Deciding when and how to wean your child from breastfeeding can often be a difficult process. Sure, some kids do self wean (research suggests natural term weaning can be at any time from between 2-7), but if you've ended up rearing a boob-obsessed child and using it as a tool for anything from sleep to curing a tantrum, you may be wondering (as I did!) how on earth you are ever going to stop!
The acronym BRAIN is often used in pregnancy and labour to help give women more autonomy over any decision making. I first read about it in Milli Hill's book, 'The Positive Birth Book' and recently I revisited it to see whether it could be applied to the weaning process.
What could be the BENEFITS of weaning at this moment in time?
While it will usually always make sense to take a gradual approach to weaning so that the process is easier on you and your child, benefits to stopping are likely to involve things that will improve your life either emotionally, logistically or perhaps both! For some, breastfeeding over a prolonged period of time can be physically and emotionally demanding and although natural-term weaning (when a child essentially 'self-weans') might work for some, other families may see more benefits from initiating the weaning process.
Some challenges where weaning could be beneficial involve:
a return to work and desire for a more manageable transition
another pregnancy, either trying to conceive or dealing with the impact of being pregnant
wanting greater flexibility and freedom
experiencing ongoing breastfeeding issues
maternal health (mental or physical) or child ill health
REMEMBER THERE ARE WAYS AROUND ALL OF THESE ISSUES AND SUPPORT AVAILABLE IF YOU DO WANT TO CARRY ON!
What could be the RISKS of weaning at this moment in time?
Stopping breastfeeding is not a cure for sleep-related or feeding issues! These may even become worse in the short term because you may need to find other solutions that a quick breastfeed would have solved in the past!
There is also a risk of going 'cold turkey' or weaning very quickly as it can cause issues with your breasts and lead to problems like engorgement or mastitis.
You should also think about a more gradual approach to weaning to avoid a hormonal dip, which can sometimes lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and general sadness as your body adjusts.
What could some ALTERNATIVES be?
It might help to think about your reasons for weaning before deciding whether you want to stop completely or perhaps you are happy with just beginning to cut down. Some people may want to start by cutting out night feeds or might be happy to carry on with these and begin with the daytime feeds.
It might be that you just need a bit of a break at this point in time and perhaps a few hours, a night, or even a weekend from a breastfeeding toddler might rejuvenate the relationship you have with breastfeeding enough to make you want to carry on a bit longer!
It's also worth having a think about the strategies you want to use and which ones might appeal to you and your child. Everyone's journey will be different as children are not going to respond in the same way! Some may be happy to self wean whereas some may seem like they might carry on indefinitely. If you think picture book with an engaging narrative and gentle weaning tips might work, A big change for Seb could be a good choice! Children often learn through modelling so seeing the character in the story go through the same experience could be really helpful.
What are your INSTINCTS saying?
How are you feeling about the weaning process? What is your heart and mind telling you? Do you think your child is ready or would waiting a few months make the whole process much less stressful?
Ignore anyone saying 'but isn't it more for you than it is for them?' or 'they're too big for that now!' You don't need judgement to influence what you do for you and your child - only you can decide what is best. Try to avoid comparison as not everyone will be telling the truth anyway!
Is doing NOTHING an option?
Yes! Always. There is no sell by date on your milk and your child will continue to enjoy all the benefits of breastfeeding way past the arbitrary points of 6 months or a year. Some may tell you to wean when they're too small to protest but that ignores the fact that breastfeeding is a two way relationship. If you plan on natural term weaning and letting your child lead the process or are willing to let weaning take as long as it takes with only some gentle prompting from you, maybe the least stressful response is actually just to do nothing!
If you want to discuss this post further my Instagram DMs are always open or you can send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org