Before I even had children, even before I was pregnant, I knew that breastfeeding was something I wanted to try. When my son was born, there was a bit of a learning curve, but I fortunately caught on pretty quickly (within a few weeks), and that was that. My goal from the outset was to continue breastfeeding for one year, and it felt like that mark came and went pretty quickly. So now the question was no longer “how long will I continue?” it was “how long until I stop?”
I should take this moment to point out something kind of important: I’m speaking only for myself here. And who am I? I am someone who was fortunate enough to have breastfeeding work out for me and reach the goal I had (kind of, sort of) set for myself. I can’t pretend to know the emotional process of someone who decides to stop breastfeeding for any other reason than her and/or her kid's own readiness. Some women decide to stop because nursing makes her completely miserable, or her baby isn’t gaining enough weight, or her pumping schedule at work is too demanding, or her child self-weans, or she just doesn't want to do it, and those are all unquestionably valid reasons to stop.
Given how challenging (or downright impossible, or inadvisable) it is so for many women to breastfeed, "when do I stop?" wasn't a question I had foreseen needing to answer, but there I was.
Continuing the first couple months after the one year mark was a no brainer: He wasn’t interested in weaning and I wasn’t interested in weaning him. Breastfeeding was routine. It was so easy at that point, and there were benefits above and beyond all the health and emotional ones you’re always hearing about. For example, if I wanted him to stop crying? Boob. If I wanted him to go to sleep? Boob. (I swear, breastmilk is a sleeping potion.) If I wanted him to remain calm on a cross country plane trip? Boob. So it really came down to: “Why would I give up this amazing tool in my mom arsenal?” The answer would come over the course of the next few months, when breastfeeding wound up becoming waaaay more annoying than useful. Thus began the emotional journey of deciding to stop breastfeeding.
Stage One: Content Celebration
“Huzzah! I’ve gotten to where I’d hoped I would! High five, me! Let’s see where the wind takes us from here!”
Stage Two: Mild Annoyance
“Oh. You want to nurse… again? Ummm… okay. You just nursed three minutes ago and then got up to go play, so I assumed you were done. No, no, it’s okay. But… I’m not your vending machine, kid.”
Stage Three: Less Than Mild Annoyance
“No. No! You seriously can’t just pop on and pop off all day! Also, you just ate a full meal and then half of mine. You can’t possibly be hungry right now.”
Stage Four: Resolve
“You know what? I’m completely drained, literally. I can’t do this anymore. You’re 17 months old—it’s time to wean you.”
Stage Five: Guilt
“But you love it so much. And I love you so much. The World Health Organization recommends nursing until at least two. Who am I to argue with medical science? WHY AM I BETTER AT RESPECTING OTHER PEOPLE’S DECISION NOT TO BREASTFEED THAN MY OWN?”
Stage Six: Sadness
“I can’t do it. I just can’t do it! But I want to so badly. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH ALL THESE CONFLICTING EMOTIONS?!”
Stage Seven: OUCH! BOOB GOBLIN! YOU’RE A BOOB GOBLIN!
There’s no word that can expression the emotion one feels as their very strong now toddler reaches down their shirt (or shoves their head up it), frustratedly claws at their breast and shrieks, demanding milk. (Though maybe there’s a word for this in German? They have a word for everything.) The only thing you can think is that they are some sort of mythical beast sent to torture you.
Stage Eight: Hopelessness
You know you want to stop nursing now. The sadness is gone, but your self-assured resolve is gone. Because whenever you try “don’t offer, don’t refuse” or cutting out nursing sessions, your child the tit goblin rears their ugly head and it’s sort of useless to fight them.
Stage Nine: Renewed And Calmer Resolve After Consulting With Your Mom Squad
So you talk to your mom friends (I call them my Mom Coven). Your Mom Coven is the group of wise women who are always there to assure you you’re not crazy, your child isn’t incurably flawed, and you are capable of anything childrearing can throw at you… and that includes weaning!
Stage Ten: Success
You don’t know how it happens, but it does. One day, one magical day, all your weaning strategies pay off and the goblin has turned into a normal human child who will drink milk out of a cup now and doesn’t try to undress you in public anymore.
Stage Eleven: Melancholy
“Remember our bedtime nursing session? I would look down at your sweet, happy little face and that was the best part of my day…”
(You may need to eat some of your feelings to get through this stage. I recommend Ben & Jerry’s “The Tonight Dough.”)
Stage Twelve: Satisfaction
No matter when you stop breastfeeding, it's not a simple decision, and it's sure as hell not an easy decision to execute. Take a moment (or many) to bask in the not-insignificant accomplishment you just achieved.
Images: David D/Flickr