When I had my first daughter almost five years ago, I was eager (and a little intimidated) to give breastfeeding a try. I knew about the physical and emotional benefits for both mother and child, and was ready to give it a go. But aware of how stressful and heavy this topic can be across the board for new moms, I decided from the start that I would do it in a low-pressure manner and not freak out or beat myself up if it didn’t work out.
My first goal was to make it to six weeks, then six months, then to a year. I was proud of myself for making it that far, but felt that around her first birthday would be a good time to stop. I also figured at that point she’d be filling up so much on oatmeal, berries, cheese, and other exciting new foods that she wouldn’t care too much about nursing, but she stuck it out to a year-and-a-half.
Nursing her was a wonderful experience for me. I loved that she found comfort in this age-old, natural process. That I never had to heat a bottle to the right temperature in the middle of the night, and that she didn’t seem to get — or stay — sick very often, a fact that I can only halfway assume was due to all the good stuff in that breastmilk.
But I’ll be honest. Limiting my alcoholic beverages, toting a hand pump on date nights or weekends away to ease pressure, battling clogged ducts and mastitis, being endlessly hungry, and not feeling like I owned my own body were a struggle. Fighting to get a nipple out of my shirt and into the mouth of a grumpy toddler with a mouth full of teeth without flashing an entire restaurant was also… a lot.
When my first daughter weaned herself at eighteen months, I reveled in the joy of having my body back to myself for a little while before getting pregnant with our second.
So, while I was all about nursing Baby Number Two, I pretty much planned on the 18-month mark as my absolute finish line. Mayyyybe I even hoped she’d give up the boob a little earlier, like around her first birthday while we were in the midst of moving out of state. No one was sleeping, we were surrounded by boxes, and I was beyond stressed out and exhausted. As much as I loved the ease of getting her to sleep on the breast, practically everything else about it was becoming a drag.
Well, that was a year ago and we’re still going strong. We reached age one-and-a-half in early spring and she showed no signs of slowing down on her morning, nap, and nighttime nursing sessions. At random points throughout the day, we would be in the supermarket or on a playdate and she would aggressively start pointing at my chest in an effort to get some milk action.
It’s sweet, and again I am happy to comfort her in this special way. But there are times when I just feel so exhausted, and overwhelmed, by the seemingly constant pull of a toddler’s need for access to my body. Sometimes in the evening, I’d like to be able to hand her over to her father and let him do the bedtime shuffle. She falls asleep so much better on the boob than otherwise, though, so it’s really a no-brainer to have me handle it.
Last week her second birthday came and went. I honestly thought by now we’d be dwindled down to just the nighttime nursing session, if even that. She’s still seeking this favorite source of comfort at least twice a day, but usually more. I don’t want to turn her down, but deep down I long for the day when I can pack the nipples away and just hug her to sleep.
I took two weekend trips away from her this summer, figuring a lack of access to the source for a few days would dry me up and distract her from them upon my return. No dice. Within five minutes of returning each time, she was screaming, “Boob, Mommy!” and pulling my shirt down. My husband and I had to laugh, but I’ll admit I would be a little embarrassed if that happened in public.
The old adage about long days and short years is ever-present in my mind, especially because we aren’t sure if this will be our last baby. I love rocking and singing to my kids, cuddling their sweet bodies and kissing their sleeping eyelids. And yes, I’ve loved breastfeeding for all its wonderful benefits. The bond I have felt with both of my kids through breastfeeding was a welcome treat after each C-section and during the sometimes arduous months of early parenting.
I know one day I’ll look back and miss this tender time, but in this moment I’m just feeling ready to be done with it. I won’t deny my daughter, but have started changing the subject as often as possible and moving her toward other activities when possible. Some day soon, she’ll turn away and be done with nursing just like her sister eventually did. And on that day I’ll probably cry a few bittersweet tears at the conclusion of our journey.
Until then, I’m just trying to keep calm and laugh off the “Boob, Mommy!” attacks despite the fact that I’d rather keep ’em locked up and feed her just about anything else. Even though I’m so ready to be done, weaning my toddler is just one of the many chapters of parenting that won’t be happening on my terms. And I’m learning, day by day, to find the gift in that, too.