Breastfeeding my girls was a labor of love and my favorite thing ever, all at the same time. With Mae, it started off really difficult, what with her tongue-tie, her cow’s milk protein intolerance, and her general fussiness. Then it got a little bit easier, and THEN she stopped taking a bottle, and then it got easier again (minus the not-taking-a-bottle thing).
With Dylan, it was fairly easy from the start, although I did also have to give up dairy with her, for the same reason as Mae. Dylan didn’t totally reject bottles, but she wasn’t great at taking them, either, so I didn’t venture too far from her while I was breastfeeding.
But, this story isn’t about my breastfeeding journey; it’s about my weaning journey. And my two girls couldn’t have been more different in that regard.
Mae’s weaning story
When Mae was 11 months old, I noticed she wasn’t gaining a ton of weight. In fact, I felt like she might be the same weight as she was at her 9 month well visit. So, I took her to see the pediatrician, who confirmed that she was not, in fact, gaining enough weight. Both of my girls have always been in roughly the 5th percentile for weight, so they're never tipping the scales – but Mae was down to the 1st percentile, which was too much of a dip from where she had been historically.
I was still exclusively breastfeeding at the time, as well as feeding her solids. The pediatrician said my milk supply was likely dwindling, and I needed to supplement with formula, as the “solid” food she was eating didn’t have enough calories to boost her weight. As my pediatrician said, “Food before one is for fun.”
I probably could have tried to boost my milk supply, but I was planning to be done breastfeeding around the 12-month mark anyway (mostly because I knew I wanted to get pregnant again within the next few months and never got periods while I was breastfeeding). So, boosting my supply at that point seemed a bit futile.
However, there was a larger problem: As I’ve mentioned, Mae didn’t take a bottle. So…how was I supposed to get her to drink a bottle with formula?? The task seemed daunting, but as she wasn’t gaining enough weight, I knew I had to figure it out.
And thus, begun the Great Bottle Showdown. My pediatrician had recommended I skip a bottle altogether and give Mae a transitional sippy cup instead, which I did. I pumped some breast milk and mixed it with formula (1:1) so it wouldn’t completely taste like formula. Then, I offered it to Mae. Of course, she swatted it away, probably wondering if I had completely lost my mind. But, I persisted.
For an entire day, I refused to breastfeed her; instead, when she wanted milk, I offered her the sippy cup. She would cry and carry on for a while, and then she would forget about it and move on. She still ate her solids all day (I wasn’t about to starve her for an entire day), but for 8 hours that day, she got no milk. When bedtime came around, I did nurse her to sleep, as usual. Then, the next morning, we started over again. But this time…she took the bottle! It felt like magic, but of course, it wasn’t – she just finally understood that I meant business, and she wasn’t going to get milk again unless she sipped it out of this cup.
For the next few weeks, I still breastfed her, but I also supplemented with the formula/breastmilk mix in the sippy cup. She thankfully gained a good amount of weight, and my pediatrician was pleased with her progress at her 12-month visit.
Once Mae had her 1st birthday, I started to think about weaning. Slowly, I started to drop feedings. First, it was the middle of the day feeding. That one wasn’t too difficult, especially since I finally had her taking a bottle, and she was eating solids. Then, I dropped her early morning feeding and instead gave her breakfast as quickly as I could when she woke up. We were slowly making progress, but we both still enjoyed our bedtime feeding.
One night, Mae had eaten especially well at dinner, and she had a bottle after dinner. I brought her up to bed and rocked her, and she fell asleep without nursing. I couldn’t believe it! I thought to myself, did that really just happen? Nothing ever came easily with Mae, and this super-hard thing just happened with hardly any effort. I was ecstatic. I laid her in her crib, walked downstairs…and started bawling. I’m even crying right now writing this article and re-living that moment! My baby girl was done breastfeeding, and the range of emotions I felt was overwhelming.
Dylan’s weaning story
The second time around (ie, Dylan), our parenting experience was so much easier. Dylan wasn’t a perfect baby, but she was a lot happier than Mae had been, and we also knew what to expect. My breastfeeding experience went fairly smoothly, with just a few minor hiccups along the way.
Around 9 months old this time around, my milk supply started to dwindle quite a bit. I decided to supplement with formula, and Dylan was pretty good about taking the bottle at that point. She wasn’t nearly as attached to my boobs as Mae had been. 😊 I mean, she didn’t mind breastfeeding, but she was more interested in exploring the world and not having to take time out to eat. So, I started dropping nursing sessions slowly and replacing them with bottles.
By 11 months old, we were down to just our nighttime feeding. My cousin was getting married, and we were going to be away from the girls for one night. As with Mae, I had never been away from Dylan for even one evening; I was the only one who had ever put her to bed, ever. And, of course, I breastfed her to sleep. So, I was very worried about how she would do taking a bottle and going to sleep. Lo and behold, she was totally fine! She truly didn’t care about breastfeeding.
I decided to take this opportunity and retire my milky boobs, and this time…I was totally ok with it. No tears, no sadness. Just gratefulness that I was able to feed her for as long as I was and that we both parted on good terms. Maybe it was because she wasn’t as attached, or maybe it was because it was my second time around. But, either way, I felt completely different than I did with Mae, and I almost felt bad that I didn’t feel MORE bad about it.
If you’re ready to start weaning or trying to figure out how to wean, my advice to you is this: Drop one feeding at a time and do it slowly. Allow your baby, your boobs, and yourself to adjust little by little. And once you’re getting ready to drop that final feeding, be prepared to feel a range of emotions that you may not be expecting…but I guess that’s no different than any other day as a parent.
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-from-home mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience.