Weaning our son after 14 months of nursing came with strong and specific feelings. They included freedom, mommy guilt, relief, and grief. I’ve heard of babies who wean themselves. I’ve also heard of moms who “dry up” leaving little choice about the end of natural nourishing for moms and babies. Neither of these things were true for me and our son.
Just as I grieved the loss of my pregnancy the closer my due date drew, I also mourned the loss of our nursing experience.
I knew that I wanted to be a nursing mom and I believe in all of the physical and emotional benefits provided by healthy nursing experiences.
When we started the weaning process of replacing each nursing time with meals at 8 months, it was no big deal for him. We had worked hard to establish a regular feeding schedule which was my saving grace as a working and nursing mommy. (This included choosing to spend each lunch hour nursing him.) So, as long as we stayed on track with his feeding times, he loved eating and exploring new nutriments. He enjoyed being a part of our food rituals at home and at school. It was as if he barely noticed that I was slowly replacing one nursing time after another.
During this time my husband became more involved than ever before with our son’s nourishment. It helped create a stronger bond for them. I took joy in watching this relationship further develop.
Even though I was fine physically, the fact that our son seemed to be unphased by this process was hurtful to me. I had been so committed and worked so hard to ensure a successful year of nursing. I remember crying one afternoon as I handed him a sippy cup of milk while preparing a small meal for him. He looked at me with confusion and happily enjoyed his food.
Then, I thought to myself, “do I want him to be crying, too?” Of course I didn’t; so I let relief wash over me because he was doing so well.
By 11 months we were down to nursing twice a day. Each morning we enjoyed our bonding time together at 5:30AM and then again when we were reunited at the end of each busy day at 5:30PM. I loved this nursing schedule because it seemed to be the right balance for my sanity, our time together, and his independence. Even though I had replaced his noon nursing with a full lunch, I would still go see him everyday at that time. This helped to ease the psychological stress of the weaning separation for me and it kept a reliable schedule for him. He continued to be a happy little boy who seemed to barely notice that our nursing time was coming to an end. Because of this, I assumed weaning would be harder on me than him and so I pushed forward.
When I decided to begin the process of giving up one of our two daily nursing times it was hell. He cried, I hurt, and every time I offered him a cup of milk he appeared disgusted and confused. I was back to leaking from hardened breasts and feeling emotional about our son’s food source. Immediately following his birth, I had experienced strong emotions in the hospital when we started nursing. Only this time those overwhelming feelings weren’t from the relief of him knowing what to do, but sorrow about this particular phase being over, and the physical pain served as a constant reminder. I tried to comfort myself and him through dedicated bonding time at 5:30 each night. The crying lasted for 4 consecutive nights and included pulling on my clothing. I still snuggled him and talked to him, desperately trying to explain what I was trying to accomplish. My husband was a huge help during this time and he took over with the distraction of milk and after school snacks.
Looking back on those 4 days seems trivial, now, but my mommy guilt really kicked in during that time. I knew we were on the homestretch of weaning. I was grieving the loss of that experience for us but eagerly awaiting the freedom that would accompany the end. We continued on with our morning feeding sessions until my son was 14 months old. Giving up our last feeding happened more by happenstance than intention. We nursed for the last time on Friday, September 13th. On the next Saturday morning, my son slept longer than normal and when he woke, he was easily comforted back to sleep with a pacifier. When we started our morning a few hours later he ate a huge breakfast and was happy and content.
Over the following week we had our ups and downs. Some days he was fine and some days he wanted to nurse. This was physically the hardest time for me.
Within the first few days of total weaning, I was bloated, fatigued, and incredibly sore. My period started and added to my misery. Having it for the first time in almost two years felt like an additional shock to my system. I decided not to pump to avoid the inevitable supply and demand of nursing. I had a rough first few days. I saw my healthcare provider that Friday for a routine checkup and she suggested a little pumping just to take the pressure off of my extremely hard and swollen chest. A hot shower and some hand expressing did the trick that very night. (I have since learned that it can take months to completely “dry up” and the amount of time this takes is different for each nursing mom. I could still hand express small amounts of milk 6 months after weaning.)
My new found freedom had arrived.
I gave myself full permission to enjoy a guilt free glass of wine. I was excited to wake up each morning and indulge in a caffeinated cup of coffee. I had loved nursing and plan to breastfeed all of my babies, but I had finally come to a point where I was ready to have my body back after 24 months. It had been two years of carefully considering every last thing I was ingesting. Two years of making decisions based on how my body would directly affect our son. I was ready to have my body back. I was ready to have me back, and I was one step closer.