Breastfeeding: the Ending

I heard very few weaning stories before it was time for Dash and I to finish our nursing relationship. More would have been helpful, so here's mine.

I hoped to breastfeed for two years (or longer), given the research I had done about the health and psychological benefits for both of us. I also said I would breastfeed for as long as it was good for both of us, even if that didn't meet my timeframe.

After I got through the first three months of feeding, breastfeeding honestly didn't feel like a chore. We had an incredible bond, my husband was incredibly supportive and (bonus) I ate whatever I wanted and lost weight. As I was on maternity leave for a year (thanks, England!), she was with me all the time and bf on demand made her disdain for bottle easier to cope with. I was lucky and had few issues (an early tongue tie, mastitis once) and even though she fed every few hours day and night it was such a part of the rhythm of my life that I didn't mind so much. Of course, I had my moments/days of wanting to stop immediately because I felt she was sucking the life out of me, but those were few and far between.

At ten months, I was over night feeding and we did Jay Gordon's gentle night weaning program which worked well for us. I occasionally fed her during the night (especially during times of teething or travel), but for the most part, continued to nurse D throughout the day whenever she asked.

Around 14 months, I dropped to three feeds per day - morning, afternoon and night. This was good for my part-time teaching schedule and made me feel more freedom. Again, this wasn't a hard and fast rule, but a general pattern. I also stopped feeding from the right side as my milk supply had basically dried up and she always preferred the left anyway.

Around 18 months, she started going to sleep on her own. Although she didn't need me to feed her to sleep since about a year, I did much of the time because it was easy and special. But she suddenly started sleeping better and began to enjoy a little time on her own before sleep at night. She slept longer stretches (which made me feel great because I had heard from soooo many people that breastfed babies don't sleep well and weaning them is what changes that). All of this occurred as the natural progression of her independence.

As she was losing interest in breastfeeding and I was losing patience with it, I dropped the afternoon feed and shortly thereafter dropped the morning. At that point, it was clear that we were both ready to end that part of our relationship, but I went back and forth about it.

At 19 months, I planned for my last feed to be the night before our two-week spring break started and my parents arrived for a long visit. I figured this process was going to be harder on me than it was on Dash, so I wanted the extra support of my family and the distraction of a holiday.

I didn't know how insane the hormonal change would make me feel. I got terrible acne (worse than when I was pregnant) and ugly cried on multiple occasions. Emotionally, the grief was so intense that I felt like someone was dying. I was mourning the end of this relationship (with a hefty dose of hormones). I had shared my body with my baby for nearly 10 months of pregnancy and 20 months of breastfeeding. As we don't plan to have another biological baby, I knew this would be my only experience.

The second to last feed was actually the hardest. I don't know why necessarily. Our last time nursing was a Friday, and we spent the whole day together. We went to lunch and shopping (I bought myself a weaning present) and took a cuddle nap. My partner was working that night so we had a quick, sweet (except that she bit me for the first time in ages) feed in the "milk chair" and that was that.

My parents arrived, E and I spent the night away together, and then we all went on a trip. I was happy, my skin was clearing and I had come to terms with the decision to stop breastfeeding. Because I stopped so gradually, I had no pain or soreness.

Dash's grief hadn't caught up to her until Easter Sunday, nearly 10 days after the last feed. She was rather ill and overstimulated and overtired and she reverted. She asked me for milk, lunged for my breast and sobbed when I said that milk was all done. She wouldn't let me even hold her, so I laid on the bed next to her and we both cried ourselves to sleep. It was awful.

I went to my parent's hotel room and climbed in bed next to my mom. She assured me that I was a good mom, I had had a special nursing relationship and there would be other transitions in our mother/daughter relationship that would be much more challenging than this one (like when your daughter moves away to England - not that she's still upset about that :). Dash woke up happy and played with the grandparents while Eric held me as I watched hours of TV, exhausted.

After Easter, all was well. This transition sounds dramatic because it was for me... I know others for whom it's been more smooth and others for whom it's been more painful because it wasn't their choice. I am SO glad I have pictures of Dash feeding at my breast. I recommend all mamas take photos of their babies feeding (breast, bottle, whatever) because it is such a huge and defining part of your life.

Thankfully, Dash still likes to drink her milk in my lap, cuddled in the nursing position (for a few moments anyway). I treasure my nursling.

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