By Megan Egan, RN, aspiring IBCLC
Everyone's breastfeeding journey is different and subjective. Perhaps yours began in a hospital room? At home? You could be breastfeeding your first child or your third. You may have had plenty of help and support, or you may have been on your own. Maybe you supplemented, pumped, and bottle fed? Maybe you decided against it. Often, everyone's breastfeeding journey ends differently and at different times as well. As the weaning process varies from mum to mum and baby to baby. Wherever you are in the process, you have come so far and that alone is amazing.
Each day you breastfeed, you could consider it a day closer to weaning. Even though it is hard to fathom that this time may be approaching, it never hurts to be informed about how mums deal with the “weaning blues,” or for that matter, how little ones might react to weaning.
The "Weaning Blues" and what to expect
It is very common for women to experience a deep sadness during and after weaning. These feelings can vary between lasting only a few short weeks, to being severe and needing medical help. Many people explain the weaning blues as a form of grieving the loss of the bond that breastfeeding creates between mother and child. The weaning blues can also be linked to chemical or hormonal unbalance because less of the relaxing chemical, oxytocin, is needed to produce milk. Oxytocin is known as the "love hormone", so when there is less of it, depression tends to ensue.
Often times, when a mother is weaning, partners and other family members may not fully understand what she is going through. A partner may react negatively to her depression and not connect it to the fact she may be weaning the child. Our culture often thinks of weaning in an overly simplified way, such that it can be easily controlled and managed and that it is a conscious choice one may make. In fact, weaning starts early on with a baby’s first bite of food and can continue long after that. Evidence-based practice suggests that weaning should be child-led. Ideally, it would begin around the time that the baby is expressing less interest in nursing and the mother’s ideas are not imposed on the little one. Additionally, moms should remember to give their partner a loving heads up that they are going through the weaning period, and this should help to curb any negative comments or feelings.
Weaning has its positives
The process of weaning can help to make the final days of breastfeeding less abrupt, in addition to being easier on your little one. It is important to practice good and healthy habits during the weaning time period. Continue to pursue good nutrition, go to sleep at a regular time, practice deep breathing and meditation, and exercise. Try and encourage the oxytocin hormone in other ways, such as kissing and hugging your partner and children.
Other ideas mums can tie in to make weaning seem like less of a sad time, is to throw a weaning party or a celebration for the little one with other children that have weaned and can involve eating solid food treats. Sometimes children can relate to other children about their nursing experience in ways that adults can’t. This can also be seen as somewhat of a celebration because the mom and child have a newfound sense of independence, and the child can be even more a part of the dinner table. There are even some children’s books written about weaning from breastmilk and this can help a child relate to what is going on in a conceptual and fun way.
The choice is yours
Mothers wean at different times and it is important for the mother not to feel guilty for weaning. Hopefully, a mom feels like when to wean is partly her decision and not pushed into it by people around her or by society. It is important for a mother to look at her situation before deciding to wean and see if there is a compromise. For example, a mother going back to work may not have to wean if she is able to continue pumping and still deliver some breast milk through a bottle.
My nursing journey is still a fairly new one. There are so many ups and downs and different things to learn along the way. For me personally, I see weaning as something that will happen between me and my child within the next couple of years. You may see weaning as something to begin tomorrow, today, or it may have happened yesterday. Remember it is all a part of your nursing experience and not just "the end."