WEAN INTO IT
Updated: Mar 12, 2019
I've written a lot about pumping and my breastfeeding journey here, here, and here. I had been counting down the days until I would have enough milk in my freezer to stop and yet, as the day came closer, I found myself with mixed emotions. I recently had the sad realization that every milestone Avi hits is a step away from his dependence on me. I don't mean to be dramatic, Avi will of course need me for years to come. But it wasn't long ago that I was pregnant, and my body supplied him with every single thing he needed to develop and thrive. Then he was born and he could survive in the outside world on his own, but he needed me for everything else. Fast forward to today and now he can already do so many things on his own. He can feed himself with moderate success, he crawls around, and pulls himself up. These are amazing and exciting milestones and I have watched with exhilarated awe each time Avi hits one. But at the same time, each step away pulls at my heart. And now we are moving towards another big step away and Avi will no longer rely on me as his main source of nutrition. Yes, he will still be drinking breast milk until he's a year old. But my active part in this journey is done.
For months, I had a plan in mind for how I would wean from the pump. Jared and I are going away for our anniversary this weekend, so the plan was to wean slowly starting at the beginning of May. I figured a month was enough time to slowly decrease the amount of milk I was producing and be done by the time of our trip. That plan may have worked perfectly, but I just wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact of weaning. When I went from 4 pumps per day to 3, I noticed that my supply went down slightly, but not much. My lactation consultant, surprised at both the amount I was producing and suggested that I cut down on the time of each pump. The idea was to purposely leave milk so that my body think I didn’t need it. This was so much harder than I ever imagined. Physically, my body was fine. But after spending months obsessed with supply and measuring every pump by the milliliter, the act of purposely decreasing was...incomprehensible. I was doing it on purpose, and yet I would look at my output after each pump and feel like a failure. And then there was the knowledge that I was leaving milk. Perfect milk that my baby could be drinking just left to dry up. I felt like I was in mourning for my loss.
To me, the process was a complete ‘mind-f’ and for my own sanity, I needed to speed it up. I again reached out to my wonderful lactation consultant who suggested I try eliminating the middle pump and go to two per day. And once again, I was shocked at how this change affected me. This time, the shock was to the physical changes. In a way, I felt like I was back to those first few days of breastfeeding. I was engorged and sore. When I got home from work one night, I couldn’t even hold Avi. One evening, I got out of the shower and realized I was leaking everywhere! It was hysterical and horrifying at the same time as I yelled for Jared to bring me a pump.
I realized I just couldn’t take this slow and steady method. I needed to get this process over with quickly. For months I had avoided decongestants of any kind, but that night, I took a Mucinex D and went to sleep. The next day, two Sudafed. I continued for three days and the meds did their magic. I very quickly went from two pumps per day to one 5-minute pump every 24 hours. And then soon after, I stopped. I kept waiting to feel full again, but that feeling never came. Twice, I developed clogs and had to hand-express. But the pumping was done.
I don’t typically get technical on my blog, but it’s important to note that there are some definite negative side effects to speeding up the process like I did. First is the fact that you’re taking a lot of technically unnecessary medication. In my own journey, I had tried peppermint, cabbage leaves, ice, and sage before moving to medicine. I stayed within the recommended dosage and made sure that whatever I took was safe for Avi. But you should always check with a doctor before taking medications for something that is off-label, especially when breastfeeding.
The other major side effect were the hormones. When you breastfeed, your body releases two different hormones - prolactin and oxytocin. These hormones play important roles in the supply and letdown of breast milk, but they are also tied to emotions. The release of prolactin is often accompanied by feelings of relaxation and calm. Oxytocin is sometimes known as the ‘love hormone’ because it is released when people snuggle up physically or bond with someone emotionally. When you wean suddenly, your body goes through a severe drop in both hormones. While it has not been studied extensively, it’s thought that this drop can lead women to feel depressed, anxious, and moody. And I know that’s how I felt. For a few days, my mood swings were severe and brutal. And for that reason, I don’t recommend anyone wean as quickly as I did unless they have an important reason to do so and/or a strong support system. I would strongly suggest that you lean on a lactation consultant for support and information, as well.
So there you have it. I once wrote about how breastfeeding had become an important part of my identity. And now, that time is done. I’m still adjusting to the change, but I will readily admit that I love the freedom. And I will try to enjoy this new milestone for Avi and me, as our relationship continues to evolve. Breastfeeding or not, I will always be his mommy and he will always be my baby. And we will always need each other.
My personal pumping journey has inspired me to become a Lactation Counselor and Pumping Expert so that I could help other moms have successful and positive experiences in pumping. Click here to learn more.