Breastfeeding. Look, I’m just going to say this: I never liked it. I’m not sure if that makes me a bad mother/woman/earth mama to admit, but there it is. Sure, I’m grateful that I was able to breastfeed, and that my issues with it were limited to a few weeks of cracked nipples in the beginning, but there were so many reasons that I just didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t ever like getting my boobs out in public, even in front of close friends and family. I didn’t like being so attached to a small human who really went HAM on those nips from the word go, and only seemed to take more delight in breastfeeding when her teeth came through, I didn’t like the constant night wakings, the early morning feeds, the ‘just-let-my-boob-hang-out-all-night-‘ feeds…and while to be fair, I liked the comfort of my Cake Nursing bras, I didn’t like how they looked like I was wearing a training crop under every single item of clothing I wore. Also the sheer size of my puppies wasn’t so great either (As much as other parties might disagree).
No, breastfeeding and I were not friends – but my daughter didn’t get this memo. For the first 16 months of her life she was an absolute titty-monster. I kept hearing about other babies ‘self-weaning’, and I felt about it the same way you hear about people winning the lottery – nice, but completely unimaginable. There was no way my little card-carrying member of the bust-out-those-booby’s club was ever going to self-wean; if I’d waited for that day I think I’d be waiting a very, very long time. But after 16 long ass months of breastfeeding I really felt like I’d done my duty and was ready to pry my breasts back from my daughters small, clingy hands.
So I did what any intelligent, intuitive mother does, and I googled the hell out of ‘How To Stop Breastfeeding’. There was a lot of articles that made it sound very straightforward; you know – cut down feedings, replace with bottles/sippy cups, rinse and repeat until weaned. Okay…had any of these people actually met a boob-reliant baby? I just was NOT confident that it would be so simple. I’d tried around 12 months to get Lila onto a bottle and she Was.Not.Having.It., so I wasn’t convinced that it’d be as easy as not offering a boob and offering a bottle instead.
Nevertheless, the lure of sexy lingerie (Alright, I lie, it was more the lure of un-monitored alcohol consumption) was calling me and I was ready to wean. I gave myself a two month time-frame, deciding that by the end of the two months, I’d have her completely weaned off breastfeeding altogether. No night feeds, no morning feeds, no middle of the night feeds, nada. And you know what?
She was completely weaned within three weeks.
How did I do it? Read on, my breastfeeding-weary friends, read on!
Step One: Get Them Interested In The Bottle/Sippy
I got this idea from Mama Natural, and it was the only thing that worked to get Lila interested in taking a bottle. I’d tried a hundred different kinds of formula, different milk, different bottles…I’d tried expressing and mixing and sneaking and all sorts of devious, underhanded ways to get her to drink from a bottle or cup. Nothing worked until I tried this trick. I started drinking ‘hot tea’, which is something I drink anyway and she knows that. She always wants to drink from my tea cup. So for a day or two I’d go ‘MMMMM..hot tea…so delicious..yummmm’…just to pique her interest a bit. Then I asked her if she wanted her own ‘hot tea’. I used the milk frother from our coffee machine to steam some milk and I added a bit of Natvia hot chocolate. Like I’m talking a 1/4 of a teaspoon, but enough for her to think she was drinking something other than milk. I put it in a little tea cup and let her sip it, like it was some kind of delicious delicacy that she wouldn’t ever be allowed to have again. Naturally, she was stoked. The next day I put some into a sippy for her, poured from ‘my cup’. Again, she was stoked. I kept doing this until she was happily drinking nearly a full sippy cup of ‘hot tea’ without any prompting from me. And every time I made it for her I would decrease the amount of hot chocolate mix. By day 3, it was just pure milk.
Step Two: Cut Out Least Useful Feed
I was really unsure which feed constituted as the easiest to cut out, like many articles suggested. None of the feeds were going to be easy to cut out for a boob-crazy toddler. So I decided the least useful feed was the one in the morning because she wasn’t going down for a nap, so I could handle it if she got annoyed about no boob. And this one was pretty straightforward, because our original routine was to get her from the cot, bring her into my bed and then feed her – so I just decided to not bring her into my bed once she was up. We’d go to the kitchen, make a ‘hot tea’, watch cartoons, sing songs…whatever, but no boob. She wasn’t really super annoyed by dropping this feed. Confused, maybe. But not annoyed. Success – one feed down, several to go!
Step Three: Cut Out Before-Nap Feeds
I was very afraid of this step. I had visions of refusing her a boob and then her just lying in her cot screaming for an hour. Which was actually pretty accurate – for the first attempt, at least. She cried for twenty minutes. And fair enough, I’d taken away her sleepy-time comfort. But I was adamant about being consistent, so I just persevered (Also, she didn’t drink her ‘hot tea’ before her nap, because she was way too furious to deal with any boob-replacements). The next day, however – she went down to sleep after about two minutes of crying. I couldn’t believe it. (She still didn’t drink her hot tea, though).
Step Four: Cut Out Bedtime Feed
I jumped ahead to this one sooner than I intended to, and the reason was that I thought it was getting confusing for her to have no breastfeeding before day naps, but then to still be breastfed for her bedtime. And she took to it much easier than I anticipated, probably because I’d already cut out the nap feedings. I would offer her the hot tea, read her a story, sing her a few songs, and then put her down into the cot. After two days she decided to take the hot tea, (hooray!) and after three days she didn’t cry at all, and would actually point to her cot once she’d finished her drink. She was happy to go to bed without a boob. Like, who was this child and what had she done with my baby? I was beyond stoked – this was going much better than expected.
Step Five: Cut Out Middle Of The Night Feeds
This step terrified the shit out of me. I mean, since my daughter was born she’d been waking up anywhere from 3-8 times a night to boob-out. And I just KNEW that these would be the hardest feeds to cut out, both for her – because she relied on them for comfort, and for me – because I relied on them for more sleep. You know the deal, at 4am when I’ve only had five hours of constantly interrupted sleep, you better believe I’m going to put my boob in that babies mouth if it gets her back to sleep for another hour! So I had a couple of false starts with this step, but eventually – I was ready. I went to bed at 7:30pm that night, right after I put Lila to sleep. I figured I’d get a few hours in before dealing with the impossible. This was very smart, because actually when I was awoken in the middle of the night I was alert and ready to go. The first night was the worst, and it wasn’t even that bad. She woke up twice, and the first time I was in with her for about an hour, singing to her and cuddling her while she furiously screamed in my arms. I offered her some water but this just seemed to enrage her even more. Noted, do not offer water unless you want it thrown in your face. The next wake-up was nowhere near as bad, and it was only ten minutes or so before she was back asleep. She then woke up at 8am, fresh as a daisy and acting like all was right in the world. In total, it took three days of this, with each night getting easier and quicker to settle her, until she was sleeping through. Yeah, you heard; sleeping through, meaning from like 7:30pm to 8am. Going to sleep happy, waking up happy. And I was waking up actually rested…which after 16 months of interrupted sleep is just the most glorious feeling in the world. All in all, cutting out the night feeds was probably the quickest part of the whole weaning process.
So, back B.W. (Before Weaning), I was breastfeeding Lila 4 times a day and anywhere from 2-5 times at night. She was extremely reliant on me and my boobs to put her to bed, to the point where no one else was able to put her down for naps or to bed at night except me. And, if I’m honest, I was fast becoming pretty resentful of having to feed her. I’d spend our nursing sessions either with my eyes closed and half asleep, or I’d be reading on my phone or day-dreaming or just doing anything else other than appreciating the moment. The ‘special nursing bond’ felt more like a really annoying super glue that someone had accidentally applied to my nips.
A.W, ohhhh boy – life is so different! Lila takes four bottles/cups of milk (‘hot tea’, I mean…) a day, and sleeps through the night. Let me just repeat that since it’s the first time I’ve really been able to say it: SHE SLEEPS THROUGH THE NIGHT. She eats well – whereas before she was an extremely picky eater. She is happier, cuddlier, more independent in some ways but also happy to throw her arms around me and give hugs and kisses, which she didn’t like doing before. She actually wants to go to bed, and when I put her down for a nap I don’t have to creep out of the room as quickly as possible before she stands up and gets annoyed. Now I can faff about in her bedroom and collect bottles/tidy up/turn the lights down/close the curtains and she just cuddles her teddy and goes to sleep. And best of all – I was actually able to go out to dinner last week while my parents fed her, bathed her, and put her to sleep. I mean – HALLELUJAH. I love putting my daughter to bed, but after having to do it every night for the last 500 days….well, you can imagine where I was at. (Halfway out the door, obviously)
Now, I would never try and tell anyone to start weaning. If you want to breastfeed forever, good luck, and more power to you. But if you are like me and you were SO DONE at least six months ago, don’t be scared to attempt weaning. I was so apprehensive about it, and I thought there was no way in hell that Lila would willingly give up her membership to milk-on-tap, but I guess I needed to give her a little more credit in the end. Turns out, babies are extremely adaptable little creatures, and boob-crazy toddlers can be weaned. Who knew?!