Looking back on the breastfeeding goals I set prior to having children always makes me smile with a mixture of pride and irony. I knew that it was something I really wanted to try to make happen, but I also knew that it was not worth my mental or physical well-being if I couldn't. As it turned out, it wasn't breastfeeding that would prove my toughest breast-related challenge: it was weaning. I never take for granted that I am fortunate for surpassing my goals, but there were things I wasn't ready for after I successfully breastfed that caught me completely off guard. They aren't all bad, or anything, just surprising. Mostly.
I should make it clear, by the way, that one person's experience isn't everyone's collective experience. Everyone who sets out to nurse has a different relationship with breastfeeding and weaning and, moreover, everyone's body kind of does its own thing throughout the process. So by no means is this meant to be a list of things that will absolutely happen to every woman who has ever weaned a child. This is just an overview of what I experienced, and what I absolutely wasn't prepared for.
That said, a lot of bodies behave in similar ways and lots of people can sort of cluster and bond around a shared experience. So, in the spirit of sharing and mom-talk, here is some of what I went through that surprised me after I successfully breastfed my children:
The Overwhelming Feels I Felt Seeing Someone Else Breastfeed
I loved breastfeeding. I know not everyone does, but I totally did so when I see other moms nursing babies I get all jealous. Even though I was 10,000 percent ready to wean my kids when I did, overall the experience was wonderful. Seeing someone nurse still serves as a reminder of those lovely times and I get all emotional.
My Boobs Vanishing
Since puberty, I have been a member of the Sisterhood of the Blessed Chest. From age 10 to age 14, I went up a cup size a year. I’d always liked having big breasts, despite some of the problems that accompanied them. They just felt right. They got even bigger when I first started breastfeeding before settling into just slightly bigger than before I breastfed.
After I weaned my first child they went back to the size they’d basically always been. However, after I weaned my second they shrunk to a size they hadn’t been since I was 12. I had, um, many feelings, and not all of them were great. I used to joke that I could hear the sad trombone sound effect in my head every time I took off my bra.
Continuing To Lactate
My body apparently did not get the memo that we were done with that. Or it did and it’s continuing to produce milk as a form of protest. Point is, I continued to lactate for about six months after my children suckled their last.
Losing My Silver Bullet
For my child’s entire life, sticking my boob in their mouth was a surefire way to solve any problem. Need to get them to sleep? Breastfeed them. Want them to be quiet in a restaurant? Breastfeed them. Do they need comfort? Breastfeed them. Need 10 minutes of some goddamn quiet? Breastfeed them.
All of a sudden that old crutch has been broken over your knee and lies shattered in pieces on the floor. You gaze wistfully at the splinters of bygone days and realize you’re going to have to learn some new tricks. Ugh. It was seriously the most useful parenting hack of all time.
My Boobs Coming Back
Shortly after I resigned myself to the idea that I was destined to live a life of perfectly average sized breasts (which in and of itself is totally fine, by the way, just not what I was used to), the Boob Fairy sensed something was amiss and paid me a visit. One morning I looked down and realized, “Hey! They’re back! They’re back to just the way they were before! It’s a weaning miracle!”
Again, every body is unique and handles breastfeeding and weaning differently. I know some women who were never able to “lose the last of the baby weight” until after they weaned their little ones. But in my case, I lost a ton of weight very quickly while breastfeeding, only to gain some of it back after weaning. It makes sense, since breastfeeding burns calories, but I thought I’d somehow scammed the system in dropping some vanity pounds without taking any special measures.
Because I was so done when it was over, I figured I would just be dancing a happy dance for the rest of forever that I was no longer breastfeeding. But the truth is, not long after my children and I were done I wound up getting all these warm fuzzy feelings that were sometimes a bit complicated. I was surprised because normally that sort of fond reminiscing doesn’t happen so soon after something is over — it takes years or even decades to get to that place. But when it came to breastfeeding, it was almost instant.
Still Having A Tiny Toddler's Hand Down My Shirt
Apparently it wasn’t just my body that didn’t get the memo. My children continued to see my breasts as a source of comfort, and would casually slip their hand into my cleavage. They’d do this when they were tired, scared, or in need of comfort. They would also do it when they were feeling especially loving or absent-minded. It’s annoying, but also kind of cute.
Wanting Another Baby
Within eight months of weaning my son I was pregnant with my daughter. As soon as I weaned my daughter, I began to look at newborns the way cartoon mice look at a wedge of cheese. I don’t know whether I should blame the nostalgia or the hormones or what, but infants became absolutely intoxicating.
If I could have just spent my days standing in front of daycares, begging people to let me sniff their infant’s heads, I would have. Complicating factor: when I’m not getting a contact high off a 3-week-old newborn, I am very much Team “Two and Through.” So fighting this war with myself about desperately wanting another baby, but really, really not wanting any more children is tough and not at all something I expected.
The Pang Of Jealousy Upon Hearing Someone Nursed For Longer Than I Did
It makes zero sense whatsoever. Not only was I definitely ready to be done with breastfeeding, but I know it’s not a contest; everyone just needs to make the right decision for them, whether that’s three days or three years. Still, what can I say? I’m a Capricorn: we’re naturally competitive.
The Thrill Of Freedom
I knew it would be good not to be tied down to nursing, but I didn’t know it would be this good. I can hardly remember what it feels like to just be able to go somewhere without having to worry about feeding my child or what I’m going to do about painfully engorged breasts if I do go off on my own for a bit. Certainly there’s a lot to miss about breastfeeding my babies, but having this heady rush of freedom from breastfeeding means that the memories are quite enough to make me happy.