On Weaning.

It has taken me months to write this post despite many Magpie reader requests for it, as I was at first too raw and emotional to write about it, and then life moved on and now when I think about nursing Hill, I get the warm and fuzzies rather than the sharp stabs of guilt and grief I experienced while weaning him. Frankly, I can barely conjure what I was feeling as I tried desperately to persist in breastfeeding him. This is in part because I think mothers are hard-wired to forget the difficult bits of birthing and caring for newborns and in part because so much of parenting is intensely emotional in-the-moment, only to evaporate into thin air hours later, forgotten between precious bedtime feedings and scraping broccoli buds out of the high chair.

But I wanted to write this nonetheless because when I was weaning Hill, I felt horribly alone and horribly sad and — well, like I was floundering. Despite my bright-eyed declarations that fed was best and that I would go with the flow and that I wouldn’t put myself or the baby through the extremes I went through trying to feed mini in the face of a chronic undersupply — I found myself in anguish as I attempted to breastfeed micro. I was devastated but accommodating in the face of yet another undersupply after he was born. I’d had visions of being one of those EBF-ers, but the old breastfeed-then-supplement routine was familiar to me given that I’d done it for eight months with mini, and so I leaned into it with something like confidence. Though I wouldn’t have said it out loud, I was determined to breastfeed him until at least as long as I’d gone with my daughter — but ideally until a year, I inwardly estimated.

And then, at around four and a half months, micro introduced different plans.

So many of you lovely readers wrote with encouraging messages: “Keep at it!” “Babies don’t wean themselves; you can do this if you have patience!” And there was a bounty of practical advice, too: “Switch the bottle nipples to the lowest speed!” “Nurse in the dark!” “Do a lay-in!” “Maybe he’s teething!”

I felt lifted by these sentiments, spirited. I got to work. I tested most of the advice, with the exception of switching the bottle nipple speeds — and more on that later. And so I felt ashamed and frustrated as I found myself continuously giving micro the bottle after he’d fuss in fury at the breast upon each nursing session. I cried a lot. For awhile, we managed to hang on to the evening nursing sessions, which were always quiet and drowsy anyhow, but then he refused those as well, arching his back and angling his face away from me. Even though I knew it wasn’t personal, it felt like a rejection.

Oh, how I cried, often on Mr. Magpie’s shoulder, much to his bafflement. He was kind and loving, but equally perplexed by the seemingly endless fount of emotions on this subject.

For a month, I pumped and fed him what I could from a bottle. And I hate — HATE — the pump. And then I slowly started dropping pumping sessions until I was pumping once every day, then once every other day, and then nothing at all.

I can’t quite put into words the acidity of my emotions at this time. I was wrecked and determined to find a way, and yet I found myself going through the motions of weaning him, and judging myself for it. I kept remembering the once-encouraging phrase “babies don’t wean themselves” and feeling the creeping sense that I had given up, or given in, or not tried my hardest. Why hadn’t I switched the bottle nipples back to the zero speed, for example? And yet I hadn’t, and I wouldn’t — because I also possessed a powerful, silent intuition that Hill was happy with the speed of the bottle and was hungry and that it was the right thing for him at that moment, even if I didn’t want it to be.

It took me several months — and two fairly happenstance encounters — to make peace with all of this. The first happened while trotting around Instagram late at night and stumbling upon a description of the parenting philosophy “intuitive parenting.” Let me first state that I can’t bear the term “intuitive parenting,” implicative as it is that other types of parenting are not intuitive? Arg! Now, I don’t know a lot about this school of thought and I forbid myself from going too deep into it, but the basic gist is that parents in this camp prioritize being adaptable to the child’s needs above all else. From what I gathered, they spurn schedules and milestones and remediation-type approaches (i.e., “he’s not doing x by the anticipated y months — we have to introduce xyz strategies to get him there”). From my limited reading on the topic, “intuitive parenting” means maybe you co-sleep with your child until a year and a half. Or maybe you breastfeed for two years. Or maybe you don’t drop a middle-of-the-night feed until nine months. Or what have you. It’s more about listening and observing and doing what seems natural at that time versus, for example, aiming to have the baby out of the bedroom by month twelve, or on a strict feeding schedule by month three, or sleeping through the night by month six.

Basically, I read the description, and I thought: “I am not alone!”

I have written this countless times before, and I will write this countless times in the future, but let me again underscore that I have zero judgment for any other parenting approach or philosophy that empowers a mom to be her best self. In fact, I feel that most of my dearest mom friends are at the exact opposite end of the spectrum; many are devotees of Moms on Call and other more structured approaches to caring for newborns. I deeply respect them for their dedication and lean on their insights frequently. But I have found those models feel so uncomfortable to me that I feel like the worst version of myself as a mom when I attempt to deploy them. And it wasn’t until I read the Instagram description that I thought: “Oh my God! There are other moms like me, who have a totally different approach to this!” It was the first time that I realized I’d been inwardly criticizing myself for being “too soft” or “not determined enough.” Now, I am able to believe that I was being a good listener, observing his cues and attempting to do what he was telling me he wanted to do.

The second instance that helped me make peace with weaning was a therapeutic conversation with my sister, also a mother of two. I was telling her about micro’s sleep habits, and how most of the time, he sleeps through the night, but maybe once or twice a week, he’ll wake up in the middle of the night and I’ll go to him. Sometimes he just needs a burp or some consolation and goes back down. Most of the time, I give a him a bottle. I told her this, chagrined, being almost elliptical about whether I fed him a bottle or not, and adding, quickly: “I know I’m enabling him, but…” And she said: “But why is that a bad thing? You’re doing what feels right and good right now. Maybe in another month, you’ll change your mind and decide to go a different route. Trust your instincts!” Her comment made me realize how much I was judging myself for doing something that works for us right now, and it has nothing to do with being “too soft” or “unwilling to do what needs to be done” — things I had been telling myself without even acknowledging it. When I took a minute to reflect on this, I discovered that I had been clinging to the notions that having my child sleep through the night by three months and breastfed for a full year were engrained in me as markers for maternal success. I’d absorbed them from friends, family, doctors, innumerable marketing messages from baby products, social media, and the like.

It took me until that chance encounter with “intuitive parenting” and that conversation with my sister to begin to shrug those expectations off. Like, who cares? Who is measuring? I mean — let me be clear — everyone is measuring and I have gotten my fair share of backhanded commentary as a mom. But if people are judging me, it tends to stem from their own insecurity or out of a genuine desire to share what has worked for them. In both cases, I reckoned, I shouldn’t measure myself using their yardsticks.

All this to say.

When I startled myself with the depths of my emotions around breastfeeding, it wasn’t just the hormones. It wasn’t just weepy nostalgia. It wasn’t just the desire to cling onto a powerful bond with my son. Well — it was all of those things, but it was also the soul-rending process of measuring myself as a mother and determining I’d failed. I was distraught at the thought that I was not a good mom, and weaning at five months felt an awful lot like it.

And all that to say.

If you are struggling, silently, with something as a mom — I am right there with you. Even though I am blessed with an incredible support system, I still find myself waking at odd hours, lost in waves of lonesome self-reproach. Let this post serve as a proxy for my much-needed heartshare with my sister: “You’re doing what feels right and good right now. Trust your instincts.”

And onward we go…

Post Scripts.

+Hill is going through a major drool period. Just ordered him these adorable teething bibs.

+These daisy print leggings are so chic!

+About to place a huge order at Cecil & Lou — they have so many adorable items right now! Love this rosebud swimsuit for mini, this sunsuit for micro (monogrammed!), and this seersucker dress for mini (also monogrammed).

+A motherhood marvel.

+A very chic alternative to a baby gate / dog gate.

+Love this sunny yellow pair of scalloped beach slides! (N.B.: I still get a lot of use out of my Valentino bow-top flip flops come beach vacation!)

+Speaking of sunshine and yellow: love this lemon-print dress and this botanical-print midi.

+FURTHER speaking of sunshine and yellow: this personalized, waterproof pool bag is so cute with the “Trade Gothic” monogram on the side! (Under $100!)

+Such a fun statement for the beach.

+We use these Asian soup spoons all the time in our house — we order ramen and/or pho once a week chez Shoop.

+My favorite Etsy sources — including loads of great spots to find amazing childrens’ gear, decor, and clothing.

+This looks like the Sleeper dress everyone wore last summer! Pair with huge black shades and Hermes Orans (these new sandals from J. Crew have a similar ethos but aren’t dead-on dupes, which I kind of like)…

+Speaking of similar-but-not-dupes: remember my beloved Newbark satin bow sandals from last year? (You can still find some at a great price on TRR!) . J. Crew has a similar style out right now! Love a big bow.

+Love this prim plaid shirtdress.

+Was moved and stirred by all of the comments on this post.

22 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing, Jen!! With my 4-month old (and BIG, 17 lb.) baby, I feel like I’ve been subconsciously judging myself because he does NOT sleep through the night. (Not even close.) Am I not trying hard enough?! I wonder. Am I too soft??! (x1000!) But reading this post has made me realize: maybe I’m just judging myself with the wrong “system.” Maybe I need to drop the judgement entirely, rather than implement some draconian sleep regimen which (to me!) doesn’t feel right.

    And, I mean this half-jokingly of course, but what adult ever goes to a therapist and says: “Well, the problem with my mom, was, when I was an INFANT she was too soft and accommodating to my needs.” 😉

    1. Totally!! I came to the same conclusion — why was I judging myself so harshly? Where was the measuring stick from? It was liberating to realize I didn’t need to lean on those measurements, though difficult to untangle myself from them. You got this!!! xxx

  2. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. (And to everyone who tells you big babies sleep through the night faster, I say, no one gets to 20 + pounds in 6 months by sleeping through all their night feeds. I now know this x2 big babies.)

    1. Haha!! That’s such a good point! Hill is HUGE. 90% for height and weight and just always hungry…

      Thanks for chiming in, friend. xx

  3. Yes to trusting your own mama instincts! What’s right for you doesn’t have to be right for another and vice versa.

    As a side note, I don’t think there’s enough discussion around the emotions that happen when women stop breastfeeding. It’s always felt like my hormones fall off a cliff and I find myself weepy for weeks after weaning.

    Question – do you mind sharing what formula you use/like? We plan to discuss with our pediatrician but my 5 month old nurses constantly – all day and night so I’m so sleep deprived and I have a terrible oversupply of milk (which seems like such a rude thing to say in response to this post, but it also has a lot of drawbacks including leaking milk, frequently clogged milk ducts, etc.). I’m thinking about cutting back on nursing just so my husband can give me a short break.

    1. Thank you, Amy! Appreciate the vote of confidence and AGREE that there’s not enough of a discussion about weaning. I was a total basket case when I weaned mini and I didn’t really understand what was happening / put two and two together until a few weeks later. I also found it EXTREMELY painful the first time. So glad I learned my lesson the second time and really stretched out the weaning so it wasn’t as painful for me.

      I used Hipp Dutch formula for both children, which is somewhat controversial since it’s produced in Europe and not regulated by the FDA (but I found it so much gentler on their stomachs and as a bonus it did not stain or stink, and many of my friends — including one married to a doctor — used it) but then it became really hard to find in the states and just kind of a pain to order. So now I use Earth’s Best. I like it because it dissolves really easily (more easily than Hipp), is widely available at Whole Foods and Amazon, and Hill took it with no problem adjusting.

      xx

  4. Thank you thank you! I am going through a phase of motherhood where I feel like I am floundering. I know we will come out on the other side but man! It’s tough. Sending love!

    1. Shoot. Thinking of you. Hang in there + think of my sister’s words as often as you can bear it 🙂 xx

  5. Thank you so much for this. I have a 4 month old daughter and so much of this resonated with me. I started off breastfeeding and by her first doctor visit she had dropped so much weight that they were having us return in 3 days and said if she lost much more she’d need to be hospitalized for dehydration. I immediately began formula supplementing as it took a while for my milk to fully come in. Here I am an RN and I was in such a fog that I wasn’t seeing the cues— the shaking her head back and forth, nursing off and on and was exhausted. I felt like the worst mother – and nurse!- for not only missing her cues but also having to supplement so early. I always knew I wanted to EBF but never knew it’d be so hard!
    After doing breast milk and formula she luckily returned to birth weight and has been thriving since, but I like you have also had a chronic undersupply.
    I did it all- met with lactation consultant, milky mama drops, the cookies, the tea, the power pumping— I even got a rx for reglan but then changed my mind because of so many side effects including depression and tardive dyskinesia.
    your post saying “if someone would just tell me what to do that would I would do it” that brought me to tears because that’s exactly how I feel!!
    She currently gets half breast milk and half formula because that’s all I can make. half is breast milk that I pump between 4-6 times a day (I loathe pumping too, but the blue spectra has a battery so you can walk around with it which helps!) and am doing so at work, so lugging supplies each day has been annoying but it makes me feel better knowing I’m doing something. I don’t know why we moms beat ourselves up so much? When pregnant I was way more laisse-faire on the on the topic of “if breastfeeding works fine, if it doesn’t fine” but then suddenly after having her I shifted and it was all I could think about and felt so strongly and emotional about.
    I still get emotional! She after a few weeks old began refusing to breast feed, doing same actions as your son, as she was used to the bottle and it was easier for her to drink. She would get frustrated waiting for the let down and I can’t blame her.
    I too was setting such high expectations for myself, and when I thought about it I realized I was wanting the breastfeeding selfishly for me and for how I felt, but at the end of the day she is much happier drinking from the bottle knowing she’s getting the amount she wants at the speed she wants, and that has helped my peace of mind.
    Thank you so much for sharing your heart. Being a mom is the hardest but most rewarding thing, and having other moms to hear has helped so much. I’ve learned that there’s so many paths for each child and mother, and as long as we care and are present that that is what matters at the end of the day. I still have my moments where I cry and mourn that short time but it gets easier

    1. I was also going to say, I have a friend who had the opposite issue- a chronic oversupply, and her baby would get soaked trying to feed, she was constantly pumping or using the Haakaa to catch all the milk, would soak through her clothes especially at night trying to sleep, and was hard for her to leave the house without her child because of so much. It took her a while to wean and decrease her supply because she was making so much. So I guess the grass isn’t always greener and there’s always another side to things.
      And I do think having my husband be able to feed my daughter too, especially during those middle of the night feeds so I could rest, not only helped them bond but helped me get a break and helped my mental health as well.

    2. YES to this — that’s what my mom always said, too: “if they take the bottle, you can get a break.” She’s always an optimistic pragmatist and I appreciated that element of sunny practicality as I navigated breastfeeding.

      And YES also to the point you made earlier. The grass isn’t always greener! I also had friends who breastfed for longer and mentioned how complicated their lives were for the better part of a year or however long they breastfed. One of them felt like she couldn’t do anything — travel, go to weddings, etc, because it was so complex and she was constantly trying to figure out how to make it work. She did, of course, and I applaud her, but just to say that being able to breastfeed is a gift but also a tremendous commitment and shuffling around of your life…Sometimes I have to remind myself of that when I’ve been out with friends and don’t even need to give anything a second thought because Landon’s at home with plenty of formula!

      xx

    3. Oh, Hannah! GIRL! SISTER! It sounds like went through nearly the same thing. I completely understand what you’re feeling. You are right that it does get easier but it is so painful in the moment. I came to the exact same realization — that I was essentially prolonging and uncomfortable/unhappy feeding arrangement for my own selfish reasons 🙁 It was tough to admit that but there it was. I am standing right there with ya — tough-going but ultimately I trust I made the right decision, as I saw how much happier and easier my son’s life was.

      Thank you so much for sharing all of this so earnestly and reminding me that I am not alone. xxx

    4. I didn’t realize your husband’s name is Landon. I named my daughter that!

      And your mom’s sentiments are so wise! (I told my mom I always knew she was a wealth of knowledge, but I have realized it 10 fold after having my child!) but “to have a bottle is a break” is such a good mantra. I too felt like I needed to hold her 24/7 and that wasn’t helping anyone

    5. !! What a small world! Love the name Landon 🙂 Beautiful. I’ve only ever met one other Landon!

      xx

  6. Thank you for this post! I am not a particularly emotional person but have definitely felt weepy at the thought of ending breastfeeding, which has left me hanging on much longer than I thought.

    Generally, I think there is too little discussion of child birth, motherhood, and mental health, leaving many mothers unprepared for what they will go through. I think it is important that we are honest about what we go through, and that there are more images of the realities of the experience (i.e. the rejected Frida baby commercial-which I found incredibly realistic and important). If these discussions and images are more available, mothers, and anyone struggling with mental health, wont feel so alone and may be able to more easily access the resources available. For motherhood in particular, I’ve found @bumble.baby incredibly helpful as she provides insight and resources on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and PPD/mental health.

    1. Yes!! I completely agree with this. One of my girlfriends and I joke, like “WHY DID NO ONE TELL US ANY OF THIS” — with regards to recovering from childbirth/c-section, breastfeeding, exhaustion, weaning, etc. I actually remember a friend telling me that “a c-section doesn’t hurt, really, but it feels kind of weird while it’s happening.” She mentioned nothing about the recovery, which both hurts like HELL and feels very, very, VERY weird (like a huge section of your torso loses sensation for weeks). I always rib her about this, but I get that she was trying to protect me from worrying too much. I mean, what can you do when your friend is massively pregnant and anxious already? I think that’s the bind — friends don’t want to scare their pregnant friends with some of these truths, but the result is that a lot of us are dumbfounded by the aftermath. Maybe it would be good to teach some of these practicalities in sex ed or health high school, so you have a baseline of information for the future…

      xxx

  7. Gosh I appreciated this one! I’m headed back to work next week and mourning the end of my mat leave, worried about all the changes to come, nervous about getting back into pumping during day. Whatever comes, I’m also soaking up all the little moments I can. All the feels right now and big hug!

    1. Big hug for YOU! Big changes coming and I know you’ll do great but hang in there!!! These transitions can be so emotional. Will be thinking of you. xx

  8. (Hugs) — I’m so glad you are leaning into your maternal instincts. Without being an expert in ANY way, I think that’s the only way to do it. You are a wonderful mom and are clearly so devoted to your children. They’re lucky to have you! xx

  9. Oh my heart, I want to hug you for your vulnerability here because I KNOW it so well!! Nursing is so emotional it’s absolutely incredible! May I ask you if you had a helpful lactation consultant to talk to at all? My oldest and I had such struggles and he all but refused to nurse. I later learned his sleepiness and refusal to nurse in the hospital created my under supply but who knew at the time! My second it took me until age 2 to wean! (And he hated his bottle). It definitely made me feel better but with my oldest I do think I too had to be intuitive about it and give up when it was just making us all sad.

    I actually love that concept and feel I am very much that way! I didn’t feel right sleep training, the way I weaned felt as if my body not my mind was in control. I think it’s a lovely way to mother to just trust your instincts (while still listening to well intentioned advice!) they all drop their bottles and sleep through the night eventually!

    PS I finally bought a metro tote (I spotted a navy one which felt perfect for a boy mom) even with older ones (but a babe on the way) it’s great for church or long outings!!

    1. Hi Brooke! You are so sweet and I was actually thinking of you a bit while writing this post, since you’ve expressed similar views on parenting in comments past…I especially love what you wrote about “it felt as if my body not my mind was in control.” I TOTALLY 100% GET WHAT YOU MEAN. That’s a better way of phrasing it. It was almost like some other, primordial sense came over me and totally overrode all of my weepy emotions. Something inside said: “don’t switch the bottle speed; listen and observe — he wants the bottle!” And I just had to go with it. It wasn’t my head or my heart, it was almost my physical instinct. Thank you for this. xx

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