two saturday’s ago, i started the bittersweet process of weaning my baby girls from breastfeeding. as i type this, i have cold cabbage leaves stuffed into my bra and a throbbing and painful chest that doesn’t seem to want to say goodbye to the milk it has worked so hard to produce over the past 13 months. these photos are from my last time breastfeeding (i sat on the floor in the living room for our last feed after baths – i didn’t want to dare do it anywhere near our bedrooms!) the photos remind me of how much emotion (and how many different emotions) i was feeling in this moment.
i have loved and feel very thankful for my breastfeeding journey. at times it has been hard and entirely consuming, but it has also been something that i have thoroughly enjoyed and would do over and over again if i could. i understand how different, complex and polarizing the topic of feeding babies can be, but speaking from my personal experience, for me – it’s one of my favorite parts of the early stages of mothering and i have gotten choked up and emotional more than once this past week as i’ve begun weaning the girls.
as i’ve reflected on this whole experience, i realized how far my breastfeeding chapter has brought me in the last several years of mothering – from feeding my first baby girl 8 and a half years ago inside teeny tiny freaking dirty bathroom stalls when i was out in public because i just couldn’t figure out the positioning without flashing everyone and didn’t feel confident to go about any of it out in the open, to slowly over time, and with a lot of practice and support over the years, really honing in on the beauty that it is to get to nourish a little one on demand, wherever that might be. from walking while feeding on the streets of rome to plopping down on sidewalk corners all over manhattan, i’ve embraced feeding my 5 babies over the years in any scenario, and finally figured out how to do it so discreetly in public, you’d think i was just holding a sleeping baby or toddler because you can’t see anything!
why i am weaning madalena and beatrice at 13 months:
since i shared i was weaning on social media last week, and i started to read some of your questions and thoughts regarding it all, i thought it might be helpful to share in more detail the why and how for me in this whole ordeal.
for my experience, i have breastfed on demand with all my babies and in doing so, i have also co-slept during the breastfeeding years. it is just how i prefer it over here, and everyone has a different preference. (you can read more about our sleep situation in this post.) both beatrice and madalena as well as my other three children have never had anything but breastmilk from the very beginning right after they were born until we introduced other milk after their first birthdays. for us, while we have never had to supplement with formula and my milk supply/latch/nursing situation as a whole has been good, it’s also been a huge commitment for me – both physically and mentally. while i did not wean my other three children until much later on (eleanor was almost three! it was hard to deny her when i tandem-nursed with her baby brother samson who is just 16 months younger), and i am very pro- extended breastfeeding, over the last few months i slowly came to terms with the fact that i wouldn’t be able to continue breastfeeding the baby girls on demand for much longer after their first birthday. the reasoning behind this is that it has been taking such a toll on me this round because of the lack of sleep. i just feel like i am always nursing – i finish feeding one baby and the other is ready – all day and night. it just feels like a different ballgame with two of them and i have felt pulled many times not being able to give of myself physically and mentally to my other children, my husband and other areas of my life because i feel like all i’m doing is breastfeeding. i realize this is so so touchy to address. i know some will say i should just cut out a few feedings and do one or two a day, or try the bottle instead, or just only feed when they nurse together, or get them out of my bed, or to hang on just a little bit longer until they self-ween since that is best for baby, or something else! so many ways to do it!, …but i can say that i have tried different ways to do this and approach this thing over the last little while and at the end of the day, i know and feel this is best for me and my family at this point – weaning completely. it’s hard to be here for me. to end this chapter i have loved so much. nursing them together (although now it’s nearly impossible because they always want whatever boob the other one has — see photo above!) has been my favorite part of this twin thing so far and i am so thankful. thankful for the experience, for a supportive husband, for patient older children, and for a body that worked hard around the clock to produce a strong milk supply (which still doesn’t wanna say goodbye ;)
i have approached this weaning experience differently than i have the past 3 times i have weaned. in the past, because eleanor, samson and conrad were older, they could understand and grasp a little bit better what was going on. i was able to distract them more easily with a different food or toy when they wanted to eat, and i was also able to explain the circumstances a little bit better to them when they tugged on my shirt or asked for milk. (i have always been a big believer in the band-aid approach. it helps things click for them when they see a band-aid over the nipple as you explain that there is no more milk or there is a boo-boo there right now.) because their age allowed them to understand more about what was happening, i was able to wean cold turkey and not transition over several weeks time. this is a lot harder on your body, but for me it’s how i’ve always preferred it. for those interested, i share more about how to help your body transition below!
this time around, i have tried a more gradual approach since madalena and beatrice are much younger and can’t understand a band-aid situation and i don’t want this experience to be traumatizing in any way. i started by cutting out all daytime feedings for the first week, while still nursing them to sleep at night, during the night, and then with a big feed when they woke up. we were able to distract them well during their normal daytime feedings by taking them out in the stroller, offering other things to do or drink when they might have wanted milk and a lot of me being away from them during the hours where they normally gravitate towards feeding. they did really well during our days this way and my body did surprisingly well, too. i was definitely in pain by the end of each day and ready to feed, but it wasn’t terrible.
last friday, we began the weaning process during the night as well. because i co-sleep while i nurse, the weaning process also coincides with a little more structured sleep training in our family since this is the time they move onto their own sleeping space. we set up beatrice and madalena in their own beds and began a strong bedtime routine that we hope to stick to (and mimic as best we can when we travel.) it is so personal and different for everyone, and i can only speak to my experience, but i have never done the “cry-it-out” method and so our sleep training is a little more hands-on at first but what i am comfortable with. so far, the baby girls have been doing really well and i am very proud of them! hoping to keep up the routines and really hoping all continues to go well in the coming weeks.
my recommendations for weaning:
while i am not a doctor or lactation consultant and can only speak to my experience, i do prefer the faster cold turkey approach for weaning. this is so different for everyone though based on your milk supply and situation. i know this approach can cause breast engorgement and often times lead to masitis (fortunately i have not experienced this) but after a few days of being uncomfortable, it’s over.
whichever approach you take, extended weaning or cold turkey- i recommend weaning during a time where you have a lot of help from a second pair of hands. we really cleared this last week and weekend so josh could be with the babies almost constantly so they weren’t seeing me and wanting the milk as much and also to help with my milk production (if i am holding them or i hear them cry, it is amazing how quickly my milk shows up!)
i recommend keeping cold cabbage leaves on hand to help with the discomfort of your breasts. change them out frequently (you won’t smell great, but it’s worth it.) i also have been putting frozen bags of peas inside my bra for ten minute stretches every few hours to help with the swelling. something else that has helped as well is using a cold soda can and rolling it slowly over them to help break up any bumps or tightness you are experiencing. it gives instant relief. i also like to wear a tight bra at all hours (including sleeping) and try not to take any hot showers.
i think one of the biggest things to be sure to be doing while weaning is making sure your little one is getting a ton of physical affection. lots of hugs and kisses and hand holding. i imagine it must be extra difficult to go from the comfort and safety of mama’s breast to not having access to it, so the next best thing is extra loves. hard to do when you yourself are weaning and can’t really hold them close too frequently because it stimulates milk, but having someone else doing that, and doing it as much as you physically can, goes a long way.
if you’re interested, i wrote a post about breastfeeding twins right here (applies to singletons, too!) . i think it’s important to reiterate once again though that making sure your little one is fed and loved is what is most important. i understand breastfeeding is not for everyone. i appreciate the support and encouragement i myself have received from so many of you during this chapter and i thank you for your love.