There are some topics that are difficult to share with others. For me, this is one of them. I know that it is totally normal for many women to go through a postpartum period while or after they are weaning their baby from breastfeeding, but it is something I seldom hear about. I was never told that weaning could potentially be a difficult process for both baby and mother, and that some moms can even experience depression. Most of the people in my sphere either never nursed, nursed for a small period of time, or felt so desperate to be done nursing that they experienced no mourning period. I felt really alone one night in realizing I was sad about weaning, and so I researched about the topic. I found many other mothers out there who experienced weaning as I have and also had a difficult time in the process. That information greatly encouraged me that I was not weird or alone. I wanted to share my experience with many of you in case you are feeling sad about weaning.
While this topic is often not talked about, there are major hormonal changes in the body when breastfeeding that are released. Breastfeeding stimulates the production of hormones such as oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”. Besides hormonal changes taking place, many women report feeling a profound sense of grief and loss during the weaning process. See this article for more information: Weaning And Depression Linked In Many Women
Breastfeeding my daughter has been one of the greatest joys since I gave birth to her. Originally I decided to breastfeed based on health factors alone. I never really imagined it would become such a bonding activity that would bring us so much joy.
We have had moments of pure laughter, moments of sweet cuddling, moments of boundary setting, and moments of learning to trust one another and be patient with each other through breastfeeding. I have been amazed at the natural gift God has blessed me with to be able to nourish my child with my own body. I have cherished many quiet feeding moments with my child in which my only purpose was to spend time with her, gaze into her eyes, and sustain her. I am grateful for the time because neither of us has gotten sick once, which is amazing. Also, I love the incredible bond we have.
I come from a family where none of the women nursed their children. Naturally, it felt like all odds were against me. At first, I felt like the odd man out. I think my family was fascinated by the fact I could nurse with relative ease (not going to lie, it hurt at first!). Then I hit three months of nursing and they were like, “are you done?”. Then I hit six months. And I hit my goal- twelve months. At that point the health benefits for myself and her were working so well I hated to stop. Also, it was my “cuddle time” with her every day and I was afraid to take it away. At that point my family stopped asking and just gave me eyebrow raises. I stopped justifying myself to my pediatrician, who just seems to be against nursing after twelve months. Well, folks, now I am weeks away from two years of breast feeding. I am thrilled with the accomplishment, but to be honest, I never expected to breastfeed my baby this long. I was just hoping I could do it for a few months without throwing in the towel.
Finally, the moment I have been dreading has happened. My daughter discovered the word “boobies” and now says it anytime, anywhere, as loud as possible if she is feeling the need for a boob fix.
This does not make me happy.
While it typically induces wild laughter from those around me, I cannot help but feel like a freak mom. Alright, sometimes I do laugh because it is funny.
I’ve known for a while it is time for me to wean her. All of the common issues are rising which cue me to take the next step: she is acting frantic, I am tired of my boobs being yanked on, and I am ready for my space. I know she has gotten a great amount of health benefits and can now benefit just fine from solid foods and calcium rich foods.
I’m so torn. A part of me is ecstatic at the notion of having my body back, but another part of me isn’t ready to let go of an activity that carries such a heavy amount of emotion, affection, and memories. I think deep down I also know that she will no longer be dependent on me to live. She will no longer officially be my “baby”. She is growing up. I hate how fast she is growing. It seems like just yesterday I brought her home from the hospital!
But the other part of me is so grateful that she is growing up so beautifully. I love that she is gaining her independence. I love knowing that we can transition together through new phases and still keep a close and vital relationship with one another. I know she will always be my baby, and that she is still dependent on me- just in different ways. I need to remember that it is my job to help her wean throughout childhood until she is a proficient adult who can care for a family of her own. I owe that to her, and I should never be selfish to hold her back in a stage she is grown out of.
So that’s where I am. I wanna hold my little baby forever, caress her soft cheek, and coo at her while I nurse her.
But I also want to do what is best for her and for me, too. I want her to know that she is a big girl and that she will be alright if she transitions to something new and different. I do feel ready for us to be a little more independent of each other. Nursing is amazing, but it is a huge responsibility.
I will miss looking into her deep blue, sparkling eyes for what seems like an infinite amount of time. I will miss having multiple, intentional, cuddling sessions with her each day. I will miss her little body melting into my eyes as she does her favorite pastime. I will miss watching her little eyes roll back in her head as she latches in total happy land. I love how she twirls my hair and twists my necklace. I love the sweet, quiet space we have together where no words need to be exchanged but it is understood how much we love each other.
I have found that even though I feel ready to wean and I am weaning gradually I still feel a sense of loss and sadness. Weaning is closing a special period in our lives together.
The bottom line is this: The hardest part of parenting is letting go. This is my first major “letting go”. Down the road I will let go of my daughter over and over again, until I finally let her go into the real world. My job is the be there for her, encourage her, and be strong. I want her to know that if she needs me I am there, but that I am also gently urging her to live her dreams independent of me. I need to remember that she will always need my presence even if it is expressed in other ways. This is barely the beginning.
I recommend this article on Gradual Approaches to Weaning from The Art of Breastfeeding. It gives some good ideas for boundary setting gradual weaning.