A couple weeks ago I shared a personal post on Instagram about the end of my breastfeeding journey with James at 13 months. There were SO many kind words, and so many mamas made me feel like I’m not alone in this bittersweet feeling of both excitement for the freedom I’m getting back, but pure heartbreak that I’ll never nurse James again. A lot of people asked how I went about weaning James, so I thought I’d share my experience. I know this is a very personal topic, and what worked for me might not work for another mama, but I hope you’ll find comfort or ideas in my journey.
From the very beginning James was a quick nurser, but ate frequently. He was like clockwork ready to get on the boob every two hours for at least the first 3-4 months. Once we started getting him on a more regular nap schedule, the feedings spaced out to about every three hours, but we didn’t get much beyond that until the very end. After I quit my job in January, it was harder for me to have a set feeding schedule. I was around all the time, so I basically just nursed James whenever it seemed like he wanted to. He also started all-out refusing bottles at 8-months-old after I accidentally went a few weeks without offering one (we went on vacation and I didn’t bring bottles or pump stuff, cause who wants to pump when they don’t have to? And then it was the holidays and our schedule was nuts so I just never needed to give him a bottle!).
When James was around 11 months, and as we neared his first birthday (and our trip to California was on the horizon), I knew I needed to start working on weaning. The first thing I did was to actually adhere to a schedule, so then I could start working on slowly and strategically dropping/combining feedings. At 11 months, James was napping twice a day, so my schedule was this:
+Nurse him at first wake-up (this was around 4AM at the time)
+Solid food breakfast when he was up for the day – around 7AM
+Nurse him before first nap (around 8:30/9)
+Solid food lunch around noon
+Nurse him before second nap (around 2PM)
+Solid food dinner around 5:30PM
+Nurse him before going down for bed (around 6:45PM)
Once I decided I wanted his feedings to be on a schedule as opposed to on-demand, it really wasn’t that difficult for him to pick up on the schedule. And as you can see, he was getting SOME kind of food pretty much around the clock, so he was fed and happy 😉 Of course if he was sick or teething, etc, then the schedule went out the window. But more-or-less, this is what our days looked like at 11 months.
A couple weeks after establishing our schedule I started working on dropping one of the daytime feedings. I went into weaning knowing I wanted the morning feed to be the last one I dropped. This was because I was most full in the mornings and also because of the convenience of dropping daytime nursing and bedtime nursing (so mama could go have her date nights and girls’ nights without first needing to feed the bottle-refusing baby).
Another thing I had to consider while weaning was the fact that James refused to drink breastmilk or water out of any sippy cup or bottle. At 11.5 months I finally felt comfortable giving James some cow’s milk, and sure enough he liked it so much, he sort of started to drink an ounce or two out of a sippy cup, so I was less concerned about him getting really dehydrated with me cutting a nursing session. Now instead of feeding him before each nap, I nursed him just before he ate lunch (so he wouldn’t get full on solids then not nurse). I was concerned he wouldn’t nap as well without nursing before, so I would often give him a snack (like yogurt or a piece of toast) before he’d go down for a nap. This also helped start disassociating nursing with naptime/bedtime.
Now, here’s where I had some unintentional help, which ended up being both a blessing and a curse. Right when I was thinking of dropping the one daytime feeding we had left (just shy of James’ first birthday), I got a really bad stomach virus and spent all night one night throwing up. That stomach virus really dried up my milk. This was a blessing because we were going to California a week later and I was hoping I would only have to pump morning and night while I was there, but a curse because I was honestly hoping to hold on to nursing morning/night for longer than I did, but my milk just dried up really quickly after the stomach virus.
Despite the big dip in my supply, I kept pumping twice a day, morning and night, on our trip (we left the day after James’ first birthday) so I could continue to nurse James when we got home. I was only pumping around five ounces each session at this point, so barely anything! While we were away, James was forced to figure out drinking from a sippy cup since that was his only way to intake a good amount of liquids. My mom was watching him during our trip and she is amazing and really helped him with this. It was such a relief. It was something I stressed over for MONTHS!!
Once we got home from my birthday trip, I pretty quickly and easily dropped the night nursing session (this got replaced with a 4oz sippy cup of milk before bed, which we’re still doing now and he just turned 13 months). I continued nursing him in the morning for the rest of the month, but I could tell I didn’t have a ton of milk and by this point James was probably doing it more for comfort than anything. I was still loving breastfeeding, though, so I kept on. I was so grateful that I never got overly engorged or had to go to any extreme measures to dry up my milk, but it was also bittersweet because it felt like it wasn’t on my terms. I guess no matter how it happens it is hard!
In the end, it was another trip to California, this time to Los Angeles to visit my sister, that ultimately marked the end of our nursing journey. I just couldn’t bear to drag my pump along knowing I hardly had any milk anyway, so I used this trip as an excuse to signal the end. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it three days without at least hand-expressing, but I literally didn’t even barely get full over the three days! Cleary the milk supply was very low. Even after not breastfeeding or pumping at all for three days, I still nursed James when I got home and he latched on like I never left.
Honestly, I kept thinking I would feel ready to be done at some point. And maybe if I waited a REALLY LONG TIME, I might’ve gotten there, but it didn’t seem like I would feel that way anytime soon. It mostly got emotionally exhausting for me knowing I hardly had any milk left and every morning I would wonder IS THIS THE LAST TIME I’LL EVER NURSE MY BABY? I decided I didn’t want to wait for the morning James refused me and instead I would end our journey on my terms. So the day he turned 13 months I nursed him for the last time (oh geeze, now I’m getting all teary…).
There were so many times during our 13 months I felt overwhelmed by the weight of being the sole food provider for James. There were so many times I’d daydream of leaving overnight and getting a full night of sleep, or even just going out for a self-care day and not have to worry about pumping or missing a feeding. Especially when James started refusing bottles, I felt like I was being stretched to my limit. It was so demanding. And yet, it was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. For all the moments I felt utterly exhausted from being a human milk machine, I had ten more moments of pure heart-bursting contentment having the opportunity to nurse James. When it’s good, it’s so good. I feel so lucky I was able to make it as long as I did <3