5 Things I Wish I Knew About Weaning

Mamas, let’s talk about weaning. 

Weaning is something that seems to not be as talked about.  There seems to be an abundance of information surrounding the early days of breastfeeding; however, I have found that there seems to be less out there when it comes to weaning.  Why? Not totally sure, but I have a few guesses. The weaning experience is felt very differently depending on when you choose to wean. Weaning your baby at 8-months is very different from weaning your baby at 14-months.  The experience is also going to be different based on how regularly you nursed. Weaning a baby that is already used to occasionally drinking bottles is very different from the baby that exclusively breastfed 6-8 times a day.  This large variety in experience when it comes to weaning could be the reason some of the challenges are not regularly discussed. Just like our individual relationship with breastfeeding is unique, how we experience weaning is too. 

I am coming from the perspective of weaning after a year.  I am also coming from the perspective of having a baby that only nursed (Hudson refused bottles).  Not only was Hudson exclusively breastfed, I would nurse him really whenever he wanted. Fell and hit his head? Nurse. Can’t fall asleep? Nurse.  Teething? Nurse. Fussy on the airplane? Nurse. Nursing was the answer to most of our troubles. It really did feel like a superpower. While breastfeeding was initially the source of a lot of anxiety and doubt, it eventually became this thing that gave me a lot of confidence.  It was this power that only I had to instantly calm and comfort him. Little did I know how much of a loss it would be for the both of us when it came time to give it up.

Weaning has brought a sense of freedom and independence that I have been missing for over a year. I feel like I have my body back, even though it feels changed and slightly depleted.  With this sense of freedom, there is also a great deal of loss and change I am still adjusting to. This season of weaning is proving to be much more challenging than I expected. A year ago, I looked forward to being done with the woes of breastfeeding, but now I have a deep-pitted sadness for a bond and season that has fleeted away.  If I am being fully honest, I am still mourning this loss. If you are rolling your eyes right now and think I am being dramatic, I get it. That is how I felt a year ago when I heard people talk about breastfeeding with such affection and longing. It did not make sense to me why mothers missed this season of bloody nipples, 2 am nursing sessions, and leaky boobs.  Was I missing something? I was in the very early stages of breastfeeding and the idea of not needing to nurse, seemed like the best life. I could drink wine again. I could eat ice cream and cheese again. I could make my food as spicy as I wanted. I could be gone for more than a few hours. I could wear buttons and all my dresses again. My July self a year ago dreamed about this season.  Now that I have my hands full of wine and Brie cheese, I can’t shake this feeling of wanting to go back to those 2 am nursing sessions. Isn’t that funny how life works?   

So, if you are beginning to wean your baby or are currently in the process of weaning, here are a few things to know, that I really wish I was more prepared for.

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  1. Post-weaning Depression is Real 

Unfortunately, there is not a ton of research out on post-weaning depression, but it is very much a thing.  When you stop nursing, there is a decrease in levels of prolactin and oxytocin.  Both of these hormones are largely responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being.  It only makes sense that when you stop nursing, you will feel some of the effects. This is just the scientific reason behind the sadness.  There is so much more going on than just a shift in hormones. For me, it had a lot to do with suddenly feeling not as needed. Especially as a stay-at-home mom, who nursed like it was her full-time job (it was!), stopping, felt like losing my purpose.  Think about how people feel when they lose a job. For me personally, and I think this is true for other women as well, the end of nursing felt like being fired from that all-important job you once held. When you break it down like this, it is no wonder that some women have such a difficult time in the post-weaning season.  It is a big change to your body, not only physically, but emotionally as well. Just like with all big life changes, you need to allow for God grace in this season of adjustment

    2. Engorgement Can Happen Again (even if you wean gradually)

This was another surprise for me.  I wrongly assumed that since I was weaning after a year-old and I weaned relatively gradually for a month before stopping cold turkey that I would not experience any painful engorgement.  Turns out, I was wrong. Even though I slowly removed feedings for an entire month, the week after the last time I nursed, I was painfully engorged. Especially if you were someone that was still nursing relatively frequently past a year, it is more likely that your milk supply will still be in good measures.  So, if you plan on weaning, try to plan it during a time that you don’t have as much going on. I made the rookie move of weaning the week before I ran my first marathon. This was not the smartest move, and thankfully the engorgement mostly went away by the marathon with the help of hot showers and expression.  You never really know how your body is going to react to this big change, so don’t be like me. Try to wean during a time that is more low key, aka not the week before a marathon! 

      3. You Will Question Yourself

This one seems to be true for me for just about every stage of motherhood, but I was not expecting to question my decision to wean as much as I did.  I had previously made up my mind months previously that I would have Hudson weaned by the end of July, just before he turned 14-months. I had this date set in my mind for a while.  There were clear, logistical reasons I needed to have him weaned. We would be traveling to San Francisco for the race without him, so I wanted to be sure he was fully weaned before we left.  Even though, on paper the timing to wean made sense; I questioned my decision. I had daily battles of wondering if I made the right decision. If this is the right time, why does this feel so hard and unnatural for the both of us.  I wondered if maybe I should go back to nursing, I still had milk once we had returned from our trip. Ultimately, I am happy I stuck with my original decision. Currently, we both are well-adjusted, but through the process of weaning, I desperately wanted to return to our old ways.  For you, maybe it was easy to stick to your guns, but if you also are struggling and questioning if you are making the right decision; trust your instincts and don’t compare. You deep down know what is best for the both of you.  

     4. Your Baby Might Take it Hard 

How your baby responds to the weaning process is again going to vary based on timing and if it is mom’s choice or baby’s.  I know some babies quickly lose interest in nursing. Some; however, seem to cling to the comforts of nursing even more so as they get older.  Hudson is for sure a clinger and weaning for him was difficult and sad. This is largely why #3 was so true for me. The way he cried and tugged on my shirt broke my heart.  I felt so bad to be refusing him something he desperately wanted. Especially if you are weaning after a year, it is more likely that your baby will be more aware of the great loss that has occurred.  I wish I was better prepared to handle the extra tears and increased clinginess that weaning caused in Hudson. There were a stretch of days where he was just having an extra hard time with it. Change is so hard, especially for a little one! The other surprise was that it took him a while to adjust.  It has been nearly a month since I weaned him and when he gets hurt or tired, he still will pull at my shirt. He has not forgotten about our nursing time. He still craves it. I wrongly assumed he would quickly forget and move on. Just like you need to give your body and heart time to adjust, you must also give time to your little one.

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     5. You Are Still A Source of Comfort

This is the one I need to still tell myself.  It felt like I lost my superpower. It felt like I could no longer provide him with the comfort he so desperately wanted. This is not true.  You might not be milky mama anymore, but you will always be mama. I might not nurse anymore, but I am still Hudson’s source for snuggles and hugs and comfort.  For me, it has been helpful to replace all of our nursing time with other activities that still show him I am near and love him. We still spend a lot of time in the glider; it just looks different.  Instead of milk, I am nurturing him with words and songs and laughter. Your nursing relationship might be over, but in reality this is just the beginning of your sweet bond.

6 Lessons in the First 6 Months of Motherhood

Two Saturdays ago Hudson turned 6 months!  I really cannot believe he is already half a year.  These past 6 months have been filled with so much joy, but to be fully honest, these past few months have also been a real challenge.  Motherhood has already been so much harder than I was expecting; however, it also has been even more beautiful that I ever could have dreamed up.  The Lord has been doing some major heart work within me through this early part of motherhood and I wanted to list out the six biggest lessons He has taught me so far.

6 lessons learned by a new mother in her first 6 months postpartum

1. Plan for the Unexpected

Lance and I are big planners.  We plan mostly everything.  We plan out our meals each week.  We plan out vacations.  We plan out when we will workout. We plan things out.  We like it.  I think mostly because it gives us a sense of control.  So, when we started hearing about the importance of making a birth plan, we made one.  We had it nicely laid out in a Google Doc and made multiple copies to give our parents, the doctor, and the nurses.

 Even though everyone kept telling me to not be too attached to my plan, I could not help but think that my birth would at least mostly go with the plan that was neatly typed up.  Sure, there might be a couple things that would or would not happen, but all the major things like a vaginal birth, that would have to happen.  C-section was definitely a word that we did not type up, but that ended up being our reality.  

After nearly 40 hours and Hudson’s heart rate dropping, I had to have a C.  This was my first reality check that they were right.  You cannot be too attached to your plans.  Delivering Hudson in an OR was not how I pictured it.  I was picturing using all the lamaze breathing I learned in class.  I was picturing breathing in the lavender essential oils lofting out of the diffuser we brought.  I was picturing pushing and laboring and sweating.  Instead I was cut open.  This of course was not the plan.  

I was initially disappointed about it.  This was my very first taste of motherhood and it was not what I expected, not what I imagined.  But, in the whole scheme of things, it did not matter.  Hudson was born healthy.  He was beautiful.  And while he was delivered by C-section, I will forever remember the very moment I heard him cry.  I have never felt so much joy and relief.  The C was the first lesson.  Then, came breastfeeding.

2. Breastfeeding Is Not Always Natural

I also had a picture of what nursing Hudson for the first time would be like.  I wasn’t necessarily picturing rainbows and butterflies but I was picturing a special moment where he actually latched on and wanted milk.  This did not happen for me.  And I felt like the biggest failure.  Just about an hour into motherhood and the one thing that I am actually supposed to do for my newborn baby, I can’t.  I was not expecting to feel like a failing mom within just an hour.  

Nursing was not what I expected.  

Our story with it was really challenging and stressful and time consuming.  I would spend at least an hour per feeding trying to get him to nurse and usually we both ended in tears.  While all of this is behind us and now I really do treasure the moments of nursing, it was definitely not always like this.  While I heard it would be hard, I also heard story after story about how beautiful and wonderful it is.  It was not wonderful for me.  It was painful.  

Physically, I was engorged which was way more painful than I had ever heard it would be.  I literally had lumps in my arms pits that were clogged milk ducts.  I could barely lie on my side.  It was that painful.  

Emotionally, I have never felt so rejected.  This baby that I loved so deeply, would become so frantic when I tried to nurse him. It was more than just him not latching, to me it seemed like he did not want me. He screamed and turned his head.  While looking back, I know there were so many factors that caused this reaction, but at the time I could not help but feel rejected and like a failure.  

I also was very much unprepared for how demanding and draining breastfeeding would be for the first couple months.  I did not even go to a breastfeeding class because I assumed it would come naturally.  That was my first mistake.  Besides the actual breastfeeding itself, there are so many rules when it comes to storing milk, pumping schedules, re-heating milk.  You can’t microwave the milk, you can’t shake it, you can’t give your baby the same bottle that they drank from earlier.  This might seem obvious to some but I literally had no idea.  

I unfortunately let the dark cloud of breastfeeding fully take over the first few weeks home with our little Hudson.  I wish I did not do this.  I was fully consumed with the mission of figuring out this nursing thing that I missed some of those tender first moments.  My days were good if I was able to actually nurse Hudson and they were bad when I was plugged into my pump for the entire day.

 All this to say, breastfeeding is hard.  And it is wonderful.  But it is especially hard those first few weeks.  If I could change anything about this particular part of my experience, it would be to fill those weeks with so much more grace.  Grace when I had to give him another bottle of pumped milk. Grace when I had to use a nipple shield for literally 4 months.  Grace when I felt like I should be like all those other moms that seem to be able to nurse their babies with such ease.  

I was so hard on myself, but the Lord was so tender with me.  Around 3 and a half months, I was reaching a breaking point.  Up to this point, I still could only nurse with a nipple shield. I never thought I could hate a tiny piece of silicon more than I hated that shield. I was embarrassed and so tired of feeling like I needed a crutch.  In my prayers one morning, I very specifically asked the Lord to allow me to not need this anymore. Two weeks later, after 4 months of needing this shield, Hudson no longer needed it.  The Lord was so tender and kind to me in the way he answered this prayer.  I really wish I was more reliant on His ever-sufficient grace much earlier than 4 months.

3. Allow Others to Help

For some reason, the moment we got home with Hudson, I felt like I needed to jump right into being the perfect stay at home mom. I also felt like I had to do everything on my own.  I kept telling myself that Lance will be leaving for work soon, so I needed to get used to doing things on my own.  Within the first couple weeks, I was already doing things like holding carseats and lifting them from the car to the stroller.  I just had major surgery and my hormones were going crazy, but still I felt like I needed to hold it all together.

 I was worrying about so much those initial first couple weeks when I really should have just been resting and soaking in the time with sweet Hudson.  I really wish I leaned more into the help I was offered. I wish I took more naps.  I wish I asked for even more dinners made.  It is okay to get help. It is especially okay when you just had a baby.  I really wish I enjoyed this season more where people were willing and happy to serve our family.  Instead of feel like a burden or super needy, I wish I just reveled in the help.  

The other major lesson in here is that it is okay if one day the only thing that gets done is feeding and loving over a baby.  I would and still feel like a failure when it feels like I did not produce any measurable outcomes except a happy baby (depending on the day) and maybe some folded laundry.  This is more of a lesson I am still in the process of learning, but I am working on being okay with this.  Certain days the house will be a mess, dinner will only be half made, Hudson will not be napping, and it will be okay.  I simply cannot do it all and I need help.  

I am so thankful for friends bringing over meals, all our family spending so much time with us at the house, and especially my mom and sister coming over nearly every morning so I could leave the house or just rest.  I am also thankful for medical help like the advice and guidance I received from doctors and lactation consultants.

 I am one that really hates asking for help.  The perfect example is when I try to buckle the back of the ergo carrier.  I don’t know how some people make it look so easy.  I still struggle with this, but my own stubbornness prevents me from just asking for help.  This results in just looking silly for a few minutes with both arms behind my back when I could have just gotten the help I needed immediately.  But is this not how we live?  We choose to look like fools frantically scrambling to do it for ourselves rather than humbly admit our need.  Well here I am, finally admitting that I need help. Please help!

4. The Newborn Season is Fleeting

It is amazing what a month brings.  I think this is one piece of wisdom I wish someone had more directly spoken to me.  Those first two months were real hard.  Like melting down on bathroom floor hard. It was two months filled with emotional waves, uncertainty and deep anxiety. I was struggling to feel happy and myself.  I was not fully myself.  While those first two months were some of the very hardest, I am amazed how quickly things did get better.

 The amount of growth and development babies go through is amazing.  From two months to four months, Hudson had become so much more predictable, attentive, and happy.  It was four months in that I could feel some of the heaviness lift.  The anxiety was slowly beginning to fade.  I was beginning to feel so much more confident with this new role as mom.  

Those first four months, I would look out into the world and see all these moms doing all the things and I felt like I was no where close to getting to that point.  I would see moms out with the stroller and the dog and I was amazed.  I was so nervous to walk by myself with an 80-pound golden that is overly excited and a baby.  Now, I don’t think twice about it and love getting out of the house with Nala and Hudson.  I am pretty certain that the person I was in July would not even recognize the mom that I have become within just a few short months.  I did not know this in July and I think this would have made all the difference. It felt like July would be the picture of what our entire year would look like, but it turns out that November and December look nothing like July and August.

5. Getting Outside is Essential 

 Within just a week, I put a pressure on myself that I had to go out and do things with Hudson.  I wish we didn’t go out as much early on.  I think in ways I was not fully ready.  While early on, I felt an eagerness to go out into the world, I am finding as the months go on and as I become even more tired, I am more inclined to just stay inside.  However, I am learning how important and helpful it can be to just go.  To leave the house even on the days where you don’t fully want to.  Sometimes, it is those days that getting out of the house can be the most beneficial.  

Especially recently, I can’t even think of a time where we went out and I regretted it.  It usually is the opposite.  I come back home with new perspective, new connection, and new energy.  I am learning that it can be really easy to convince yourself that you should not go, that you should just stay home.  I have been there.  The voices of doubt start to creep in.  I am already late.  Hudson just spit up all over himself.  He is screaming crying as I put him in his carseat.  It is often in these moments, where I wonder is it worth it?  From my experience so far, it almost always is worth it.  Even if it is the smallest outing, it can really change the day to get out.  I have let the what if’s control my day.  What if Hudson cries the whole time?  What if people think I’m a bad mom?  What if I can’t get him into the carrier properly?  These questions and doubts would prevent and sometimes still do prevent me from just going out, living, and being okay if things did not go perfectly.  

I am learning, there have been very few times that I have gone out and it was a perfect experience.  Usually something happened.  He had a blowout.  He refused to sit in stroller.  He cried in yoga class.  I think of each of those situations and if I let the what if rule my decision and chose to stay inside instead, I would have been missing out.  I would have missed out on that beautiful run we had together on the strand.  I would have missed the connection with a great friend.  I would have missed seeing the way he smiled when him and all the other babies danced with their moms at the end of class.  Things will happen when you go out.  Some good and some not so good, but without going, you are potentially missing out on something really beautiful.

6. You Were Made for This

There have definitely been those days where I wondered am I really cut out for this?  I wondered if that tugging on my heart to be a mom was accurate.  Did I hear God wrong?  Is this my calling?  But even on those days of doubt, I am daily reminded that I am made for this.  The Lord has perfectly equipped me to be mother to Hudson.  I am made for motherhood because I am made by Him.  He has crafted my heart in such a way that has prepared me for both the joys and challenges of being a mom.  I am thankful for those quiet moments alone with Hudson.  The way he looks at me right before he falls asleep.  The way he sleeps in my arms as I rock him in the glider. It is these little moments, these quiet ones that show me there is no place I would rather be than right here with him.

So if you also are experiencing these days of doubting and questioning your role as mom, remember this simple truth: you were made for this, mama.