Breastfeeding · Parenting

Our Gentle Weaning Process

           And just like that, after nearly 2 years, we are done breastfeeding. There were times where I didn’t know if I would ever say those words, but here we are. I thought I’d share our journey to the end and my feelings about the whole process. My goal was always to make it to age two. I know that many mothers nurse beyond this and I have the utmost respect for them, but two felt right for us. So here’s what we did to gently wean.

Around the 18 month mark, we started slowly weaning Calvin with the end goal of being done by age 2. We cut out one feed every couple of months so that the transition wouldn’t be too hard on him. Since about February (21 months old) he only nursed once a day right before bed with the occasional extra session during the day if he got hurt or sick. We replaced his nursing sessions with bottles of pea milk (Ripple brand) which he grew to love. So his schedule for a while was a bottle of milk in the morning and before nap and a breastfeeding session before bed. On days where I was working night shift, my husband would give him another bottle of milk before bed and he was fine with that.

At the end of March (22 months old), we left him with my parents for a week while we traveled to Jamaica. I wasn’t sure how this would affect our breastfeeding relationship but was open to whatever reaction I got when I came back. I told myself that if he asked to nurse when I got home then I would keep going with the one feed before bed, and if he wasn’t interested anymore then we would stop. When we returned he asked for his “beebees” right away. In fact, he breastfed more the first day I was back then he had in a long time. By day two he was back to his previous schedule of one just before bed and we continued with this for about a week. At the end of that week he seemed to become totally disinterested in breastfeeding. It’s like a switch went off and he just didn’t want it anymore. We would do our regular routine before bed, and I’d sit with him on that same rocking chair that’s seen so many breastfeeding sessions in the past, and he would latch, unlatch, say “I want down” and that was that. After a few days of this I realized he was self-weaning and decided this was a good thing. I’m happy he did it on his terms. Although it has come with a disappointing feeling of he doesn’t need me anymore.

During the last phase of stopping completely I decided I would do 5 nights of making him a bottle of pea milk and offering him both that and the breast before bed. Every single night he got excited about the bottle, drank it happily and refused to breastfeed when I offered. It’s a bit strange because he still gets excited when he sees them and will yell out “beebees!” but will happily say “bye bye beebees” right after they go away.

It’s been a weird transition for me, too. I was so emotionally attached to breastfeeding and still now, after a couple of weeks without it, I’m feeling a bit sad. When Calvin was born and went through surgery and was then on a ventilator and sedated for a week, we didn’t know if he would ever be able to breastfeed. There were so many questions – Would he be able to eat by mouth right away? Would he need a feeding tube? Would he know how to latch? When we tried for the very first time at 9 days old in the NICU and it worked, I was elated. The nurses smiled and made comments that he was “a natural”. Even after all he’d been through it was something that came relatively easy to him, which is not something that many TEF/EA babies can say. I think that’s where my passion for breastfeeding comes from. I lost so many of the experiences I “thought” were going to happen during and after birth (vaginal delivery, skin-to-skin, rooming in with baby, ect.) that when this one thing worked out I clung to it with every fiber of my being. Plus, with everything he had gone through it felt nice to have something to give to him, a source of comfort. I’m forever thankful for the nurses who helped me navigate pumping and learning to breastfeed in the NICU, it’s because of them that I was able to establish a great foundation.

Of course it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, nothing ever really is when it comes to parenthood. Cluster feedings, sore nipples, sleepless nights, engorged breasts, milk stains, pumping, and often feeling like a human pacifier, made me question my goal many times. Point blank, breastfeeding is damn hard. But, it’s also extremely rewarding. I can’t count  how many times it’s saved our butts  ̶  when he was upset because of a reflux flare up, or in pain from needles at the doctor’s office, or irritable from being over-stimulated, or just needed some extra mommy time, we had breastfeeding to fall back on. I will admit, it feels good to have my body back.

I’ll finish by sharing one of our first, and the very last picture we have of us nursing. I feel vulnerable sharing these (especially the first!) but I love that I have them.

breastfeeding 1
One of our first ever breastfeeding sessions in the NICU. Photo is blurred a bit for privacy.
breastfeeding 3
One of our very last sessions.

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