Forced Weaning Due to Pregnancy

May 28th, 2011 by Dionna | 187 Comments
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Compassionate Advocacy, Feed with Love and Respect, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting

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I have been avoiding writing this post. Honestly, I hadn’t even spoken the words out loud to anyone until I finally broke down and sobbed to my husband the other night and admitted the truth that has been weighing on me since week ten of my pregnancy:

My breastmilk is gone.

There was a big part of me that was simply in denial. I subconsciously thought, “maybe if I don’t talk about it, it won’t be true.” Or “maybe if I ignore it, my milk will come back.”

But it’s still gone, and despite the More Milk Two that I bought shortly after I could no longer express any breastmilk, I don’t think anything is coming back until my body starts producing colostrum.

Emotionally, this is a pretty tough time for me. I always wanted Kieran to have the choice to wean naturally, and forced weaning due to pregnancy is not what I had envisioned.1 My perceived “failure” to produce breastmilk has sent me into a mini-depression. As I lamented to my husband in the dark hours of the night, I have not been able to form a bond with the baby currently developing inside my body, because I almost feel resentful that I am pregnant. Of course it’s not the baby’s fault, and I know that logically, but these pregnancy hormones can do funny things.

I also know (logically) that I am not a failure – I have given Kieran 3.5 years of an incredible nursing relationship, and if he had weaned naturally at this point, I would never feel that I had failed. It’s merely the fact that the option was taken away because of my own body chemistry.2

Slowly but surely, though, I am coming to terms with the fact that our nursing relationship is changing. Maybe even coming to an end.

So what has losing my milk done to Kieran’s nursing habits?3 Well, so far, he hasn’t completely “weaned.” That is, he still nurses – he just doesn’t get any milk. For any of you pregnant mamas who just cringed at that last statement, I must admit that nursing has not been painful for me during pregnancy. I was slightly more sensitive immediately before I got the positive pregnancy test, but since then it really hasn’t affected me.

I have noticed a difference in his latch, and if he’s still dry nursing by the time my milk comes in, I have a feeling he won’t remember how to nurse effectively (in other words, how to move his mouth correctly to get any milk). He only nurses to fall asleep (he was only rarely asking to nurse at any other time even before my milk dried up), and he’s actually starting to fall asleep without being latched on – he’ll nurse for awhile, roll over, and fall asleep snuggled up next to me. That is a major change from my dedicated nursling of even three months ago. So when he does nurse, it is for shorter and shorter periods of time.

Most surprising to me is that Kieran has made few comments about the changes. When I first noticed my milk drying up, I asked him several times if he was still getting any “mama milk.” Most often he would say yes, but a few times he said no.

Several times over the last few weeks he has randomly come up, given me a hug (while burying his head in my chest), and said “oh mama milk, you are so precious!” (And now here come the tears again!) And then there was the one time where he latched on, said “gross!,” giggled, and ran off. I know that some mamas have said their milk turns almost salty during pregnancy, but that was after I thought my milk was gone, so who knows if he really did taste something “gross,” or whether he was just being silly.4

So this has been my struggle for the past four weeks. I’m ready to share and hear from mamas who have walked this path before me.

If you were forced to wean your toddler/preschooler earlier than expected, how did you and your child handle it? Any tips or wisdom to share?

  1. The technical term is actually “influenced” weaning – see Weaning and the Ways it Happens.
  2. For an awesome post on a related topic, read what Michele wrote so eloquently in her own post-weaning depression post on The Daily Momtra.
  3. This isn’t necessarily a habit, but it is making me sad: coincidentally or directly related, Kieran has been sick for the past three weeks. I can’t help but think that it’s partially due to the loss of all the naturally-designed health benefits my breastmilk gave him.
  4. He’s also been playing with the word “disgusting” lately, so he might have just been trying out a new word.

187 Responses to:
"Forced Weaning Due to Pregnancy"

  1. Terri   onelovelivity

    Hey Dionna, I really hear you – all the changes we make with our first child when the second one is on the way are really hard on us Mama’s. I got pregnant when my 1st child was just 6 months and it was a real shock as I planned to continue breastfeeding until she was at least 2 years. She did continue to nurse throughout the entire pregnancy and even though I didn’t think I had any milk left, she would nurse all the same. I never supplemented with formula as I could not find any that I was happy with and she was experimenting with the introduction of foods. It was very hard for me to nurse throughout pregnancy – extremely uncomfortable and not enjoyable but the one time she refused to take my milk at night, I cried endlessly thinking that I had forced her to wean at such a young age. Thankfully that was only one night and she continued to nurse after and still does. However the changing latch has been a problem and even though she still likes to take breastmilk a lot during the day and to get to sleep, I still find it a challenge as her latch is very irritating. I really wish it wasn’t so and that I enjoyed the comfortable and relaxed nursing relationship that I do with her younger sibling. However the love I have for each of them is so unique, miraculous and special that I wouldn’t change the way things happened now. You’ve given Kieran an amazing nursing experience, I hope you can enjoy all the changes from here on in their own bittersweet way.

  2. marni

    I didn’t have time to read all of the responses, but this post really tugged at my heartstrings and I feel compelled to respond.

    My daughter was only 7 months when I found out I was pregnant with my second child, and my milk did dry up after a few months, and she dry nursed (and probably starved, because I didn’t know HOW dry I was) for the middle months. My colostrum came in at the beginning of my seventh month, so she got a little bit for the last couple of months. Her latch had changed a bit, but when my milk came in for my son, about three days after he was born, my daughter went NUTS for my milk, and she just drank it up, every forty minutes or so with her little baby, as she called him. Her hair started growing, her nails grew, she got nice and chubby, and she is now over three years old and still nursing like a champ (as is my son).

    I appreciate your posting this along with the emotions you are experiencing. I’m now experiencing a lot of guilt because I didn’t realize I was so low on milk and had really wanted to exclusively breastfeed for a lot longer than I did. I did go through a mini-depression, and the pregnancy hormones didn’t help. BUT–THERE IS HOPE, if you have the time and patience, ESPECIALLY if you’re not having pain while nursing during pregnancy. He may be able to latch on, especially with instruction from you about opening wide and sticking out his tongue and whatnot. Since he’ll understand you, it’ll be something you can at least talk through if you want to try.

    Kieran sounds happy. You gave so much to him. I know this little bit of support isn’t going to make that big an impact right now, but you did GREAT, and he’s doing great, and it ain’t over til it’s really over, and then you still have this TREMENDOUS foundation upon which you can build the rest of your cuddling and loving experiences together. High five to you.

  3. Jen   diplomom08

    Well, you know my story. I guess I had a tiny bit of warning that I would have to wean…and as I mentioned off-line, a month after the surgery, Nicholas suddenly wanted to nurse on the left side and he did so for the next two months. I haven’t tried since the implant exchange as they adjusted the left side to make things more equal. I now deeply regret that move, but lest I move from the topic at hand… think, honestly, my saddest moments are when I occasionally feel like I am ‘leaking’ on the right side…and then reality slaps me in the face.

    I deeply feel for you and hope you know how very keenly I understand not having the weaning being on yours (both and Kieran’s) time clock. No matter how it happens, it hurts and I am thinking of you!

  4. dohiyimama

    aw. this is so sad to read. My baby is 15 months old and I am 14 weeks pregnant today. I have very very little milk and almost never hear my baby swallowing when she nurses- not that this has stopped her. She doesn’t nurse much at night anymore, but still quite a bit when she first wakes up and all during the day. It is painful at times, but we’re getting through it. I have mixed feelings about weaning… I don’t care so much if she nurses during the day, but for the sake of everyone I am glad that she isn’t nursing at night much anymore. More sleeping is finally happening.

  5. mamapoekie   mamapoekie

    This touches my heart. I have been sore all along, but haven’t lost my milk yet. Dd does roll over and sleep though, lately. She’s still happy with her buhbuh and says there is still milk.
    I have a friend who dry nursed during her entire pregnancy and her toddler is still nursing, but she has lost her latch, so it’s really annoying for her.
    Hugs to you

  6. Olivia

    “… if he had weaned naturally at this point…” Don’t you (general you) think that weaning due to pregnancy is weaning naturally? It doesn’t seem forced to me, particularly given he’s 3.5 yrs.

  7. Alicia @ LactationNarration   LactNarration

    When I was pregnant, Munchkin went from nursing 5x per day to 2x per day in the first few months and then to 1x per week once I lost my milk and for the rest of my pregnancy. She asked to nurse often enough that she didn’t forget about it or forget how, and rarely enough that it didn’t drive me crazy that she was dry nursing. I also perpetually thought that she was about to wean, but she didn’t. She even went 2 weeks without nursing sometimes. She kept on, and then after the baby was born and my milk came back, she started nursing again. Sweets was born right around Munchkin’s 3rd birthday. She continued to nurse until she weaned on her own just past 4.5 years. I just wanted to say that it is possible to lose your milk during pregnancy, nurse through it anyway, and still have your child self-wean!

  8. Isil   smilinglikesuns

    I nursed DD through pregnancy, she was around 2.5 years old. She is an avid nurser. She used to suck for a few seconds even when I was certain I had no milk.But she continued.
    I would say don’t beat up yourself if your milk dries up.It’s not a supply-demand thing at this stage. It’s all about hormones, your body and nature. Kieran might suck like my DD, might like salty. You never know. If Kieran weans, hopefully he will adapt to this situation easily.
    Best wishes

  9. Nicole

    Oh thank you so much for posting this on your blog. I too am pregnant and due in November 2011 with twins. I cried reading your post because my nearly 3 year old who loved nursing before I was pregnant has nearly stopped nursing all together. My milk supply is nearly gone too. This makes me feel very very sad. I don’t have any advice. I just want to say that I know how you feel and I can only hope that he will resume nursing a bit again when the twins arrive.

  10. My milk also dried up during this pregnancy. My son recently weaned at 34 months. Despite the fact that he is no longer nursing, he still gets comfort from my breasts and my body in general. When he is upset or hurt he will sometimes rub his cheek against each breast, and I have a mole just below my right breast that is his go-to comfort touch place. Whether Kieran actually weans or not, I’m sure he will still derive immense comfort just from being near your body and touching your skin.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you Shana! I still have to remind him sometimes not to stick his hand down my shirt in public, so I have a hunch you’re right ;)

  11. Charise@I Thought I Knew Mama   ithoughtiknewma

    My heart goes out to you, Dionna! That comment from Kieran about mama milk being so precious is just so sweet!

  12. Amy   Peace4Parents

    Hi Dionna :) I didn’t read through the comments so it’s possible I will repeat some other wisdom given by the many mommas who can relate.

    I felt similarly when I nursed through my second pregnancy. Lots and lots of emotions, uncertainty, and guilt.

    Allow yourself to feel what you feel as you move through this experience. I know you’ve heard me say this before and I’ll say it again… when a child weans – for whatever reason – love only changes form. The attachments we form during the nursing relationship simply adjust as we allow the natural progression.

    This next statement may not be well accepted, but sometimes often touted “lactivist” ideas that we must nurse a certain amount of time – or that we’re not doing everything we “should” do as parents – lead to a lot of stress in families when it doesn’t go that way. We end up resisting our experience so much it colors the ending of a beautiful segment of life. The suggestion that toddlers the world over wean between age 2-4 and that child-led weaning is the most emotionally healthy way to wean has a specific basis grounded in wanting women to follow the natural design of human functioning – not for us to get caught up in guilt when it doesn’t look like we think it should.

    There is balance to be found in this rather than extremes. (This all coming from a mom who has breastfed all three kids at least 3 years – the fourth is only 9 months). Each momma-nursling combo is unique and just as we want mothers to respect one another’s experience – we have the opportunity and responsibility to respect our own process – whatever it looks like. Be gentle with yourself. You are an *amazing* mother.

    There are a couple of other points you may consider. What gifts are present in this experience right now? It is likely you are learning other ways to connect with Kieran and if not, this is beneficial to experience before baby’s born anyhow since circumstances will change and you may not be able to nurse as you did when it was just the two of you. Learning other ways to love and be that consistency will only grow the basis you now have through nursing.

    Also, you might consider the mind-body correlation with illness. It is just a piece as we are whole beings with many facets, but may provide some insight. As mothers we are energetically linked with our children. If you are feeling a lot of stress, he may also. Don’t beat yourself up, please! Just take this experience as a cue to let yourself feel, breathe, breathe some more, and relax into loving him, yourself, and baby during this period of transition.

    He feels your love, whether he is nursing at your breast or you are across the room admiring him. :)

    Here’s an interesting book you might like for connecting with baby also: It’s written by a psychic! ;)

    Oh and this is another one that I really enjoyed this last pregnancy:

  13. Schussel   frauschussel

    I guess I know how you feel. By now I am 23 weeks pregnant and have forced my 2-year-old to wean at week 8. My milk was there, no problem, but my nipples were incredibly tender and sore from the first days of this pregnancy. At first, I tried to breathe through it, just limit his nursing sessions, not focus on the pain… but a few days later I had open, bleeding cracks. Apparently hormones do that to my breasts, same problem right after birth for several weeks. And I just couldn’t stand it, I cried while nursing and dreaded each session (and he still nursed a lot, lot, lot, day and night). So we weaned against his will within four painful weeks. He didn’t take it well for some time, lots of crying, he stopped cuddling and kissing me and completely turned to daddy for comfort. It was a personal affront for him, and the sad thing is, I can understand his feelings, but I wasn’t able to do it any more.

    Now, four months later, I guess we are fine. I kept telling and showing him with as much sensitivity as possible that while I don’t want to nurse anymore, it is not about him and not about our relationship as a whole. (And I didn’t tell him about the baby at that time, because I tried to avoid a “no more nursing because of that silly baby”-connection). He doesn’t ask any more, sometimes tells me that the baby is going to drink my milk and that he did this too before. And he is still very fixed on to daddy, and to his pacifier, which wasn’t much of an issue while nursing.

    Enough about me – from what you are telling, it seems that Kieran might have to go through some changes, but also that he is doing that just fine. Try not to feel too bad – even if he doesn’t know how to latch correctly and this puts an end to your nursing relationship, he had so many years of nursing and love. This is what makes him strong for changes to come.

  14. Reb

    I have a one year old daughter and I am fifteen weeks pregnant and still breast feeding. In the last couple of days things have really changed and I am feeling extremely emotional and teary. Basically she has cut down to about three feeds a day from about 7-8, and isn’t feeding to sleep like she has from day dot.

    I was hoping to tandem feed and I just feel so sad and redundant. I can’t stop crying. I never thought I would feel like this. Even writing it down makes me cry. I hope it’s not the end if our journey together.

  15. haleema

    I am 19wks pregnant right now and have a 9mo lil baby. I wished I’d have known better before wanting a sibling for my 1st one. I wanted to do her good but harmed her.
    my milk has nearly stopped but baby still drank and I only recognized the decrease when she got sick and the pediatrician found out that she hasnt gained weight for 2 months!! :(

    my problem is that baby doesn’t want to eat much of solids, vomits with formula, never took bottle n dislikes spoons. All she does is drinking like a kitten from a cup and asking for emtpy breast just to fall asleep again :((

    I don’t know what to do… any idea?

    • Big hugs to you, mama. Would you consider donor milk? You could use donor breastmilk with an SNS system, so she could still nurse.

  16. Christy B   blingbychristy

    I too am going through weaning my 13 month old. Doctors orders. It has taken a tole on her and me. I was told it was too much on my body and the pregnancy. I do have a high risk pregnancy with PKD and 2 past miscarriages.I have 3 older children and nursed them till almost 2 yrs they some what self weaned but it was slow and at there pace. This has been so emotionally painfull on me and possibly by baby as well. It is when she wants to nap or sleep at night that she really has a hard time. This is day 2 of no nursing. I did notice I was not producing milk at all or not much. With weaning before I would swell,leak and hurt. This time I have none of that. I thank you for your post has it made me feel I was not alone!

  17. Kate

    I’ve never read your blog before but I googled “milk drying up pregnant” and I got this post and SERIOUSLY it is my thoughts word for word. But my nursing is 2.5 and I am currently feeling despair. I cross my fingers that he won’t forget how to latch because I can’t do much more than hope. Thank you for writing this.

  18. Sare Davies

    Oh man, reading your post bought back so many memories. My daughter was 26 months when I became pregnant with my son. She kept breastfeeding until I was about 21 weeks pregnant. There’d been no milk for weeks when she finally stopped. Christmas day was out last feed and 2 years on my heart still aches. I can still remember her little face, holding back tears as she unlatched and looked up to tell me she was still waiting for the milk. There were lots of tears from us both. I totally empathise with your feeling of difficulty bonding with bub because of it. I spent hours researching ways to boost my supply before finally coming across the best advice I ever read about this issue. Basically, there’s no evidence that any thing works (in pregnancy) and don’t lament falling prolactin levels, it is because of rising progesterone levels which are sustaining the pregnancy. It still took a while before I felt I was bonding with bub but it did happen. Hugs to you mama, it’s so bittersweet….

  19. Stephanie

    I just came across this post, and while it’s a few years old, it really it’s home tonight! I am 5 weeks preg and nursing my 18 month old. My milk supply has tanked already and ds is very frustrated. I am certain he is not getting enough milk, he keeps trying to nurse and crying because there’s not enough; he can’t fall asleep because he’s used to getting more milk before falling askeep. My heart is breaking for him as he’s so sad and I feel so guilty for putting him through this and because I’m super hormonal. Praying things work themselves out soon.

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