The breastfeeding relationship my son and I shared started out rocky. The lactation consultant in the hospital diagnosed me with “flat nipples” at day two and handed me a nipple shield to take home. Confused and frustrated, I spent hours trying to get the latch perfect (both with the shield and without), spent hours Googling different techniques, watching YouTube videos for how to get it “just right,” and cried… a lot. My husband made late-night phone calls to La Leche League mothers while we fed our baby expressed milk from a spoon as to not induce “nipple confusion.” There was my fury when the pediatrician suggested supplementing at the 10 day mark and gave my son a dose of formula in the office, right in front of me. The first six weeks or so were emotionally draining. I hated the nipple shield, diagnosed myself with over-active letdown, and thought about quitting the whole darn thing.
We finally got the hang of it, mostly, though it wasn’t always smooth sailing. He refused all bottles when I went off maternity leave, and only drank straight from the tap (I see keg stands in this kid’s future). But the exhaustion of reverse cycling (nursing 8-10 times at night to make up for lack of caloric intake during the day) was exhausting to say the least. I remember asking numerous times, “Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be this hard?”
In my idealist pre-baby moments I had hoped for a blissful 12 months of nursing. And then what? Well, um, hmm, I guess we would just… stop? The logistics of weaning hadn’t crossed my mind. I figured it’d just be “natural,” and just… happen? But, as I learned with the start of my breastfeeding relationship, there is nothing easy about the whole breastfeeding thing.
So here I am, with a lovely 18 month old son and we are still breastfeeding. Our 12 month goal came and went, and I didn’t really think about weaning because we had “just gotten the hang of it.” Maybe it’s like “bonking” in running, but I have hit this point where I was mentally and physically and emotionally exhausted from breastfeeding. Unfortunately, it’s one of my kid’s favorite activities. He refuses a pacifier and has zero interest in snuggling with a lovey. He knows what he wants, and what he wants is Mama… and preferably without her shirt on.
It’s complicated. On one hand I feel proud to have been able to get this far, and I’m happy to see that my son and I are bonded together in such an extraordinary way. On the other hand, I would like to have my body back and get more than four hours of sleep in a row. But it’s not just as easy as “cold turkey,” especially for a kid with very few other coping techniques.
I’ve come across the advice “If mom isn’t happy, then do something differently,” but that’s not all that helpful in the long-run. I’ve found a few gentle weaning tips online, but the prospect of a few more months of diligence and consistency seems daunting and exhausting. And my friends aren’t much help, either. While they’re in various stages of breastfeeding, we’re all trying to figure out when it’s right to stop breastfeeding and how to go about doing it.
So why, if my start to breastfeeding was so hard, did I expect it to just be easy stopping? Weaning is complicated, full of many conflicting emotions. Right now I’m trying to just take a few deep breaths and go with the flow. He can’t breastfeed forever… right?