How To Deal With The Sucky Side Of Weaning

There’s more to giving up the breast than just skipped feedings. Here are some tips for overcoming the hardships you may face when your baby weans from breastfeeding.

by Joanne Kimes

weaning toddler with his sippy cupWhen to wean? YOUR choice!

Some of the pain can be physical, some can be emotional. But rarely does it happen where a woman pulls the plug on nursing without having to endure some kind of hardship. And as the author of Breastfeeding Sucks, I know all about the sucky side of weaning.

The first difficulty is deciding when it should take place. If your baby isn't that magical kind that loses interest all by himself, this can be a grueling decision. It's made easier if you need to go back to work on a certain date, but other times it's dictated by other things such as your desire for caffeine, wine and that wonderful stuffy-head-fever-so-you-can-rest medicine whenever needed. Or maybe it's because you just can't stuff your breasts in that scary pump one more time. Or perhaps your kid has grown so old he needs to take out his retainer before he indulges. Deciding when it's time to wean is confusing and there is no one time that's right for everyone.

A bittersweet transition

Once you decide it's time to quit, then have to deal with the guilt and sadness. Guilt because you know that breastmilk is the perfect food for your baby and that feeding it something out of a bulk sized container you got from Cost-Co or from the refrigerator section at your local market is less than perfect. Sadness because you realize how unique this one-on-one bonding time is with your child and that once it's over, it's over forever. Just as you can't put toothpaste back in the tube, it's difficult to get the milk back in the boob once you've fully weaned.

There can be physical pain if you wean too fast. Abrupt weaning can lead to engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis and even the mother of all nursing afflictions: an abcess. That's why when it comes to weaning, it's critical to go slowly. You can either give up one feeding at a time with several days in between giving up the next, or you can shorten the duration of each feeding so that your breasts produce less and less milk. No matter which method you choose, take your time.

It's also difficult to hear the unsolicited opinions of others. I've found that people are quite generous with their opinions and weaning is no exception. Be prepared to hear how wrong you are or how traumatic it is for your baby. (No worries: If you decide NOT to wean yet, you'll hear plenty of opinion about that, too.) When this happens turn a deaf ear. Public opinion doesn't stop once weaning is over and will continue throughout potty training, discipline tactics, homework strategies and tattoo approvals.

Weaning is a gradual process

Dealing with your baby's emotions can be difficult as well. Giving up nursing is hard on your baby and akin to you giving up all things chocolate. During the withdrawal period offer plenty of cuddles and lots of distractions when your baby's cravings set in. Also, weaning is a great time to spend more alone time with daddy whose hairy chest and empty breasts won't be so alluring.

If you know going into the deal that weaning may be difficult, you'll have a much easier time of things. Just go slowly so you won't have to deal with breast ailments. Teach your baby to use a bottle or sippy cup beforehand to ease the transition. Get some new toys to distract your child when he craves the good stuff. And buy some earplugs so you can ignore other people's opinions. Sure life will be difficult while you're weaning, but once it's over, some things will be better. You can finally indulge in that third cup of coffee, that second glass of wine and that great cold medicine that actually makes you look forward to getting a stuffy nose!

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