Recently, I helped someone very special wean sooner than she had originally anticipated. It is one of the greastest honors as a lactation consultant to have a mother come into an appointment and say, “I am ready to wean.”
Now, I am a “stretcher,” not a supporter. So, trust me that I know the difference between a mother saying, “I don’t think I can do this anymore” (This is hard and I need more help) and, “I am ready to wean” (I need to be done with this now).
I don’t give up on people easily. The mothers I work with know. I don’t give up on them. That includes being with them when they wean. I am sad to say that there are many breastfeeding support people out there whose actions speak louder than words when they claim that formula is not “bad” for your baby, but they seem to write you off when it looks like formula feeding, full or partial, is the inevitable conclusion to your breastfeeding journey. It hurts my heart to recall all of the women who have come to me for a second opinion after being ambiguously discharged from lactation care without a clear resolution of their issues.
My job isn’t to promote breastfeeding. My job is to help breastfeeding moms. So, to you mamas who recently found themselves weaned, I have some words to share with you.
- Weaning disrupts your hormones.
Pregnancy messes with your hormones. Breastfeeding messes with your hormones. And, yes, weaning messes with your hormones. The good news? You are in the home stretch of the child rearing hormone roller coaster… that is, until you get your period back… or get pregnant again. Okay, so as women we are pretty much always in some state of being hormonal, and weaning is no exception.
- Weaning changes your sexuality.
Breastfeeding decreases your libido. Lactation literally prevents your body from releasing the hormones that make you want to have sex. Also, getting freaky again can be daunting when you are lactating. Couples are funny. Some get into it, some don’t. But, most breastfeeding moms don’t feel “sexy” when they are breastfeeding. Once you are weaned, give it a couple months for your hormones to settle down and you just might get your groove back. (Now is a great time to plan your first overnight away from the baby!)
- Weaning changes your breasts… hang in there!
Okay, so there is a pretty big debate over what breastfeeding does to your breasts. I tend to not be able to believe that pregnancy and lactation doesn’t make your breasts somewhat saggier. I mean, have you seen what boobs go through during breastfeeding?? I don’t physically examine too many recently weaned breasts, but I will tell you about mine to make you feel better.
I breastfed Lucy, born in 2006, for almost three years. My boobs got “flatter” from year two to three. Once Lucy was weaned, they were scary. They seemed so deflated. It was sad, really. They were like baseballs in tube socks. Fried eggs hanging from a nail. They were stretched out rubber bands that just didn’t have it in them to snap back.
But my boobs recovered. They certainly aren’t as dense as they were pre-Lucy, but they did eventually snap back. The skin got tighter, they filled in a little. The week before my period, sometimes they are even nice looking.
So, mama, buy yourself some nice skin-tightening lotion and rub it on those weaned boobs. They’ll look a little better soon. Plus, with a good bra, nobody will ever know. Plus, partners don’t care. Boobs are boobs.
- Weaning changes your identity as a mother.
Breastfeeding is a parenting tool. No matter what age your child is, breastfeeding fills a whole combination of your child’s needs. The cool thing is that you don’t even have to know exactly what that need is (lucky thing, because it is really quite hard to decode screaming). Boobs will fix it nine times out of 10. So, when a parenting tool you have used 90% of your mothering life suddenly (or gradually) is not there, you may find yourself feeling inept at mothering all over again. Fear not. You will discover new parenting techniques by necessity, and you will regain your mothering confidence.
- Weaning brings a lot of feelings.
Whether you weaned gracefully, you weaned before baby was ready, or baby weaned before you were ready, there are a lot of feelings involved in weaning. I think many mothers are completely unprepared for this. Even if they really wanted to wean, they often surprised by feelings of regret or sadness. Because weaning messes with your hormones (see #1 above), many women feel labile moods or a persistent sad state. Weaning could bring to light Perinatal Mood or Anxiety Disorders.
Weaning may cause you to see yourself as an uninhabited, non life-giving source for the first time in perhaps two years! For the first time in a really long time, your body is solely yours again. Seeing your body may bring up a whole other set of emotions, good or bad.
Breastfeeding has been such a huge part of your life, so once you wean, you may start to find you have spare 30-60 minute windows in your life. At these times, discover a renewed zest for getting shit done. Or enjoy sitting and doing nothing without someone sucking on you. Taking some time to accomplish your own agenda can be a way to reframe any negative emotions associated with weaning.
6. Weaning changes your wardrobe.
No longer will you have to ensure that every outfit is nursing accessible. You don’t have to wear a tank top under every shirt. Wear whatever the hell you want! This weaning-related life change actually isn’t a problem at all. Embrace your post-weaning wardrobe freedom with joy!