I express myself better in writing. Maybe its because I can take the time to form my thoughts, pick and choose the words that make the best sense, and continue through to the point without interruption.
I think that some of my loved ones were afraid this day would never come. But I’m (mostly) happy to announce that as of Mother’s Day, M is all done “eating nipples,” as he likes to say. I’m a little sad, too, because it’s always hard to end something so special, but I feel pretty good about how it all went, and I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the process of nursing and weaning my boy.
I was very lucky with M. From the start, though we had some support issues and medical misinformation, he nursed like a champ. He was always small and slow to gain weight, but he was also impressively strong, alert, and happy. He ate when he felt like it, which is exactly what worked for both of us, and eventually we got into a fairly predictable routine. At three months, an age that in America often coincides with a switch to the bottle, I felt like I was just getting the hang of things. Of nursing, specifically, and of mothering in general. I couldn’t imagine ever giving up this suddenly great and easy thing.
As I’ve mentioned, breastfeeding my baby is one of the major acts of motherhood that gave me the confidence I have as a mother today. Because I was able to trust my body’s ability to nourish my child, I learned to trust my instincts in other areas of my life. I was stubborn and dedicated to nursing M the way that felt right to us, and it wasn’t always easy when I found myself having to defend an action on the sole basis that it felt right.
Well before the one-year mark that’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, I had several family members ask me how long I planned to nurse. My standard response, before parroting the AAP and WHO recommendations and stats about average weaning age around the world (4 years old), was, “Sometime before he goes to college.” Because honestly, not their breasts, not their nourishment, so not really anyone else’s concern.
I had planned on at least one year. But that one year went so fast, and I loved being sure that my boy was getting exactly what he needed in order to grow and stay healthy. Especially with allergies in the family and me not being the best at creating balanced meals in the kitchen. I kept learning more and more about what a health boost it was for us both as time flew by. I really don’t remember how we went from a fairly regular five or six times a day and once or twice at night to night weaning, to four times a day, to three. I remember going from three to two to one, though, which was the time I really felt like we were advancing ahead in the weaning game.
Our three-times daily sessions were one first thing in the morning “snuggle” (M’s more official word to request the breast). Once before nap. Once before bed. The morning one was the first of those to go, right around the two year mark. Because that’s when I was getting the not-so-subtle hints from my beloved husband that, to him, it was time. But again, I resisted for awhile because I didn’t want anyone else telling me how to use my breasts and nourish and comfort my son. I wasn’t quite ready then. And his gentle urging only made me feel bad about not being ready and resentful toward him for the added pressure. So I stopped nursing M while in Daddy’s company so he could feel confident that we were still all on the same page.
We moved to nursing just before nap and just before bed. Two. I think I was more reluctant to give up these last quiet snuggle times because it was always such an easy part of the settle down routine. And frankly, I didn’t have many other ideas for how to get the kid to fall asleep without nursing him. But eventually, we dropped the nap time snuggle, and he managed to figure out how to fall asleep without it.
We kept up the night-night nursing for awhile. It was a few minutes during our prayers and a lullaby, and he knew that when the song was over, so was the snuggle. It was nice, most of the time, but sometimes he got lazy in his latch and it wasn’t very comfortable. Some nights, I worked, and he was fine without. Some nights, I tried skipping it, and he was fine or not, depending on his mood. I was getting closer to letting go, to being ready to stop for good.
The last two or three weeks, I purposely reconfigured our bedtime routine to avoid our standard position in the rocking chair. If he insisted, I’d give in, but if he asked and accepted my “not now,” or “maybe tomorrow,” response, he went down without. Sometimes, Daddy had to come in and help him get to sleep because he just wouldn’t settle with me. That happened even on nights I did nurse him. So the last few weeks, he’d gotten a few minutes at the breast only once or twice a week.
Since he was doing alright with that, last week, I began to talk to him at night about how he was getting to be such a big boy he didn’t need the same snuggle time he did as a baby. I prepared him for our last time, which I felt would be appropriate for Sunday night. Mother’s Day. He’s an awesome kid, and I could tell as we talked that he understood his new responsibility and knew I was serious. And I’m tearing up a little bit here, because it turned out to be such an amazing memory. Our last snuggle was wonderful. Calm and peaceful, he gently touched my chest as he softly suckled. A perfect latch. He was almost reverent as I looked down at him. It was a beautiful note to end on.
After we were done, he smiled up at me. And I thanked him. We hugged.
I am so very grateful for all the support that I had as a nursing mother. Nursing my boy for two and a half years is something that I will be proud of forever. I credit it for his health, his intelligence, his vitality and his confidence, knowing that his mommy would always be there to meet his every nutritional and emotional need. He still comes to me often for cuddles, hugs and kisses. His little fingers gravitate to the small mole on my chest, “the dot,” his touchstone, when he is upset and needs centering. He is growing up, and away from me, but he’s still extremely close to me, another thing for which I am truly grateful.
I will definitely miss nursing my baby. It was not easy for me to give up, and I’ll think he’ll miss it, too, in his way. But I’m so very proud of the big boy now in my arms. I know that we were both ready to move forward, and I’m really excited for the next stage of our relationship. I’m sure it will be just as amazing.