Breastfeeding was just so hard in the beginning. Learning to latch. Hand expressing colostrum for days. Engorgement. But mostly, not knowing what on earth I was doing and whether or not I was doing it right. More than anything, in the those early days, I simply needed someone to hold my hand. I had no idea then that I would feel exactly the same at the end of our breastfeeding journey.
Well into my son’s second year of nursing, I used to wonder what people meant when they talked about feeling touched out? I had been back at work since my boy was around 9 months old (in between various global lockdowns), and I had always been excited to rush home to nurse him. It had felt so wonderful to be reunited after spending the day away from one another. My heart broke a little when that changed as we approached three years of breastfeeding.
By this point I had been working from home for almost a year and I was still nursing on demand. Something had shifted. Was it being together 24/7? Was it the fact that my son was much bigger physically now? Or maybe because I was craving more time and space for myself? Whatever the reason, I started to feel frustrated and resentful when he asked to, "Boob.” Shortly after my son’s third birthday, I realized that there was a pattern to my feeling touched out. I was experiencing feelings of aversion mostly when I was ovulating and just before the start of my period. I had read about breastfeeding aversion being common around the time of a mother’s menstrual cycle and so initially I put my feelings down to that. Besides, I was committed to natural term weaning, wasn’t I?
I spent some time journaling and reflecting and realized that I was happy to nurse my boy first thing in the morning and overnight, but throughout the day I felt like I needed some respite. I hadn't realised until that point that I needed to actively give myself permission to wean, guilt-free. I decided to implement some breastfeeding boundaries during the daytime. And so the conversations began with boy about how one day, when he was bigger and stronger, all the milk would be in his belly and there would be none left in my boobs. My tone during our first conversation was light and casual, but he was not even remotely impressed! His reaction was visceral and I felt so guilty for causing his heartbreak.
Over weeks the conversations became less and less intense and so little by little I started to say, “No baby, not now” when he asked to nurse at various points throughout the day. Sometimes that triggered some despondent whimpers and pawing at my top. Other days a full-blown meltdown ensued. However, day by day these disappeared and our new routine of nursing just twice and day and during overnight wake ups commenced. For a month or so this felt manageable and enjoyable. And then it started to happen again. My son would nurse to sleep and my skin would begin to crawl. Why was this happening to us? Was my body done with giving so much of myself? What about my goal of natural term weaning?
Ultimately I came to the decision to wean my son off the breast after a bout of illness. Both he and I were physically and mentally exhausted and I was struggling to cope with his desire to be attached to my breast almost overnight. He had previously been sleeping through the night in the previous months, but this latest bug made him cling to me like a koala 24/7. The more he clung, the more I felt like running in the opposite direction. One night I broke. “I can’t do this,” I whispered to my fiancé between deep sobs. “I can’t do this.” He took our son downstairs, screaming his heart out as I buried my head under the covers. Something needed to change.
I felt so guilty that things had gotten to the point where I was at breaking point before I had introduced more loving boundaries and alternative ways for me to connect with our precious son. I vowed not to let that happen again and to come up with a plan. It is only with hindsight that I realize that it was my lack of boundaries and my lack of confidence in introducing them in a clear and kind way that was the issue. My son could feel my anxiety and apprehension surrounding weaning through my whole approach to the process. As his mother he needed me to take the lead and guide him through the process. And so I set about creating a plan. I drew upon my experience as a teacher of 13 years and my understanding of developmental psychology to create a strategy to wean my precious boy off the breast, gradually and with love.
Over the next few months I dropped the morning feed - in constant communication with our boy. We started to layer comfort associations like stacking pancakes and slowly, I started limiting his bedtime and overnight feeds too. In the last month he had been nursing for just a minute before being rocked to sleep by myself or his daddy. I remember wondering at one point if it was me who was clinging on to those few precious moments before bed and not him?
It was during that last few weeks of breastfeeding that my mood plummeted. I can only compare the feeling to the way I felt a few days postpartum - but worse. Living in a haze, my mood was erratic and my tears frequent. I found myself plagued with nightmares, waking up in the early hours of the morning & nauseated at various points of the day. I questioned my decision on a daily basis but as sure as clockwork, every day my son nursed to sleep, I felt my teeth clenching through the discomfort. I was so ready to stop completely - I just needed to get through these weaning blues.
In the week before our last feed, I suggested to my son that we choose a date for the last time that he would, “Boob.” I expected tears and a tantrum like no other and was completely taken aback when he said, “Ok, how about tomorrow?” At that point my eyes welled up and I squeezed him tight. He was ready, but was I? In the end, my boy nursed one more time after his, ‘last feed.' It was in the middle of the night after his daddy & I had been out on a Valentine’s date. I absentmindedly allowed him to latch onto me in the wee hours, thinking nothing of it. Part of me wishes that I had known that would be the last time, but another part of me is glad that it was so natural and gradual. My weaning blues subsided a few weeks after we had completely stopped breastfeeding - they had lasted around 8 weeks in total.
Introducing breastfeeding boundaries took so much more of me than I anticipated, but I wish I had done it before I got to breaking point. Perhaps I needed to in order to feel confident about my decision to wean? Perhaps actually, just like at the beginning, I just needed someone who had been there and done it to hold my hand and guide me every step of the way.
It would be my privilege and pleasure to hold your hand and help you to stop breastfeeding gently and at a pace that suits you. Buy my hour long Weaning With Love webinar & get my 33 page guide for free, here using code BOGOF (just remember to add both to cart).
I look forward to helping you stop breastfeeding too.