The following is a summary of the Instagram live done on June 29th, 2020. It is a compilation of all the elements that I wish families to consider by the time they decide to wean. Weaning is the closure of a very important stage in motherhood. My intention with this live was to show mothers that weaning can be smooth and can happen without tears or traumas. It's the reach of a milestone, and we should celebrate it and conduct it with love and respect.
It is my wish for you to reach all your breastfeeding goals, and close this chapter with the sweetest taste in your mouth.
For reasons of space, I'm just missing my personal stories of weaning. You can read them in another blog article, "How I Weaned my Child," or go to my Instagram stories for more. Thank you for reading me. This is for you!
What is weaning?
Weaning, by definition, is the cessation of the breastfeeding relationship between a mother and her child. It can happen in two ways: (1) naturally, when the child decides to stop breastfeeding, or (2) by the mother's choice. The first one can take longer, several months or years until the child loses complete interest in the breast.
When is the right time to wean your child?
The same way as breastfeeding is a mother's -family- choice, weaning is a decision only the mother and the baby can make.
The general recommendation of the World Health Organization is to breastfeed for the first six months exclusively and then begin with complementary foods -solids- at that time, with the continuation of breastfeeding for at least two years of age, or until the mother and the child mutually decide. This recommendation was adopted almost literally by other local pediatric institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is based on many scientific studies that concluded that the first two years of life are critical to receiving the benefits of breastfeeding.
Weaning is a process!
Weaning is a natural process that begins when the child starts eating solids and slowly becomes less dependable on his mother's milk. Everybody weans, that's a fact! But this process can take months, even years, until the child opts to breastfeed for the last time.
It is rare to see a child weaning himself before one year of age. Often, mothers misunderstand signs and confuse a lactation strike with a genuine child's desire to wean.
A lactation strike and weaning are two very different phenomena. A lactation strike is when a baby suddenly refuses the breast and becomes fussy when he gets close to it. It usually lasts for a few days, and then he comes back to normality. Lactation strikes can be triggered by a critical change in the baby's life. Weaning, on the other hand, doesn't happen suddenly; the mother could see how the child progressively loses interest in the breast until he stops looking completely.
The great taboo of weaning!
Weaning has been taken with a lot of apprehensions by lactation professionals. I remember when I was training to become an IBCLC in a hospital setting, it was pretty much forbidden to talk about weaning in our breastfeeding support group. Breastfeeding books have very little or no information at all about weaning.
Thus, many women -including myself- are forced to wean their children without any support. Sometimes, they are recurring to cultural practices that can be detrimental to the baby and mother's emotional and physical needs. Methods like rubbing sour or spicy substances on the nipples, so the baby gets the bad taste and consequently refuses the breast. In my opinion, these practices are primitive and completely ignore the baby's feelings and the true meaning of a lactation relationship.
The breast is much more than nutrition. Your baby looks for the breast when he's hungry, but he will also look for it when he's tired or anxious, as breast milk has sleeping inducing hormones and calming factors. Your baby will also look for the breast when he's in pain or needs to go, as breast milk has pain relievers, and the type of suction stimulates bowel movements.
So, yes, breastfeeding is a whole world for your child. Weaning him means he will lose much more than his nighttime meal.
When I started my private practice, I decided to create a consultation only for weaning. I believe families need the same support to wean, as they did to breastfeed. Driven by my own stories of weaning, I've done extensive research on tools and techniques. But everything took me to the same end. Weaning is a unique process for each family, and we must take it as a custom-made suit.
I have never done the same weaning consult; it is always made to meet the family's particular needs. There's no manual or a step by step guide. It requires a combination of knowledge and instinct.
Ask yourself, WHY is it time to wean your child.
Before I start making a weaning plan, I ask the family, WHY do you feel it is time to wean your child?
The weaning desire may come from many different reasons. It is crucial to verbalize them to reveal the true desires. Sometimes, the reasons reflect feelings of embarrassment when the mother feels judged by her closed ones for breastfeeding. On other occasions, the decision comes from misconceptions about breastfeeding or the nutritional values of breast milk.
The decision of weaning should come from the genuine desire of the mother to stop breastfeeding. She must know that it is her decision and her baby's, and nobody else.
The emotional and physical components.
Weaning triggers many different feelings. In the mother, the feelings of loss, guilt, and uncertainty bloom to compete with her desire to wean.
In the baby, there's also a feeling of loss and uncertainty that might make him feel unsafe or unloved. This can happen when weaning is driven abruptly by mother’s choice.
We must be aware of how weaning can emotionally affect both -the mother and the baby- in order to apply the right techniques and methods. Ways are critical for successful weaning.
There're also physical consequences of weaning that we cannot ignore.
Abrupt weaning can affect the mother. It can produce severe engorgement, plugged ducts, and even mastitis. Thus, the mother should give her body time to adjust to the new changes.
In the baby, it is crucial to take his age into account. A baby under one year will require formula as a substitution of breast milk. He needs time to adjust too. The family must observe his body reactions to the formula and make sure he's able to digest it before completely weaning.
The methods to deliver the milk should also be studied. Many options in the market also depend on the baby's age. Usually, after six months, the baby can be trained to drink from a cup or a straw, or simply switch to the bottle. However, it is not recommended to switch to a bottle a baby who's over one year of age.
Honor your journey!
In general, these are my recommendations for parents to consider when deciding to begin a weaning process. As I mentioned before, the specific details of the process will depend on the unique family’s situation.
You have worked hard to establish a lactation relationship with your child. It was probably tough at the beginning, but you made your way to enjoy it. You and your baby deserve a closure that reflects the beauty of your breastfeeding journey.
You and your baby have the right to decide the time and the way to do it.