When to wean?
Now, a year in, it really does seem like a fairytale. Was there really ever a time when my body didn’t produce milk every three hours, like clockwork?
If you’d asked me about weaning at month 4, when I was wild-eyed and crazy-haired from lack of sleep, I would have said, yes, please, sign me up!—even with my goal to breastfeed for a full year.
During my daughter’s 9-month appointment, I was goal-oriented. “Only three more months!” I told my pediatrician happily. At 10 months, we firmly transitioned Addy from the breast to a bottle with breastmilk for some of her feedings (or not so firmly—I would still often nurse her a bit at the end to get her to nap). At 11 months, I marked the calendar and started to feel the first little pangs—only one more month to go, I thought sadly.
Twelve months came—and went. Even though I’m so ready to not be tied to a breast pump (being gone from the house all day long?—the very thought of it blows my mind), my heart isn’t quite ready to lose that special closeness with my little girl, who is getting bigger, smarter and is growing up bit by bit every day.
But we’re taking baby steps to get there. Lengthy conversations with our pediatrician and with supportive mom friends are helping me through. Here’s some of what I’ve learned:
- Start with that sippy, sooner rather than later. I have to admit, we took our time with this. And as a result, now that Addy is a year old, we still don’t feel confident that she will drink enough cow’s milk with the sippy. (The recommendation is for toddlers to drop the bottle by 12 months, although our pediatrician suggests 15 months since some children have difficulty with the transition and it puts less pressure on the parents.) So I definitely should have listened to our pediatrician and friends and started working with her on the sippy cup much earlier, around the six-month mark. One tip: Removing the valve to allow the liquid to flow freely is a good way to start teaching your baby how this mysterious new container works.
- Or, move on to the straw cup. Because we waited on the sippy, we actually moved on to the straw cup with great success. We were lucky enough to be gifted a straw cup, used once upon a time by my niece. It’s made of soft plastic, and when you squeeze it, liquid goes up the straw, which helps teach babies the purpose of the straw. Addy picked it up in a day. Sadly, I’ve searched high and low for these cups, but they’re no longer being manufactured—however, a to-go cup and straw would work just as well.
- Drop the feedings your baby likes/needs the least. Since our daughter was already going to childcare in the mornings, it was easiest to completely drop her mid-morning feeding, then the mid-afternoon feeding, and switch to bottles. Our plan is to switch the morning feeding next, then finally the evening feeding. (The middle-of-the-night feedings, which still happen semi-regularly? That’s another story.)
- Mix that milk. Our pediatrician suggested we start by mixing the breast milk with cow’s milk in increasing ratios. So we began with ¾ breastmilk to ¼ cow’s milk, then half and half, and so on.
- Remember, your baby will drink less cow’s milk than breast milk or formula. We’ve been so focused on making sure that Addy got her 20 to 24 ounces of breastmilk every day that it seems she can’t possibly get enough if she’s only drinking 16 ounces of cow’s milk. But cow’s milk (and make sure to buy whole milk) is more filling; plus, you want your baby to eat more solid food, which they won’t if you drown their appetite.
- Hallelujah, at last, you can start stepping away from the pump. When we were transitioning Addy to the bottle, I pumped like a fiend, every two to three hours like clockwork, or about five times a day, starting at around 8:30 a.m. and ending at 9:30 p.m. But once cow’s milk entered the picture, I felt a lot less pressure to be the main supplier. I cut back to every three hours, every four, and now am only pumping twice a day.
- Find the right schedule. One thing I struggled with (and continue to struggle with) is scheduling. Those early days when Addy just fed on demand seem so easy compared to trying to schedule her meals and milk times to ensure we’re getting her to eat enough solid food when she’s hungry, while still giving her milk before her naps. There are many different schedules out there and recommendations, but for what it’s worth, our schedule is:
7:30 a.m.: Breastfeeding
9:30 a.m.: Breakfast
10:30 a.m.: Milk and nap
1 p.m.: Lunch
2:30 p.m.: Milk and nap
5 p.m.: Snack
6 p.m.: Dinner
7:45 p.m.: Final milk and bedtime
Although we’re still very much in the process—I’m definitely still in that fairytale land where breastfeeding is just a part of my day-to-day life—the end is in sight. And that’s another thing: Those pangs I’m feeling are so, so normal. As much as I was looking forward to this moment, the realization that I’ll never be so close again to my baby (and she won’t be a baby for too much longer) is really hurting my heart.
Plus, so much of being a first-time parent is worrying about not doing the right thing (hello, mom and dad guilt!), and weaning is definitely at the top of my list.
At the same time, several of my friends just handed their baby a sippy cup full of milk after their 1st birthday, and they were totally fine. As one of my friends told me, “Sometimes we will worry over something with our kids, and then they show us it wasn’t a big deal for them after all!” Wise words, especially during weaning.