The End of Breastfeeding
My son giving my one-week-old daughter a formula bottle
As we work on our April baby issue, the beginning of breastfeeding's on our mind. Here, blogger Paige Wolf ruminates on the guilt and ambivalence ending breastfeeding can bring.
With my son, breastfeeding came easy and naturally. I know I was lucky that way. But even though it felt relatively easy, I didn’t really contemplate going much longer than six months. At the time, six months felt like a sufficient amount of time, and most other mothers I knew weren’t nursing too far beyond that benchmark. In fact, I planned a long weekend out of town just after my son turned seven months, so I was ready to wean and go enjoy a few relaxing days in the sun, pump-free.
As years went by I began to second-guess my decision to stop nursing at six months. Was going on vacation really an appropriate reason? Why didn’t I realize formula was going to be so expensive and annoying to shlep around? All of a sudden the mothers I knew were telling me they nursed for 15 months, 18 months, two years. Why was I so quick to wean?
So when I had my daughter I was resolved to nurse for closer to a year. But my hopes of nursing at all were almost dashed by an awful spell of postpartum anxiety. Fortunately I was able to recover and resume exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months (though we did start solids at four months — this kid loves to eat!)
After six months I decided it was time to stop pumping and allow another caregiver to feed the baby one formula bottle each day while I was working. It was a comfortable enough pattern and I felt free enough knowing that I could be away for a feeding and not have to worry about it.
But as the half-year mark passed, a few selfish thoughts began to nag at me. Would I ever lose the remaining baby weight if I continued nursing? Would losing this extra five pounds improve my performance in CrossFit competition? Will I ever be able to escape the worst winter the Northeast has ever seen and take a vacation without my children who I refuse to travel with until my son turns 5 and hopefully gets a grip?
I should probably keep these thoughts to myself, but I promised myself that my blog would be an honest outlet for readers who might be afraid to voice similar feelings.
Meanwhile, I really do enjoy breastfeeding. Maybe even more this time around. In addition to all the health benefits I know I am giving my daughter, I feel that close connection, enjoy the ease of not having to make bottles and enjoy the fact that I am saving plenty of money on formula. I even find it relaxing.
The day my son first bit me with his new teeth was the day I put my breasts away. But even with her sprouted new teeth, my daughter only bit me once before figuring out that biting a nipple wasn’t going to produce milk.
But she is becoming distracted, as many babies do between 7 and 9 months. She will only nurse in a dark, silent room, and then only for very short spurts. Her feedings feel less efficient as I have to come in every night to offer a “dream feed” in hopes she will make it through the night. She sucks down the formula bottles with a consistent measurement that I can use to gauge her schedule. Paring down to only evening and morning feedings allows me new found freedom and no fear of my breasts becoming engorged during a meeting or leaking during a workout.
My husband has plans to attend a work conference in Las Vegas at the end of March. It takes place at a spa resort. It will be warm there. If I join him, I can drink margaritas poolside for three days. I need this vacation. And therefore, I need to wean the baby entirely by the time she is 9 months old.
But I never feel quite ready to drop that night feeding. Sometimes it hurts so much knowing this is one of our last feedings that it brings tears to my eyes. But then when I am awakened in the middle of the night because she is still hungry, I feel ready for the predictable measures of the bottle.
I have made my decision to go away and there is no way I am bringing a pump with me. I want to wear a bathing suit without nursing pads. Part of me yearns to feel entirely free. But part of me wants to pause these moments forever.
I know that when the final feeding ends, there will be yet another hormone drop, leaving me slightly nauseous and a bit disoriented. It will be nothing as intense as the hormone drop after childbirth that left me paralyzed with anxiety, but it will be a reminder of that sadness and the distress that always accompanies my transitions. I want to put it off forever and at the same time get it over with right now.
And so I decide right at this moment to officially call it quits and let the remaining milk dry up. There was no fanfare at the final feeding because I had not yet made up my mind. I will set formula by my bedside for the 6 a.m. wake up call, still holding her close, and hoping these feelings of guilt will subside.
Paige Wolf is a Philadelphia mom and author of Spit That Out! The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Children in the Age of Environmental Guilt. This post is adapted from her blog, Spit That Out!