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

  1. Thank you so much for this! I’m currently 20 weeks pregnant, still nursing my 2year old and recently dried up, despite his constant nursing. It hurts SO badly and is exactly how you describe— I wince In pain and have to use birth breathing. I spend The whole time he’s nursing saying “okay, that’s enough” because it’s killing me. It really breaks my heart to wean, this wasn’t the plan, self weaning was. But OMFG it didn’t hurt like this when I was Pregnant with #2 and #1 was still nursing. This is some fresh Hell im not sure what I did to deserve. Definitely going to try standing my ground. It’s hard bc he screams and tantrums and we all want sleep so it’s easier for the husband for me to just be in pain and let him nurse than keeping us ALL awake too. 😭

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    1. Thanks for commenting- good luck with weaning if you do it or continuing if you brave it. I swear for most people the pain isnt this bad! Make sure you drink lots of water etc. If you wana write about your journey please do! Xx

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  2. Oh my gosh this is soooo relatable to me I can’t even tell you. I literally am in tears after reading that because every word is exactly how my son is and I am soooo happy I found this and can feel like there is hope. I love the end when you said ps I love you Iyra, so much it hurts!! I feel everything you said. Thank you. So much.

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    1. Thank you! Yes it is such a horrific process. But now as are over a year later and our bond is so special. She still got very jealous about new baby with lots of hitting and tantrums when baby was about 4 months, lasting about 3 months. I do wonder if gentle parenting works when you have 2 within 2 years.. But anyway, it was the right decision and she’s so happy now! I always look back at that time with worry and sadness but it has all led to today and we are all so happy and calm and confident now. I hope the process isnt as tearful as ours and you get your special hugs soon! Xxxx

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  3. It’s 3 am and on top of being in the nauseating first trimester, I just got a nasty head and chest cold! My nipples are sore and I don’t think there’s any nutrients left for me!
    My Melina sounds just like your Iyra. Nice and violent with a dash of trying to sleep directly on my face.

    So, basically… I want to get this right.
    I’m the cuddle machine. We watch relaxing videos. I offer other milk and snacks is lieu of the “bo-bo” (my boobs as Lina so affectionately calls them.

    So when this is done… She goes back to sleep eventually?

    Wishing my husband can help but he’s getting over the same cold and has a nasty cough.

    Lovely right?! We are a sight to be seen.
    I’ve got a fever of over 102 and I would feel so guilty if I got her sick.

    Okay rant over

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  4. Yes to all of this. Thank you so much for writing this!!! None of the “normal” suggestions work for weaning our 18 month old. Like, zero. They’re laughable and just make me angry at this point.
    I’m also due with #2 in 5 weeks and nursing just got super painful. Thank you again for the hope and advice!!!!!

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  5. I was bawling my eyes out reading this- yes- “bitter sweet” must have been the relief you finally got! Thank you SO much for expressing what no one seems to understand: weaning is often hell and for many moms and kids it is not possible for it to be gentle. I loved your word “ungoogleable” – i am so tired of googling and finding the same hackneyed advice; no one seems to understand what it is like to wean a toddler who is used to nursing at times literally all night long. Of course one tries to be gentle but it can be an emotionally painful process in which weeks of tears and struggle are not avoidable. I think it is something I am going to have to just struggle through again. This is my first time weaning under age two (because of pregnancy- My others were closer to 3). So it has to be quick and I hate that my baby (toddler I guess) can’t really understand. I am terrified of this process. I hope this time may be easier but in the past I have definitely experienced the stubborn child situation you describe and It makes me dread weaning- especially unexpected earlier weaning. Thanks for sharing so I know at least I am not alone.

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  6. Thank you, Thank you, thank you! For this article!! I am newly pregnant with a 15 month old girl who nurses all night and most of the day! She does not eat a whole lot of food and gets a majority of her feedings from me! I am going to start trying to night wean. It has been nearly impossible to get her to sleep without nursing so far! She loves CoComelon so we will be giving this a shot! Send all the good vibes my way!

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  7. This post is literally what got me through finally weaning my sweet and incredibly stubborn 3.5 year old… After tandem nursing her and our 2 year old for an eternity, she had zero interest in stopping (oh mama, I sure know how much a boob-denied toddler will bruise you up! And that golden tandem nursing…ugh, so sweet but I spent many nights praying my milk would spontaneously dry up lol) I’m pregnant with #3 and hit a point somewhere between the crossroads of pain and burnout where I literally couldn’t cope any more and after a late night of rage googling found your post. Anyway, you gave me some hope and braveness that I (literally) sorely needed. After a few more days of talking to her about it I cut her off cold turkey and switched to snuggle time (with very high neck t-shirts on lol) She was really sad and a bit angry for a week, but now she’s officially boob-free, bragging about being a big girl and I am SO INSANELY HAPPY to be down to nursing one kiddo, who is soon to get the same treatment:) Thanks for the encouragement!

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting! We haven’t blogged for ages but the whole point of it was to provide a place for mums experiencing the same things to find each other and have some solace they were not alone. Well done for doing what you had to do! Breastfeeding is a 2 person relationship and if you’re burned out you’ll end up resenting baby. I had no reason to stop feeding my second which I did over a month ago – other than feeling an overwhelming need to remember who I am. And that’s Ok! Since then we have had so many cuddles, and she still holds my nipples at night.. including putting them in her nostrils 😂 Whatever works! Follow us on Instagram if you use it @wokenamas as we are trying to get back into posting – so mums have a global gentle parenting community x x x x x x

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