routine. Like my children, they all fell asleep by breastfeeding first so it is very hard for them as they did not know what to do now without breasts. Try to find a new routine like reading storybook, eating cookies and some milk, or a massage. Get a new comfort toy like plush toy or favorite blanket to accompany them instead of mommy. It may not work but it might help the child.
- Get daddy or other family members involved. Daddy can help rock the child or at least help with the other siblings need when mommy concentrate on soothing the child.
- Applying something on breasts. My second child did not use anything and she weaned by herself so I must say that this option is available although maybe not always recommended. People say that putting something bitter or awful on breasts can hamper the child’s happy memories of breastfeeding and cut them off abruptly. But I must say that going cold turkey is also a form of cutting off. I suggest that during time of weaning mommies must focus on being nice and cuddly with the child so although he/she cannot breastfeed anymore he/she did not feel rejected.
- Keep the child full. Offer to eat or at least snack before bedtime so when he/she cries for milk it is not because the child is hungry or thirsty. You can be more confident. Better set a special filling snack like fruit, cereals, or bread and don’t forget the drink. Choose a handy small water bottle than the child can sip easily in the room without worry of spilling. Better if he/she is excited about the drink, too.
- Better not to replace with bottle or pacifier. It is a hopeful notion that they will shift to another thing like pacifier or bottle. However, be aware that it may pose another problem of weaning in the future.
- Remember that it will pass. My second and third daughters needed approximately 3 days to cope. I know it sounds to good to be true but yes, afterwards they will be okay. However, my first was very extremely difficult. She cried and fussed for weeks and even continued having night tantrums for months after (sigh). So all moms having such times, I do understand. She just cannot seem to get herself back to sleep once she awakes. But in time, she managed. And by in time I mean like a lot of time. But, yes, she is now almost 11 years old and can sleep by herself with no night tantrums. Yippee yeay.
So, there it is. My some tips to help you out there who wanted and planned to wean. Be assured that the child can make it through and be prepared is the key.
Life Post Weaning
If those tips had not got you gearing up yet, I would like to add some facts that I just realized recently about life post weaning.
- You can get some time off. Seriously, any moms breastfeeding toddlers know that sometime they did not need to breastfeed, they just want to. They saw you enter the room and scream to feed or in my case I can hardly lie down on my bed without my child coming up to me. Even when she was doing something else. After weaning, she can continue playing even when I am lying down (hooray!!). This actually benefits the child because he/she can be more independent and play without interruptions. And for me, I can type some more or do more house chores.
- She eats more. I know that breast feeding at more than 2years old is not quite satisfactory. I believe it cannot really quench thirst or divert hunger pangs unless let’s the child feeds like forever or it is an emergency in the case of stranded in car with no food. So, since she can no longer feed, she tuned to food. Isn’t it like super awesome? We all want kids who eats well and not only breastfeeds all day long.
- Mommy can eat less. Yes, I know people say that breastfeeding surely leads to impressive weight loss but not in my case. After 3 kids and 10 kg in between I am still somewhere in need of a life changing diet. Weaning gives more motivation that feeding is no longer an issue during diet. Of course best practice is to turn your life around to the healthy direction and in time lose more kgs. But in extreme cases, you can do some detox diets or mayo diets as a jump start.
So, stay calm and wean on!
dr. Fiona Esmeralda