Mourning The End Of The Breastfeeding Relationship

 

I metaphorically stand up here today, shaking in my boots, to share my journey of breastfeeding my son until he was done. The Internet can be both a wonderful and terrible place for breastfeeding moms. We can find bands of women who offer us unconditional acceptance and support; who offer us knowledge and wisdom. Unfortunately, the Internet also offers a swath of venomous, anonymous trolls who are swift in their judgment of our stories.

But if we don’t share our stories, our experience will never be normalized. The ignorance that leads some people to believe that full-term breastfeeding is outrageous or damaging will persist. If we hide behind closed doors, always afraid of judgment, never speaking up, nothing will ever change. So here is my story.

I breastfed my son until he was 5.5 years old.

I have tandem nursed him, along with my daughter, for 2 of those years. She continues.

Before he was born I had hoped that I could even breastfeed successfully; I honestly hadn’t known a single person that had. Fortunately for me, we got the hang of it right away. I didn’t know what attachment parenting was. I didn’t know what was natural and good, I just knew what was acceptable to mainstream society.

When we reached a year, I heard stories of people stopping cold turkey. I would look into the eyes of my tiny little baby one year old while he nursed happily, while he needed me, and knew that forcing him to stop breastfeeding right now would be extremely traumatic for both of us. Nursing was his nourishment and comfort and sleep-inducing magical potion. I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it.

I told my husband we would do it at 18 months; that was still an acceptable time to stop. 18 months rolled around and I had discovered an attachment parenting group. I had researched and learned the benefits of breastfeeding, of healthy attachment, of child-led weaning, of respecting a child as a whole person. We decided then that we would nurse until he was done. Breastfeeding is recommend by the World Health Organization for 2 years and beyond; I know beyond may bring about some side glances and whispering behind hands (or blatant disgust out in the open), but it is the truth. It is natural. It is normal.

I believe that people don’t hear about women breastfeeding this long because women purposefully keep that information hidden for fear of judgment, for fear of rejection, for fear of shaming and humiliation. We, as mothers, are doing the very best we can, and to hear people say we are traumatizing our children, or abusing them, or doing it for our own satisfaction, is very disheartening, not necessarily for ourselves, but for humanity. Breastfeeding is natural. Breastfeeding full-term is natural. Anyone who thinks otherwise should really just go open a book (or shut their mouths).

We continued nursing all the way past 2, 3, 4. As we approached 5, nursing aversion kicked up a bit. My, at the time, 1.5 year old was nursing constantly. I was drained (quite literally), so I set some gentle limits for Mr 5. We would only nurse in the morning and at night. Slowly that turned into just at night since he would wake up before I did. Then over the next couple of months it became sporadic at night. Then it stopped. We didn’t nurse for weeks. I was ok with it. Life was demanding and it was one less demand on me. I found other ways to connect with him and cuddle him. At 5.5, on the night before my daughter’s second birthday, (he hadn’t nursed in a month), he was having a really hard time. We had a lot of projects to complete, bags to pack for a camping trip, etc, and he was overwhelmed in the chaos. I was alone with him, rocking him, just as I did at 1,2,3,4, and he asked if he could nurse. I hesitated for a moment, we had gone so long, but I could see the little baby in his eyes. This little five year old was much closer to an infant than a teenager and he sought his original comfort of the last 5 years. I said yes. I nursed him for a few seconds and could tell that he was having trouble getting any milk. He tried for a minute, and wasn’t very successful. He looked up at me and said “I can’t get the milk out. Thank you for your nursies. I love you mama.” It hit me right then that this was the last moment he would ever breastfeed again in his entire life.

Our nursing relationship had come to a close.

As I looked at him, I could barely remember what he was like as a little baby; as a 2 year old; or even a 3 year old. I could remember specific memories, but all that had passed was as if it was a different person in a different life. He was 5.5 now. He looked like a big kid. He was intelligent, curious, fast, and artistic. He was growing up and there was no way to stop it. I sat and hoped that these past 5.5 years were special to him; they were all he had experienced so far. I hoped that they were special even though neither of us remembered every detail. I worry that in five years I won’t remember what he was like at five. That I won’t remember that last nursing session or the thousands that preceded it.

I want time to stand still at times so that I can remember every detail of every moment, but we all know that isn’t possible. The best that I can do is be more present, be more mindful of our time together, choose connecting over busyness, choose to play instead of work, choose to stop what I’m doing when he says that he wants to sit on my lap. I try to remember that growing up isn’t a tragedy; it is the point, but knowing that fact doesn’t make these endings and new beginnings any less painful, any less bittersweet. I love him. I love that I found a support group and followed my heart and let him lead.

As vulnerable as I feel right now, I offer you my story because I want you to find support and courage too. I want you to know you are not alone, not an outcast, not on the fringes. I am just one of many mamas who follow the lead of our children in breastfeeding, in growing up.

I add my voice in the hopes it helps you on the same journey. Our stories connect us, the more we share them the more understanding we will find in the world and the stronger we are.

I breastfed my son until he was 5.5 years old and it was beautiful. It was natural. It was authentic. It was normal.

I would love to hear your stories and see your photos of nursing your not-so-tiny babies!

Comments

  1. Hi there, Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I nursed my son until he was 5 and 2 months. When he was 3, I had to travel abroad due to family emergency and had to be away from him for one month. I continued to squeeze milk out of my breast daily so when I returned, he would still be able to nurse if he wished. I would continue to nurse beyond 5.2 if I had the choice. I had an emergency surgery so I couldn’t nurse due to the medications I had, and when he was able to nurse, there was no more milk left. I guess my body was weak at that time due to the surgery. I nursed in the public but would cover up. I was open about nursing to my friends and family. I just wonder how long he would have nursed for if it was his choice. He is now 8 and still remembers nursing. Between 5.2 and now, occasionally, he would still ask, but less so toward 8.
    Karen

  2. Author

    Thank you. ❤ What a beautiful story and relationship! We cosleep too. It’s great to see how comfortable going to sleep is now. Sometimes holding my hand. Sometimes just tucked in his corner. No tears or fears because I’m right here. You are awesome and that’s so great that you are able to follow his lead on it.

  3. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. My son nursed until he self weaned at just over 3 years old. I went through a tidal wave of emotions, due to hormones and to the fact that I knew I would not nurse ever again, an era had ended in my life. I am saving this article to share for Breastfeeding Week

  4. Thank you for sharing your story. It moved me to tears. I am nursing my son who will be 6 in October. He nurses at bedtime and in the morning (we co-sleep). He told me before that he would stop when he turns 5 but he changed his mind on his birthday.:) I told him it was ok and he can stop when he is ready. I never thought we’d go this far but I am so grateful for our incredible bond.

  5. thank you 🙂 I am noursing an almmost 4 year old and a 17 month old… just short nursies for big sis, don’t know if it is aversion, just can’t loosen up anymore, but she is sweet and asks so nicely and lets go with a smile 🙂

  6. Pingback: Dear Attachment Parent: How do I wean? | Pocketful of Pebbles

  7. I breastfed my only daughter for 5 1/2 years. We went on a 10 week trip and she didn’t ask to nurse and that’s how it ended. We were both ready and it felt right. Breastfeeding was realling hard and painful the first month & I almost gave up then! I went to see a lactation consultant & it made all the difference. I love that we had this relationship for so long. And yes I didn’t do it in public past a certain age…

  8. Author

    Aw thank you Darcey! That’s so awesome that you’ve been nursing for almost 13 years!!

  9. Thank you for your story. I have been breastfeeding for almost 13 years, all 4 of our children, now aged 12.5, 10, 6 & 3.5. I am still nursing the youngest, and your words reminded me not to rush it, and I know I will miss it when we are done. I am also a homeschooling mama, and reading through some of your other posts and this one just made me remember why I do what I do, when I can often just be too overwhelmed to want to keep going. As hard as it can be, every moment is worth it when my children just return so much love and I am the one to watch them grow. Thank you!

  10. Author

    Aw thank you Paula. ❤❤ That is so encouraging!

  11. thank so much for sharing your beautiful story ❤️ I think my daughter will do the same and I’m very proud of her for listening to her heart like you did ❤️ many blessings and much love

  12. This hit home real hard for me. My son is 4 and a half, he still breastfeeds daily but those times are getting fewer and fewer, I know that it is coming to an end and I am so hugely saddened by it. I desperately try and drink in every moment of every feed we do still have. Fantastic support locally even a few feeding children of the same age but most have smaller ones who they are tandem feeding so none are in the same boat as me (yet!). I am glad we have had the journey we have had, as much as it saddens me I am aware of some real positives coming from it, him connecting with me in different ways and also sewing his relationship with his dad go from strength to strength and take on new levels as I am not the only one who is now able to provide the comfort for him. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Author

    Thank you so much Andrea! ❤❤ Thank you for your support and solidarity as well.

  14. All the feels! I’m in tears of solidarity, and just want to thank you for sharing. I’m in the throes of tandem nursing a toddler and an infant. Your story is beautiful, validating, and bolstering for a mom like me. Blessings to you and yours.

  15. After the first time I was shamed, I did a ton of research, and came up with a few memorized lines I can say when people give me guff for nursing. I love KellyMom dot com, and more lists of all the benefits to both mother and baby of biological nursing. Never let anyone put down what you know in your heart is right!

  16. Author

    Oh how sad Annie! That must have felt devastating. You are doing so great! Thank you for being here. ❤

  17. Author

    Thank you so much for your kind words. ❤❤ I can’t even think about the last last session yet Hopefully it’s still 3 or more years away! Thank you for being here!

  18. This is so similar to my journey with my firstborn, now 9. At 5 I was pregnant and also nursing my 2 yr old. I asked my 5 yr old (as I dried up in pregnancy) to wait until after the baby came, and that he could nurse again then when there was milk. He agreed, and patiently waited. I thought he wouldn’t be interested, 6 months away seemed a long time and I figured he’d be over it. The new baby came, and he tried to nurse – he had lost how to do it. I still see his trembling little chin and tears when he realized he couldn’t nurse again. If I’d had more confidence in nursing my future 5.5. yr old I would have let him dry nurse to keep up his technique. Instead I cut him off. My 2nd child is turning 6 in a month, and although I’d like her to be done, this time I won’t be cutting her off. Sigh. My poor practice kid #1.

  19. Well, this is a tremendously moving and inspiring post. Your capacity for empathy is magnitudes deeper than most people’s. This echoes my experience with our first, who stopped at age 3, and her little sister picked up where she left off, so I’ve been lactating for 6+ years. NOW talk to me about that final, final, last, last nursing of our youngest! Oh, I can’t bear the thought, and baby’s turning 3. I think mourning is the correct word. I will come back to this post, and perhaps do some journaling around it, inspired by you. Thank you!

  20. My daughter will be turning 4 tomorrow and she still nurses at least once per day. I feel so honored to have had this relationship with her for so long. She days she will be ready to be done nursing when she is “big” (meaning a grown-up :)), but I feel like my supply is really waning. We will see how it goes but I am happy to have had the opportunity to nurse her until she is done. Thank you for this post 🙂

  21. Author

    That’s so great to hear, Rochelle! You have a BF cafe? How cool! Thank you for being here and for your encouraging words. ❤

  22. I loved my ability to nurse my sons and now my daughter … It’s a blessing to have such close bonds with my children, being able to offer nourishment and comfort no matter where we are day or night.

    Now I’m pleased to be a facilitator for our local BF cafe to empower the normalization of breast feeding and attachment parenting

    Together is better and shifts are happening

    Thank you for posting this and sharing, it warmed my heart and soul

  23. Author

    Hugs! ❤❤ Sometimes it helps to just stop fighting it in a sense. To just ignore all of the people that put doubts in your mind, and trust your heart that you are doing something beautiful and right. You got this! Thank you for being here.

  24. My son is almost two and he breastfeeds on demand. I have had so many negative comments from family and friends, even my doctor has encouraged me to wean him. Honestly I’ve tried and it has been painful for both him and I so I give in and let him breastfeed. I don’t want to stop until he is ready. I love the bond we share. After a long stressful day I love that we get to tuck away in a quiet comfy place to do what we were created to do and it relaxes us both. Thank you for sharing your story and normalizing natural term breastfeeding. I don’t want to forget these moments or the moments that my son look up at me from his latch and smiles.

  25. Author

    That’s so beautiful, Laura. ❤❤ Thank you for sharing. I hope we have just as beautiful a transition once mine are done.

  26. Hi there. Thank you for this beautiful piece from your heart. I have 2 children. My eldest is 11 and my youngest is 7. He breastfed until the week his sister turned 11. It hit me that I had been a parent for 11 years and breastfed for all of them, and suddenly a huge role I had as a mother was evolving. It has been so beautiful and beautifully tapered off and ended. What I quickly discovered was that I was a more balanced mom to both my kids when not producing milk. I have been able to offer more of myself. I will forever treasure those days and know I gave every ounce of me and continue now, just in many different ways.

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