Hi, I'm Danielle, AKA The Breastfeeding Mentor. I am a fierce advocate for empowering mothers to breastfeed on their own terms for as long as they choose - including stopping when they are ready. I nursed my son for 3 years and 9 months to the day, despite relentless criticism from friends, family and even colleagues about my choice. Almost a year later and I have helped hundreds of mothers around the world to stop breastfeeding without harsh cry-it-out strategies. Here are 5 secrets to gentle, responsive weaning to help you stop breastfeeding on your own terms.
It’s All About You, Mama
If you had told me at the start of our weaning journey that it was my attitude towards stopping breastfeeding that was the greatest barrier to weaning my son off the breast gently & responsively, I think I would have been pretty p*ssed off. After over 3 years of breastfeeding, as feelings of aversion crept in with increasing frequency, I knew that I was ready to stop nursing - didn’t I?
On the surface, perhaps I seemed ready to most, but deep down I had not made peace with the transition and it showed. My little boy could sense my anxiety around weaning, especially at bedtime and overnight and it only made him cling to me tighter. Making peace with the fact that I was no longer going to allow my son to self wean took a lot longer than I anticipated. I worked through the guilt by journaling my thoughts. I highly recommend it as a form of self-reflection before embarking upon your weaning journey.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
This may sound obvious, but many of the mothers and families I have worked with (myself included) have not spent very much time explicitly communicating with their child about the fact that they will be stopping breastfeeding. This may be because the idea of upsetting our children with news that we know they will not want to hear is hard. It may also be because of the prevalence of mainstream advice like, “Just put chili on your nipples,” or “Just go away for the weekend!” Note: I do not recommend either of these options as they are both avoidant and may leave your little one feeling upset and confused. They also do not allow for your body, breasts and hormones to adjust.
Instead, I advise you to communicate with your child about stopping breastfeeding in multiple ways and over time. There are so many touching examples of how to do this in calm and gentle ways. I share my favourites age-appropriate ways in my Weaning with Love webinar, guide & with 1-2-1 consultation clients.
Connection Over Distraction
If you have been nursing for over a year or perhaps for several years or more, you will appreciate how breastfeeding brings your child a huge amount of comfort, safety and reassurance. Keeping this is in mind is crucial when weaning because as you plan to move away from something so important to your little one, it is essential to consider what it will be replaced with?
There are so many different ways to connect with your child and support them to sleep that are not nursing. Finding what works for you and your family may take time, but it is crucial for weaning responsively. Simply stopping breastfeeding without having a plan for other ways that you will connect could leave you both feeling lost.
Give them Time
If your child is anything like my son and I, then it takes them time to adjust to new routines. The whole reason why I developed the Weaning with Love program was because I felt like the other guidance that I had read took a get-weaned-quick approach to stopping breastfeeding. That was never going to work for us! I also felt like the guidance I had read to date seemed to recommend that I either leave my son to cry himself to sleep or give up and try again in a few weeks time. Again, this felt unhelpful and like we would never make any progress. After repeatedly trying and failing to wean in this way, I knew that I needed to develop an alternative.
The concept of allowing your child time to adjust to new comforts and routines that you introduce sounds incredibly simple, because it is. That’s not to say that it is easy - particularly if you are ready to be done yesterday! Rather than expecting your child to make adaptations within days, try introducing the new comforts that you choose for weeks or even a month or so before giving up on them. Remember that as with most things in life, in time, anything is possible.
Lead with Love
If you are keen to expedite the weaning process, my final but most important piece of advice is to lead with love. From self love and allowing yourself to introduce boundaries, to love for your child. Aim to always respond to your little one with compassion and kindness, even if that is not by nursing them. Whilst we all adore our children, this can be incredibly difficult if we are sleep-deprived, touched out and stressed. If you inadvertently snap at your child, give yourself some grace and love too. You are human and you are undoubtedly doing your best, just like every parent I have worked with.
Lean on your partner and support network on the tough days and always talk about any tense times afterwards with your little one. Apologize if you need you, kiss, cuddle and move on. Although it may not feel like it now, one day - maybe sooner than you think - it will be your last ever feed. Until then, breathe deeply, focus on connection and get specialist support and guidance, here. Have you read my weaning story too? If not, here it is - you've got this mama.