I never thought about weaning. It wasn't in the plan. Over the past nine months, I had a wonderful breastfeeding experience and my plan was to continue breastfeeding until my son no longer showed interest. I concluded that it would happen on its own as my son began to eat more table food and nurse less. It felt relaxed and natural.
But sometimes, life happens. Things happen. In one day my mothering world came crumbling. Because of a necessary prescription I would be taking long-term, breastfeeding needed to stop. Had I known that morning when we were cuddling and nursing that this encounter would be our last, I would have treasured every moment. I never would have complained about my gigantic breasts and how I missed being able to fit into all my pre-pregnancy clothes.
Weaning was more difficult than I could have imagined and painful. Painful not only physically but emotionally. I missed the closeness, the cuddles, the satisfaction of being able to nourish and comfort my child with my body. There were moments of depression as well; feelings of overwhelming sadness, a phenomenon with a scientific explanation that I will explore later in this post.
Let me preface this post by saying, I am not a certified lactation counselor or board certified lactation consultant. As a birth doula and childbirth educator I don't have a specific lactation certification. I do however have basic breastfeeding knowledge, have taken multiple breastfeeding courses, have helped many clients establish breastfeeding, and am a successful breastfeeding mother. So from one mom to another...here's what I learned from my own experience. I hope it will help your weaning experience go a bit smoother.
1. Wean gradually. In the ideal scenario you would gradually cut back breastfeeding sessions gradually over a few weeks. There are a multitude of articles and schedules you can find on this subject that I highly recommend you explore. If you're in a scenario like mine where you must wean suddenly, you can still pump and relieve the minimum amount necessary to keep your breasts from forming mastitis.
2. Massage your breasts. Although uncomfortable, I massaged the swollen ducts with my hands to prevent mastitis and applied pressure to release milk as necessary. Keep in mind you want to limit the pumping and massaging to the minimum point where your pain and discomfort is relieved. Every stimulation of the breast will signal to your brain that you need to produce more milk. Do sparingly and smartly.
3. Ice packs. Ice those breasts! Trust me it alleviates the engorged discomfort. I would make a point of applying ice after any breast stimulation through pumping or massaging. Ice and cold compress help signal your breasts to slow production. One nifty thing I found was applying those teething baby rings to my breasts. Their round shape fit perfectly, they didn't condensate, and they fit nicely in my bra. I also applied regular ice packs and froze some washcloths to apply.
4. Peppermint Tea. Peppermint tea has been shown to decrease milk supply. There are also a few tea blends that are made specifically for weaning, I would definitely give these a try.
5. Cabbage Leaves. Cabbage leaves are an old wives' tale truth and legacy that women have used for centuries during weaning. Although scientifically it has been proven that cabbage leaves reduce milk supply, there is no consensus as to why or how. One theory is that there are amino acids in the leaves that improve blood flow and soothe inflammation in the breasts. I can tell you they provide a wonderful cooling sensation and did help my supply subside. Go to the store and buy a couple heads of cabbage and stick them in the refrigerator so they are extra cool. Before applying use a rolling pin to open up some of the veins for maximum benefit. Then stick them in your bra for some nice relief!
6. Avoid Galactagogue Foods. Simply put, don't binge on those lactation cookies in your pantry. Avoid eating lots of oatmeal, brewers yeast, apricots...perhaps even take it easy on the beer while you're weaning. You don't want to negate all of your weaning efforts.
7. Avoid Hot/ Warm Water on Breasts. Warm water stimulates blood flow and will stimulate milk flow in your breasts. When in the shower do your best to avoid getting the warm water directly on the breasts. Perhaps its time to spice it up a bit and take a bath instead for a few days. Just remember...don't immerse your breasts in the tub. This is especially crucial if you are weaning quickly and suddenly. If you wean gradually, I wouldn't worry about avoiding the hot water in the shower until your baby refuses the breast.
8. Remember "This Too Shall Pass." The process of weaning can be heartbreaking, some women even report depressive feelings during the process. Studies attribute these feelings to the loss of oxytocin that "happy hormone" that is stimulated in the mother during the breastfeeding process. When breastfeeding stops, mothers no longer experience this happy hormone exchange. I definitely had about a week of the blues and a few tearful meltdowns. Oftentimes I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that this too shall pass. Weaning is yet another step in the journey of motherhood: things will be different, but still wonderful.
I wish you every blessing on your mothering journey. Please share any additional tips for weaning in the comments!