Was weaning hard for you, mama? With one of my babies, it was really tough on me emotionally because they were ready before I was. But I know for a lot of moms, the sweet freedom of getting your body and wardrobe back is the best thing ever! And that for others, it’s hard for different reasons: like wanting to wean but having a baby who won’t go there or dealing with major pain and discomfort.
That’s why, on this week’s podcast episode, I called up Erica Campbell: mom, wife, nurse, and breastfeeding consultant. We talk through the most common problems that come up around weaning. Things like what to do when you want to wean when they don’t (ugh), what to do when they want to wean but you don’t (gaaaah), the hormones, pain, and side effects of weaning (yayyy more mom fun!), and allllllll the feels that come with weaning. If weaning is a topic that’s been on your mind, then mama, you are in the right place today!
Meet Erica: Mama, Nurse & Lactation Consultant Extraordinaire
Erica Campbell is a mother, wife, a registered nurse, an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), and the face behind The Milk Manual. She was born, raised, and currently lives in the Houston area. Erica became a lactation consultant after going through her own personal feeding experience, and she strives to inspire families along their feeding journeys.
In This Episode, We Discuss…
- How To Wean Off Breastfeeding At (Or Before) 12 Months (06:00)
- Breastfeeding & Weaning: The Symptoms and allll the Feelings (12:00)
- Side Effects of Weaning from Breastfeeding: Hormones & Physical Pain (16:00)
- How Long It Takes To Wean Off Breastfeeding (18:00)
- How To Wean A Toddler From Breastfeeding (19:15)
- Signs Your Baby Is Ready For Weaning (22:49)
- Is It A Nursing Strike? How To Know If Baby Is Really Ready (24:55)
Listen to the full episode here:
Get The Goods: Breastfeeding & Weaning Links
Quick access to the resources we name-dropped in this episode:
- Erica’s Website: The Milk Manual
- Erica on Instagram
- Erica on Pinterest
- Erica on TikTok
- In Houston? Book With Erica!
- Not in Houston? Find lactation support near you
Episode #36: Weaning Off Breastfeeding with Lactation Consultant Erica Campbell
Kacie: If weaning is a topic that’s been on your mind, then you’re in the right place today! We’re discussing the common problems that come up with Erica Campbell. She’s a mother, wife, registered nurse, and international board-certified lactation consultant located in the Houston area. Erica became a lactation consultant after her own personal feeding experience and strives to inspire families along their feeding journeys.
If you’re new to Feeding Toddlers Made Easy, welcome! I’m Kacie Barnes, I’m your host. I’m a registered dietitian nutritionist and mom, and here are we solve all your toddler feeding and nutrition struggles and try to make it a little less stressful. Erica, welcome.
Erica: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Kacie: Yes, I’m so excited to have you! We’ll of course link everything for everyone in the show notes, but as we get started, I want you to tell people where they can find you online.
Erica: So all of my social media handles are @TheMilkManual. I’m only active on Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok. I don’t have a Facebook, but maybe one day. And then I also have a website, and that is just www.themilkmanual.com.
Kacie: Awesome, so we’ll put that in the show notes today. We’re talking all about weaning, and I’m just thrilled to have you here! Will you tell us a little bit more about your experience as a teaching consultant?
Erica: Yes, so I have been a lactation certified for almost five years now, and it’s been a very different experience actually than I expected it to be five years ago when I became one. There are so many more nuances and a lot more ups and downs to being a lactation consultant than I think we even see or hear about, but obviously, if you have had a baby you know that it’s the same with feedings. There’s so many ups and downs! So yeah, my job, I love it. I think it’s so great. I’m learning so much just about people, society, just lots of things I wasn’t expecting to learn, but all in all, I think it’s just been so helpful to make me better at my job.
Kacie: I’m so grateful for you and people like you because breastfeeding was not easy for me, I experienced so much pain. I thought, “This is supposed to be an intuitive thing!” and it was not at all. And I just will never forget the amazing lactation consultant support that I got because it really was what enabled me to feed my baby.
Erica: Yes, yes, I’m so thankful to be in this profession and that there are so many great people who paved the way. I know there’s kinda like…not a stigma, but I don’t know the right word. There’s this like—maybe towards the lactation consultatnts in general—some people have terrible experiences with them. So I’m just always excited to be a different ray of light in this space because it can be so hard, and I think it needs to be handled in specific ways. I just am happy and I hold that I get to do what I do.
Kacie: Yeah, well, I will say that I had a very different experience from the lactation consultant that came to check in on me right when the baby was born, versus the one who came to my house and had a full session with me. And my guess is that part of being dietician, even when I used to be in the hospital, you have so many patients you need to get to in a day, you don’t have the time to spend that one-on-one time, right? So I will never bad mouth hospital lactation consulting.
Erica: Exactly. I worked in the hospital, that’s where I started off my career. I trained to become a private practice consultant while still working in the hospital. So once I was training, I saw so many things that I was like, “How could this have been avoided?” And then I’d get back to my hospital job and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, the reason why those people an outpatient have issues that started here in the hospital.” But when you’re working in a hospital—and this goes for me, I can’t speak for the entire hospital system, but this is just my belief personally—whenever you work in a hospital, the goal of patient care is not the long-term. It is a very short-term basis. So when they think, “Oh, this mom wants me to help her latch,” that’s all they’re thinking about. They’re not thinking how that latch can impact two months from now, or how she might have cracked nipples when she leaves the hospital. Her nipples are fine now, so it’s like, kind of sucky because they’re doing as much as much as you can do in the hospital, but when you leave is when a lot of that stuff impacts you.
And while working in that hospital space, you don’t get to see that. You don’t get to see the negatives, so you feel like, “Okay, well, I’m doing my job right now.” But with feeding, it is a long-term thing, it’s never a short-term, no matter how long you choose to feed. Even if you were like, “Oh, I only want to breastfeed for two days,” there’s still a long-term impact to that that comes with education and how you help. But in a hospital setting, you aren’t able. I feel like to be that long-term educator that you should be, I know for a fact I would have so many patients that it puts you at burnout—it really does make you so exhausted and it’s just…I don’t know. It was a lot harder for me working in the hospital than it is working outside of the hospital!
Kacie: Yeah, it is, it can be a difficult environment to do the job that you really wanna do. So now that you’re in private practice, you can see babies I’m sure for longer visits and also over the course of a mom’s breastfeeding or bottle-feeding journey.
How To Wean Off Breastfeeding At (Or Before) 12 Months
Kacie: So today, we’re specifically talking about those older babies, we’re getting ready to wean. So I think a lot of times the advice that we get from the pediatrician is when your baby turns one, you can wean. And whether a mom chooses to do that or not is totally her personal preference. But if a mom is ready to wean, what do they do?
I remember thinking, “How do I just go from breastfeeding to not?” So what would you say to a mom whose baby’s turning one, they are ready to wean—or even if they’re older, whenever they’re making that decision to wean—what does she do?
Erica: So being an older age, something to look at with weaning is deciding how you wanna go about it, because again, it will be very personalized. It’ll kinda be like, “What state of feeding are we in at the moment?”
A lot of times, some people have their one-year-old and they’re ready to wean, but the one-year-old is still nursing. They’ll kinda be like, “Well, she nurses three times a day…” so with those situations, it’s like, well, let’s focus on how we can cut back those three times. But once solids and food has been introduced, it really always kinda just depends on how they’re eating the solids (like what they’re doing with their own food) and what they are nursing for (are they nursing because they want the milk or for comfort?). Then once we figure it out, you can kind of make your own plan.
So for instance, if you are trying to completely wean—I always say it is a journey, it’s rarely ever cold turkey, and if it is cold turkey, that’s okay too—if you’re making that conscious decision, I always say, for your mental healt and for the baby’s health, take it step by step and just see how you can slowly eliminate feedings or how you can cut things back. Especially in this toddler stage.
I think in the newborn stage, sometimes it can be a little bit easier on the baby mentally, but 12 months and older, they have established a routine and they’ve established this…not dependence, but they’ve established comfort in nursing a lot at this point. So it’s just very person-specific, baby-specific. Whatever baby’s temperament is, whatever mom’s or parent’s moods are. It just really depends.
Kacie: So if we’re talking about top tips, obviously what you’re saying is, it’s gonna look different for each family, there are so many factors that are involved. Let’s say baby is fully established on solids. Now what would you recommend in terms of weaning?
Erica: At that point, a lot of times we’ll do the “don’t offer, but don’t refuse” thing. But I think that kind of depends on the state that you’re in.
Say baby nurses four times a day, and that first nursing session is right after breakfast. You know they’ve eaten, you know they’re full. So at that point, don’t offer it, but if they ask, don’t refuse it. Because you can go ahead and go straight into play time or something—whatever type of activities that you do at 12 months—you can go straight into those things and just kind of see if baby even remembers. Because there’s some babies who are used to that routine. But as they get older and you start changing that routine, then they forget, and so that’s one way to eliminate a feeding.
Also, if they do decide to nurse in that case—so you don’t offer, but then they come up and ask in that moment, this is why weaning so hard! It’s a personal decision. If you are dead set on weaning and you’re done and you don’t wanna do it, then it’s about establishing that boundary with your baby. Which of course, they don’t understand boundaries in the same way that we do‚but in that moment saying like, “Okay, well, we don’t have that right now, we’re not gonna do that. Would you like to do this instead?” or “Would you like to have a bottle or a cup?” or even “Would you like to eat more breakfast?” just finding ways to divert it from being a nursing situation. And, if you notice like, “Oh well, they want to nurse for comfort in this moment,” and it’s not necessarily about the nutrition, then offering other methods of comfort. “Would you like to go cuddle,” “Do you want mama to rub your hair?” That’s what I would do with my kids.
Sometimes it’s just like lamby and rub their hair or, “Do you want me to rub your back?” just finding ways to fulfill that need, but also fulfill your desire of waiting.
Kacie: So if you don’t offer, but they do ask for it, do you recommend limiting the amount of time or anything?
Erica: That’s what’s hard, it depends on the baby. And that’s what makes weaning more difficult—because it really will depend on what they need it for. If they’re doing it just for comfort, then I would say you have to kinda go with their own emotional background. I know for me, I’m very emotional, so it’s harder for me to say like, “Well, I’m not gonna comfort you,” when this is the only way to comfort you. But then there’s some people who find it easier to say no, and if you are the type of person who you’re like, “You know, I’m saying No, I’m sticking to my guns. We are weaning right now,” then go for it.
It’s hard for me as a professional to say there’s the perfect way to do something because there’s not. Especially with weaning, it is really specific on the person that’s in front of you and babies. Just me weaning my kids was a completely different experience because of who they are as people, and I had to adjust what I was doing based off of how I thought it served them best for brain development.
Breastfeeding & Weaning: The Symptoms And Allllll The Feelings
Kacie: Let’s talk more about those emotions that can come up because I think sometimes people wonder, “Is this normal, how I feel about this?” or “What should I expect even in terms of how to feel about the process of weaning with my baby?” So can you talk more about what you’ve seen with clients or just in general, what moms might experience emotionally.
Erica: There’s a huge range of feelings, and I think because that spectrum is so big that there’s so many things that are gonna fall under the umbrella of normal. Some people will feel very, very excited to wean. I was one of those people that was like, “Yes, I’m so ready to be done with this, I’m so thrilled!” So like I said, it was easy for me to cut it off.
But at the same time I was like, “Well, how can I help them emotionally as well?” But then there are a lot of emotions that come up when weaning that are surprising—that are more sentimental. I know some people will say that they go through a depression essentially when they’re weaning, and those emotions are also very, very normal. Weaning, breast feeding…all of it involves so many hormones, and so those hormonal responses can fall within the range of normal.
Kacie: That makes sense. I know that I personally really struggled with weaning one of my babies because I wasn’t ready yet and baby was, and so I felt really upset about this relationship being ended before I felt ready for it to be. And I also felt a lot of failure as a mom in that that I wasn’t doing something right, that because they always say, “Oh, babies,”—I’ve heard this so much— “Babies don’t self-wean, especially not until they’re older,” and my baby wasn’t quite one yet. So I was like, “Well, I’m doing something wrong!” I just remember talking to my husband over and over again over the course of probably two weeks about how sad that I felt about this, even though there was a part of me that really wanted my personal space back in that way—to not have to be taking off my shirt all the time. But I also just…I felt really sad and that was surprising to me.
Erica: I think that’s a really valid feeling and experience, and when I hear people express that sadness that they have—it’s like a break-up that you did not foresee happening. I think with weaning, like how you said you felt like a failure, I always tell people we have to re-evaluate the definition of success and failure, especially in this case.
Because I hear you say you feel like a failure, but when you think about all the stuff that you had done…you fed for such a long time, so much so that your baby is experiencing this thriving independence where they felt like, “My mom’s here for me, I know that she’s here, but I’m ready to explore on my own. I’m ready to eat my own food and do my own thing!” And at the end of the day, as parents, to me, that’s always such a successful thing to see that you provided so much emotional support that your baby was like, I’m content in who I am, I’m confident in myself, I’m confident enough to be like, “Hey, I can go and I could go pick apples off a tree if I want!”
I think that’s what’s hard is. There’s so many different emotions and motherhood in general, but a lot of the emotions that we have as a parent comes from that definition of success versus failure. And when you sit back and re-evaluate what it can mean to you, especially in the space of feeding…I think because we are told, like you said, “Babies don’t do this,” right? But we can’t put every baby under this same block to say, “Well, all babies are gonna wanna breastfeed forever.” Some don’t and hey, that baby is different, but you provide something for that baby. Another parent would do it differently for their baby, and it’s not that they aren’t providing for their baby, it’s just that there are so many differences. I just…this is gonna sound really cocky, but I will never think of myself as a bad mom because I know I give it my all every single day. Even what might look like as a failure to some people, I’m like, “No, I gave it my all.” So I really try and motivate other parents to feel the same way, especially moms. I feel like we have so much pressure on us to be perfect and have things look a certain way. You just have to live in your own truth. You know.
Kacie: I love that perspective.
Side Effects of Weaning from Breastfeeding: Hormones & Physical Pain
Kacie: So we talked about some of the problems that can come up, or we talked about some of the things that can come up for a mom emotionally and maybe emotionally. You talked also about how it’s a big hormonal change, and I’m just curious, I didn’t experience any physical pain or discomfort with weaning or getting rid of my milk supply, but do some moms experience that?
Erica: Yes, especially when it’s an abrupt weaning situation, it can have a lot [of pain] because there’s so many hormones that go into milk making. So what’s cool to me about the long-term weaning process and the prolonged weaning process that we see when babies are introduced to solids is your milk supply goes through this slow decline. Many people will panic and say like, “I don’t understand why it’s happening!” But your body is…It’s like a shift. Eventually, they start eating more and your body adjusts to that and your hormones will adjust that slowly.
Now, when it’s an abrupt weaning situation, your hormones are affected abruptly, so your emotions are affected abruptly, and that’s where a lot of people experience more depression-related symptoms. Just very anxious, fatigued, lots of those type symptoms, and no one ever really talks about how that’s how they may feel. In that moment, it’s so important to focus on mental health and having resources and people in a community that can help you because if it’s in that range, or like I said where you may wean and you may all of a sudden feel isolated or unloved or in those feelings, it might make you feel again, like a bad mother and that you aren’t doing enough And it just becomes this whole downward spiral. So having support, I think, is really important. Having the education there to know those feelings are normal, and you have to find your coping mechanisms for how to deal with those feelings while your body goes through such a big change.
How Long It Takes To Wean Off Breastfeeding
Kacie: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like what you’re really saying is that even when the pediatrician says that at one year old, okay, you can wean—that we should expect this to be typically a more prolonged process. That it’s not just like, “Okay, they turn one and it’s just over,” but that it can be really normal for this to take longer than we might have anticipated.
Erica: Yep, that’s typical. And I think, again, this goes into those societal expectations where we hear a number and we think, boom, everything’s perfect at that number. Everything changes right now. And that’s just not the case for any aspect of being a paren. I’m sure you see it with a lot with introducing solids—it’s not like, boom, they’re six months and they’re eating a burger. We have to slowly get to taking step-by step, getting to the point where orally they develop a certain way or you check…you know what I mean?
Like you check to make sure they can sit up all the way and that they’re not still thrusting their tongue, like so many things also go along with weaning in that same aspect where it’s just like, it’s gonna take a minute. It’s gonna take some time, and we shouldn’t put our pressure on ourselves to think like the doctor said it has to be done at this moment, it could take up to 18 months, truthfully. And I think if you give yourself that grace and you think like, “Hey, this is gonna be a process,” it also takes that pressure off of you to kind of rush parenthood and rush your own life, and hopefully it makes people stressed.
How To Wean A Toddler From Breastfeeding
Kacie: Now, the answer to this next question might be to have a good therapist, but what if a toddler doesn’t want to wean and the mom is beyond ready. She’s like, “I really want this to end, but my baby does not”, so in that case…
Erica: If you are ready to wean, again, that’s where you establish that boundary at that moment. If baby still wants to do it and you absolutely cannot handle it anymore, you don’t wanna be touched, then you have to in that moment decide like, “Okay, we’re done, this is like having a plan, this is how we’re gonna be done, these are the steps that I’m gonna take whenever baby does ask, because I’m gonna refuse.” So what are we gonna do instead? How can I meet my baby’s emotional, physical, nutritional needs? Because I’m not breastfeeding, I refuse.
In those cases, again, having a plan, having a community—because it does take, I feel like, a lot out of a mom to do those things. So having your partner be on board like, “Hey, I know as soon as we’re done eating our breakfast that my baby is gonna come up and try and nurse because this is the time we typically do it. Can you please watch her while I go for a walk or while I take a shower or while I remove myself from the situation?” because I emotionally cannot be here and keep refusing. So there’s just gonna be lots of different plans. And if you don’t have support in those cases, ’cause I know some are like, “Oh my spouse is not home at that time,” then just kind of setting that boundary by showing your baby something else.
I know some people will, for example, get their baby like a ball—I wanna say someone had a stress ball and would let their baby play with it. This might take lots of trial and error, but figuring out a way like, “I’m not breastfeeding you, so let’s figure out something else that we can do, let’s figure out another way.” And a lot of babies find so much comfort and sucking, so it’s just like finding ways to make that work even as they’ve weaned. Sometimes there’s certain cups and stuff, certain things that they can do to satisfy that need. But I try and always find more, especially with working with people, once I get to know them and their baby, figuring out the way that I can comfort or we can comfort their baby that is not nursing. Because some babies will completely be like, they’ll want it, they’ll fight for it, they’ll cry for it… But if you can show them, I still love you, I still care for you. We’re gonna do this instead. You’ll get there. It’s, again, that’s a process. They don’t understand boundaries, they’re not that rational just yet, so it’s just kind of trying to relay the message to them in a way that they’ll understand.
Kacie: Would you recommend consistency be a big part of that plan to say, once you decide, if you’re in that position of, “I really don’t wanna do this anymore,” would you say to try to really stay consistent with that?
Erica: Yeah, I would say as consistent as you can. Don’t beat yourself up if you have any moments of relapse, but if you can be as consistent as possible, that would be the best thing for both parties. But again, it’s giving yourself grace, so if one day you slip up, I don’t feel bad. Just get right back on it. Being consistent.
Signs Your Baby Is Ready For Weaning
Kacie: What if you have a mom who says, “Okay, I know that the doctor says at one, it’s okay to wean….but are there other signs that would say baby is ready to wean?”
Erica: A lot of times it’ll be the baby kind of showing it, which I think is like you said, how your baby was kinda over it at a certain point. Babies will tell you, they’ll show you that they don’t wanna do it. You try and nurse them, they pull away, they wanna go and play, they wanna go and do their own things. And I always say like, you have to watch your child because that is how they’re communicating with you, through their actions. If that’s the case, if you go to nurse them and they are consistently like…It almost feels like you have to force it, then that’s a sign that it’s time to slowly start letting go.
I had the same thing happen with my second baby, where it was to the point where he just would only nurse in certain situations and I noticed that he just wasn’t doing it, so I finally got to the point where I was like, “Okay, well, this is… We’re coming to an end now,” and I think that’s the first moment to help you mentally.
It’s not like, “Okay, well, this refusal is starting to happen,” especially when they’re older, ’cause when they’re younger, when they’re babies, sometimes it can be related to a lot of other things. But when they get older, that I think is a good time to put it in your mind like, “This could be coming to an end. I wanna mentally prepare myself for this.” And then making sure each nursing session you do have, you kind of are cognizant of it. You take all of those moments in because it is a sign that it is coming to an end, once the baby is like, “No, mom, I have toys to play with.” It’s like, “No, I have things to do.”
And I think, like you were saying before, it’s kind of heartbreaking, but at the same time, it is kind of beautiful because you are watching them blossom in a different way at this point, they are telling basically like how content they have grown into themselves, and eventually they just pull away. But that’s like… It’s sad, but it happens.
Is It A Nursing Strike? How To Know If Baby Is Really Ready
Kacie: Something that I’ve also heard about, and I’m curious for you to explain this a little bit more, is just the idea of the nursing strike and that it does not occur when they’re at this older age. Could that be a possibility? That, “Oh, they don’t actually wanna wean, but they’re having a nursing strike.” Can you explain that a little bit more?
Erica: Yeah, sometimes that can happen and it’s hard to decipher. In general, it’s hard to know, is it a nursing strike or is this weaning? And that’s where it’s like, if you keep offering multiple times and then randomly one third day they’re back to nursing completely, sometimes it can be like illness-related thing. There’s so many little things that it can be sometimes. So when you keep offering and eventually they do accept it, that’s how you know it’s not a nursing strike. But if you keep offering and it’s to the point where it’s like no, they absolutely are not nursing anymore, then yeah, it’s more weaning at that point.
But usually a nursing strike is temporary, it’s not as long-term as the weaning is. And a lot of times you can trace it to something like teething—some babies nurse non-stop with teething, and some babies are like, I don’t want anything in my mouth. If you can see all the other signs often, you can just kind of see it in them, then when you connect those two things, it’s like, “Oh, okay, so maybe this isn’t weaning.”
Kacie: Is there a danger of losing your supply during a temporary strike like that?
Erica: Not completely losing it because again, it’ll take more than a couple of days, but there is that risk as time goes on, if they’re still not nursing, your supply will slowly start to decrease. Especially in these older ages when your supply might already be a little bit less. When they have nursing strikes like this, there is more of a risk for it to decrease. I know some people will pump in these cases because they’re like, “Well, I’m still full. I still feel like we have a little bit more time.” So pumping as a back-up is always great. But if you also feel like, “Well, I’ll be ready to wean anyways,” that’s another way to kinda jump start that process. It’’s like, don’t pump, and then when they go to nurse and you don’t have as much, then they’ll change their mind eventually.
Kacie: Is there a possibility that your body might just naturally lose the supply and they’re forced to wean because of that?
Erica: Sometimes, but that also is more hormonal. So sometimes starting certain types of birth control, pregnancy, things like that, where your supply will kind of decrease going back to work, you aren’t nursing as much, etc. So where it’s like, you’re not nursing as much because you’re busier or just doing a lot more, your supply slowly starts to decrease and those type of things can happen. But I will say it can happen a lot with pregnancy for sure, and that’s one of the bigger times we see it happen—it’s getting pregnant and your supply sometimes going down or your body is being so sensitive to it, and then the baby will actually not be uncomfortable.
Kacie: This is so helpful. Erica, are there any last pieces of advice or encouragement that you’d like to give to moms as they go through this weaning process?
Trust Your Gut, Follow Your Intuition & Keep Doing What Works For You Both
Erica: Yes, I just wanna say take it one day at a time and always remember that you are giving it your all every single day, so don’t ever feel badly about the things you did or didn’t do. Just truly trust your gut, follow your intuition, and keep doing what works for you and your baby.
Kacie: I love that. If somebody wanted to work with you, tell us how you work with moms and what that looks like.
Erica: So right now in the Houston area, I work mostly in the west Houston area, but also Central within the loop. The link in my bio on Instagram has ways to get in contact to me, and I work with a practice called BYU City Breastfeeding. Fortunately, there’s 20 other lactation consultants in my practice, so if you aren’t able to work with me, there’s so many of them that are just as good, if not more than amazing than I am. Then also, hopefully we’ll start doing more virtual consults as well, and you can also find the link in my bio to access for that.
Kacie: Excellent, thanks so much, Erica!