You know what’s best for you and your baby.
Breastfeeding is complicated. If you do decide to do it, there’s a lot to consider: will you exclusively breastfeed? How will you deal with its impact on your relationship and on your body? How long will you do it for? And what happens to your body when you do eventually decide to wean your baby?
Leigh Anne O’Connor is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant who has coached many folks through the process of weaning. She says that one of the factors determining how your body reacts to weaning is whether you do it quickly or slowly. When it’s quick, says O’Connor, you might experience dramatic hormonal shifts, which can manifest in anxiety and even a miniature bout of postpartum depression. (This is usually short lived, and can depend on your previous experience with PPD.) “The changes will probably affect your mood, your sleep, your appetite, and your sex drive,” says Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics. He urges folks who are weaning to talk about how they’re feeling with other people.
If you were relying on breastfeeding for contraception, warns Dr. Angela Jones, an OBGYN and Astroglide’s resident sexual health advisor, watch out. “You’re likely to experience irregular bleeding. When you will finally get your period during this process is anyone’s guess. Make sure you are using something for contraception as a hope and a prayer are not reliable while weaning.” You can also expect changes in your vagina, says Jones. It won’t be as dry or irritated, and because of the return of estrogen to the region, you likely won’t experience incontinence anymore.
Your breasts can change shape in size and appearance, because you’re still producing milk while weaning, and you might experience discomfort, as well as medical issues such as blocked ducts. Avoid breast binding, says O’Connor, it can exacerbate the blocked ducts and also lead to mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue that can occur when bacteria from the baby’s mouth, enters a milk duct through a crack in the nipple. A supportive bra, however, is a must during weaning, and you can also take painkillers like ibuprofen to mitigate the pain from engorgement, which will go away if you avoid stimulating your breasts.
As a lactation consultant, O’Connor asks people about why they’ve made the decision to wean. “People say, ‘I don’t know,’ and ‘Someone told me I needed to.'” She advises people not to think of breastfeeding as all or nothing. “You don’t have to stop because you’re going back to work,” she says. “You can still do it some of the time, just at night or in the morning if that’s become part of your ritual.”
There’s a lot of judgement in deciding to continue breastfeeding past a certain point, and O’Connor stresses that it’s both normal and appropriate for two year olds to nurse. In other words, you don’t have to rush weaning if you feel it’s not right for you and your baby. “There’s this cultural norm that says bodies have to go back to being sexual immediately after birth, and stop being maternal. We don’t understand that a body can be both.”
Jessica, who lives in Wisconsin, has two boys, each of whom she weaned at different speeds. Her first son was weaned at 18 months old, “basically overnight,” she says. Upon reflection, quick weaning worked well for her. “My sex drive was super high, I lost all the baby weight, just by eating healthy and moving around as usual.” She weaned her second son, who’s now two years old, over a period of six months, which was a very different experience. Her sex drive virtually disappeared (as well as her ability to orgasm), she gained weight, she felt much more anxiety and her marriage was also under stress. “It wasn’t right for me. I should have been done,” says Jessica, who recommends that weaning be introduced at night, when you are likely waking up to nurse. “I felt like a milkmaid after a while, like I’d lost my sense of self. You have to go with your gut and not be afraid to say no. Your kids aren’t going to be traumatized if you stop, they’ll turn out fine.”
In addition to regaining your time and physical energy, Caleb Backe says there are other advantages to weaning. You might have a calcium deficiency while breastfeeding, and weaning will restore calcium, although it might take a few months. Weaning can be hard, and it’s important to take care of yourself throughout, which means being aware of your body and mind and what they need. “Eat right, and get enough physical activity,” advises Backe. “Do things which make you laugh and enjoy life, and remember to be intimate with your partner through it all. Parenthood is rough, and you guys probably need each other more than you know.”
Cover image courtesy of Getty Images