How to emergency wean a breastfeeding toddler – because pregnant dry-nursing hurts like hell

Don’t look back in anger, they say. But for me, weaning our almost 2-year old from breastfeeding was straight up horrific.

I’m pregnant, so we had to do it FAST. And because no amount of hate-Googling gave me ANY answers at the time, I’m rewriting the algorithms to maybe help you out instead.

Originally I wanted to continue breastfeeding 20-month old Iyra through pregnancy. Assuming we’d tandem feed like all the hippie Insta-moms, things were rosy, for a bit.

But then the classic first-trimester nausea, next-level knackeredness and endless rank metallic taste kicked in; accompanied by a bonus breastfeeding aversion. For me, this meant I associated the sweet smell of milk with feeling sick, and found the sweaty closeness of constant feeding kind of, well, annoying.

Then to really guarantee I was living my best life, when the second trimester hit, along came The Pain.

EXTREME MF PAIN

At first it was just a bit uncomfortable, and only really kicked in when I hadn’t drunk much water or slept enough. Which when you’re pregnant and with a tornado toddler, is like, all the time.

Then it got way, way worse.

Similar to that pain you’ve probably brainwashed yourself to forget from the first two weeks of breastfeeding (that nobody talks about) – but with extra rusty spoons sawing away at your nipples.

Dreamy Instagram tandem-queen gold, right.

I started to dread feeding, for the first time in our beautiful breastfeeding journey. Triple sadface emoji for reals. It just seemed so gutting to feel this way after all we’d been through. Even though she had fed every hour at night for over 18 months, I’d still enjoyed it. I just slept through it. She was bad-ass thriving. I was bad-ass surviving.

But this. Was. Too. Much.

ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

A typical night feed (because she would barely feed in the day) at about 4 months pregnant would go something like this:

Step 1

Latch on, without really feeling a letdown. (I guess this is when the milk really started drying up, which happens to a lot of mums). The pain would be instantly so bad I would have to do hypnobirthing-style deep breathing, thinking it couldn’t be worse than contractions. Nah. This was a billion times worse. After a few gory minutes I couldn’t take any more, so I’d start swearing, then crying, then shouting. Last thing to go, would be my poor, freaked out kid.

Step 2

I’d manage to get her off, which at 20 months, is pretty hard anyway cus that finger pop thing does NOT fool them anymore. So she would obviously start crying, not understanding why I wasn’t giving her lovely magical creamy goodness and love. I’d be pretty angry if I was her. The screaming was loud. So I’d *try* to comfort her.

But here’s the thing you can’t Google. She would not be comforted. My cuddles, strokes, shhhs, singing, comforting words, arms, hands, face, and most sadly of all, my bump, would be smacked or kicked violently away, and make her scream even louder. Until she was hyperventilating with anger. So again, I couldn’t watch her so stressed… and the bravest boob went back in.

Repeat Step 1 followed by Step 2, maybe 50 F-ing times before having a breakdown.

Who do you feel sorry for, boobs, bump, or baby? I felt sorry for all of them. Self pity brings out the worst in me, so I’d take that negativity with me into the day, and then dread each night.

The all-night pain vs screaming wrestle rave went on for about 6 long, nasty weeks. Then the pain hit new highs, because there really was no milk left and she was dry-nursing even more to try her poor-little hardest to get my supply up. And her thrashing and kicking didn’t stop either.

UN-GOOGLEABLE

Loads of awesome, helpful and wise longer-term breastfeeding mums from around the world offered me midnight advice on Facebook pages and Whatsapp groups. But while feeling pain this extreme was pretty common, none of them seemed to have actually experienced a kid who put up a fight quite like Iyra. This is the bit you really cant get answers to online.

Realising she wasn’t going to be OK with ‘counting down’, singing, soothing or any of the other million suggestions that work for “normal” toddlers who can be weaned gradually, we had to stick with our decision – and point blank refuse. I couldn’t take the pain, so we had to stop.

It was so sad and did not feel ‘gentle’ to me. But this was the end. Waiting four more months – until full-term pregnancy when my milk was due to come in – would kill my soul and leave me resenting her and hateful towards our journey. And would not be helpful for bonding before a new one comes along.

Also, as a lot of mums explained, it is a pretty un-gentle thing to do to carry on feeding with so much anger – as well as the way I was treating myself.

Breastfeeding is a two way relationship, and when one of you is ready to stop, you listen, and stop.

So decision made, we went for it. And luckily we decided this as we arrived on our beautiful paradise island babymoon holiday (at the end of a 12 hour flight where I was surrounded by scared air hostesses trying to stop me crying in excruciating pain), so my husband was on hand 24 hours to help us wean.

You can’t do this sh*t alone.

HOW WE EMERGENCY WEANED

Through our back and forth over the last few weeks we had laid some sort of slacker groundwork. We had been reading her some amazing night-weaning books for children, and explained that the milk was now for the baby, not for her. She likes explanations, so she seemed to absorb some of that.

But then it was actual crunch time. So we chose the perfect moment: the last breastfeed was beautiful. And soul-wrenching. It was under the breezy coconut trees on holiday, watching the sun set over the golden sea. I knew it was the last, and she seemed to know it, and it makes me wanna cry just thinking about it. The end of Iyra’s babyhood. She smiled up at me, eyes sparkling, and I smiled down through heartbreak (and pain) tears.

That night she fell sweetly asleep as usual. Then when it was time for the first night wake, probably an hour after our final magical feed, I lay down in bed with her and tried to cuddle. On cue, she kicked and screamed.

Step forward husband with YouTube distraction to stop the hyperventilating screaming. For Iyra, Little Baby Bum or Teletubbies is life. She is addicted. I know, screens are bad n that. But stopping her feeling sad was way more important.

After the distraction calmed her down, we then switched to a couple of relaxing songs which usually send her to sleep when I’m not around (check out this lush Joy Division Teletubbies mash up). And we did this every night for a few nights. Sometimes it would work and she would drop off into the next sleep cycle. Other times, she would keep asking (nicely, cus Po was on tap) for milk. That’s when we suggested The Mighty Boob Replacement: Cuddles.

DISCLAIMER: Shout out to genius husband for coming up with most of this naturally and calmly, while I screamed on about brain damage and the end of the world in the background.

So, when she asked for me, we offered ‘me the cuddle machine’, not ‘me the milk machine’. Still me, just a less wounded one. Over the next few days – with a knife to my heart – she realised cuddles was the best she was gonna get, and so began to ask for it.

“Mummy cuddles and bed”, she’d sigh. Then she would take my hand and wrap it around her soft empty tummy and roll over to sleep for the next hour or so.

The definition of bitter sweet.

MILK-FREE MIRACLE

The first few nights we were pretty much wide awake like newborn days, so it helped to be on holiday where we could take it in turns on night shifts and then nap all day.

Because she had got most of her calories from the all-night milk bar her whole life, she was waking for food as well as comfort. So we’d have to be on hand to give her water, milk or other snacks like bananas or yogurt each time she woke. And pretty soon she was sleeping longer stretches.

And that, my friends, was it.

At first we thought it was a miracle. And maybe it was, because our expectations are pretty low. And since then – it has been two months now – she has not asked for breastmilk. She also doesn’t really ever ask for a bottle/cup/non human milk before bed, she has started eating food, and she has slept ALL NIGHT. Yes, MY baby. The one who woke every hour for almost 2 years.

WTF.

That’s the loophole of evolution. Breastfeeding is everything, but sleep. Whyyyy! But that’s an investigation for another time.

So there ya have it. Screens and cuddles (the PG version of Netflix and chill) worked for us. Hope it helps you avoid weeks of stress for your precious one.

You probably won’t have to do any of it anyway. Odds are in your favour that your milk won’t dry up, that it won’t be as painful, and that you will have a “normal”, soothable baby who won’t need such extremes as evil screens, guilt, screaming, anxiety, depression, self-hate, physical pain, bump defense and bruises.

And now we’re on the other side.

I show her love in less functional, more thoughtful new ways. The sleepy cuddles last all night in our big double bed. She gives me hugs and kisses for the first time. She eats food, like all other babies have been doing for the last year. She gazes dreamily at my chest, saying “for baby, not Iyra”, which yeah, makes me well up.

But for the like 99% of our breastfeeding journey, it was swell.

We loved it. And we nailed it.

Now to make the most of the next 3 months of solid sleep. Before we do it: All. Over. Again.

p.s. I love you Iyra. So much, it hurts.

How was weaning for you, if you weren’t lucky enough to let it happen naturally? We would ❤ to hear from you. Contact us, comment below, or tag #WokeMamas on social media.

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