Bye-Bye Breastfeeding: My Weaning Experience (pt 1)

From what I've found there's no exact science to weaning. You basically slowly cut back on breastfeeding sessions one at a time and replace each with whole milk, formula, a sippy cup, a bottle - or a combination of them depending on when you wean a baby. I have been breastfeeding my daughter from day 7 (more on that later) until now, just shy of a year. Our breastfeeding journey has been a wonderful one, although I have to admit it's a miracle it's lasted this long. It's been filled with nipple shields, finger feeds, 24 hour a day pumpings, a brief return to overnight work, a week apart (with 100+ ounces of milk pumped and dumped), a nursing strike and a few bites. But as my milk supply slowly dwindles, due in part to my daughter's increasing appetite for solid foods, I'm slowly weaning her from breastmilk directly to whole milk in a cup. Am I doing it the "right" way? I don't know. Am I doing it the way it works for us? Yes!

Why am I getting teary-eyed writing this? To be completely honest I was never emotional about breastfeeding. Sure, I loved the bond that my daughter and I shared. She needed me to survive, even more so than a child who gets a bottle. She needed me. I was happy to provide a boob and a meal, but now the time has come. My husband might tell you it's been too long. About six months ago he was afraid my daughter would soon look up while nursing and say, "I'm done." That's when I reminded him that he was breastfed for a full year and when I added...some moms breastfeed their children far longer...like 8 years!

When I started I was nursing Olivia about 8-12 times a day, every 2 to 3 hours. It took forever...nearly 45 minutes per meal. It felt like as soon as she was done nursing she was ready to start again. But for the last two or three months it's been down to four times a day and now the last week or so I've cut out all breastfeeding except the morning and bedtime feeding. I'll need to back up a bit to explain exactly how I got from 12 to 2...so bear with me.

When I envisioned breastfeeding my daughter I imagined it would start a few minutes after she was born, in my hospital bed. Everyone kept telling me the sucking reflex is natural and is strongest in the first 20 minutes after birth. Well, for me and her it wasn't so smooth. Not only did she not nurse right away, it wasn't until about 3 hours later that we even tried..and we weren't in the delivery room anymore, we were in my post-partum room. The first few attempts didn't go so well. So much so that the nurses insisted we supplement with formula. I pumped and got a small amount of milk which the nurses then saved so we could finger feed. That was only supposed to last while we were in the hospital, but as you can see in the picture, that's my husband feeding my daughter expressed milk with a syringe and feeding tube...10 cc's at a time.

I tried constantly, but for nearly two weeks she couldn't or wouldn't latch on. Finally, frustrated and about to give up on nursing altogether I called a lactation specialist at the hospital where I delivered and she recommended a nipple shield. It's a silicone cover that goes over your nipple making it somehow easier for the baby to latch on. It worked instantly and from there our breastfeeding journey began.

At two months and after constantly being told by the pediatrician that my daughter had an enormous amount of gas and her stomach was always bloated, I put two and two together. I did a little investigating and realized that perhaps she was getting too much air while she was nursing because of the nipple shield. I took the shield off while nursing and she latched right on. At this point I was still nursing her at least once or twice through the night. That continued until she was about 4 months old when she started sleeping through the night. I did continue to give her a "dream feed" or an 10pm feeding which carried her through 6am. I knew she was ready to stop that feeding around 5 months when she stopped sleeping through it and started waking up and resisting it. I stopped offering it, but she still slept through the night. Around the same time we cut back on a few daytime nursings as well when she started solid foods. This was a complicated time for me. I wasn't sure exactly how to merge breastfeeding and solid foods. Doctors will tell you different things: nurse before the meal so the child gets the breastmilk, or nurse after the meal so the child gets used to eating and doesn't fill up on breastmilk. I tried several different methods and eventually found what worked for us. As the solids started to more closely resemble meals here's how I integrated both breastfeeding and solids: breakfast, lunch and dinner the nursing took on a different role.

Breastfeed at 6am when she woke up
Breakfast at 8am
Breastfeed after the first nap (10:30 or 11)
Lunch at 12:30 or 1pm
Breastfeed after the second nap (3:30 or 4)
Dinner at 5:30
Nurse at 7pm before bed.

This was our routine from about 7.5 months until 11.5 months. Around 11 months I started to sense that Olivia was getting hungrier earlier and earlier after nursing. She could no longer make it until 1pm for lunch or 5:30 until dinner. I was starting to feed her lunch closer to 12:30 or even noon and dinner around 5pm. I believe two factors played into this: she's more active so she's burning more calories and requiring more food and she's not nursing as long because of both the solids and a lack of interest in sitting still long enough to wait for a second letdown.
That brings us to now, when I decided to make a conscious effort to wean her. Here's how I'm starting to cut out the last four feedings. About a week ago (11.25 months) I replaced the post-nap 1 breastfeeding with a small, healthy snack such as half a banana or crackers with cream cheese AND a sippy cup of whole milk. (Introducing milk deserves it's own post, but I will say my trick was to offer it when she had something dry to eat so she wouldn't refuse it, which she did at first. You can also mix it with expressed breastmilk if you have any, I did not.) I then pushed lunch up to 12pm. (If she got up from her first nap close to noon I would feed her lunch and then offer the same type of snack as mentioned around 2pm, before her second nap). I did the same thing in the afternoon, offering a sippy cup and small snack to replace the post-#2 nap breastfeeding. At times I was so tempted to lift my first and offer her what she really wanted...afterall, how can you refuse a little baby pointing at your breast and giving you the baby sign language sign for milk (especially after working so hard to get her to use the sign)??? It was difficult, but after a few days she started to really accept cow's milk.

Now we're down to breastfeeding twice a day and I'm still torn on which I'm going to let go of first. The morning seems the most logical, but I think that's one the she's most attached to. There are nights she goes to sleep without having the breast or bottle first, so that seems the easiest to give up next. I guess we'll see what works for both of us. Until then...I'll continue to update you on our weaning breastfeeding journey.

As promised, here's your update (8/10/09) with more on how I've successfully completely weaned my daughter after a year of nursing.

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