The phenomenon of lactation involution implies a physiological process, which completes the period of breastfeeding. Generally, this biological mechanism is launched on the 40th day after the last breastfeeding session (but it may start earlier!). Since the onset of involution, the mammary glands are diminishing in size and stop producing breast milk.
It would be best both for the mother and the baby if the weaning process is carried out gradually. This also means that things will go smoothly for the baby and he won’t feel deprived of maternal attention.
As for the duration of breast involution, it is individual for each woman.
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Symptoms of Breast Involution
Like any physiological process, breast involution is accompanied by a number of characteristic signs and symptoms. This process starts when the baby is 1.5-2 years old, and his body stops experiencing an urgent need for breast milk. The symptoms of involution are largely similar to the sensations experienced by a woman in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Characteristic features of involution of lactation include:
- General weakness and increased fatigue
- Increased irritability and sharp mood swings
- Menstrual cycle disorder
- Weakening of immune system
- Soreness of the nipple area
- Dizziness after breastfeeding
- No more letdowns. You stop feeling the usual discomfort caused by long breaks between the feedings sessions. Thus, when you start suppressing lactation, the process will go smoothly and painlessly, without the risk of getting a clogged milk duct or mastitis.
- No more leakage of breast milk from the nipples (while breastfeeding or at any other time during the day)
- The baby is more fussy at the breast. The more the baby grows, the more breast milk he needs to satisfy his hunger. Naturally, the more the baby is sucking the breast, the more milk is produced. Yet, when the involution process is launched, this doesn’t help, which causes the baby to ask for breast more often, suck it more ferociously and spend more time at the breast than usual.
The changes also affect breast milk composition. During the involution, breats milk becomes thicker, contains more immune cells and when you pump it, breast milk resembles colostrum by its color and fat content. Involuntary breast milk includes components that promote the full development of the central nervous system and other structures of the baby’s body, which makes it even more valuable, speaking of health benefits of extended breastfeeding!
Advantages of Involution
First and foremost, when you start weaning during the involution, you dramatically reduce the risks of developing clogged milk ducts and mastitis in the process, which is one of the most common problems nursing moms bump into when they stop breastfeeding (usually abruptly).
Here are some other advantages of lactation involution:
- No need to drink galons of water to produce more milk
- No need to pump even if you had a gap of 6 hours and more between the breastfeeding sessions
- No need to stick to a special breastfeeding diet any longer
- By breastfeeding during involution you reduce the risk of catching infections by your baby because of the “extra dose” of antibodies against infectious agents your breast milk contains
The duration of lactation involution can vary from 1.5 to 3 months. Involutional changes at the end of lactation are not accompanied by painful sensations, discomforts, loss of hair structure, destruction of tooth enamel and other pathological symptoms. If you experience any of these problems, you should immediately consult your doctor.
The Changes In The Mammary Gland
In the process of involution, the ducts of the mammary glands are closing, the amount of glandular tissue decreases, the so-called alveoli are eliminated, and the gland size returns to the initial parameters.
The Mechanism Of Involution
The launch of this physiological process is carried out through the pituitary gland, which ceases to produce a sufficient amount of prolactin (a specifil milk-producing hormone). Against the backdrop of this process the body stops producing milk in a “demand-supply” mode. Even if the baby needs more milk, breastfeeding on demand won’t make a difference in this case.
At the onset of involution, breast milk is produced in smaller amounts, regardless of the frequency of nursing sessions. In addition, the process of protein production in mammary glands is inhibited, thus breast milk start containing less protein. The glandular tissue of the breast is replaced by the fatty tissue, which allows the breast to regain its former size and shape.
To Wait Or Not To Wait For The Involution: That Is The Question.
Most women are interested in whether they should wait for a natural drop in the production of breast milk (which means that the body is actually ready to finish lactation) or take the initiative in their own hands and start weaning earlier. When the baby turns 1 year old, some mothers prefer to create the necessary conditions for weaning.
Although I’m advocating the extended breastfeeding, I believe that every mom know best when she should finish breastfeeding her baby. Too many factors combine when we make this decision. Sometimes there is no choice but finish lactation before the baby’s fisr birthday, which is okay too as long as the baby is fed and healthy.
Nevertheless, World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond. Breastfeeding continues to make an important nutritional contribution well beyond the first year of life as a significant energy source and by providing key nutrients to the growing infant. Studies in developing countries demonstrate that continued, frequent breastfeeding is associated with greater linear growth and further protects child health by delaying maternal fertility postpartum and reducing the child’s risk of morbidity and mortality. (Source)
If a nursing mom decides to wean her baby from the breast way before “the due date” (when her body is NOT really ready to finish lactation), she may come up with the following problems:
- pain and discomfort in the mammary glands of various intensity;
- induration (hardness) in the area of the mammary glands;
- increased body temperature;
- increased fatigue and lack of energy;
- clogged milk ducts;
- purulent-inflammatory complications (like breast abscess and mastitis).
Weaning before a mom (and the baby!) is ready may lead to a series of inconveniences, like the need for constant pumping or hand expression of breast milk and diminished fluid consumption (the more you drink, the more breast milk is produced, remember?). The baby may become extra fussy, too. He can experience lack of sleep and cry more often than usual. He may as well have lower immune function which increases the risk of catching an infection.
The process of involution most often coincides with the period of self-weaning of the baby from the breast. At the age of 2-3 years, children start to actively participate in social life, they have new interests and concerns. At this age, the kids stop experiencing an urgent need for constant tactile contact with the mother. In addition, the digestive system of these children produces a sufficient number of enzymes that can split up and digest the “adult” food.
After the lactating woman has entered the period of breast involution, she needs to pay more attention to her breast appearance to avoid breast sagging after weaning. Such simple things as breast massage, contrast shower, regular exercising routine, taking supplements like collagen, Omega 3 and Vitamin C together with eating a healthy well-balanced diet will make a real difference and help preserve a beautiful breast shape after the end of breastfeeding.
What About You?
When did you start weaning you child? Have you waited for lactation involution and your baby’s self-weaning or you started to wean earlier? In this case, did you have any difficulties in the process? Share your experience in comments below to help thousands of moms reading this blog have more feedback on how and when to start weaning.