Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thoughts on ending breastfeeding

I never questioned whether or not I would breastfeed HP.  It is not that I am militant about breastfeeding or think that it is the right choice for every mom and child, but for me and HP? I was confident that it was. I wanted to nurse him because I thought it would be more convenient, cheaper, and better for the babe. I did not seriously entertain the possibility that we would have difficulties, or at least not ones that would bring me the brink of emotional stability. I assumed we would just make it work, end of story. We are making it work, but that is certainly not the whole story.

Breastfeeding was a real struggle for the first two months of HP's life. He had no issues gaining weight, but his latch was shallow, making nursing a painful and dreaded experience for me. When I was exhausted at the end of the day I remember telling Neil, "I hate breastfeeding. I hate it. I hate it!" with tears streaming down my face while HP ate. Not quite the picture of maternal bliss I had imagined.

I understand why so many women quit nursing in the first few weeks and months. It's hard. If I hadn't had such a supportive partner or been so determined to make it work, I would have given up. That's not to say I am some kind of martyr--not at all--I just had the support, desire, and circumstances to make it work. One thing that helped me through those initial weeks was reading blogs about other women's experiences. Many people had the same issues we did, and reading the "it does get better" posts was such a comfort to me. And they were right--it did get better.

Initially (as in, before I had given birth and naively assumed I knew how I would feel about extended breastfeeding even though I didn't have a clue), I thought I would breastfeed HP until he was at least eighteen months, and then start to consider weaning around the two-year mark. I liked the idea that instead of switching to cow's milk, he would continue to drink milk that was designed specifically for him. The push to wean children around the year mark is largely culturally, rather than scientifically, based, and I saw no need to adhere to it.

My opinion has since changed. I still fully support extended nursing and think there are many benefits to continuing breastfeeding for as long as both parties are happy. The key part of that sentence is the final phrase. Right now, I feel ready for the freedom that will come with the end of breastfeeding. I want to be able to leave at night without having to pump upon my return. I want to plan my day without consulting HP's feeding schedule. I want to take a trip to visit friends for a weekend alone. (Imagine the luxury!)

This whole parenting endeavor is taxing on mothers in a way it is not to fathers. Fathers do their share of sacrificing, but for nursing mothers parenting is demanding in a different, biological, your-body-is-not-your-own kind of way. I am ready for my body to be my own again.

Here's where we are today: HP is now past the age where nursing is one of the few things that comforts him. He easily naps without nursing beforehand, and has for months. His feedings have dropped to a handful of times a day, and usually last for about ten minutes, if that. He has always been an efficient eater and he once past early infancy, he largely stopped nursing for comfort. The kid is all business and crawls out of my lap the second he is done.

Some women describe this amazing bond they feel with their child while nursing, and to be blunt, I have not felt that. It is not that I find nursing to be a bother or an inconvenience or that I do not enjoy and appreciate the closeness I feel to HP, but I do not enjoy it any more or less than when he comes to cuddle without nursing. I do not worry that the bond I share with him will diminish when he is done breastfeeding, because the connection we have is not dependent on me sustaining him with food from my body.

I know there are lots of benefits to nursing toddlers, for both the mother and the child, but I have also come to realize that there lots of benefits to being able to easily take breaks from parenting when the need arises. At the moment, the latter seem more, well, beneficial. Of course I can still take short breaks now, but since I do not have a large stash of milk in the freezer, it is hard for me to be gone for more than a few hours at a time. The end of breastfeeding will open up new opportunities for me to find the right balance between my role as a parent and as an individual.

I know it will be bittersweet, but I think we will all be ready in a few months. I never thought I would be looking forward to the end of nursing, but perhaps it is the natural evolution of life with children--a mourning for the end of one phase in our relationship, but a joy and excitement for the one ahead.

And who knows? Maybe in the coming months I will feel differently and we will keep going until eighteen months or two years. Right now I am not setting any hard deadlines and will continue to evaluate the best course for our family.

8 comments:

  1. I could have written the first few paragraphs of your post myself almost 9 years ago with my first. Kudos to you for sticking through the tough times (not because I'm militant about it, as you say, but because it was what YOU wanted).

    I had no strict deadlines set and ended up mutually weaning my first at about 14 months (my second at 13 months and my third at 15 months). It was always bittersweet, but the freedom was nice, for sure :)

    Great post!

    Becky
    http://alazycrazylife.blogspot.com/

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    1. Good to know I'm not alone--those first weeks/months are rough! Glad to know you made it through as well.

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  2. Same here on the beginning parts of breastfeeding and the struggling through learning how to breastfeed (which I thought just came naturally) and learning to trust myself. We didn't have a cut off date either, but slowly my supply dwindled and that was the end. The freedom is amazing and I loved breastfeeding by the end and would do it all over again (tears, cracked nipples, etc)

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    1. I do feel like my supply is slowly dropping so maybe it will happen the same way for us. It definitely has been worth it, but I am so thankful to be out of those initial weeks/months. It was such a relief when I reached the point that I was no longer dreading feedings, but as you said, I would do it again.

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  3. If I'm remembering right, I think I read in a previous post that Harvey had an allergy to dairy through your breast milk. Miles has the same sensitivity. Have you added dairy back in yet? If yes, how did you do it? I am vegetarian, so it has been tough for me to live without dairy.

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    1. Anna, I don't think HP ever had a full on allergy, just a sensitivity to dairy. I know how hard it is to cut it out when you don't eat meat--I was in the same boat. I noticed that he seemed less sensitive to it right around when he started eating solid foods (5.5-6 months). About once a month I would try and eat dairy and see if he had a noticeable reaction. For the first five months, it was obvious he reacted poorly, but by the sixth month it didn't seem to make a difference. In terms of feeding him dairy directly I waited until he was closer to 7 or 8 months. We started him with yogurt, then went on to cheese. So far, so good!

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  4. Sarah, I was one of those people who had no trouble breastfeeding and found it to be a wonderful experience. Lucky, I know. But by observing the cues from my kids, I knew when they were ready to quit. For David, it was shortly after he bit me at 11 months. He was soon down to one feeding a day and just seemed to lose interest after that. For Hope, it was at 13 months. Like you, I had plans to breastfeed longer, but I think kids have their own needs for greater independence and exploration as they grow, and it sounds like you're getting those cues from HP. Good for you for sticking with it when it was hard, and good for you for letting HP lead the way on weaning.

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    1. Ah, the biting! HP has gone through two separate phases of biting me--not fun. HP already has his own ideas about things, which is wonderful, but also means that a lot of my "plans" have never come to be. It's giving me lots of opportunities to practice flexibility and adjusting course midstream.

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