When Joseph was born I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. Other than the expense of formula and the thought of having to make bottles in the night, for me it felt like something that would benefit Joseph hugely and help solidify our bond.
I assumed it would happen naturally, but that really wasn't the case for us. Joseph wouldn't latch and after going through a gruelling labour of nearly 2 days, I became disheartened really quickly when it just wouldn't work, as I had so little energy and was already in a great deal of pain.
Fortunately, I was given so much help at the hospital; a midwife frequently came to help me hand express the colostrum into a syringe to feed Joseph and we keep up this painful and quite invasive ritual until my milk properly came in a few days later.
When I left the hospital, the real hard work began. The milk coming in was painful and my once tiny breasts swelled and stretch as they began to fill. The pain of feeding worsened too, along with the after pains and the general lack of sleep that comes with having a newborn.
After a few days, my nipples began to crack and bleed and I would brace myself before every feed, (which was every few hours). I would cry the entire time and no amount of creams or cabbage leaves seemed to help.
Then after a few weeks, the pain just stopped – my breasts evened out, the mastitis passed and it really did become so natural. I felt proud that I had pushed through it.
Flash forward a year and I had a milk obsessed boobie monster on my hands. I was beginning to find myself resenting feeding, as even after nearly a year, Joseph was no better at sleeping. I kept meeting mothers whose babies were sleeping through the night and I couldn't help but think that breastfeeding was to blame; I was ready to stop but didn't know how to begin.
Despite the help I'd had to start, I felt there was no real help to stop and it felt incredibly lonely trying to figure out how I was going to ever make a change. I knew that there must be others who were feeling the same and eventually found that I wasn't really alone. Knowing this made it easier to push through and eventually, I weaned Joseph off breast milk.
Here are my tips if you're in the same boat:
1. Use social media. Whether you're a Facebook fan or an Instagram enthusiast, there will be a group/page for you. I found just searching "breastfeeding weaning" on Facebook brought about a whole community of women with similar stories that not only made the whole process feel less lonely and daunting but was also a great space for advice, tips and general support.
I've made a lot of friends through social media as very often, it's a place where people feel they can be totally honest and therefore, it's easier to bond over a shared struggle. You don't have to feel like you're failing when others are finding it hard too.
2. Don't pressure yourself. You should never feel like you should stop breastfeeding because of the pressure placed on you by other people as nobody else knows your child and your body the way you do and only you will know when the time is right to stop.
People have ideas in their head about when it's the "right" time to stop, but usually, these aren't founded on anything other than hearsay and ignorance, so try to shrug off any unwanted comments or opinions and focus on your own goals and journey.
3. What works for someone else may not work for you and that's okay.
4. Annoying as it is, there really isn't any rules for weaning off breast milk; it will be mostly trial and error and unfortunately, you can't really put a timescale on the process.
Instead of finding this disheartening as I did when I scanned the internet looking for an answer, think of it as an adjusting period for you, your body and your baby and know that in the long run, this will be beneficial in normalising to life after breastfeeding.
5. In the end for Joseph and I, it really did happen In stages and you should take every stage as a victory rather than willing it to happen faster or overlooking your progress. If you manage to drop one feed, that's one hurdle crossed and the next will happen with time.
6. Generally, day feeds are easier to break, so start with that. If your child is old enough you can use distraction techniques or try to replace these feeds with snacks. If you've introduced solids to your child, make a real thing of snack times being fun and a time for exploring and they will soon enjoy eating in the way they enjoyed breast milk.
7. Keep the closeness of breastfeeding with cuddles and kisses so your child still feels secure. If your child is a comfort feeder, try introducing a soft toy or blanket along with feeds and eventually they will seek comfort from this at times they would usually seek the breast.
I began holding a teddy while I fed Joseph and found that as I weaned him, during the moments he would try and comfort feed, he associated the teddy with me and comfort and therefore, would snuggle into the teddy before a nap. Eventually, he didn't rely on breastfeeding to feed that cosiness.
8. Don't let setbacks dishearten you. If you happen to find yourself having a bad day and you turn to breastfeeding for comfort, don't beat yourself up. Instead, remember how hard you worked to establish breastfeeding and be kind to yourself as there is always tomorrow to start over.
Remember that no child breastfeeds forever and the end will come whenever the time is right for both you and your baby. Trust your body and your instincts and never let anyone else's opinion change your views. Whether your child is 4 months, 6 months, 1 year or 3 years old, do what feels right and makes you and your child happy.