There’s a multitude of reasons why you might start to wean when you do. But, whether your process is abrupt or gradual, baby-led or mother-led, you’re bound to notice a few changes, emotionally and physically, that come as a result of your stopping breastfeeding. To give you a better idea of what to expect, how to deal, and when to get help from your doctor, SheKnows spoke to registered nurse and International Board certified lactation consultant Marsha Walker, RN, IBCLC. Here, Walker discusses five major side effects of weaning.
As you phase out feedings, it may take time for your milk production to adjust to this decrease in demand, so to speak. In turn, your breasts may feel uncomfortably full or engorged. It may seem counterproductive, but pumping or hand-expressing a little milk (not so much that the breast drains completely, but enough to reduce the pressure) will help alleviate that sensation of fullness, Walker tells SheKnows. She adds that doing so can possibly add time onto the overall duration of the weaning process, but that really depends on the individual. What’s most important is listening to your body and deciding how much discomfort you’re willing to deal with.
Sometimes, pain in the breast can indicate that a milk duct has become plugged. “Mothers should just keep an eye on the breast, making sure there aren’t any blocked areas,” Walker says. ”If there are, she would want to work to unblock them.” In terms of remedies for a blockage, she suggests applying a warm compress, massaging the armpit or right in front of the plugged duct, or using vibration around the area. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can always call your lactation consultant for more tips. Whichever method you try, it’s important to catch and treat a plugged duct as soon as possible, because it can devolve into something more severe if left alone.
Fever and infection
That brings us to mastitis, a condition in which the breast tissue becomes inflamed due to an untreated plugged duct or bacteria finding its way into a milk duct. Although it tends to occur in the first three months of breastfeeding, it’s still possible when you’re weaning, especially if you’re attempting to wean more rapidly or abruptly (this is one more reason why gradual weaning, if possible, is preferable). Walker says achiness, flu-like symptoms, and fever can all be signs of mastitis. If you start to experience any of these (a fever, in particular), see your doctor right away. “[That] indicates we’ve got an inflammation or infection — we don’t wait on that,” she says.
As much as weaning may affect you physically, make no mistake, Walker says: ”There is going to be an emotional component to this.” Where some women experience grief or a sense of loss, others may feel pure relief — others still could even feel a little guilty as they leave nursing behind. It can be a bittersweet, challenging time for mothers, Walker says, adding that “whatever they’re feeling is okay.” She recommends replacing feedings with other bonding activities, like cuddling or playtime, to help maintain the bond between you and your baby. And, if you find that your feelings are distracting you or keeping you from going about your daily life, consider contacting a therapist.
This is one of the first of many (many, many) milestones you’ll pass as a parent. It’s perfectly normal to feel sad or lost as you take your next step — just remember that, as Walker puts it, already “[you] have done something that has changed this baby’s life.”