We did it! Isabella is now 17 months old and has been successfully weaned for the last four or so weeks. At some points (like the lunch sleep point!) I didn’t think we could do it but we have. So if any other mum out there has a hungry breastfeeding baby then you now have hope because if we can do it…anyone can!
I thought it might be nice to share my thoughts on our weaning experience just in case it can offer support or ideas for other families. But before I begin I will say this…I know that not every mother is able to breastfeed her baby and that it's a straggle for others so I will be forever grateful that I was able to breastfeed Isabella and for so long. However, whatever way a mum chooses to nourish her baby, be it breast or bottle, the most important thing is that both baby and mum are happy, healthy and content.
Our weaning story…
Right from day dot, Isabella has been a big feeder and a HUGE fan of breastmilk. I’m not sure if it was due to our long, horrendous labour that ended in an emergency caesarean but for whatever reason she entered the world ravenous! I had already invested in a feeding chair as I’d anticipated spending a fair bit of time feeding my newborn and I wasn’t wrong! I also set myself up with a wee side table beside my feeding chair where I kept valuable supplies in close reach such as nipple cream, a watch, a drink bottle or tea cup and a room for a snack plate that could easily be consumed with one hand while I fed if necessary.
My favourite early day feeding snacks were…
My husband’s famous carrot cake – vegetables, healthy fats and fruit all in one slice!
My milk supply was always plentiful and I’m sure it was due to my love of Pic’s Peanut Butter! Of course, this isn’t scientifically proven but just an observation of my own because throughout pregnancy, breastfeeding and even now I have at least two to three serves of Pic’s each day, either in a smoothie, on toast but most often both! Isabella also loves it too.
I have already written about Isabella’s early feeding habits (see here), including her love of cluster feeding on more evenings than not during the first three or four months of her life. It was on these days that I felt utterly exhausted by the end of the day. But I always made sure I went to bed early and had at least one sleep when Isabella slept during the day and after every feed I always had a huge glass of water, even during night feeds. I tried to fit in walks each day and to time walking with a sleep in the pram because a little fresh air will do wonders for you if you’ve been stuck on the couch feeding all day!
I fed on demand for a long time, probably longer than what would be recommended but I quickly realised that rules weren’t our thing and so we just went with the flow. This was especially so from around 10 weeks onwards when my mum became critically unwell and we had to pick up our lives and move to Wellington for a few months to support mum in ICU followed by the neurosurgical ward and a brain recovery centre. It was during this time, when life was so uncertain and fragile, that Isabella and I both found immense comfort in breastfeeding while living in such foreign circumstances away from home. We fed anywhere and I really mean anywhere. We breastfed on planes, in buses, in restaurants, in cafes, in hospital rooms, in hospital corridors, in meetings with neurosurgeons, in waiting rooms outside the CT scan and in ICU. There aren’t many memories I have of Wellington that don’t involve feeding. When Isabella was little, she slept on me a lot and probably due to feeding so much. But as she got older our feed to sleep association reared its ugly head. I stressed about for a while and then amongst all of life’s challenges at that point in time, I gave up and couldn’t be bothered worrying about it because my energy was needed elsewhere. And like most things with babies, that stage passed and over time it sorted itself out as we gradually dropped feeds. It just took consistency and perseverance which is exactly the philosophy we took when it came to weaning.
When Isabella was almost 13 months old, my husband and I chatted that Christmas time might be a realistic goal to have Isabella weaned by if all was going well. By which time, she’d be almost 18 months old and as a robust, healthy and beautiful soul who loves her food, she would be absolutely fine without breastmilk. Not to mention that I was starting to have a few work-related courses and the like that involved me being away for the night so it made sense in that respect too.
So from about 13 months old, I worked on dropping one feed every few weeks if all was going well. This was to make it an easy transition for both of us! I started with the morning feed, replacing it with water in a sippy cup and breakfast (either toast or porridge with fruit). This is now whole cow’s milk along with breakfast when Isabella wakes up. The next feed to go was the 9am morning feed we had routinely done. This was simply replaced with an organic pouch because Isabella seemed to love them and it was working. Once this was firmly in place, we replaced the pouch with a range of foods at morning tea time along with water. Although we normally always have some organic pouches in the pantry because they are so convenient to have on hand just in case anything pops up!
The third feed to go was the lunchtime feed and this was the hardest by far. Because I had fed Isabella in a dark room right before her sleep she had created a really strong feed-to-sleep association at lunch time so the first few days were absolute hell! Isabella was beside herself and wasn’t sure how to go to sleep without being breastfed. I had started a new routine by offering whole cow’s milk in a bottle, having a cuddle and saying goodbye to all of her favourite toys but the first few days she didn’t get it (which of course makes sense!). But by day three, the tears were less and going to sleep was easier. I was still holding her in my arms until she was almost asleep before putting her in her cot but she was going down and sleeping for over two hours so I definitely wasn’t complaining. Now it’s just the way we do it…sleep sack, bunny, books, bottle and then saying goodbye to everyone. It’s hard to remember back to those feeding days but at the time it feels like you are climbing the world’s highest mountain.
The next feed to go was the afternoon feed around 3pm. This was the easiest because I simply didn’t feed Isabella when I picked her up from daycare when she changed educators due to maternity leave. I started from day one creating a new normal which meant I took along afternoon tea when I collected her and she enjoyed it in the car on the way home. This is now often a smoothie in a special bottle (so the straw can’t be pulled out!), cheese and crackers, strawberries or bread. Yes the car seat is a mess but Isabella eats well there and it makes for a peaceful trip home. I just make sure I choose safer foods that I know she can chew well and avoid nuts and similar foods in the car for safety reasons.
We then dropped the overnight feed (shesh see what I mean about feeding a lot!) by my husband going in to comfort her instead of me. With dad, Isabella knew there was no milk so she didn’t expect it but will me she absolutely lost the plot if I went it and didn’t feed her! So to make things easier on all of us and for more sleep, dad was it for a while in the night! It certainly helps when you have a supportive partner or husband. I have no idea how solo mothers do it - they are absolute superwomen!
The final feed to go and the one we kept going for around a month on its own was the before bedtime milk feed. This was my absolute favourite time of day. After I had a bath with her, Isabella and I would snuggle on the couch, her in a sleep sack and I in my dressing gown and I would feed her before taking her to her room and popping her in bed. She went down so easily and we had the night to ourselves which was wonderful! But there comes a time when you know your baby is ready to be weaned and this was the point with Isabella because the more I weaned her, the better she slept and after almost 17 months of broken sleep we were all ready. The first three days went smoothly because I quietly left the house while Jonny was having a bath with Isabella and she went down no problem at all with whole cow’s milk in a bottle with dad. However, on the fourth night she was absolutely beside herself, screaming ‘mum, mum, mum’ and pointing to photos of me. However, I had no idea because I’d gone to yoga and didn’t have access to my phone. I’d assumed because the last few days had gone okay that the fourth night would also. When I got home I was beside myself that Isabella was so upset so my husband had to deal with two emotional females that evening! That rough evening my husband had told Isabella that ‘mummy has gone to the doctor because she has no more milk!’ So the next night I had a bath with Isabella and put her down with a bottle and after a small cuddle she went down fine and slept all night. From there we haven’t looked back! However, I will say she is SUPER clingy and only into mum putting her in bed since she has been weaned. But that’s okay; we’ll work on the other stuff soon. For now, I’m chuffed we’ve managed to wean and I’m totally okay with putting her to bed each night!
My key advice for any mum thinking about weaning is…to do it when YOU or your baby are ready and don’t be pressured by anyone else! I felt so much outside pressure to wean Isabella once she had turned one. She was such a ‘bonnie baby’ that even before she was 12 months old, it seemed that everyone I spoke too thought she should be weaned. At first I was offended and then I just thought…actually I’m the best person to gauge this so I’m not going to worry about what anyone else thinks! I’m going to do what’s right for me and my baby. So we continued breastfeeding and weaned when we were both ready and it wasn’t such a big deal. I just used a consistent and gentle approach and I never developed mastitis and Isabella was as happy as a clam! In fact (*touch wood*) she is sleeping better than ever before…hooray!