Monday, 11 May 2009

Confessions of a breastfeeder

When I thought about breastfeeding during my pregnancy, I had no conception of how much it would impact me. I had no idea that it would bring me such joy. I couldn’t fathom that one day I would have to stop nursing my baby and it would break my heart.

Neither Deaglan nor I knew what we were doing that first week or two. The aftercare nurses on the maternity floor tried to teach me. It definitely didn’t come naturally to me or him. Once my milk came in I felt relieved. But still the baby was at my breast for up to an hour at a time. How was I going to get a break this way, I wondered? He eats every two hours or so and at each feeding he eats for an hour. Was this right?

I was exhausted and afraid of doing everything wrong. It was one of the midwife team members who asked me the right questions. How is breast feeding going? How long is he drinking for? That’s too long; show me what you’re doing. Okay I see what the problem is. Here’s how you do it – bring the baby to the breast not the breast to the baby. Keep at it. It won’t feel natural at first but by about week six you’ll be in sync with each other.

And it did feel odd every time for the first couple of months. What a strange sensation to have this tiny human feeding from one of my body parts.

But the midwife knew what she was talking about because by the second month we were in tune with each other and the odd feeling faded. I know that breastfeeding doesn’t work out for everybody; several people I know, who had babies around the same time as me, couldn’t do it for one reason or another. I felt fortunate that the little effort I put in created a successful experience for me. It was so convenient and inexpensive. And the time we’ve spent together has been some of the greatest gifts of my life.

During my pregnancy, I had read that a baby should be breast fed for at least six months. So that was originally how long I planned to do it for. But once the six month marker came and went, I couldn’t even imagine stopping. I did start introducing solids but as a complement to breast milk. My next goal became to stop by 10 or 11 months so that he could be independent when daycare started. But even then I didn’t feel either of us was ready to completely stop. So I weaned him during the day and was able to nurse him from 5pm on. This worked out really well for the first few months of going back to work.

Work was difficult in the beginning. The separation was unbearable. But that’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say that I felt like I was doing something wrong in being away from him. It took several weeks for me to feel relaxed at work.

I knew that I had to think about weaning but none of the reasons seemed very compelling. I loved the time we still spent together while he was nursing. He is such a happy kid. I’d read articles after articles which championed toddler breastfeeding. Studies show that North America is one of the few places that stop so early. Many countries in the world continue until children are four years old. The benefits to the children beyond some well known health benefits such as fewer and less severe infections, decreased risk of some childhood cancers, are an increased sense of security in their own independence, increased sense of pleasure which leads to happiness for both the mother and child.

But too often, mothers who have had a trouble-free go at breastfeeding and who have enjoyed it, feel pressure to stop after a year. There is a sense of being judged or disapproved of if you continue to breastfeed past one year. Yet UNICEF has always encouraged breastfeeding for two years or longer.

My goal was to wean him completely by the end of April. I tried not to think about my own feelings about it, only the technical aspects. He can’t depend on me forever I seemed to be arguing for the proponents of stopping. And I will go back to a normal breast size. But the part of me I was consciously shutting out wanted to scream. I reasoned with myself that our relationship would not change. He would still love me the same, need me the same, want to hug and kiss me the same. But that part I refused to hear threatened to scream even louder.

On the surface a large part of me was ashamed to still be breastfeeding at 16 months old. Was this some kind of a weakness in me? Was I encouraging dependence? The questions and answers swirled around in the back of my mind day and night.

Then I read Catherine Connor’s post one day and finally wept. I cried because she had written about this experience as I had been experiencing it. I cried because the thought of this experience ending for us made me irrepressibly sad.

I read and re-read articles. At the beginning of his life it was so that I could understand him, why wasn’t he sleeping through the night, was he getting enough to eat? Now I wanted to find reasons to continue. I wanted scientific evidence that would give me permission to continue nursing. And all of the articles supported breastfeeding well into the toddler years. So why did I feel this pressure to stop? Who was making me feel this way? Shaune had never said anything to suggest that time was up. And so far I hadn’t discussed it with even my closest people for fear of being judged.

So in keeping with my plan, on April 30th I tried to stop. I was sad all day long at work, more sad than I’ve been in a long time. I cried. Deep sad crying, like when you lose someone. Grief consumed my body; the rationalizations no longer a help.

I called Shaune at work. Sobbing, I told him that I wasn’t ready yet.

“No one is telling you to stop nursing him. I’m okay with it. It’s nobody’s business how long you want to breastfeed for.”

I got off the phone and let relief fill me up. I had someone’s permission to keep going. Why did I need it? It was my body wasn't it?


  1. All the pressure is cultural pressure. I felt guilty because I needed to stop. Grant was taking forever at each feeding and I had 3 other boys to take care of. You do what you need to do as well as what you want to do.
    As far as timing, only you know what is right for you and your family.

  2. Kim, thanks for sharing your experience with all of us. I felt tons of pressure to wean my kids. I breastfed all of them. Each of them for nearly two years. They all stopped (on their own) around 22 or 23 months old. A child will wean naturally. It's a wonderful experience between mother and child. Though the little bites and tugs are not too much fun for mom:)

  3. I wish had some words of wisdom to share with you Kim. But considering I don't have a child, I don't know how hard this must be for (although it's evident in your writing that it is tearing you apart.)
    All I can say is this: do what you feel is right. It's your body and your baby. Don't let anyone make you feel bad for your decisions. Only you can decide when to wean.
    Chin up and know that NO MATTER WHAT, Deaglan is still going to love you. You're his mommy. :)

  4. T Rex is nearly 18 months and has no interest in giving up his morning and evening breastfeeding sessions. And my pediatrician gave be a BIG thumbs up at his 15 month well check that we were still going strong. She says to keep going as long as we want - I don't think she means past age 4 and maybe at some point we'll have another little one that will need to be nursed.

    I agree with all the previous comments - do what works for you and Deaglan. It will work it self out.

    And I'm one of those North American women who still feeds her toddler. Admittedly the stigma I get from others is at times uncomfortable but I certainly feel I'm doing what's best for my child and that's more important to me than what anyone thinks!

    You rock! I'm passing my double thumbs up onto you!

  5. I cried when my son stopped breastfeeding...and I did it for more than a year as well...the time will come and you won't have to force it! Treasure the time. You are a wonderful Mom!!!! ~Janine XO

  6. My daughter gave birth to a sweet baby girl two weeks ago. The baby had jaundice. (Real bad case. She wouldn't feed, was extremely listless and had to be re-admitted to the hospital. So my daughter was beside herself. The nurses put the baby on soy formula because she couldn't handle regular formula and was too weak to nurse. Now my daughter is having trouble getting the baby to nurse. I am going to show her your story. Because she is still working with the lactation nurse. Your success story will help, I think. My daughter-in-law had a hard time deciding to ween my grandson. But at 18 months she decided it was time. You'll know when you and your son are ready. They are small for such a short time. Enjoy him.

  7. Kim... I'm so proud of you to continue breastfeeding. If it would have worked out for us, I would probably be doing the same thing. We have a friend who recently chose to stop breastfeeding her baby (he's 7 months old)... I resented her for being able to and I resented her for stopping the breastfeeding. I hate having to give my little man formula and feel so embarrassed when I have to mix his bottles and feed him in public.
    So you can't win either way... continue to do what is right for the two of you and don't worry about everyone else!

  8. if it feels right, you should do it. there certainly isn't anything wrong with it!

    i knew a woman that breast fed until her child was 3 years old. that seemed to be a bit much, but then again maybe that isn't fair of me to say.

  9. Thank you for telling your story. i think you should breastfeed for as long as you want. deaglan will tell you when he is done and you will know it too. you are so fortunate that you are still able to breastfeed....i think that is awesome.

  10. I think parenting, whether it's breastfeeding, letting your child "cry it out," etc.... is instinctual, and you should go with your gut...

    A happy mom makes a happy family!

  11. The breastfeeding pressure is INSANE. Although I tried every trick in the book, including almost going broke hiring a lactation consultant, I couldn't successfully breastfeed. It broke my heart, and I got loads of disapproving looks from strangers when I had to pull out a bottle to feed my babies. I would find myself launching into a long winded speech about why I couldn't breastfeed, just so people would know bottle feeding wasn't my first choice. My bestfriend had no problem and breastfed her son until he was two and a half. She also got the disapproving looks. Know what? Both kids are perfectly fine, happy and healthy.

  12. My last two babies didn't feed well. When my Sonflower had to wean, it broke my heart. I sobbed and sobbed. I knew from previous experience that i could be a good cow, but these last two pregnancies were just different, and i just COULDN"T breastfeed them past 2 months.
    I got over it Kim, and they both absolutely adore me regardless. Constant nuzzling, singing softly in their ear, and loving them with all my heart has seen them never at a loss because of it.


  13. What a wonderful post!

    I have breastfed all of my babies, the last two well past 1 year. Sylvie is still nursing every few hours (at age 10 months) and I have no plan to stop anytime soon. I know when the day comes that she's no longer interested, I'll be heartbroken, too...

  14. Wow, Hooray for you. Thanks for sharing this journey. Noah was 9 weeks premature and was never fully breastfed. By the time he could nurse, a month later after his birth, my milk had to be supplemented with formula for his growth and health. I believe my milk never fully came in. He never really seemed satisfied with breast milk, So, I stopped nursing at six months because Noah bit me so much. Others told me that was not normal...Long story short, I stopped. I tried to start again, but he rejected nursing. If I could go back, I would have done more research, looked for different answers. I longed for his touch. Hooray for you for finding your way. Hooray for you husband for supporting you. Keep being such an awesome Mom!

  15. This was such a wonderful post! Thank you for being so honest with us. I too felt a ton of pressure to wean my daughter (from both friends & family members) and I found myself worrying constantly about what others would think. Which is embarassing to admit now.

    It funny how much parenting can make us grow as an adult/individual. I'm finally reaching a point in my life where I'm realizing that it's more important to do what's best for myself and my family, and just quit being concerned about pleasing everyone else around me.

  16. Oh I am so very glad I read this post today. My daughter is almost 9 months old and I'm getting pressure to stop...but I'm not near ready. I'm not stopping until I say so!


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