Our Weaning Story

Photo of Ava and I right before we began the weaning process.

Photo of Ava and I right before we began the weaning process.

My breastfeeding relationship with Ava didn't start out easy, but once we settled into our routine I often looked forward to and enjoyed those moments with Ava. For those who have established a good breastfeeding relationship with your baby, you may be aware that when you nurse, your body and brain releases many feel good hormones, which can leave you in a blissful state. 

When you are breastfeeding, you begin to produce two significant hormones: prolactin and oxytocin. Oxytocin and prolactin are the hormones produced during breastfeeding that work together to make milk, establish a letdown, and keep up with the supply and demand of a nursing infant. They are also understood to help with the mother-child bonding experience and to produce a warm and typically content emotional state.
— "Motherhood: How Breastfeeding and Weaning Affect Your Emotions" By: Lisa Grace Byrne

As Ava grew older, our marathon sessions were becoming shorter by the day. When Ava was around 10 months, she showed way more interest in food than my milk. It was difficult to keep her attention when she was nursing and she was constantly on the move. Looking back, I might not have been completely ready, but I thought it was the right time to start the process of weaning. I wanted to take a gentle approach, although it seemed like Ava was losing interest quickly. In an attempt to keep my supply up, I was nursing around 6 times a day and once in the middle of the night. 

I decided to wean her from her night feed first, as I was desperately looking for sleep. We were going on 10 months of wake ups, accompanied with rocking, singing, and eventually co-sleeping as it was the only way I could get some rest. Surprisingly, weaning her from her nighttime feed was easier than I had thought. We had a solid bedtime routine in place, and I never nursed her to sleep. The first night she woke up, it was hard to fight my typical instinct to run in and nurse her. Matt and I listened and intently stared at the monitor as she fussed and eventually began crying. Matt kept me calm and as quickly as she woke up she fell back to sleep. All in all, she was up for about 20 minutes. The second night was around 10 minutes. The third night she slept through. I know I'm making this sound way too easy. Ava still has nights where she wakes up. She's not the best sleeper when she's sick or teething, but weaning her from the night feed helped me figure out the times when she truly needed consoling and I provided that by simply being with her. 

I slowly dropped her daytime feeds, one at a time every one to two weeks. I did a don't ask, don't refuse method. At this point, she knew how to sign for milk, so if she asked I wouldn't refuse. Typically, she wanted a cup of blueberries before nursing. Over the course of the next three months each feeding was dropped til we were left with her morning feed. This was the hardest for me as Ava was an early bird and woke up at 6am. I would always bring her into bed and nurse her, giving myself at least 30 minutes to relax before our day started. When Ava was about 13 months old I realized I was keeping this feed more for my own comfort. On the weekends, when Matt was home in the morning, Ava would never look to nurse and always wanted to be up with him. So, one Saturday morning, Matt took her right from her crib and downstairs for breakfast and all was fine. That night we brought Ava to sleep over my parents' house and she hasn't nursed since. 

Ava had an incredibly easy time weaning and I'm thankful for that. It was something I didn't expect since we started out a little bumpy. Another thing I didn't expect was the emotional toll weaning would take on me. As we dropped feedings and my supply decreased, I felt a sadness consume my body. It was like a wave crashed over me and swallowed me up. Ava was just shy of turning one, but I felt like I was sending her off to college and I would cry at the thought. I also felt a lot of anxiety. I spent a lot of time questioning if I was a good mother and if I should be doing more for her. I desperately wanted to do everything I could to ensure Ava was on the right path. Even though Ava was sleeping through the night, I was wide awake, watching the clock hit every hour. I know this all sounds absurd, but I felt like I had a dark cloud following me. My birthday came and went and so did Ava's, and all I felt was worried and unhappy.

I was also extremely hard on myself, maybe more so since I decided to quit my job and stay home with Ava (a story for another day!). If I wasn't breastfeeding Ava anymore, than what was the point in me staying home with her. I felt like I was useless. Another moment I can vividly remember, was being so overwhelmed and frustrated with nothing in particular. One day, my mom came over and I crashed. I cried and cried, everything seemed to be a big deal. The house was a mess, there were piles of laundry to do, dirty dishes, meals I had to prepare, and I couldn't handle it. I couldn't control the tears, but then I saw this worried look on Ava's face, she had never seen me cry before and I knew I had to try to work through it all. 

People don't speak much about it, but depression can creep up on you while you're weaning from breastfeeding. Unfortunately, there's not much research on the topic. This article explains how hormones can impact a woman's emotional state during weaning.

As I worked with mothers all over the world, I increasingly began to hear of a “delayed” postpartum depression that some of them experienced. As we discussed it further, many began to make the connection between when they weaned off of breastfeeding, and this marked increase of emotional depression.

Remember, for some women, oxytocin does function as a conduit for uplifted mood and bonding, so their emotional wellbeing during breastfeeding was being bolstered by the rise in oxytocin. As breastfeeding ends, so does the regular hormonal production of prolactin and oxytocin. When this drops, a woman again is susceptible to the mood impacts of her hormonal state bottoming out, until her body recovers a normal hormonal rhythm again.
— "Motherhood: How Breastfeeding and Weaning Affect Your Emotions" By: Lisa Grace Byrne

Although I never sought out professional help, I highly recommend that you turn to a therapist or another appropriate resource if you're having feelings of sadness or grief over ending your breastfeeding relationship with your baby. I believe I would have benefitted from speaking to a professional and perhaps would have felt better quicker. Instead, I turned to yoga, as I knew I could rely on my practice to enhance my mood and wellbeing. I tried not to feel guilty asking for help so I could escape for an hour to make a class. I also tried to communicate my feelings to Matt, which some days helped and other days didn't. I'm sure I worried him when I would cry thinking about how far away Ava would go to college, what she would major in and what her friends would be like. I also found talking to a friend who was going through the weaning process at the same time to be extremely helpful. It was reassuring to know I wasn't the only one who had moments of feeling sad. Another great article I found is called "The Hardest Two Months of my Life" by Joanna Goddard from A Cup of Jo, which shed light on the topic and reassured me that plenty of women experience this and it will pass.

Probably a couple of months after Ava's last nursing session, I began to feel better. The sadness seemed to vanish, I had more energy and I felt like I could truly enjoy our life again. It's hard to explain, but it was like one day everything was suddenly okay. I also began sleeping better and I think that had a positive impact on my wellbeing. 

Ending that chapter in mine and Ava's relationship was bittersweet. This was difficult to write, as admitting to these types of feelings can make you feel vulnerable, but I wanted to be honest about my experience. To all the mamas out there, whether you're just starting your journey or in the process of ending, I wish you all the best and surround yourself with people who love and care for you. Most importantly, remember you're not alone in this crazy ride called motherhood!

If you would like to share your story on the Bloom Mama Blog, please email me at hello@bloombyjennifer.com.