I've been nursing for 5 years. My first daughter nursed for 18 months, and at 3 ˝, my second baby and I are saying goodbye to breastfeeding. While she and I are physically more than ready for this change, emotionally it is more challenging than I thought it would be.
The truth is, she has barely nursed at all these last weeks. There is so little milk left that it is not a particularly pleasant experience, and when she does nurse, it's for only a minute or two. When she does ask, usually when she comes into my bed in the morning, she's pretty easily distracted or redirected. Often she doesn't ask at all.
She and I had talked about stopping when she turned 3 ˝, but things had become so infrequent, it seemed it might just happen on its own. But despite the reduction in actual nursing, she has seemed to need some closure in order to accept a final stop which would include no longer asking and understanding that we were truly done for good.
As a result, we have been planning an "end of nursing" party. (See related links below for my article on how to "End Breastfeeding with a Weaning Party.")
She wants a cake, and I am making a nursing album for her – photos of her nursing starting since she was minutes old until now. We'll take a photo of her nursing for the last time at the party and make that the last page of the book.
And then we'll be done.
I've been ready to be done for so long now, that I should be excited, but in truth I'm finding myself mostly sad. It's been hard to think about as her half-birthday has approached, and we've actually delayed the party now twice due to unexpected conflicts. I find myself thinking about those adorable nursing shirts and goodies sold in various places online that say "I Make Milk… What's Your Superpower?" and I'm finding myself feeling like Sampson, shorn of his hair or Superman standing before kryptonite. I am very aware that I am letting go of an experience, and a relationship with my daughter, that I will never regain. And knowing that she's my last baby has made it all the more poignant.
Being a breastfeeding mom has defined my identity now for many years, even in between the time I was nursing each child. Breastfeeding has brought me to this place of being of service to other mothers through writing here at BellaOnline and eventually earning my credential as a lactation educator. Nursing has brought me and my daughters long-lasting friendships and created the foundation for the type of parent I have chosen to be. Nursing provided pauses to allow my daughter to sit and hold one another and connect physically, mentally and emotionally several times a day.
I've told my daughter that even when we are not nursing anymore, she can still have mommy when she needs and wants me. We can snuggle and cuddle and hug whenever she likes. If she's thirsty or hungry, I'll get her water or food. And I think she's ready too, but we both know that we are letting something go that has been very special to us both. It's hard to even think about much less write about.
So why wean, you might ask? Why not just go on nursing each morning and now and then throughout the day? Why not just nurse her until she stops asking? Many mothers nurse their children well beyond this age.
Personally, my goal was always to nurse through cold and flu season past age two. I would have stopped at this time last year, but she was not even close to being ready to be done. But this year, she is busier. She often forgets or gets too distracted to bother. The less she nurses, the physically uncomfortable the experience has become. When time is short, I'll often tell her I don't have any milk ready right now and we can nurse later. I find myself hoping she'll forget or purposefully distracting her, and I don't want that to be how our experience ends. I want us to celebrate what we have shared… go out purposefully rather than unceremoniously let it trickle out. I don't want our last nursing experience to be me saying "no" and then have that be unexpectedly the last time she asks.
It's time for our relationship to shift into a new phase. She's learning to connect with me in new ways, to be comforted by my voice and my arms rather than defaulting to nursing. She's reveling in her new physical independence and separation, and at the same time clinging tightly. It's hard to imagine our lives without the easy comfort of nursing, but the end of something is always the beginning of something new – and I am eager to see what form of closeness fills the void.
These five years of nursing my daughters have provided a foundation of attachment, both literal and figurative, that will shape our relationships for the rest of our lives. I am so grateful to those who helped me to start down this path, and despite the end of my own breastfeeding relationship, I am honored to be doing the same for other mothers and babies. Hold those little ones and treasure every moment of even those sleepless nights and sore nipples – it will be over all too soon.