24th January 2021 is the day I stopped breastfeeding.
What a bittersweet moment.
I get my body back.
My daughter loses her most well loved source of nurturance.
No more aversion. No more stinging nipples.
No more precious irreplaceable breastfeeding relationship.
It’s such a huge moment weaning a child from the breast.
My first breastfed for 38 months, through my second pregnancy and for 10 months alongside his baby brother. I’ll be completely honest, it was awful. I was completely neglecting my own needs thinking that in order to be an ‘attachment’ or ‘natural’ parent I had to breastfeed for a long time. I was pushing myself because of an external ideal. And it affected our relationship. Every time he breastfed, I hated it. Which was only a couple of times a day, I had already introduced strong boundaries and night weaned.
My second breastfed for 22 months. I was 3 months pregnant with my third and the aversion was savage. I wasn’t going to put either of us through the nightmare of pushing through aversion and the dynamic it created. I felt awful, I felt he was practically still a baby and had received a full 14 months less than his big brother.
And today, my little third child is 25 months old and I think I’m done. It stings like anything (I don’t know what’s up with her latch), the aversion is kicking in and I am ready to have my body back. I want to be able to cuddle her, hold her and sleep next to her without her constantly screaming ‘MIIIIIIIILK’ and clawing at my clothes.
For the first time in nearly 8 years I am neither pregnant nor breastfeeding.
It feels sad but necessary. I don’t want my ‘I’m completely over you touching my boobs’ vibes to cloud my beautiful relationship with my sweet daughter.
Into the next chapter we go.
Below is a little journal of the weaning process as it has unfolded between Summer and I.
We had a big day and she spent the afternoon with Mum with no nap so she went to sleep pretty quickly. She asked for milk a couple of times during the night but I gently said no and offered a drink and a cuddle instead. She cried while I held her and went back to sleep. I had been trying to night wean for a couple of weeks but it wasn't going as smoothly as with the boys.
I was at a birth from day break until later in the afternoon. She asked for milk and we had a big chat about how big girls have cuddles and babies have milk (of course big girls have milk in other families but I wanted to create some kind of new association for her). It's amazing what a 2 year old can comprehend and process. That night she asked for milk again and cried again but settled much more quickly.
The kids went with Mum for a few hours again today. In the afternoon Summer asked for milk a couple of times but wasn’t upset by the 'No'. I said, ‘big girls have cuddles’ and then she asked for a cuddle instead of milk. At bed time she asked to look at the milk and put her hand on it but was well aware that she couldn’t have any and didn't ask to have any. She got sleepy and wanted milk. She cried for a few minutes before falling asleep in my arms. She woke once during the night asking for milk and went back to sleep quickly. She didn’t ask in the morning.
She asked a couple of times during the day but didn’t expect a yes and was happy with a cuddle instead. She asked a couple of times at bed time but fell asleep quickly without getting upset. She didn't ask all night and self settled with a cuddle the couple of times she did stir.
Didn’t ask this morning. Didn’t ask all day. Asked to look at the milk at bed time. Made a little game of looking at it and pretending to touch it. Fell asleep in my arms while I read to the boys. Slept all night.
A week in she still asked here and there but wasn’t phased when I said no and offered a cuddle instead. By day 9 she had stopped asking altogether and things have really shifted. I think we're pretty well on the other side.
It feels really powerful to be offering her this gentle lesson in boundaries. That our bodies are our own, that our ‘No’ is sacred and that I can both give all of my heart and soul to my children while honouring my own physical, emotional and spiritual needs as a woman.
And she has slept all night for 6 nights now. HALLELUJAH!
After a solid 2 years of waking 3-6 times a night, my little woman is self settling during the night like a pro. She sleeps right next to me so I am able to help her adjust the covers and take her to the toilet if she needs to (we finished our EC journey a while ago so she’s now toilet independent).
I have to admit, while I’m 100% about letting kids move through their sleep developmental milestones at their own pace without force or coercion, I am pretty stoked that she is now finally self settling between normal nighttime wake ups.
And I feel so good in my body to have this sovereign space again. To fully own my body while my children fully own theirs and not feel like I am giving more of me than I want to.
She did this cute thing occasionally. When I said no, she’d say, ‘Otay, jus wook at it’. She had a look at my breast, gave me a big smile and carried on. Or sometimes when we’re in bed she’ll want to use it as a pillow and that satisfies whatever need she had.
There is a saying ‘mothering from the breast’ and it seems we continue to do that after breastfeeding finishes. Maybe it’s not the actual act of breastfeeding that young children (post babyhood) relish but the closeness, softness and warmth of being held at their mother’s breast.
When I was breastfeeding my first I was very judgemental of women who chose to stop breastfeeding their little toddlers. I felt (very righteously) that children should be breastfed for a few years at least. Well I've grown up a lot since then. Breastfeeding is a two way relationship and after a certain point (perhaps different for each child depending on personality, health conditions, etc.) breastfeeding is no longer such a critical thing.
And then there are mothers, the unseen half of the breastfeeding dyad. Dedicated, self sacrificing, giving, giving and giving until there is nothing left to give.
But there is no future in that.
Mothers are women too and we have needs.
Physical, emotional, intellectual, sexual, spiritual needs.
I am learning to look more closely within and identify what my needs are, then act!
Sometimes that looks like action, sometimes it looks like boundaries, sometimes it looks like difficult conversations, sometimes it looks like large chunks of uninterrupted time.
As my children grow up, so do I. This motherhood journey is one hell of an accelerated personal and spiritual development ride and I am grateful for every lesson. However painful they may be initially. I am learning more and more that to be able to give to my children the way I want to I need to prioritise myself and listen to what my heart and body are saying. They never lie. My brain on the other hand is often full of shit. I have always known the analogy 'put on your own oxygen mask before helping others' but to really feel and embody that is another step altogether.
To listen to what our body and heart signals are telling us is listening to our instincts. This should come naturally to us as animals but I believe nearly all of us are instinct injured. From the time of our own birth, we do not follow the natural rhythms of the earth or life and are given confusing and mixed emotional and social messages. The product of that is several generations of humans who suppress their natural urges, ignore their gut feelings and gradually kill their instinctual animal nature. So not only are our instincts damaged in our own lifetime, we inherit the epigenetic damage from our ancestors.
So I'm choosing to listen to those signals and redevelop my animal instinct. And this week, that involved stopping the breastfeeding relationship with my beloved daughter.
I feel like little Summer and I have moved into a new chapter in our relationship. I feel like she has grown up before my eyes this week and I couldn’t be happier. I felt grief at the cessation of that chapter but now I feel peace.
It feels right.
I think she’s pretty happy too.
I live in Darwin in Australia's Tropical North and am the mother of three beautiful children. I am blessed with working with women through their fertility, preconception, pregnancy, birth and early parenting journeys. I am committed to lifelong learning and am interested in nutrition and natural health, the childbearing cycle, natural parenting philosophy and practice and the spiritual journey of motherhood.