Breastfeeding is an intimate and beautiful relationship between you and your baby. Eventually, all babies wean, and weaning is part of the extended breastfeeding journey. At the end of the day only you know what’s best for you and your baby during this potentially trying, but cherishable and relatively short time, even if you feel like your extended breastfeeding journey was never going to end. You may decide to extended breastfeed till your baby naturally weans or perhaps at the one-year mark you are ready to move on, most likely you are somewhere in between. Either way, you and only you know what’s best for your situation.
Deciding to wean or start the process to wean the extended breastfeeding journey for you and your baby is a decision only you can make. You might feel uncomfortable or be overwhelmed, it’s normal to be full of emotions, doubt, and confusion. Similar to when you first started breastfeeding you had no idea how the process would play out and you might have not even realized that would you have ended up extended breastfeeding.
Maybe your baby will quickly get the hint and help you by weaning themselves. Or you might need extra help if your baby melts down and you don’t want to hear the sad cries. Either way, you will make it to the other side! Just like labor, there might be a few tears, bumps along the way, but you and your baby will both be okay and figure it out. Here are helpful weaning methods for those moms who have been extending breastfeeding.
New Schedule with Reduced Nursing Sessions-If you feed on demand, you will need to figure out a new schedule for you and your baby that you are comfortable with. A condensed schedule of your baby getting the breast whenever they want, maybe you only want to nurse upon waking and before naps and at bedtime. Then slowly take out a feeding every week or so, depending on what is most comfortable for you both. This is a very gentle way to slowly wean your baby, depending on how often your baby was nursing will depend on how long this process will take. It could potentially take a month or longer if your baby was nursing every couple of hours.
Replacement-Reduce down to one, maybe two nursing sessions a day from the start, redirect other times when the breast is requested, and offer your baby a replacement beverage. This could be just water or something new that is a “treat” such as bubbly water, coconut water, or if you plan to replace breastmilk with milk you can opt for cow’s milk or a non-dairy milk alternative. This is a slow but steady method that works really well for moms who have extended breastfeeding and want to continue nursing during the process.
Cold Turkey-So, this might be the hardest, but it can be the quickest weaning method, and it is ideal if you have a strong partner who can help you, and you could even get away for a few days. If you can’t bear to hear your child ask for the breast and don’t want to or can’t say no this method is for you. If your baby is nursing every couple of hours, this may not be the best method for you both.
No matter what method you decided to go with, just make sure to give yourself, your baby, and any support system a little grace along the way. After extended breastfeeding, your baby will be more aware that you are eliminating something they are used to getting on a daily basis. Be kind to yourself and if you have any hiccups along the way La Leche League International is a great resource for babies who just don’t want to wean, including older babies.
Read More: 8 Benefits Of Breastfeeding You Need To Know
Maintaining the bond with your baby
A lot of moms are hesitant to even start the weaning process because they are afraid they will miss that special time with their little one. Moms who have experienced extended breastfeeding may feel a bit more of an attachment to their baby and it is totally normal to be unsure of how the weaning process will play out. You are not the first mom to wean her baby and your baby will not be asking for the breast when they are leaving for college (even if it may seem like it). It might happen quickly or could be a prolonged process, but the more you plan for it the better it can be for everyone.
Your bond with your baby does not solely rely on your extended breastfeeding time together. Although you may feel a tug at your heart knowing that you will not have that special time with your baby anymore, there are plenty of other ways to bond. If your favorite thing to do is cuddle your baby while breastfeeding in the morning and you enjoy a slow lazy way to get your day going, instead of nursing bring a few books into your bed in the morning and read books and cuddle instead of nursing.
You and your baby will probably both miss the closeness you had with each other that extended breastfeeding gives you both; literally, your baby touching your body for hours a day. Babywearing is another great way to maintain that closeness during the day. Your baby will still be able to feel your warmth, touch your face or hair and feel your breath and your heartbeat. At the same time, you will be able to breathe in that sweet baby smell and be able to kiss your baby’s head whenever you want, just as you did while breastfeeding.
No matter what you choose to do, remember to be patient with yourself and your baby. Find something new and special that works for both of you, maybe what you enjoyed the most isn’t what your baby needs. Soon enough you will find a new routine that works for both of you. It probably won’t look exactly like what you thought it would, but it will be perfect for you and your baby.
What Moms Can Expect after Extended Breastfeeding and Weaning Baby
The weaning process can be a bit emotional for everyone, luckily although you might remember it, your baby won’t. So make sure you give yourself a little break as you need it and give yourself grace along the way as extended breastfeeding develops a deep bond. Weaning is a natural process and it will happen, but inevitably there will be setbacks.
Maybe your baby will get sick and need the extra nursing sessions with you, or the only way to get your baby to go to sleep is to nurse to sleep even if this hasn’t happened in months. Similar to a baby learning to sleep on their own, weaning is just another thing they need to figure out how to do. No matter what setbacks may happen, just know slow and steady wins the race after extended breastfeeding.
At this time your menstrual cycle might come back (if it has not already), many women who practice extended breastfeeding have delayed periods. Your hormones are learning to go back to normal after years of being “off”. This can cause a lot of feelings and emotions to come up, you may feel like you are pregnant all over again or you may just feel unlike yourself and that is totally normal. Eventually, your body will balance itself and go back to harmony, it will take time for everything to find its new rhythm.
Read More: Facts About Your Period While Breastfeeding
Extended breastfeeding has amazing benefits, but all good things must come to an end. Whether you are totally ready to wean or your baby made the decision themselves, it is part of the breastfeeding journey. You could end up taking months to fully wean as that is what is right for you and your baby. Just remember to be kind to yourself and your baby during this process, breastfeeding is all your baby has known and it a huge step in their world too.
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Sources: La Leche League International