Sunday, July 31, 2016

So Long To Nursing

The closest I could get Rose to posing for a picture
I know many moms that, when they wean their children from nursing, find that last nursing session bittersweet. Brutally honest confession here: I feel/felt nothing of the sort. The last time I nursed my daughter was one week ago, and there's nothing bittersweet there at all, just relief. But my journey isn't over yet.

Let me backtrack and share a little about my nursing history/story.

I have 4 children, and nursed all of them. Not one of them ever had a bottle of formula. Also for health reasons, also for financial reasons, and also because once they started nursing, they weren't content with any substitute for me- not a pacifier, not a bottle of pumped milk, just me, me, me.

I grew up in a home where my mother nursed all of us children, but never until a later age. She told me afterwards that the oldest she nursed anyone was a year, but I was only nursed for three months, and the majority of my siblings for nine months. This is not for lack of trying- we all had undiagnosed tongue ties which caused our latches to be bad, and her milk dried up. I remember my little brothers and sisters, 9 and 11 years younger than I, especially had a hard time nursing, but mom didn't give up. She pumped round the clock and used a supplemental nursing system called an SNS to allow them to both nurse and get expressed milk at the same time. She worked hard at nursing.

So for me, nursing was a given. It was what I expected to do with my kids, and it was something I would put effort info, make it work, even if it was hard. Because of mom's example.

But I remember seeing my sister in law nurse my nephew when he was nearly two, and being grossed out. I said to myself "nursing is for babies; once a kid is old enough to ask to nurse, he's no longer a baby and is too old to nurse". That was before I gave birth to my first, though, and how times changed. I realized that, despite kids getting nutrition from other sources past a year old, babies often emotionally are still very attached to nursing and still have an emotional need for it, not connected to them being verbal or not.

I nursed my oldest child, Lee, until he was a year and 7 months old, and I was 5 months pregnant with my second child. I wasn't prepared to nurse two children together, so I figured weaning well before I gave birth was the way to go. And it went relatively well, but Lee ended up drinking bottles of chocolate milk instead... which we needed to wean him from, so that wasn't something I wanted to do again.
Ike, my second, was super attached to nursing, and at a year and 7 months old was still nursing 10 or more times a day and then all through the night, and I felt so overwhelmed by him and his neediness, because on top of all that nursing, he was such a difficult baby and then toddler (I assume this had something to do with his undiagnosed autism and/or food sensitivities). So the second I found out I was pregnant, I did what I felt I needed to do to not feel overwhelmed to the point of no return- I weaned him cold turkey. It wasn't easy, he had a super hard time, and it didn't make him any easier- he just transitioned from nursing to constantly rubbing me, which drove me mad, and made me realize that weaning a kid before they were emotionally ready too might solve one problem, but causes others...

So therefore, with Anneliese, my third, I decided to only wean her when she was totally ready. I nursed her throughout my pregnancy with Rose, despite it being hard for me physically (it hurt) and despite the fact that I had no milk anymore and she was just doing it for comfort. I even went to the US for 2 weeks and resumed nursing when I came home, I finally weaned Anneliese when Rose was a few months old, and Anneliese was a few months shy of her third birthday, and that went very smoothly, and I considered doing similarly for any future kid, to wean them only when they're good and ready emotionally.

But then Rose.

My youngest child is a cutie pie and adorable and delicious... and a huge handful. Mike and I joke that Rose is the Energizer Bunny... on steroids. Rose does not sit still for a second. She is constantly moving, constantly up to things, very demanding of attention. In her own way, Rose is just as difficult of a child as Ike was, difference being that Rose is a happy kid and Ike was miserable. But she exhausts me.
Some parents say that they love nursing a hyperactive child, because that is the only time they calm down enough for a relaxing cuddle session, but Rose nursing wasn't a calm thing- she regularly would attempt to do acrobatics while latched on. It wasn't about setting limits, because whatever limits I tried to put, she would just ignore them.
And at over the age of two, she was still nursing all night long and all day long, almost as much as a newborn. I was feeling very worn thin, not having my nights to myself or my days either, never getting a break physically from her constant demands to nurse. In April, I decided to night wean her and move her out of my bed, and that was hard. But after a few nights, she finally started sleeping through the night and in her own bed, and not only was I more well rested, I was emotionally recharged more because I could go out in the evening with friends and not have to worry about making it back in time for when she would inevitably wake up and want to be nursed back to sleep. That made a huge difference in my sanity, but it wasn't enough.

I noticed that during the day, if we were out of the house, Rose could go the entire day without nursing. And if I was gone, she was also fine not nursing the entire day. However, if I was around, she would demand to nurse every 30 minutes some times. It drove me nuts. Especially if I was trying to work at the computer, she'd climb up to me and physically try to help herself and she wouldn't listen to my saying no; I actually would have to remove her repeatedly.
Rose is a smart kid who understands a lot; she is very verbal and I thought, maybe, talking to her about it would improve the situation. I'd talk to her about where her body is and where my body is, and how we have to respect other people's bodies and not just demand things, and when I don't want to nurse, she has to accept that it's my body and my decision; she can't just help herself. Well, that didn't work, as she'd just point to my chest and say "This is my body, my nursies" and have a meltdown when I said that I couldn't nurse then.

I tried cutting down the amount of nursing sessions throughout the day, but while with night weaning I had something tangible to tie it with ("The sun is sleeping, it's time for you to sleep, nursies are sleeping") the same didn't work with cutting down day time nursing sessions and she had a hard time understanding why sometimes I said yes and sometimes I said no.

I did a lot of soul searching and I've realized that, while I enjoy nursing babies, once they become toddlers I really don't enjoy nursing and I do it entirely for them, dreading each nursing session, but doing it anyhow "because they need it". There's a limit to how long a mom can do that without feeling like a wrung out rag, without it affecting her life in a big way. As a mom, I want to do what my kids need, but I can't justify ignoring my emotional needs, because then the entire family ends up hurting because I am snappy and don't have the emotional energy to deal with everyone else because I have nothing left to give.

I worried, though, that weaning Rose before she was ready to give it up, wouldn't solve the issues, the way weaning Ike didn't solve the issues. Ike has a tactile need to chew, suck things, etc... and I worried that it was my abruptly weaning him that caused that, and didn't want to cause that issue in another child. However, talking to a lot of other special needs moms, especially ones that nursed their kids long term, etc... I realized that it wasn't about me, and it wasn't the weaning that caused his sensory needs, but rather, it was his sensory needs that was making his nursing so difficult on me. Moms who had multiple kids with oral sensory stimulation needs reassured me that the kids who they nursed long terms and the kids who weaned young had no difference in their sensory needs, that it was correlation, not causation, which made my decision easier.

Added to that was the fact that when Anneliese was even younger than the age that Rose is now, she had, on her own, cut back nursing to only once or twice a day, wasn't asking to nurse 10 or more times a day. I'd thought that if I waited until Rose was older, she'd gradually cut back on how much she nursed, but since she wasn't, I realized that it needed to come from me, wasn't something that would inevitably happen on its own.

So, last Sunday, before my husband and I went away for 5 days and 4 nights without the kids, to celebrate our 10th anniversary (more on that in another post), I nursed Rose for the last time. I didn't feel nostalgic knowing it was the last nursing session with her, didn't feel bittersweet. I just felt done. And relieved.
Rose is 2 years and 4 months old now.

She was fine the entire time I was gone not nursing, and the day we got home, she didn't even ask to nurse once.
The next morning she did ask to nurse and had a hard time when I told her no, and since then we've had a few hard nights and a few hard mornings and a few more meltdowns when I told her no more nursing... but I'm holding fast. I know this journey isn't done yet, that it will still be some more time until she stops asking to nurse all the time, but I'm hoping that within a week this demand to nurse will go from a multiple time a day request to few and far between.
I haven't just been saying no to her, though. I am offering her something else to cuddle and bond with her instead- back massages, leg rubs, etc... It isn't completely taking the place of nursing sessions, but at least some of the time, when she asks to nurse and I suggest a back rub instead she is happy to accept that instead. And sometimes she walks up to me and asks for me to rub her back, instead of asking to nurse. And I'm ok with that.

I plan on buying her a present, some treats, and some balloons for her, maybe even making a cake and a weaning party, so that she doesn't feel weaning was something negative for her, but also with positive aspects as well.

As to how I feel?

Honestly, great. For the first time in years, I am not feeling touched out. I am feeling like I have my body back. It has been the first time in 9 years and 8 months that I'm not either nursing or pregnant or both. This is a big deal and is such a relief emotionally.
I'm sure it's a combination of having gone away without the kids, but also that I'm no longer nursing, but I am tangibly seeing that I am parenting better, that I have more energy to deal with my kids, that when my kids have tantrums I am able to handle them without feeling like I'm going to lose it as well.

And now that I have my body back, finally I can take care of some physical issues that I've had that I can't take care of while nursing or pregnant. I am sure that, in large part, my gut issues and food sensitivities stem from some physical imbalance in my gut, probably candida related, which can only be fully and completely treated if you aren't nursing or pregnant. So I plan on taking care of that, and hopefully it will work and make my life better for the long run.

Do I know if I ever will nurse a kid again? Who knows. I may yet have another kid in the future, but nothing is set in stone, and I have no idea what the future holds.
And even if I have no other kids, and never nurse a kid again in my life... I'm cool with that.

So there it is. The end of my nursing story. At least for now.
And I know it was the right thing to do.

Did you nurse any kids? How did you feel before/upon weaning them? How old were they when they weaned? How easy or difficult was it to wean them?


  1. I don't remember my "last" nursing session with my kids because it was a gradual transition. Right now my preemie (21 months) is still nursing a few times a day, and my 4 year old also asks once a day. I don't mind, but I do cut the session short because she is "forgetting" how to do it. When this happens, it's a sign the child is ready! I could definitely try the backrub thing. She is a cuddly kid and this might work well. I have definitely felt touched out from time to time! But for the most part I've loved breastfeeding. With my preemie, when things weren't going well and I had to have his tongue-tie clipped and use an SNS so he could gain weight, it was VERY HARD emotionally, so I no longer take for granted "easy" breastfeeding. Also, my feelings change depending on where I am in my cycle - so they may not have to do with nursing so much as transitory "ick" feelings about being touched or when supply dips a bit and I'm more sensitive.

  2. This is such an honest post! I think most mothers who nurse have felt some level of this at some point. For me, I never regretted or disliked nursing, but I definitely relate to the "touched out" feeling. As my boys got older, it translated into my relationship with my husband - not wanting another person to touch me at the end of the day, or feeling like it was a chore. So that always made me evaluate how much and how often that particular child was nursing when I got to that point. I nursed all 4 of my boys exclusively also - none ever had formula. With my first, I had to go back to work, so he would take bottles of pumped milk during the day, but interestingly began refusing the bottle once I quit when he was 10 months old. Most of them primarily self-weaned around 14 - 16 months, but my youngest want almost 19 months. I knew he was our last, and by about 17 months, I was where you were - nursed out. He was only nursing a couple times a day, so I let it go another 2 months before I pushed him a little! It's hard when they love it, and I also knew he was the last, so it was a little bittersweet. When I look back now, I think of nursing as my favorite part of having a baby - the one thing that only I could do for them to help them thrive. This was a long post, but I'll end with saying that you did the right thing for you, and for your relationship with Rose!

  3. I have one child, and nursed none. I had no desire to nurse, and did not want to be attached to a child 24/7.

  4. I nursed the oldest for 3 weeks and then weaned because the doctor convinced me I had a problem producing milk and formula was the only answer. I nursed #2 until 4 years 2 months old which meant it was all through my pregnancy with #3. I even nursed #2 while I was in the hospital in labor. With #3 I planned to self wean but a few weeks before #3's third birthday I needed to be done. I was touched out and irritable all the time because I'd been nursing around the clock for almost 5 years. We started with the night down/breasts were sleeping. Then found activities to keep us busy and out of the house during the nursing session we were eliminating until #3 was done. It was 2 years 4 months ago that I nursed #3 last and people told me I would miss the nursing. I have not missed nursing a single bit.

  5. I nursed two of my children for only 10 months because I can't nurse while pregnant without getting mastitis repeatedly. I nursed one of my boys until 2, and he is the one with sensory issues. My point is I don't think they are related at all. Congrats on getting your body back!

  6. I'm nursing my fourth right now. He's two and two months. I've had to scale way way back. I'm done! I've been nursing or pregnant for nine years straight. Right now two or three times a day is manageable for me, and he's been pretty good about letting dad put him to sleep for the middle if the night wakings. Whew! Babies and toddlers are intense!

  7. My son also had an undiagnosed tongue tie and my milk dried up after four months. It was disheartening to say the least. I truly admire the dedication you put into nursing. Your decision to stop is just as wise.
    You are a wonderful mom.

  8. I guess I'm really lucky as I love nursing as much as my kids love to nurse. But if I didn't I wouldn't continue it past one or two at the latest.

  9. My 4.5 yo is still nursing, usually just morning and night. In my opinion, it is very important to point out that breastfeeding is the architect of the airway, it is not just about food, seeding the microbiome, and bonding.

  10. I nursed my 1st for about 3 weeks, barely producing milk, taking supplements, having to pump between feedings to stimulate milk production, etc. I had to stop because I could not sleep at all, went into post-partum depression, got hospitalized for a month, had to take drugs, etc. So it stopped the nursing abruptly and it felt like a failure for a long time. The second kid I gave the colostrum and then switched to bottle feeding when I felt all the anxiety coming back. I was then able to sleep at night while hubby took the bottle feeding shifts from midnight to 6h am. And I did not have ppd this time. Best decision for my family and myself.

  11. Your Rose sounds like my Hazel. She would flip her legs over my shoulder and nurse upside down! It was nuts. She was all over the place and it hurt all the time. She was later diagnosed with a sensory integration disorder and nursing was the only thing that ever calmed her down so I nursed her until she was 2.5. I went away for three days and when I got back I just told her no for a few days and she seemed fine with it. I've nursed all four of my children (currently nursing my last baby) and she was, by far, the hardest child to breastfeed.


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