I feel a tiny bit sad, because it has been such a big part of our life together for the past fourteen months. But mostly, I feel proud of her (and of myself) for figuring it all out, and I feel intense gratitude for the support and encouragement I have received. Gosh, I'm so very grateful.
The early days of it were not easy. She was sleepy and tiny, and I was exhausted and burdened by the weight of responsibility- my milk was keeping her alive!!- and oh so emotional. A wise friend told me that nursing gets easier after the first month. So I stuck it out, and sure enough, my friend was right. There were some tricky times since those first few days- congestion, first colds, nursing strikes, being discrete in public, and the endless pumping sessions while I finished last school year. But Charlotte grew and thrived, and we bonded, and I got confident. So I can look back over these fourteen months with great fondness and humility and joy.
Anyway, our nursing days are over and Charlotte is deep into solid foods and she drinks whole cow's milk (mixed with some of my frozen breast milk) in a special sippy cup at bedtime. It has taken us about two months to completely "wean" and there have been some struggles and some self-doubt and some guilt (on my part) and a few tears (from both of us!). She has definitely had a harder time falling asleep this past week since she's done nursing and once or twice Joel has gone in to give her some extra snuggles. BUT, over all the whole thing went amazingly well and I'm happy to say our breastfeeding experience, and our weaning process, were a huge success.
Here are a few tips for "weaning" that I've gathered from various websites and from my own experience:
1. Move slowly and try to follow your baby's lead. When I started decreasing from our routine of five feedings a day, I dropped one feeding in a week, then another ten to fourteen days later, and so on. Charlotte was almost a year old and eating a good amount of solids, and she didn't seem to notice. She drank more at each feeding and was getting the right amount of milk for her needs. Another benefit of weaning slowly is that your body adjusts to making less milk over time, which should help eliminate engorgement and discomfort.
2. Be flexible and patient. For us, it was challenging to be away from home shortly after we dropped the mid-day feeding. Charlotte had a hard time settling down for her second nap without the relaxation of nursing. After struggling for a while at my parents' house one day, I turned off the lights, nursed her silently and let her drift to sleep before breaking her latch. She stayed asleep and I took a short nap snuggled up with her. I will never forget that day. It was such a precious hour in our nursing relationship.
3. If nursing is going well and you don't need to stop sooner, try to make it for a full year. Pediatricians recommend waiting until after one to introduce cow's milk and they suggest giving formula if babies aren't receiving breast milk up until one. Since we never used formula, it just cut out one unnecessary transition. Moving to cow's milk (only at bedtime- Charlotte drinks water from a little glass during the day) directly from nursing was still tricky, but overall worked well for us because it was the only real transition we had. [Note: there's no need to stop nursing at a year! Breast milk is healthy and beneficial for toddlers well past their first birthday!]
4. Drop the daytime feedings first; keep the early morning and before bed feedings for a while longer, as these tend to be the most significant to baby. During the day, Charlotte was very eager to eat real food and play, so it wasn't terribly difficult to drop a feeding every week or two. We kept the morning nursing for about three weeks after the day time nursings were done. She was very attached to her morning routine of coming into my room and drinking milk with me in the quiet while Joel got ready for school. One morning, though, I met her at the top of the stairs and brought her down to the table where her breakfast was ready and waiting. I was prepared to nurse if she protested at all, but she didn't seem to notice any change. Then, just this past week we stopped the nursing at bedtime and that was definitely the hardest transition. Nursing before bed really helped Charlotte calm down and settle in, so we worked hard to help develop an adapted bedtime routine. I'm very glad we didn't try to cut that feeding out before now!
5. "Don't offer, don't refuse". This is one weaning philosophy I read and while I didn't follow it fully (because I continuously offered at bedtime, even if Charlotte didn't "ask", long after all the other feedings were dropped), I think in general it's respectful to allow your baby to nurse if he or she asks. Nursing is never just about nourishment- there is a whole lot of comfort, relaxation, and snuggling involved. One night last week Charlotte wasn't very interested in drinking from her sippy cup and was getting really upset. She kept tugging on my shirt and whining, so I let her nurse (even though I was confident she wasn't getting much nourishment). It comforted her and helped ease the transition of switching to milk from a cup.
How about you, readers? Any words of wisdom to share? Experiences with nursing or weaning- good or bad...?!