I was lucky enough to breastfeed Jameson for as long as I wanted to, and I'm forever grateful for that. I was also lucky enough to have the confidence not to give him cow's milk even when pediatricians everywhere are trained to encourage it.
Everyone has a different opinion and story about weaning, and I think that's great. Every mom's choice is a good choice in my opinion. This is just our story.
When I was ready to wean and finally found a plant based milk I was comfortable giving to him, I also realized there wasn't a lot of helpful information out there on how to actually start. In the moment it was overwhelming, but true to any child phase- hindsight is always 20/20. Hopefully by sharing how I introduced plant based milk, slowly in place of breastmilk, I can inspire others to do the same or at the very least, make it less intimidating!
The truth is I didn't even worry about other types of milk or formula for a long time because I took so much comfort in knowing he was getting the best nutrients he possibly could from the very milk that has been fine tuned by nature over thousands of years to nourish a rapidly growing child. I know breastfeeding isn't for everyone but it was a natural biological progression for both of us after birth, and I loved being able to provide that for him. I know how lucky I am for that, but I attribute having such a good milk supply mostly to my diet- but more on that at another time.
Besides learning to love breastfeeding (which definitely took some time), I was deeply fueled by not being confident in a certified organic vegan formula option available in the U.S. I also knew I couldn't give him anything else besides breastmilk until he was at least 1, because that is when it is safe to introduce other milks. And as a new mom, literally all you care about its safety.
However for those that are looking for the best vegan formula I have heard a lot of good things about the European brand, Premiriz, that ships to the states. There are some soy formulas that aren't completely vegan (but still better than dairy) available in the states you can read more about here.
More than organic clothes or cleaning products, I believe that the best possible thing I can do for his health is to put the best nutrients in his body that I can find. Building a strong immune system through the gut can combat just about anything "toxic" he comes across environmentally.
I don't have a local plant based pediatrician to recommend anything to me so I rely a lot on my own research when it comes to Jameson and many times I am the one educating the doctor on it. However if we didn't move so much I think I would definitely take some time to find a pediatrician more familiar with plant based nutrition which I encourage others to do as well. In Switzerland it is especially hard because they basically refuse to recommend anything that isn't cow's milk during years 1-3 of their life. The U.S is much more ahead in my experience and I applaud them for that.
Regardless, I knew around 1 year old I wanted to try to start introducing a plant milk to Jameson and weaning him off breastmilk. I knew I wanted to introduce either pea milk (like Ripple Milk), or Silk iron fortified soy milk because those have the best protein and vitamin D, B12, and calcium content most similar to breast milk.
Plant -based Juniors and Plant-based pediatrician Dr. Jackie Busse were my go-to sources on this. Dr. Busse even provides a milk comparison chart on her site. Their instagram accounts and their highlighted stories touch a lot on the subject of what milk to introduce so I recommend following them!
Over here in Switzerland it took some time to find a similar iron fortified soy milk I was comfortable with but after some hunting I found a great option that I get shipped from the UK: Alpro Soya Growing up Drink 1-3 years. This not only is fortified with iron but with Vitamin D, calcium, and B12 too which is so comforting to me- plus Jameson loves it! The UK is way farther ahead in plant based changes than the rest of Europe so wasn't surprised that this is only available there.
During this process, I also ordered some Bebe Latte 12-24 months powder (An amazing brand a hockey friend from Montreal started) that I had every intention of giving him throughout the day, however he didn't love the taste as much. I am in love with the brand so I'm not giving up and going to try to mix it into smoothies or into his soy milk. The nutrients in the Bebe Latte are unlike anything else out there so I really want to keep trying.
Once I finally knew what milk I wanted to give him and I tried to research how to wean, there wasn't much info out there and just so many different ways to do it so I was pretty overwhelmed. I realize now it is because every single baby is different and every single mom is different.
Regardless, I want to share the steps I took in case anyone else is reaching that point, isn't comfortable with transitioning to cow's milk, and wants to use my experience as a reference.
I am no expert, but this is just what worked for us!
Jameson's weaning process & tips:
1) Take comfort in not introducing dairy
I have never questioned that giving Jameson soy milk over cow's milk was the wrong decision. Confidence is important. My gut feeling was that baby cow's milk is meant to grow a baby cow and not a baby human. The research that backs that feeling up helped solidify it. Dairy is scary and there is a reason 60% of the population is intolerant. Here are some places you can learn more about that: Dr. Greger Milk & Nutrition, Dr. Campbell dairy protein cause cancer, Physician's Committee's Health Concerns about Dairy, Dairy is Scary Youtube Video
2) Go slow, I mean r-e-a-l-l-y slow.
Jameson was still breastfeeding 4-5 times a day at 1 year so I started with giving him 1 bottle of warm soy milk during one of his midday feedings. He always was a bottle lover and seemed to take to this fine. I started with giving him a little soy milk in a bottle then would finish with breastfeeding. This way I wouldn't get clogged ducts and he wouldn't see it as a big change. Slowly, and I mean probably after a week or two, it would turn into just a bottle feeding.
2) Start with a mid-day feeding
His morning and nighttime feedings were his favorites, and honestly mine too so I knew I had to wean those last. He seemed fine replacing mid-day feedings with a bottle of soy milk. On average I think it took 1-2 weeks to replace one feeding a day with a bottle of soy milk. The morning feeding might have taken a little longer (probably because I hung on to it) but by 13.5 months he was fully weaned onto just bottles of soy milk.
3) Encourage more solid foods & water
As I introduced the soy milk I also encouraged bigger meals and more snacks for him. I also offered him water throughout the day out of a sippy cup I knew he liked. And I would never give him the bottle until after he had his meal that way he learned to fill up on the solid foods first. This way he ended up going to just one morning bottle, one afternoon bottle, and one evening bottle with 3 meals and 2 snacks throughout the day. Here is recommended plant based servings by age written by plant based pediatrician Dr. Busse if you want to read more about exactly how many servings of milk and food by age your child should get. Jameson also turned out to care less if the soy milk was warm or cold so he gets it cold now. And now that he is 16 months we are working on weaning off the bottle so thats a whole other battle. Wish us luck.
4) Start at any age
I was personally ready when he was around 12 months because I was comfortable introducing a new milk and I was ready for the freedom. I also was big on having a good gap between breastfeeding and being pregnant again when we are ready for our second. Going from pregnant, to breastfeeding, to pregnant again would have been too draining for me- but everyone is different! The U.S recommends breastfeeding for at least 1 year but in Europe they recommend at least 2 years. Some people even breastfeed beyond that- to each their own! Again every mom's choice is a good one.
5) Listen to your body and give it some grace
During this process, all I cared about was Jameson. What nutrients he was getting and if he was going to be upset with the transition, wondering if it would throw off his sleep and his schedule etc. The truth is he handled all of it like a champ, and my body was the one that was thrown for a loop. My mood swings were all over the place. As my body stopped producing milk I honestly felt this massive shift in hormones WAY more than I did post birth and I was not prepared for that. Listen to your body, mostly your hormones- if you are getting overly emotional or irritable about the weaning take a break and try again in a month or so. Or just go extra extra slow.
*Some things you might not know about your body when you wean:
Your hormones are going through a drastic change: prolactin- the milk maker hormone produces a feeling of calm and well-being. The milk let-down hormone- oxytocin produces happiness and a feeling of bonding. You are decreasing them both drastically as you wean so don't be shocked like I was when your hormones go bananas.
Your body will continue to produce milk: For at least two months after I fully stopped breastfeeding my body still produced milk. Not in an uncomfortable way just took that long for it to figure things out.
You might not be emotionally ready: You may have gotten to a point where you think you are ready to let go of breastfeeding, but you truly can't give up that bond yet. That's ok too I'm big on listening to your body. I'll admit I felt some guilt about it but after talking it out with my family and friends they helped encourage me that I was doing a good thing. Find some people that will support you it makes a huge difference.