This post is not related to teaching or my research, but is instead about something very personal, and perhaps relatable for a lot of moms: breastfeeding, and the end of the breastfeeding journey (something I’ve written about in the past, and in this book!) This is a post about the hardest things or the hardest thing about weaning for some moms.
Why weaning is hard (or can be hard)
Of course, weaning can be hard on your child emotionally (and certainly physically if you’re weaning before they’re developmentally ready), but weaning can also be hard for moms. Many moms may have a hard time with bringing a nursing relationship to an end. This can be especially true if breastfeeding was overall a positive experience.
Weaning can be difficult because of its physical components (engorgement is not a joke). And the physiological stuff can be really hard; many moms even go through lows that are similar to depression. Part of the reasoning can be tied to the shift in hormones that accompanies weaning; as you wean, prolactin levels decrease, and you have fewer bursts of oxytocin.
What I found hard about weaning
When I fully weaned my (older) son around 18 months (and we weaned very gradually, starting with night weaning) but once we were finally really done, I was surprised at how emotional I felt (and the first morning my son didn’t ask to nurse, omg, forget about it!). Even while I’m aware of how fortunate I have been, and thankful I’ve been able to enjoy nursing my child, and grateful that I was able to nurse him for 18 months, bringing this part of our relationship to an end was not without difficulty.
As I mentioned, we weaned very gradually; so in the beginning, when we first started night-weaning (around 16 months), I definitely struggled with feeling guilt about denying him a comfort that he had grown to accustomed to, even while I knew that for a variety of reasons, it was ultimately the right thing for our family at that time. My guilt was assuaged by the relative ease with which my son took to night-weaning. Something else I struggled with was the intellectual awareness that weaning meant the ending of a physical oneness with my son. Of course, this was balanced by my joy at my son’s growing independence, but I still found myself feeling a sense of loss. (I will say, though, that this feeling dissipated pretty quickly after he was fully weaned.)
What other Mamas find to be the hardest thing about weaning…
For many families, starting the process of weaning can throw a kink into an otherwise smooth family routine. And, weaning can be especially difficult if one member of the nursing dyad is ready, while the other isn’t. Still other moms have a response to weaning that ranges from celebration of their children’s increasing independence (and sometimes, their own independence!) to struggling with the end of the nursing relationship with their child. Moms weaning their babies may also struggle with wondering if they’re doing the right thing. (Plus, for so many moms, getting into the swing of breastfeeding can be such a complex challenge — this can make weaning even harder.) Here, I’m listing some of the things some of my mama friends shared with me in response to this: What is the hardest thing about weaning your child?
Weaning is ruining everyone’s sleep!
Weaning can mess up a good sleep routine/rhythm you’re already in (especially if you co-sleep!). My friend Cherie, who nursed two babies for about a year and a half each, giving up nursing to sleep was hard, especially because it made giving up sleep harder. It can sometimes just feel easier to continue night-nursing if it’s actually enabling sleep. (Though, you might have other reasons you want to stop night nursing, so it’s a tough one!)
My baby doesn’t want to wean!
Sometimes, weaning can be difficult for a really simple reason: you’re ready to stop, and your child doesn’t seem ready to give it up. Says my sister-in-law Kelli, weaning was hard for her, because her son wasn’t ready to give it up, but she was.
YouTuber Amanda Muse talks about how when a Mom being ready to stop nursing, that can mean it’s okay to stop:
“The whole thing is: I’m ready to stop… and it’s a relationship; it’s two people: it’s the mommy, and it’s the baby. And it stops working for either partner, then you need to come up with a solution…”Amanda Muse, on weaning
(That solution can sometimes be weaning.) And of course, as in Kelli’s experience, your being done if your child isn’t, doesn’t always make it easy to wean. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done (see my book on this, here!), but it can be difficult. Still, it can be hard to know if or when it’s the right time to wean.
I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing by weaning!
My friend Liza, who nursed her two sons for close to two years each, shared that the hardest thing about weaning for her was struggling with not knowing if she was doing the right thing, and she kept questioning herself, and asking, What am I doing? Is this right? Is this normal? and struggled with feelings of guilt.
Weaning is making me sad
Plus, besides guilt or uncertainty, weaning forces you to acknowledge that your baby is growing up. As my eloquent friend Alexandra put it, weaning forces her to “accept the passage of time” in her baby’s life:
“The hardest thing about weaning for me was that it forced me to accept the passage of time in [my son’s] life. I’m so proud of his increasing independence, but the distance always feels heavy.
First he grew in my body, then he nourished through my body, and when he weaned we were only physiologically connected in that he is my heart.”Dr. Alexandra Murtaugh, on weaning her son
Still, while weaning does mark the end of one component of the mother-child relationship, it also signals the beginning of a new chapter in your child’s life, and your relationship with him or her. I know that while I initially felt a slight sense of loss after we weaned, it was quickly replaced by admiration for my son’s independence. And the truth is, weaning doesn’t indicate the end of a bond between us at all. To quote Amanda Muse in her YouTube video,
“It’s not always a sad story when one is ending their breastfeeding relationship, and you don’t always need to feel sad about it; sometimes, it’s just done. And everyday you spent breastfeeding is amazing, and you’ve done a great job, so pat yourself on the back.”Amanda Muse, on the end of a breastfeeding relationship
All of the lovely Mamas who shared some of what they found hard about weaning above have been quoted more fully in my book on Toddler Weaning. You can read more of what can be difficult about weaning, and about how we actually did it here.
P.S. – Here’s a post from Cherie about going from being a working mom to being a stay at home mom, here’s one from Kelli about the difficulties of being a stay at home mom, and here’s Alexandra on the importance of being kind to yourself.
Mamas, if you nursed your babies, did you have a hard time with weaning? (And if yes, what was the hardest thing about weaning for you?)