The One Thing You Need To Know If You're Missing Breastfeeding After Weaning
As with pretty much any topic having to do with the female body, breastfeeding enters our culture amid a perfect storm of conscription and contradiction. Women often feel pressure to breastfeed, but at the same time are looked down on for breastfeeding and receive or have access to inadequate breastfeeding support services. While the CDC recommends exclusive breastfeeding, only 18.8% of infants meet that goal. Now, whether nursing is right for you and your family is beside the point (and, more importantly, absolutely no one else's business), but the fact remains that new parents who want to breastfeed their children face not just logistical challenges and an oftentimes steep learning curve, but social obstacles as well. So it stands to reason that when a mom succeeds in nursing her baby, there is a reasonable amount of pride that goes along with it.
And why shouldn't there be? On top of all the challenges you may have faced to accomplish this goal, you have the satisfaction of knowing that your body is sustaining your child. How cool is that?! It's like having a superpower. A leaky, calorie-rich superpower. And the social and biological pride you may feel isn't the only thing to like about nursing. While some hate every baby suckling moment of it and count down the days to whatever date they've committed themselves to, others delight in myriad aspects of this "natural" experience. The guaranteed cuddle time, the excitement your child demonstrates before they eat, the contented, on-boob smiles they flash at you, the smell of milk on their breath, the moments where it feels like you are the only people in the world... For some people, there's a lot to recommend breastfeeding beyond the benefits to your baby.
But as time goes on — a month, or three, or six, or 12, or 48; there are no wrong answers here — the time will come for you to wean your child. Maybe it will be your decision. Maybe they will decide on their own, like, "You know what, this was great, but I'm ready for the check, please. Thanks."
And at first this may come as a relief to you. Because as much as you love nursing, there are annoyances that go along with not being able to have your body to yourself. As things start to wind down, you may revel in your newfound freedom. But there may also come a time when the annoyances fade in the background a bit and you long for the times you and your child shared together. You might miss that unique experience that only you could provide them that gave both of you such a sense of satisfaction and happiness. Because now? No more on-boob smiles. No guaranteed cuddles. Your baby is getting bigger and more independent and they need you less and less to make their way in the world (except, it seems, at 4:30 in the morning when they have to let you know that they "really love ducks" or whatever).
For some women, breastfeeding may have become so much a part of their life that it is part of their identity as a mother and a woman, and weaning may put them into a little bit of a crisis mode. It's like Empty Nest Syndrome, but... more boob related. So maybe Empty Boob Syndrome? Anyway. The point is, your baby is weaned now and it's kind of giving you all the feels.
So what do you do? What is the one thing you should know in times such as these? This:
Your body remains a tremendous source of comfort to your child.
There's still hugging, chasing, kissing, snuggling, and tickling. Lifting the bottom of your shirt to blow on your belly and running relays around your legs. Your body will continue to be an important player in parenting your child.
When I weaned my son, I was ready to be done. The first night I didn't nurse him before bed, I handed him his blanket and wore a high collared shirt. I sat in the same chair and rocked him. He pawed at my breast to no avail; He was not pleased, which in turn made me feel like a withholding monster. "It's OK, sweetie," I told him over his whining. "We're just learning another way to cuddle." I didn't realize until the words escaped my mouth that I was comforting both of us. I also didn't realize how true the words were.
We weren't losing anything, at least not any of the truly meaningful aspects of nursing. Weaning was just another piece of the story we were building together. Yes, the physical act of feeding my child from my body was ending, but every emotion that act nurtured was still firmly in place, just waiting to be applied and explored in different ways. Milky smiles give way to delighted giggles and a burgeoning sense of humor (which is often fart-related, but believe it or not, even that can be adorable sometimes). The excitement they used to show before nursing will be directed toward books, movies, and games that you will read, watch, and play together. Breastfeeding your child is just one of the beautiful experiences you will share with your child. Have fun with the ones that follow.