What I Wish I Knew About Weaning My Baby

Most weaning advice tells parents to cater to the baby's needs. But parents who are weaning need to take extra care of their own bodies, and especially minds, as changes rage through them. Here's what I learned through my own weaning experience.

The author and her child.
The author and her child. Photo: Kisha Bari

My daughter was 1 day old and happily drinking formula when a nurseknocked on my hospital room door and asked if I was interested in breastfeeding. I told her that I was taking medication that ruled it out. She responded with an offer to share some research about breastfeeding while taking the medication I was on. I agreed and she laid out a few papers on her lap—the research showed a minimal amount of my medication actually goes into breastmilk and that it was unlikely to have any impact on my baby. In other words, I could feel comfortable breastfeeding if I wanted to. My head began to spin.

I flashed back six years to the two doctors who told me I couldn't breastfeed my first child because of the same medication. I felt a sudden rush of anger.

Every person who gives birth has the choice to feed their baby exactly the way they deem best. Keeping a baby fed is the priority, no matter the avenue for feeding. But there is a racial and systemic disparity in breastfeeding that takes away this choice for so many Black women like myself. When I was pregnant with my son in 2014, I didn't know the data but now I do: Of the 83 percent of U.S. mothers who breastfed their babies, 69 percent of Black mothers reported that they breastfed, compared to 85 percent of white mothers who reported that they did, according to a 2015 study. When I was giving birth to my son, I just didn't know that the inclination of medical professionals to point me away from breastfeeding was part of a bigger problem and was affecting other parents all over the country.

"It's up to you completely but would you like to give it a try?" The nurse's gentle question brought me back to my hospital room where I sat with my second baby on my lap, formula bottle in hand. I looked at my baby girl and at my partner and made the decision to breastfeed her. I gingerly guided her mouth toward my nipple. She knew instantly what to do. Her little mouth stretched open, and she latched on with surprising power as I felt my entire body lift and curve into hers. Thus began our breastfeeding journey together.

Because it was my first time breastfeeding, I didn't know much about weaning.My daughter was 2-and-a-half when I started thinking about it. Some kids self-wean and some parents decide to wean. Either is a perfectly fine way to transition. My daughter was starting daycare and I felt it was the right time for the both of us.

When I started to wean, a host of changes charged through me both physically and mentally. I couldn't figure out how to stop my breasts from producing milk, as I tried to transition quickly. They hardened every time I missed a few days, causing discomfort. My mommy groups and friends were helpful as I sorted out which tips were right for me physically. They were also helpful in discussing how best to wean for babies, like the need to pay attention to their emotional needs, to make sure they're fed and full, and to do it when they're ready. I saw a gaping need, though, for more support mentally for us parents who want to wean and don't know how best to care for ourselves, not just the baby, in the process.

"While taking care of the baby's emotional and physical needs is important, it is also important to take care of the lactating person, both emotionally and physically as well," says Grace Veras Sealy, an Afro Latinacertified lactation counselor in Brooklyn, who I worked with when I first started breastfeeding. "Paying special attention to the hydration, nutrition, and sleep of the lactating person can help make the process easier."

Weaning wasn't an easy process. Here's what I wish I knew when I was ready to end my breastfeeding journey.

Make Your Own Schedule

It's OK to start to wean, stop weaning, and start again. I traveled to D.C. to help organize the Rally for Abortion Justice in the middle of my weaning. I dealt with the engorgement, the breast pads, the whole nine yards when I was away. When I came back into town, my daughter caught two ear infections. She refused food and most liquids, so I made the decision to return to nursing temporarily to ensure she was getting some nutrition. Do what's best for you and your child and go at your own pace.

Slow Weaning Is Recommended

While sudden or abrupt weaning "can lead to plugged ducts or mastitis if the milk production is not decreased in stages," says Sealy, it can also worsen emotional changes due to hormonal shifts—especially if you already deal with mental illness. "The drop in milk-making hormones can also lead to temporary depression while the body recalibrates and stops producing milk," explains Sealy. "Slow, gradual weaning, if possible, tends to be easier as the hormones decrease slowly." This can include cutting out one daily feeding at a time or adding more time between sessions.

Your Breasts May Look Different

Your breasts may be smaller or different in shape after weaning. It's OK to either celebrate this or grieve the shape they used to be. My girls are not much to speak of now, after living their glory days for two and a half years. I'm still struggling with how to dress them and how to embrace the changes. I've found it helpful to focus on what they are now, as opposed to wistfully looking at past pictures. I also experiment to find the right bras that can give a bit more support and lift when I'm in the mood for it.

There Are Other Ways to Bond With Your Child

Identify some other ways for special bonding between you and your child, like cuddling or storytime. I found that my daughter was loving our intimate time more than the actual breastfeeding—and I was enjoying that bonding time, too. I started doing 15 minutes of cuddling with her lying on my chest before bed. She loves this special time when we whisper silly stuff to each other and giggle. It's also made the transition easier on me emotionally as well.

Weaning May Bring Up Different Emotions

It's totally normal to experience a range of emotions about the end of breastfeeding. "You may experience times of sadness, anxiety, or grief, as well as happiness and relief," explains Kadesha Adelakun, a Black Georgia-based licensed clinical social worker and therapist who specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

In my case, I knew this was my last chance to breastfeed because I'm not having any more kids (this shop is closed!). So, I felt really sad about ending, although I knew it was the right time. It also signaled that my little one was indeed out of the baby phase, which was a celebration but also something that I mourned just a bit.

Find a Strong Support System

Having a strong support system through the process can make all the difference. "Your support system can be a lactation consultant, a perinatal mental health therapist, supportive friend, or supportive family member," says Adelakun. "Having a supportive person to talk to, cry to, and express the different feelings (mentally, emotionally, and physically) that you're experiencing can be helpful."

Online resources including Postpartum Support International can offer some support as well.

The Bottom Line

Whatever you do—and I know this is hard—remember to try to take care of yourself, mentally and physically, and not just the baby. This process can be easy for some and really hard for others. Give yourself some grace and know that in a few months, you'll be on the other side of it. Do what is right for you and your body and know that this is another phase in this beautiful, albeit difficult journey of parenting.

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