Bittersweet Weaning and the End of an Era
Breastfeeding my oldest son, TJ proved to be quite a challenge in the very beginning due to an undiagnosed tongue tie and a lack of professional support. Looking back, I find it a little surprising that I held on for so long, in so much pain, without giving up. I know that my husband’s unwavering support was really the strongest force that kept me going.
Once we finally got it all figured out, I learned to love nursing and the pride it gave me. I felt like a badass again, just like I did right after he was born. When he self-weaned at 19 months old, I was surprised at my sadness and how, in hindsight, I realized I wished we had nursed until his second birthday.
Over four years later, my youngest son, M was born and his tongue tie was diagnosed within an hour after his birth. It was clipped the next day along with an upper lip tie and he went on to be a champion nursling with very little discomfort for me.
With my youngest, I knew I wanted to make it to the two year mark. We both loved it, so I had no doubt we’d reach that milestone. And we did with lots of pride. In one of my mommy groups, we designate the two-year mark as Diamond Boobies.
After M’s second birthday came and went, I thought to myself, “now what?” The books and blog articles go on and on about the benefits of extended breastfeeding, but none of them really explain how to stop if you want to. I know it’s different for every child, but there really wasn’t much and I wasn’t willing to cut him or me off cold turkey. My hormones went a little wonky after my oldest weaned and I didn’t want to go through that again.
Things were going well so I figured I’d wait until he weaned all by himself.
Six months later he was showing no signs of cutting back, but I was increasingly touched out and ready for at least some sort of a break. He was an early talker, and I could somewhat negotiate with him, so I started instigating a few rules. The first being that Mommy Milk is only available at home, a rule he was completely fine with.
The next rule was that Mommy Milk is only for nap time and bedtime. I was done with the two-minute nursing snacks at random times throughout the day. He pushed back a little bit when he was under the weather, but he eventually was cool with it, “we’re saving this milk for bedtime.”
Next I limited him to one side only each time he nursed. This one he fought me on quite a bit. If he was tired he would cry and say “switch!” over and over. In the middle of the night, in his sleepy voice, my husband pointed out that it sounded like “bitch.” I wasn’t amused. It took a couple of weeks, but he got used to only nursing on one side at a time and it became a little bit of a joke every time he asked for Mommy Milk; he’d show me one finger and say, “just one side?”
It had been a few months and he was only nursing once or twice a day, sometimes skipping a whole day if he fell asleep without nursing. I never felt a change in my breasts, so I was confident my milk was pretty much gone. I was ready, he was ready, it was time to call it quits for good.
Earlier this month my sister, Jackie gave birth to her first baby. She wanted me to be at the hospital, as a backup coach, but the distance between us (California and Utah) combined with notoriously short labor that runs in our family made it impossible. Thankfully I was able to fly out the following afternoon.
I stayed for a few days to help her getting breastfeeding established and to support her and my brother-in-law any way that I could.
When I got home, I had a quiet chat with M where I told him that all of our Mommy Milk was gone now. I gave it to Auntie Jackie so she could feed his new baby cousin.
He whispered “no” and his bottom lip started to quiver. Big, fat tears filled his eyes as I explained that he was getting bigger and that he could fall asleep with his blanket and some snuggles just as easily as he could with Mommy Milk (which was already true). He took a deep breath and asked if he was now sharing his milk with his new cousin and I said yes. He was happy with that idea, but I wasn’t sure if he understood that it meant no more milk for him.
At bedtime that same night, a month and a half before his third birthday, we snuggled in his bed after saying goodnight. He didn’t cry, he didn’t ask for milk, he didn’t give any fuss. He just fell asleep with his body nestled next to mine.
I silently cried, breathing in the smell of his hair and trying not to wake him. I was more than ready to be done with breastfeeding, but the end was still bittersweet. He’s my last baby and the knowledge that I will never breastfeed a baby for the rest of my life weighed heavily on my heart.
I didn’t love being pregnant, but I truly loved how breastfeeding made me feel and while I’m ready for the next phase of my life, I will always miss it.
It’s been a couple of weeks now since Mommy Milk went away and there haven’t been any tears, (none from him at least!). He has asked for milk a handful of times, but he’s been completely okay with the knowledge that it’s all gone.