The Hardest Thing About Weaning

Dr. Punita RiceLife

The Hardest Thing About Weaning

Mamas, if you nursed your babies, did you have a hard time with weaning? (And if yes, what was the hardest thing about weaning for you?)

Why weaning is hard

Of course, weaning can be hard on your child emotionally (and certainly physically if you’re weaning before they’re developmentally ready), but weaning can also be hard for moms. Many moms may have a hard time with bringing a nursing relationship to an end. This can be especially true if breastfeeding was overall a positive experience.

Weaning can be difficult because of its physical components (engorgement is not a joke). And the physiological stuff can be really hard; many moms even go through lows that are similar to depression. Part of the reasoning can be tied to the shift in hormones that accompanies weaning; as you wean, prolactin levels decrease, and you have fewer bursts of oxytocin.

What I found hard about weaning

I weaned my son around 18 months — we weaned very gradually, starting with night weaning — but once we were finally really done, I was surprised at how emotional I felt (and the first morning my son didn’t ask to nurse, omg, forget about it!). Even while I’m aware of how fortunate I have been, and thankful I’ve been able to enjoy nursing my child, and grateful that I was able to nurse him for 18 months, bringing this part of our relationship to an end was not without difficulty.

As I mentioned, we weaned very gradually; so in the beginning, when we first started night-weaning (around 16 months), I definitely struggled with feeling guilt about denying him a comfort that he had grown to accustomed to, even while I knew that for a variety of reasons, it was ultimately the right thing for our family at that time. My guilt was assuaged by the relative ease with which my son took to night-weaning. Something else I struggled with was the intellectual awareness that weaning meant the ending of a physical oneness with my son. Of course, this was balanced by my joy at my son’s growing independence, but I still found myself feeling a sense of loss. (I will say, though, that this feeling dissipated pretty quickly after he was fully weaned.)

What other Mamas find to be the hardest thing about weaning…

For many families, starting the process of weaning can throw a kink into an otherwise smooth family routine. And, weaning can be especially difficult if one member of the nursing dyad is ready, while the other isn’t. Still other moms have a response to weaning that ranges from celebration of their children’s increasing independence (and sometimes, their own independence!) to struggling with the end of the nursing relationship with their child. Moms weaning their babies may also struggle with wondering if they’re doing the right thing. (Plus, for so many moms, getting into the swing of breastfeeding can be such a complex challenge — this can make weaning even harder.) Here, some of my mama friends share what the hardest thing about weaning their child was for them…

What's the Hardest Thing About Weaning?

For a family that has a routine down, weaning can be a disruption. This can be especially true if your family has settled into an otherwise smooth sleep routine. Nursing moms (especially, but not exclusively, nursing moms who co-sleep) can benefit from being able to easily nurse babies to sleep or back to sleep. For my friend Cherie, who has nursed two babies for over 14 months each, giving up nursing to sleep has thus been challenging for their family:

“Weaning is a milestone, and definitely can be emotional as momma (and baby) may feel a little loss of closeness (and in our case, sleep). For me, the hardest part of weaning both babes has been managing sleep.

We’re not awesome sleep trainers, so losing my powers as the human pacifier is/has been a significant obstacle. After over 14 months both times, it’s a hard habit to break – especially in desperation at 3 am!”

Sometimes, weaning can be difficult for a really simple reason: you’re ready to stop, and your child doesn’t seem ready to give it up. Says my sister-in-law Kelli:

“The hardest thing about weaning is that I am ready and he is not.”

…And when you feel any kind of pressure to continue, that sense of feeling ready to stop can be difficult to deal with. In her video on how to night-wean a toddler, YouTuber Amanda Muse touches on this, and says that when Mama is ready to stop nursing, that can signal that it’s “right” time to end a nursing relationship. As she puts it, while the attachment parenting movement encourages mamas to breastfeed your child until the child is “ready” to stop,

“The whole thing is: I’m ready to stop… and it’s a relationship; it’s two people: it’s the mommy, and it’s the baby. And it stops working for either partner, then you need to come up with a solution…”

(That solution can sometimes be weaning.) Still, it can be hard to know if or when it’s the right time to wean. My friend Liza, who nursed her two sons for close to two years each, shared that the hardest thing about weaning for her was struggling with not knowing if she was doing the right thing. Here’s Liza:

“I specifically remember weaning [my older son], and holding him while he was crying thinking to myself, What am I doing? Is this right? Is this normal?

We worked so hard to finally click in this breastfeeding journey and now I am saying no more, pump the breaks, sorry but that’s a wrap.

The feeling of guilt, sadness and helplessness taking over just like it did in the beginning when I questioned if breastfeeding was actually going to work.”

And in addition to struggling with those feelings of uncertainty, bringing the nursing relationship to an end can also make you very aware of how much, and how quickly, your baby is growing up. While that’s obviously a wonderful and joyous thing, it can also be hard in the beginning. As my eloquent friend Alexandra put it:

“The hardest thing about weaning for me was that it forced me to accept the passage of time in [my son’s] life. I’m so proud of his increasing independence, but the distance always feels heavy.

First he grew in my body, then he nourished through my body, and when he weaned we were only physiologically connected in that he is my heart.”

Still, while weaning does mark the end of one component of the mother-child relationship, it also signals the beginning of a new chapter in your child’s life, and your relationship with him or her. I know that while I initially felt a slight sense of loss after we weaned, it was quickly replaced by admiration for my son’s independence. And the truth is, weaning doesn’t indicate the end of a bond between us at all. To quote Amanda Muse in her YouTube video,

“It’s not always a sad story when one is ending their breastfeeding relationship, and you don’t always need to feel sad about it; sometimes, it’s just done. And everyday you spent breastfeeding is amazing, and you’ve done a great job, so pat yourself on the back.”

Thanks Cherie, Kelli, Alexandra, and Liza!

Mamas, if you nursed and weaned, what did you find to be the hardest thing about weaning?

P.S. – Here’s a post from Cherie about going from being a working mom to being a stay at home mom, here’s one from Kelli about the difficulties of being a stay at home mom, and here’s Alexandra on the importance of being kind to yourself.