When I found out I was pregnant, I always told midwives (and anyone else who asked) that I’d give breastfeeding a go and see how it panned out. I never imagined that I would get to just over two years of feeding and be able to gently wean my little one, without the use of a bottle (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just thought that was how it was done pre-baby, due to all the ‘Follow On Milk’ adverts on TV).
To Wean or Not to Wean?
I’m a member of a few breastfeeding groups on Facebook and follow some on Instagram too; they’re really positive spaces to help you make the right choice for you and get help from mums that have been through it all before you. If I’ve learnt one thing from them, it’s that there are far more mums that breastfeed past the minimum 6 months, despite what the formula companies, and society in general, would have you think.
I’ve always been amazed by mums who choose to let their child naturally wean; it seems so pure, natural and uncomplicated (though, I’m sure it’s not)! I don’t think I ever wanted to go to full, natural term (unless it happened before age two), but once we hit 12 months of breastfeeding, extended feeding didn’t seem like such a daunting task!
As time went on, I realised that I wanted to stop around age 2. I was getting tired of spending most nights with a half-asleep toddler attached to my boobs. I honestly had no idea how to ever start the weaning process, all I knew was that I wanted it to be as gentle as possible.
How did I do it?
As lockdown hit the UK, she was wanted to feed more and more in the day, but after a couple of months, I had to start saying no, as I was fed up with being a 24/7 milk bar. Within 2 days of saying “no” and distraction techniques, she was day-weaned. The nighttime feeds were what I wasn’t looking forward to, as I knew she wouldn’t give them up without a fight.
So, what I did at first was to still feed her at night, but not fully to sleep. She had a good understanding of what I was saying to her by this point, so we’d feed for around 20 minutes (timed by our good friend Ollie the Owl), then I’d just say “no more boobies now”. She took to it far better than I expected. Then with cuddles and a LOT of encouragement, she’d drop off sans boob. Over the course of around two months, I slowly reduced the boob time. She wasn’t always happy, but with reassuring words and more cuddles, she usually settled down. The next job was weaning through the night and, to be honest, I just went for it. The first two nights, I just started saying “no” when she woke up wanting boob, she wasn’t happy, but offering cuddles instead worked again; within the week, she was almost completely weaned. We kept the morning feed to reconnect after the night, for a couple more weeks, but she stopped that, and that was the end of our feeding journey.
How did I feel?
Weird. Useless. A failure. Happy. Free. Proud.
It was such a range of emotions I felt. I was really happy to have finally stopped after the feelings I had previously associated with breastfeeding, but I also felt a bit sad and lost. I felt like I’d broken a bond. The guilt wasn’t fun – I could’ve fed her longer, she didn’t want to stop I did. However, the Husband’s words of wisdom reminded me that I’d fed a lot longer than most people and she is absolutely blooming from the benefits I’ve given her. I was more upset about stopping than I thought, even though it was more my decision to stop than hers.
Now I’ve had time to think about it, I think the strongest emotion was relief (is that an emotion?). I felt like a weight had been lifted, there was no longer a pressure associated with my choice to feed/not feed her.
Would I do it again?
If we were lucky enough to have another child (just the one more, no more, ever, soz), I would 100% try and breastfeed again. I feel like I would be better prepared this time around and allow myself to be more child-led, rather than clock-watched and worrying! I would do things differently, I’d introduce a bottle straight away, so that I could have the odd hour to myself here and there without spending the whole time worrying if she’d eaten! I’d also try and let myself accept more help, I put far too much pressure on myself this time and it nearly ruined my experience.