Important: Do NOT attempt the methods below if you or your baby is not ready to wean. Ideally, I would highly and strongly recommend breastfeeding for at least two years.
I have never regretted breastfeeding and will definitely do it all over again. My only regret is weaning him off at 18 months old. Three months after our weaning success, his eczema returned and was harder to contain than ever. Baby #2 will definitely be breastfed beyond two years old.
Breast is best; there’s no dispute about that. The benefits are immense, the returns are absolutely rewarding for both mommy and baby. My breastfeeding journey started off really rough; by week 3, I had cried buckets and ready to give up. I loathed moms who could do it with both eyes closed and those who kept encouraging me to go on. I felt extreme guilt at the selfish thought of giving up – merely because I was exhausted, dreaded feeding him and forcing my nipples into his mouth. I still remember the very evening when I decided to throw in the towels, crying non-stop in the garden with Hubby consoling me. He said, “Since it’s so hard on you, we will get formula then, okay?” His love and support pushed me to go further.
Then suddenly, we found the perfect nursing position for each other. Suddenly, he latched on as if he has been doing it forever. Suddenly, we enjoyed the experience so much and didn’t want to stop.
Why I decided to wean
Fast forward 18 months later, we were still breastfeeding. E had not shown any readiness to wean but it was taking a toll on my body. Despite eating really well, I was stick-thin, had mastitis every two weeks and had not been getting Aunty Flo since my pregnancy (that’s 27 months!). The mastitis was the hardest; although he drained the breasts well and I was diligent in pumping out excess milk, somehow and somewhat the ducts got clogged repeatedly. Nursing was a wrist-clenching experience, so painful to the extent that I had to hit the bed repeatedly with my hand during let-down and teared at times. I was on antibiotic medications so often that I lost count.
That was when we decided to wean him off my breasts for good.
Many resources out there share the ways to establish breastfeeding and maintain your milk supply but there are very few that actually tell you how to stop doing it. This is understandable as the benefits of breastfeeding definitely outweigh reasons like exhaustion, lack of milk, job condition, pressure or simply “I’m not a breastfeeding person”. Among the methods I have tried to reduce my milk supply and wean include:
1. Drinking maltose sugar drink – I found this recipe from a confinement dishes book. Just boil maltose sugar with hot water and drink.
2. Drinking sage tea – Infuse 1 tablespoon of dried sage in 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for 5-15 minutes. Drink 1 cup, two to six times per day.
3. Dropping least important feed to most important one gradually – We managed to drop the afternoon nap feed after a while but that was the farthest we could go. It was probably due to our lack of commitment, the first and last feed of the day seemed impossible to drop – partly in the fuzziness of sleepiness, I gave in very easily.
4. Reducing frequency and amount expressed – E was a ferocious drinker. Despite the drop in milk supply, he would passionately suckle until my breasts were really empty. The cycle of trying to reduce my milk production and his ferocious drinking style confused my body system, ultimately encouraging it to catch up and produce more.
5. Introducing alternatives such as goat’s milk, soymilk and oatmilk – Before he was weaned successfully, he would outright refused any form of milk except mine. I was certain he could sniff his ‘nen nen’ from a mile away!
6. Giving pacifier – He was never a big fan of this since a newborn. The thing about breastfed babies is, once they’re breastfed, they can tell the difference between the real and fake stuff.
7. Giving more solids – Before he was 18 months, he could gobble down an adult’s bowl of porridge. Even so, that wasn’t enough to satisfy his craving to nurse.
8. Considered taking a medication to stop milk supply but according to a doctor, the side effects were just way too great. Besides, it would deflate breasts to an unnatural state.
All of the above didn’t work for me despite repeated attempts until the mastitis became too painful to bear and we decided to go cold turkey. Here are the sure-fire tricks to weaning off breasts (at least for us):
9. Buy a white cabbage, peel the leaves layer by layer, wash, place them in a container and put in the freezer. Once they are chilled, take out a few leaves and gently knock the veins. “Cup” and cover your entire breasts with the cabbage leaves. It’s like making a bra out of cabbage! Wear them on throughout the day, changing two-three times a day or whenever they wilt.
10. At the same time, make it a point to keep your breasts away from the sight of your baby. Get your hubby’s help and sleep in a separate room away from your baby. Wear a fitting bra all the time – even when you’re at home – so that your baby can’t access to them easily. Distract your baby whenever he brings up the subject. Do it consistently for a minimum of three nights.
11. Your breasts will definitely feel engorged, hard and uncomfortable. Instead of pumping, I manually expressed some milk with my hands on the basin or while bathing. I did not use a breastpump to express as I felt it is a lot more efficient than our hands; you won’t want to give your brain the idea that “Oh, her baby needs more milk! Let’s produce more!” Squeeze out just enough to reduce the engorgement. Depending on how engorged your breasts are, you may want to squeeze every 2-3 hours diligently.
12. To prevent clogged ducts and ease the removal of milk from engorged breasts, I placed heat pads on my breasts for 10 minutes before squeezing them.
After repeating steps 9 to 12 for four consecutive nights, E stopped relying on my breasts to fall asleep. I continued doing this and two weeks later, we successfully weaned him off breasts. It took him another six weeks before he slowly accepted oatmilk, which is his regular drink now.
Again, I would like to stress the importance, joy and advantages of breastfeeding. Try as hard as you can and nurse as long as you can – for you will witness the benefits after that. E’s eczema improved for a good nine months without major breakout throughout the time he was breastfed. Even until now, he still remembers the warmth and very special bond we shared. He still recalls his ‘nen nen’ time fondly, mimicking the comfort whenever I carry him in the breastfeeding position.
Ironically, despite a tough start and a bumpy journey, I am the one who misses breastfeeding the most after he’s weaned.