Emotional aspects of weaning

I breastfed my son until he was about 27 months. Or 2 years and 3 months, or 2.25 years, depending on your preference for discussing toddler age (I generally think that after age 2, it should be in years but between 2 and 2.5 there is a bit of a gray area). But I digress.

When I first started breastfeeding, my goal was 2 years (go big or go home, right?). 2 years is the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization, so I figured that was a good goal to adopt. Pretty ambitious for a first-time mom who had no idea what the hell she was doing. When the nurse said, “All right, let’s feed this baby!” about 30 minutes after he was born, my first thought was “Really? Already?” Nice work, self. He latched then, and after some ups and downs in the first few weeks, we settled into our breastfeeding groove.

One of my few pictures of nursing

As time went on, I decided I wanted to go to at least 2 years and however long he wanted after that. However, as his second birthday drew nearer, I questioned whether I wanted to let him wean himself (also known as child-led weaning). That child loved to nurse. We had one nursing strike our entire relationship, and that only lasted about half a day. When he started signing, patting my chest was his nursing sign. Later he started saying “Neesh!” Then it became “Nursh!” As he grew verbally, he’d say “I wanna nursh” or “I wanna nursh other side” when he wanted to switch. He knew what he wanted, and it was to nurse.

Meanwhile, I was starting to figure out what I wanted, and it was becoming clear that it was to NOT nurse. I struggled with my decision, but shortly after his second birthday I decided it was time to stop. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore and it kind of felt like a chore. I was terrified that I was going to begin to resent nursing him. I did not want to end our relationship on a bad note, so I decided it was time.

So many emotions in play: Relief, that it was almost over; Sadness, because a big part of mothering (for me) was about to end; Fear, would I be able to comfort him without nursing and was I making a mistake; Worry, how was he going to take it and would I be scarring him for life; Guilt, how could I be so selfish in taking his beloved nursh from him.

Fast forward to weaning day [I’ll share the details of the physical part of weaning in another post; this is all about the emotional aspects]. I was so scared what would happen at bedtime when he asked to nurse and I said no. I expected a 4-alarm tantrum, hysterics, hell opening up and demons dragging me down (translate: I thought it would bad). I had my husband on stand-by, ready to tag in if the boy got too upset with me. he asked a few times, I gently said no, he got a little fussy, settled down after a few minutes and we cuddled until he fell asleep. Without nursing. What. The. Hell. While I was glad it went so easily, a small part of me was sad he seemed to give it up so easily.

Every night at bedtime, it was the same until a few weeks later, when he stopped asking. Only one time during that period did my resolve seriously falter. He was having an epic meltdown, and while sobbing in my arms begged to nurse. My heart broke, but my resolve did not. That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a mother. I felt selfish and cruel for denying him something he loved so dearly at a time he thought he really needed it. I’m glad now that I stayed strong; being inconsistent with nursing would’ve only made things harder on him. But man did I feel like an asshole at the time.

My emotions were all over the place shortly after weaning (let’s hear it for fluctuating hormones!). I’d known to expect increased feelings of depression and sadness because of the hormones. I was already taking medication for depression and seeing a therapist for other reasons, so I leaned on those resources to help with the additional stress of weaning and weaning hormones. I reached out to friends who had already gone through the weaning process and sought support from my breastfeeding support group. The best support came from my husband. He never pushed me one way or the other and always leant an ear when I needed to purge my feelings. He also constantly reassured me that I was a good mom whether I decided to wean or keep going.

Team McCall
Team McCall

One thing I did to help temper my feelings of sadness was to have my own little weaning ceremony. I read through some ideas at The Leaky Boob and settled on two that worked for me: create a weaning bracelet (jewelry-making is a hobby) and write a letter to my boy, reminiscing about our nursing relationship. I shared the letter to my nursling on this blog in order to memorialize our experience and give it a permanent home. Sometimes I read through it when I feel nostalgic; I enjoy the memories and feel doubly glad that I stopped before those memories turned sour.

Weaning bracelet, with a C to represent my son, Colt
Weaning bracelet, with a C to represent my son, Colt

I’m satisfied with how it ended. Sometimes I do feel a tad guilty for being the one who ended it (so much talk about the importance of child-led weaning in the lactation works), I have to remind myself of what I always told my mamas: There are two people in a nursing relationship, and your feelings are just as valid as the child’s.

Me and my not-scarred-for-life toddler, post-weaning
Me and my not-scarred-for-life toddler, post-weaning

3 thoughts on “Emotional aspects of weaning

  1. Sara,
    I love how open you are about your decision to wean. It really shows that you consider all sides of the nursing relationship and value the mother’s feelings too, which is really important to me when seeking help with nursing and advice, so thank you for that. You always made me feel really comfortable when needing some advice when I was still nursing Boston. And I understand the guilt, while I didn’t really initiate Boston to wean, I certainly didn’t encourage him to continue nursing once he seemed ready to be done. I stopped offering, and very shortly after, he stopped asking. And it broke my heart how easily he stopped even though I thought that was what I wanted. You are awesome to have nursed over 2 years. Its such a huge commitment for a mom.

  2. Ah Sara. My heart feels your heart. I think if I hadn’t made Kiley wean at 3 plus years she would still be nursing. There is never an easy time to end such a special relationship. I still ache when I see a newborn.

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