Breastfeeding and weaning tend to be very emotional topics for many mothers out there – and this makes perfect sense.
Hormones are a key factor in the whole process, and breastfeeding can be a pleasant time of bonding and good feelings for both a mother and her baby.
But this doesn’t mean that all moms are willing (or able!) to do it forever – or that it’s pleasant for everyone.
Although it’s recommended that mothers continue to breastfeed for at least the first year of a baby’s life, work, personal preferences, and more mean that of course, many mothers don’t actually end up doing this.
And even if they do, some mothers make a choice to instigate weaning at some point around or past the first year.
Of course, other families choose to go with baby-led weaning. It’s sort of about letting nature take its course: Babies and toddlers will gradually decrease breastfeeding and up intake of solid foods. They may continue to nurse for comfort for some time, and if that’s okay with mom, then all’s well!
The point here is that something different works for each mom, and for each family.
There is probably an easier way to do things in many cases, but moms must just do their best to wean when and how they feel they need to do it.
Knowing how things might not be so great when the time comes might help you to prepare and do things better to ease the transition for yourself and your child, so here are 15 terrible things the baby might do when mom starts weaning.
15 Bottle Bashing
This surely won’t happen to everyone. Parents who plan carefully – ahead of time – for this specific weaning schedule should be able to do just fine.
The problem is when parents begin to wean, say when maternity leave is up at around 3 months of age or later and only start trying to offer a bottle at this point. They either want to replace some or even all feedings with a bottle.
The awful thing that a baby will do (though it’s not his fault at all – and none of these issues are) is completely refuse to take a bottle.
It’s just been too long at this point that a little one is used to having breastmilk from, well, the breast.
The feel of a bottle is completely different, as is the motion required to extract breast milk or formula from it.
To avoid this common problem, many pediatricians and lactation consultants recommend beginning to offer a bottle regularly as soon as breastfeeding is “firmly established,” which may be at something like 6 weeks of age.
14 So Much Sobbing
An older baby, of about 6 – 12 months of age, may respond in her own special way to weaning when it is instigated not by her but by her mom, for whatever reason.
Moms have reported their babies crying and sobbing, and it being a very difficult process for everyone involved. One first-time mother from New York says that “clingy” wasn’t even a strong enough word to describe how her baby reacted to weaning at around 12 months of age. This mom felt too trapped by having to be around for a breastfeeding session every two or three hours.
Her baby never took a bottle, so she felt she had to just go for it and stop, due to her own exhaustion with the who situation. She was just done.
There was crying and screaming involved – and this as well as discomfort and potential problems for mom may be a good reason to wean very gradually, rather than going “cold turkey” as this mother did (which I have never, ever heard recommended).
13 Terrible Tantrums
Okay, so a mom has gone on breastfeeding for the recommended first year. She continues, and before she knows it, she’s got a toddler on her hands.
For whatever reason (and surely there may be many, many different motivations), she decides it’s time to transition away from breastfeeding. This is a personal choice that each woman will make for herself, and having a good plan about how to go about it may be key.
Meltdowns and tantrums may be coming your way from your toddler in response to weaning that is not his or her idea.
One Californian decided to begin weaning her toddler, 15 months old at the time, once she was pregnant for the second time. She took tactics such as not revealing her breasts (and presenting the temptation to nurse) and not lying down with her, in attempt to keep breastfeeding off of her child’s mind.
Experts may recommend, however, intentionally replacing the closeness of breastfeeding with other forms of closeness – which may help to prevent a toddler from throwing fits over it. Distraction may also be key (which you know if you have a toddler).
12 Sayonara, Sleeping
If a baby or toddler is used to falling asleep while nursing, she may (of course) begin to have trouble falling asleep once a mom decides to stop breastfeeding.
This is why it’s very often the last breastfeeding of the night that is dropped. It’s a time that the comfort and closeness can really help a little one to relax and be ready to drift off to dreamland.
This is part of why baby sleep experts and pediatricians will recommend beginning to encourage a baby to be able to drift off to sleep on his own before he gets too old. At some point during the first year, likely rather early, many will tell you to start putting your baby down to bed awake but drowsy. (Check with your own child’s pediatrician for advice on sleep, nutrition, and all things health-related, of course.)
If a mom suddenly doesn’t offer the breast at night, of course a baby may be upset or simply not have the tools to fall asleep without nursing.
11 Welcome, Night Waking
Although many moms have the goal of encouraging babies to sleep through the night at least within something like the first 6 months of life, we know that this doesn’t always happen.
Some mothers continue on with night nursing at the request of a baby or young child for more than a year.
So of course if they decide to start dropping some of these night feedings, they may have problems with night waking on their hands.
A child may be seemingly inconsolable if she’s used to waking one or more times during the night and then being soothed back to sleep by nursing.
Perhaps it will help if, at least at first, Dad or someone else goes in for a quick reassurance if the baby is really unable to soothe herself back to sleep.
10 No More Naps
Napping can be quite a battle for moms. If not encouraged somewhat early on in life to be able to fall asleep for naps on their own, then (just like at nighttime) babies may find it very hard to do so later on, as well.
What may be related to this as well is that some babies really love to nurse themselves to sleep for naps during the day.
Then, what happens when nursing is no longer an option?
If a mother normally nurses her little one to sleep one or more times each day for naptime, the baby may stop napping or have a much harder time going down during (and maybe long after) the weaning process.
Failing to take things gradually, again, may really disrupt the routine jarringly and throw off napping, as well.
9 Acting Out And Anger
Babies may cry. Young toddlers may have tantrums. Older toddlers at 2, 3, or more years of age may really act out or find ways to express their anger during mother-led weaning.
And doesn’t that sort of make sense?
At least one breastfeeding expert has said that acting out and anger should be expected.
A young child may understandably feel deprived when his mother decides it is time for nursing to end, then becoming very irritated and giving his mom a pretty dang “hard time.”
The thing is, by the point that your child is 2 or 3 years old, you’ve probably already had to learn to help him or her deal with intense and myriad emotions, including anger and frustration.
Love and attention are quite often the answer (even if you’ve decided this can’t come in the form of nursing any longer).
8 Having Harder Poops
If you decide to start weaning your baby, you may need to look out for some struggles for both her and you – in the bathroom department.
While breastfed babies may have rather soft poops, decreasing breastfeeding or stopping it completely can of course then cause a change.
The bowels may move less frequently, and the tool may become somewhat harder.
One breastfeeding expert says that this is completely normal, and that there are measures you can take to ease the transition.
If the baby is younger than one year of age, dropped feedings of breast milk should be replaced with formula, rather than with cow’s milk (that’s what your child’s pediatrician will likely tell you, as well, for nutritional reasons).
Plus, eating a high-fiber diet and always being adequately hydrated continue to be important throughout life.
7 Getting Gassy
There are some tummy troubles that may be experienced during the whole weaning process, as well.
A change in the diet such as this may cause some uncomfortable issues for a baby – of course through no fault of his own – and this may, in turn, cause some fussiness or irritability. And that may of course cause sleep disturbances and other upsets to the usual routine.
Minor gastrointestinal upsets such as cramping and gas may occur at the start of weaning. Apparently, this is especially the case if the baby is older than 6 months and younger than 12 months of age.
Again, offering baby formula rather than milk if the baby is younger than a year old is important, and may also be crucial in preventing some of these tummy troubles.
Check with your own child’s pediatrician for information and advice regarding his or her personal nutrition and digestive health.
6 A Whole New Neediness
A baby is used to a set number of nursing sessions each and every day, often beginning as soon as she wakes up and ending right before it’s time to say goodnight.
Then, her mom decides that – for whatever reason – it’s time to stop.
Hopefully, for the sake of everyone involved, they take it gradually, dropping one feeding at a time – slowly – and replacing it with whatever is appropriate for the child’s age, be it a snack or meal of solid foods or a bottle of formula or breast milk (if the baby is younger than a year) or regular whole milk (likely an option if the child is older than a year).
But even if they take it slow – and especially if they don’t – a child may become needy.
The attention and closeness a little one is used to receiving through breastfeeding will likely need to be replaced with other forms of love and affection.
Cuddling, horsing around together on the carpet, making eye contact, and talking or cooing with your little love may all help during the process (and long after!).
5 Not Seem To Really Care
We’ve covered many ways a baby, toddler, or young child may behave differently in response to weaning that isn’t their idea. We’ve touched on some tough upsets that may occur to things like sleep and to the family’s routine.
But it’s also important to touch on how all of this might affect a mom herself – even if weaning was completely her idea. A baby simply being OK with weaning can make a mom feel, well, not OK.
Moms are sometimes quite surprised to find that they are very emotional and sad about weaning, although they were the ones to instigate the process.
Yes, it might be really hard to realize that your child no longer needs you in this very unique and specific way. When they are moving on to other forms of nutrition, it can be physically, emotionally, and mentally tough to process and deal with yourself.
Be kind to yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out for help, and seek professional help as needed!
4 Growth That’s Not As Good
What an awful feeling for a mom, when she feels that her child isn’t growing as well as he is “supposed” to.
Pediatrician visits every month at first and then typically every three months during the first few years (and then once a year thereafter) are often quite focused on charting the growth of a baby or young child. When she is gaining height and weight adequately, it’s a sign that she is receiving the nutrition she needs to survive and thrive in those crucial early years. It’s all charted and compared to how others of her gender and age are growing throughout the country (and therefore what is considered “normal”).
Not all babies and young children react well to be asked to replace some or all feedings by breast with feedings of solid foods or by a bottle (which one is used as replacement completely depends on the child’s age, of course).
If a child is not so into whatever is being given as replacement or is perhaps a picky eater, they may begin to go down on those growth percentile charts.
Craft a plan early with your own child’s healthcare provider to make sure adequate nutrition is being provided.
3 Sickness And Sniffles
One huge benefit of continuing to breastfeed for at least the first year of a baby’s life is that it passes along antibodies from the child’s mother. Think about that for a moment…
In breastfeeding your child, you are not only providing closeness, comfort, hydration, and nutrition, but also a real defense to the illness you have been exposed to in your own life! Whoa.
So it corresponds that if a baby is weaned and no longer breastfeeds, he or she will no longer be receiving those antibodies and may get sick more often (than he or she previously did, or as compared to other children who do continue to breastfeed).
Think, also, how everything is connected, here: If a baby doesn’t sleep as well once weaning begins, he or she also might be more vulnerable to viruses and infection.
2 Begging And Pleading
While acting out, crying, and throwing tantrums may be part of a baby or young child’s response to weaning, particularly if it is inappropriately abrupt, what happens when a child is old enough to have the language skills to actually – verbally – protest?
It might be really hard to hear your toddler asking (or even begging) for milk from you and to have to say no.
Distraction and other forms of comfort may be the best you can do, along with – of course – providing adequate nutritional substitutions and not rushing things too much in the first place.
Just saying, it’s probably a good idea to be prepared for what exactly you might be facing – and how hard it might be to face – when weaning a toddler or older child who has the words to tell you exactly what he thinks about the whole process.
1 Getting Green With Envy
One of the toughest emotions to experience and to deal with when it’s experienced by others – perhaps especially our own children – is envy.
And I wanted to be sure to bring this one up because I think it’s quite common for mothers to wean first or older children in direct response to becoming pregnant or to having a new baby.
I felt that it worked out nicely for my own family to have a big enough gap between when my second was born and when my first stopped breastfeeding that my oldest child wouldn’t feel hurt, substituted, or like she should be the one nursing when the new baby was breastfeeding. (Very luckily for me, the timing of this all just sort of worked out, and my first was ready to stop nursing on her own during my pregnancy – which I’ve heard is quite natural and common.)
Still, I was faced with a time or two during which my toddler asked for “milk from mama.” Children may regain interest once the new baby is around.
It is completely natural for an older sibling to experience some jealousy when a little brother or sister nurses. Just think of all that closeness and attention a newborn is receiving!
Sources: Parents.com, WebMD.comm, LLLI.org