Any time a breastfeeding mom has the audacity to be honest about not loving every single second of nursing, the default advice is, “Why don’t you just stop?” I agree 100% that there are times when you may need to be reminded that you can and should stop breastfeeding if ever you want to, for whatever reason. But what if you want to continue and you just need some support?
After returning to work in January 2020, I struggled to cope with working a tiresome 70+ hour week as a new mom. As a housemistress in a boarding school, I was on duty from 7:00am until 11:00pm each day with two hour break. I worked these hours whilst nursing my son on demand whenever we were together – including overnight. Why did I do this? I genuinely loved the connection that breastfeeding gave my boy and I amidst the long hours of separation each day. I also wasn’t convinced that stopping breastfeeding before either of us was ready to do so would make my boy a better sleeper. Crucially though, I simply wasn’t prepared to end our nursing journey for the sake of a job.
My baby boy’s night wakings certainly didn’t help with the exhaustion, but actually he is still as wakeful now as he was then. The issue then was that I was trying to work a 70+ hour week on top of mothering as responsively as I could. After two painfully challenging, guilt-ridden months, I collapsed with exhaustion as I did a food shop on my day off. That day I felt angry at the world for selling me the unachievable dream of being able to ‘have it all’ as a working mom. I went to see my GP the next day and her well-meaning but completely unhelpful advice was, “Just go away for the weekend and when you come back your son will be so mad at you, he won’t want to nurse any more!”
In hindsight I knew deep down that I could not mother as I wanted to whilst working in my former role. However,I was so brainwashed to believe that my worth was determined by a job which I thought defined who I was. Consequently I clung to it for dear life, long after it served me or my family. If you had told me before my son was born that I would leave a profession that I loved and had been doing for over a decade to be a stay at home mom and a breastfeeding blogger, I would have told you that you were insane. But when my health forced me to stop and take stock, it was breastfeeding and mothering on my own terms that mattered to me most.
My GP admitted that the only guidance she could offer was rooted in her personal experiences and not her medical expertise. It was advice that she had followed when her own son was just eight months old and now she was passing it onto me. She recognized that it, “Wasn’t ideal,” but she had nothing else to offer. Not only did she completely ignore the fact that I was working almost twice as many hours as many people do, but I was doing it on around five hours of broken sleep each night. Despite these facts, her only advice was to wean my son off the breast, the one thing that I felt had kept me sane over the previous months. I will never truly know of weaning my boy prematurely would have enabled me to stay in a career that I had thought was mine for life. I do know though that if I had weaned my boy before he or I were ready, then I would have regretted it forever.
I believe that the reason for the lack of collective wisdom surrounding breastfeeding lies in the widespread popularity and use of formula over the last few decades. Whilst it has undoubtedly been a saving grace for many families, it has also robbed at least a generation of mothers of invaluable, first-hand experience of breastfeeding. This absence of this knowledge has left modern moms with a lack of support and guidance from peers and family figures. Consequently, when mothers struggle with any aspect of breastfeeding, the go-to recommendation for many, is a bottle.
If this article resonates with you, you are not alone. I started this blog in isolation and out of adversity with the goal of sharing my experiences and evidence-based knowledge with moms around the world. Thank you for finding me. Thank you for inspiring me with your struggles and thank you for trusting that I will do everything I can to support you on your nursing journey with fact-checked information, guidance and support. If you want to stop breastfeeding, you absolutely should and you do not require anyone’s permission to do so. If you want to continue though, but you need a little guidance, check out my debut book: ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition,’ available to pre-order now.