Monday, July 11, 2011

An era is ending

My youngest daughter is a month shy of 2 1/2, and I think she is almost ready to wean. Other than her bedtime breastfeed, which she still looks for every evening, her nursing has tailed off to occasional and perfunctory. She rarely feeds between waking and nighttime, sometimes asking for a nursing at naptime but often only having 5 minutes or so before deciding she'd rather have a cup of milk instead. She is growing out of nursing, gradually, gently and naturally, the way I'd always intended she should be able to.

Despite the fact that this is true child-led weaning, in which I am a great believer, I feel ambivalent about this development.

On the one hand, it's lovely to see her developing and changing. Also, not nursing (mostly) during the day has provided me with some welcome relief from having to be always on tap for her. She'll now consent to nap if put down by her father, or nanna, or the carers at creche on her one day a week there. She's with me 90% of the time at least, but not having to plan everything around the need to be feeding in the middle of the day is a good thing.

She's also developed some irritating nursing habits (except in her bedtime feed, when she's placid and snuggly) - scratching / picking at my belly-button incessantly while she nurses (which has led to near-constant bleeding), poking at my eyes, kicking me. These are all uncomfortable and annoying, and certainly mean that the rare daytime feeds she now has are not enjoyable for me. Seeing them trail off into oblivion is a good thing on this score, too.

On the other hand, the changing nature of our relationship carries some sadness for me. C is, and will be, my last baby - and breastfeeding has always been a vital part of how I define and affirm my relationship with my babies, and my self as a mother of infants.

Each of my children was breastfed, for increasing lengths of time as it transpired (A, my eldest, fed to 15 months; E, the secondborn, to 21 months; and C, now 29 months, is not yet weaned). As I moved through my maternal journey and read more, experienced more, thought more, child-led weaning became a core part of how I wanted to raise my own babies.

I know I've been lucky with breastfeeding - I've had milk in abundance, no issues ever with supply. I've also been persistent (or bloodyminded) enough not to call it off when it was excrutiatingly difficult getting started with the first and second babies - I pushed through staph infections, multiple mastitis, a baby who couldn't suck, and a baby with a clampdown bite to arrive at a workable feeding relationship. I didn't need to leave my babies for extended periods for work, which meant I had the luxury of time to establish and grow the breastfeeding relationship. I have a supportive partner and supportive friends and family.

My family and partner were also (more cautiously) supportive of my decision to self-wean. A, my firstborn, who weaned herself at 15 months when I was pregnant with my second, was entirely unproblematic for their collective worldview about how long babies "should" nurse. Even E, who was under 2 when she weaned, didn't raise any eyebrows with my partner, although I found I could not feed her with certain family members and friends present by the end. I am detecting a certain impatience now with the fact that C is still nursing, especially as she is so cavalier and mischievous in her daytime feeds; still, my partner knows that I want this to be C's timing, and he'll stand behind that decision, even if he'd secretly like her to be done now.

For me, I know I feel ready for C to completely stop feeding in the daytime, and I look forward to that transition being completed soon. Giving up the bedtime nursing, though ... ahhhh. It feels like the last gasp of her babyhood being extinguished. It feels like losing something. My breasts will never fulfill a nutritive function again, once she lets go of that last feed. Entirely natural, of course; entirely as it should be, when she's ready. But still bittersweet.


  1. Massive hugs xoxo

    This is a topic close to my heart as Harper just weaned and she is my last baby as well. Very bittersweet.

  2. Yeah I can hear you there. I breastfed both my girls to about 2 years old. Both weaned by themselves. And yes, it's a very ambivalent feeling and yes bittersweet.

  3. sending big hugs, i too have just stopped feeding my last ever bub (thanks to medication given from a misdiagnosis :( )

  4. so bitter-sweet...
    My last baby is 16 months old and has all but weaned... I am not ready for him to stop feeding, but it seems it is not my choice...