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Nursing Your Older Baby and Weaning

Drying Up
If the weaning process is kept gradual, your milk will taper slowly, and you shouldn't experience uncomfortable breast engorgement. The younger your baby is when you wean and the more abruptly you do it, the more likely it is that your breasts will become painfully full when your baby stops nursing. Abrupt weaning is uncomfortable, and it could predispose you to a breast infection. If you must stop nursing suddenly for some reason, you should use a breast pump to taper your milk production gradually. Wearing a good support bra, applying cold compresses to your breasts, and taking ibuprofen as directed also will help relieve breast discomfort due to rapid weaning.

When the milk supply drops markedly, the sodium content increases and milk tastes more salty. This phenomenon actually helps babies give up nursing when the supply becomes very low. A small amount of milk may continue to be produced for many months after weaning. It is not uncommon for a woman who has breastfed to be able to express a few drops of milk even a year or more later. Frequent attempts to check if milk is still present and lovemaking involving nipple stimulation may contribute to its continued production. Consult your doctor if you leak milk spontaneously or produce more than a few drops six months after weaning.

Your breasts should return to your prepregnancy size several months after weaning. Any droopiness or sagging that might be present is more related to having been pregnant and the skin elasticity you inherited than the fact that you breastfed.

Untimely Weaning
Untimely weaning refers to the discontinuation of breast-feeding before a mother had wanted to stop nursing. It is difficult for someone who has not breastfed her own baby to appreciate fully the enormous sense of disappointment that can accompany a woman's loss of her anticipated breastfeeding experience. Well-meaning physicians and others often underestimate what breastfeeding means to women and may exclaim with all sincerity, "I don't understand why you're so upset. Your baby will do just fine on formula. You nursed three whole months. That's plenty."

But weaning before you had wanted to is not a trivial matter. It is a real and legitimate loss for many women who, rightfully, feel cheated out of an expected and longed-for experience. Such women deserve to hear someone say, "I'm sorry. That must really hurt. It's not fair." I work with many breastfeeding counselors and lactation consultants whose own untimely weaning experiences have made them even more compassionate and effective in their role. Some of these specialists have found that helping other women achieve the success they desire is one way to heal from their own breastfeeding loss. Not surprisingly, it is often those who have felt the disappointment of abbreviated breastfeeding who have the most empathy and compassion for other women.

I also know what it means to have to give up breastfeeding too soon, having experienced untimely weaning with my first four children. While I enjoyed several glorious months of successful breastfeeding with each of these babies, the separations we experienced due to my being in college, medical school, and internship eventually undermined my milk supply. Weaning was gradual, but essentially completed by six months each time, although I desperately had wanted to experience for myself and provide for my babies the full, natural course of breastfeeding.

In my case, untimely weaning resulted from some tough choices I made that precluded full breastfeeding. I learned the hard way that by choosing certain alternatives, I had excluded other options. I found that when I was away caring for other people's babies, I couldn't fully breastfeed my own babies. In those days, fancy electric pumps and lactation breaks were unknown. Too often I was somewhere else when my babies needed to be nursed. Too often, my breasts went unemptied when my milk needed to be expressed. Too often I did what I thought I had to do instead of what I longed to do.

At the same time that I acknowledge a deep loss over breastfeeding terminated early, I also am grateful for the privilege of breastfeeding as long as I did during the bottle-feeding era and under my particular circumstances. The pain of untimely weaning is offset by the sweet memory and the celebration of the breastfeeding that I was able to enjoy.

And like all adversity in life, my untimely weaning experiences have provided an opportunity for greater personal growth. Only by getting in touch with what I had lost was I finally prompted to make the major lifestyle changes necessary to put my own baby's needs and my own desires first. With my last child, Mark, I refused to compromise, and I finally achieved the full, natural course of breastfeeding. That experience changed my life and changed the very direction of my career! I wish for you the same joy and fulfillment that I found in successful breastfeeding.

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From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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