When my now 4-year-old started to self-wean at 11 months, I couldn’t have been happier. At the time, I had a full-time job and was having trouble keeping up with pumping. Plus, my goal had been to nurse him for about a year anyway, and the timing seemed to be working out perfectly in that regard.
The problem, however, was that I somehow wound up weaning too quickly, going from five feedings a day to none in the span of under six weeks. I thought cutting out one feeding per week was a smart way to go about the process, and articles I’d read online seemed to support this practice. But in reality, my body didn’t like that one bit, and I’m not just talking about the physical side effects—I’m talking about the emotional ones too.
Though far from pleasant, I could deal with sore, engorged breasts—after all, I’d spent the first two months of my nursing relationship dealing with far worse. It was the emotional side effects that temporarily turned my world upside down in a terrible way.
We’ve all heard of postpartum depression, but post-nursing depression gets a lot less press. However, I can say from firsthand experience that weaning-induced depression is a very real thing.
From what I’ve read, there’s some logical science behind it. During the weaning process, prolactin and oxytocin levels drop. Anytime a woman experiences a hormonal change, it’s enough to throw her for a loop, but these hormones in particular are said to aid in calmness and relaxation. It therefore stands to reason that when they decrease, so too can the happy feelings they help produce.
Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way. While and immediately after weaning my son, I suddenly found myself sad and anxious for no apparent reason. I cried often. I lost my appetite. I just didn’t feel like myself.
That brief but frightening bout of upheaval served as a major wakeup call for me, which is why I’ve been going about the weaning process much differently with my twin 1-year-old daughters. For one thing, I’m taking my time, which so far has meant cutting one feeding every two weeks, instead of every five to seven days. I’m also taking cues from my daughters, letting them lead the process as much as possible.
Over a six-week period, I’ve managed to go from five feedings a day down to two. Though I’ve definitely felt a familiar pang of sadness or anxiousness here and there, for the most part, it hasn’t been nearly as emotionally harrowing an experience as it was when I weaned my son.
I’m currently working on eliminating the nighttime feeding, which many say is the hardest to cut. For my girls, however, I believe the morning feeding is the one they’re most attached to, and so I plan to tackle it last. My daughter K, at this point, seems to prefer the bottle at nighttime, so for the past few nights, I’ve stopped offering her the breast before bed. My other daughter, A, had a harder time adjusting to the bottle in general, so I’ve been letting her nurse for a few minutes at night, and then supplementing that with some regular milk.
The weaning process is taking much longer this time around than it did with my son, and there are moments when that frustrates me. Because, frankly, after nursing twins for over a year, I’m ready to be done. On the other hand, I know that rushing through the process will not only be bad for me, but also for my daughters, and I don’t want to put any of us through that. If there’s one thing I tend to be guilty of in life, it’s impatience, but I know I need to take my time and wean my daughters as gently as possible. And while I’m eager to experience the freedom that comes with not having to nurse, I’m definitely not looking for a repeat of what I went through three years ago.
Besides, while I think weaning, for me, is a very good thing, there’s admittedly something bittersweet about it, and I’m sure I’ll have moments where that sadness hits me in a very real way. If and when it does, all I can do is hope that the feeling passes as quickly as possible, so I can embrace my children from a place of happiness and revel in their glorious smiles.