Q&A: weaning, or not weaning?

Stephanie writes:

"I’ve been reading your advice since my baby was born 11 months ago. We are approaching the 1 year mark and I can’t quit thinking about how to wean, when to wean, etc. I’m conflicted about stopping and can’t even fathom how I would ever do it. On one hand, I would like my breasts back (as would my husband). I would like to (but don’t necessarily need to) do some work again and be able to leave her with a sitter. And, I’d like to have 6 months or so breastfeeding free before I start trying for another baby and I’d like to start that this summer. OTOH, I don’t want to stop breastfeeding before my daughter is ready. Although, she does eat a variety of solid foods and enjoys them, she is also not showing any signs of stopping breastfeeding. We also nurse for naps and I feel like stopping will make my life so much harder during the day. Additionally, my mom just found out she has breast cancer (non-invasive) and I’ve read how breastfeeding is a protective factor against breast cancer and since I have several other risk factors (started my period early, had my first baby over 30, family history), I feel like I should breastfeed as long as possible. 

In my life before motherhood, I always thought extended breastfeeding seemed weird, but I currently see no end in sight. It seems like so many moms I know said their baby just wanted to stop between 11-13 months. I don’t see that happening with my daughter.

I would love to hear your experience of when your babies were ready to wean and your readers as well.  I’d also like some advice on how to reply to people who say, “You’re still breastfeeding???” Thanks!"

I think we should just call Stephanie "Everywoman," because that's about the most concise summary of the classic set of conflicts between wanting to wean and wanting to keep nursing that I've heard.

(Am I the only one who feels sad that 11 months is considered "extended" breastfeeding? It's such a tiny slice of their lives, even if each feeding seems like an eternity sometimes.)

Anyway, it sounds like you want to do some kind of partial weaning plan. You could go down to one or two nursing sessions a day to keep the benefits, while still having your body back somewhat. Once you're down to those few feedings, you can decide if you're comfortable keeping with those for awhile longer, or if you want to wean completely. And weaning down from two feedings to nothing is lots easier than trying to get down from more feedings to none.

I think weaning is another one of those things that we think of as all-or-nothing, but unless you have to wean completely cold turkey for some medical or logistical reason, you can do it gradually enough that it doesn't feel like such a hard choice. (Let me say once again that if you have the time, it's an extremely good idea to wean gradually over the course of a few weeks. Weaning cold turkey can give you mastitis--which was worse for me than two unmedicated labors--and can also make your hormones drop so strongly that you could get thrown into PPD. Over a few weeks you can cut down a feeding every few days and dry up your milk using mint and sage tea enough to help prevent mastitis and PPD.)

So, back to the logistics. I'd figure out if there are a few sessions that you can drop in the next couple of weeks. The ideal candidates would be sessions that she doesn't seem to care about so much, but that make you nuts. I think if it were me, I'd keep the nap nursing sessions because you know you can get her down easily that way. Since the purpose of weaning is to make things easier, having to create a whole new nap routine seems counter-productive.

I think you should spend the next few days doing some careful observation about what sessions she seems attached to, and what sessions are making you jump out of your skin (if you're at that point). That'll tell you where to start working on the weaning.

Any comments or suggestions? I feel like 11 months is one of those points at which moms are starting to get really sick of nursing (18 months is another huge one). How did you make the decision to stop or not, and how did you make weaning the easiest possible on everyone?