my breastfeeding story: weaning

I’ve written a lot about my challenges and successes with breastfeeding Alma, and now that it’s time to reflect on our final chapter, I’m finding it so difficult!

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I decided to fully wean Alma.  It was a very tough decision, and one that I did not make lightly.  I’ve mentioned before that my goal was to let Alma decide when she no longer needed to nurse.  Unfortunately I started experiencing an unexpected side-effect that progressively worsened over time.

When Alma was around 19 months, I started an attempt to night wean her.  Mostly because I really needed to get better sleep, and nursing several times a night was interfering with that.  Often times, when I nursed her during the night, I would start to feel such an unpleasant physical sensation – not so much pain, but a sort of sandpaper-like feeling.  Along with the physical uncomfortableness, several negative emotions would arise (irritation, anger, and thoughts of “I HATE breastfeeding!!!”).

There were many times when I would try to nurse her back to sleep, and the feelings were so overwhelming, I had to immediately unlatch her and leave the room in tears (Andrew would take over trying to soothe her).  I thought this intense reaction to night feeding was due to not getting enough sleep, so over the course of three or four weeks, I night weaned Alma.  Except for times when I gave into a 4 or 5am feeding in hopes of getting back to sleep!

After awhile, though, I started experiencing the same physical feelings and negative emotions during daytime feedings, even when I felt happy to nurse her before she latched on.  In general, I’ve always liked nursing Alma – the closeness, the comfort it gave her, the good nutrition, etc.  So the whole thing was very confusing to me.

In one of my breastfeeding groups, I had heard the term ‘breastfeeding aversion’ thrown around, but it was always by women who were nursing a toddler and pregnant with another child (no baby on the way over here!).  I did some reading about it, particularly this article, and discovered that it’s a very real thing, and that many women who breastfeed (while pregnant or not) experience these symptoms.

I read through quotes from women describing their feelings, and I immediately identified with their words.  The chalkboard sensation, the creepy-crawly feeling, the wanting-to-throw-your-baby-across-the-room urges (so hard to say out loud, because it’s really such a fleeting thought that comes totally out of nowhere, and of course, was never acted upon!).  

So, over Thanksgiving weekend, after just having several days of increased ‘aversion’, I decided it was time (for me) to wean.  I felt disappointed – like my body had let me down (again!) even though my mind and my heart still wanted to nurse Alma.  Then again, after struggling so much that first year of breastfeeding, I just didn’t have any more energy to keep fighting for it.

19 months

I decided on Friday morning that I would nurse Alma for the last time.  Because I had been feeling these symptoms for awhile, I had already begun slowly cutting down on Alma’s nursing sessions, and talking to her about a day when we would be “all done with nah-nah’s”.  But she was still nursing about 5x per day at that point, so I felt bad that it would likely be so confusing for her.

That first day was the hardest.  Mostly just at nap and during the night, because she was used to nursing to sleep (or almost asleep).  It was actually surprisingly easy to distract her during the day, but she was pretty upset at nap time.  She didn’t cry for long, and I was with her, attempting to soothe her.  She was mad at me though, and didn’t want me to snuggle with her, which was heartbreaking.  That night she woke up more frequently, and was restless, but she did let me close to her.

After the first day/night, things got a lot better.  Since then, there have been almost no tears at nap or bed time, or during the night.  Instead of nursing, we read a few books, then turn off the lights and rock in the glider while I sing her to sleep.  Sometimes she just falls asleep while we are reading the books!

I am really surprised at how well Alma has seemed to handle it all.  It’s hard for me, emotionally, when she asks to nurse, still.  It reminds me of my disappointment with how things ended, but there is also a sense of relief for myself.  Thankfully, she is very receptive to alternative offers (snack, hemp milk, reading books or some other activity).  I know that often when she asks to nurse, she is mostly looking for closeness with me.  So I’ve been trying to be especially present with her, keeping my phone out of reach, and finding other ways for us to maintain that closeness.

Emotions aside, weaning went pretty well, physically, for me.  I took some sage extract everyday, to help “dry up”.  By the third day, I was feeling pretty full, and noticing some areas were really hard and getting uncomfortable.  So I pumped a little bit then, and a little more the next day, just until the hard areas softened to my comfort.  A few days later, it seemed like the milk was “gone” (I’m still producing a small amount of milk, though, which can last for weeks, months or years!), and I felt back to normal again.

Now, I’m enjoying some of the perks of not breastfeeding, like not having to worry about wether my outfit is accessible/comfortable for nursing, drinking caffeine whenever I want (if I drank it too late in the day, it would affect Alma’s sleep), and wearing real bras!  Not to mention, nursing a toddler isn’t always cuddles & sweetness.  I do not miss having my mouth, nose, and hair prodded, poked, and pulled by wayward fingers (and sometimes feet!) :)

It’s also nice that she has learned not to rely on nursing to get to, or back to, sleep, in case it is necessary for someone else to help her with nap or bedtime.  Right now, I’m still on all nap/bedtime duty, because I didn’t want to change too much for her at once.  Perhaps, in the near future, we will start experimenting with Andrew rocking her to sleep at night.  There have been a few times in the past when she’s been receptive to that, but it’s not worth the tears if she’s not ready.

As painful as it was to end our breastfeeding relationship, I am proud of and thankful for how long I was able to nurse Alma, especially given our tumultuous beginning.  I’m not sure if I will ever nurse a baby again, since Andrew and I are leaning towards not having any more children.  In any case, I’m happy with my breastfeeding experience, and I hope Alma is too, even though it ended before she was fully ready.

Despite our challenges, I have mostly fond memories of nursing Alma, like this silly time when she tried to eat a pretzel while nursing:

it’s not working, mom

I will miss looking down at her sweet face, with that special milky-gaze we shared.  But I am also excited to move on to the next chapter in our growing relationship.

 

Read more about our first year of breastfeeding here:

Comments

  1. lfwfv says:

    Thank you so much for sharing and for your candor. I have heard of the breast feeding aversion, and have not yet experienced it. I do think that the breastfeeding experience needs to be working for *both* parties involved. So, weaning is a dance that both mama and baby play a role in. It sounds to me like you were so respectful of Alma’s feelings and did so many great things to help her transition. I’m sorry it’s been a rough road and things didn’t end as you had originally hoped. You did a wonderful thing by nurturing her through breastfeeding for so many months, and you have given her a great start in life! Way to go! And you continue to nurture her by being a sensitive, attentive, loving mama to her. I love the pictures of Alma nursing….looks so familiar to me. I love the wide-eyed, sweet gaze you share while nursing, and i think you will always have those wonderful memories.

  2. Nicki says:

    It sounds like you handled the need to make a difficult decision very well. We will have to make a lot of tough decisions as parents. There will be many decision that you have to make that your children may not like, but YOU know are in the best interest of the child. Congrats on being able to look at the entire picture and understand that your needs are important too. You wonderful mothering helped make this transition smooth no doubt. Thanks for this post on an important topic.

  3. I think it’s amazing that you made it that long! We’re at 13 months right now and although Nia still is very interested, I wonder how quickly that can change! I’m hoping to go as long as she wants to, but we’ll see. I know it’s tough; being a mother in general is tough. You are such an awesome mom to Alma!!!

    • Kim says:

      Thank you Char – I hope that you and Nia continue to be happy with your nursing relationship. She is such a doll!

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