It is well documented that breastfeeding is tough at the start. Apparently, it’s so natural to place your tiny wrinkly infant on your breast and to nourish her like you have for the last nine months.
Well, it actually was for me, but that doesn’t happen to everyone. Whether or not it comes naturally, it really hurts. That pain does fade after the first few weeks and it does get so much easier. In the beginning, you are starving, exhausted and endlessly thirsty, and your little baby just wants your boob. Nothing will ease her other than your boob. That is demanding on your body and your general wellbeing. I have read so many pieces about the troubles with breastfeeding that women have, and I have felt all of those feelings too. I have also loved breastfeeding Rosie. I was lucky. Following those first few weeks of discomfort it all happened quite easily for me. Rosie is now nearly 16-months-old. I had intended on breastfeeding for a year. My plan has not worked out that way.
There is so much support on how to start, but very little on how to stop. I’m so proud that I fed her and that my body was able for the huge demand it placed on me, but it seems that it’s time for her to stop now. I have tried the cold turkey route, but my heart broke as she looked at me with her beautiful grey eyes and pleaded with me… and smacked my chest and put her hand down my top. Weaning gently and slowly seems to be the only route, although, at times those three steps we take forward are followed by five steps back. This is going to take time.
I often hear the words “you are still breastfeeding” which is neither a question nor a statement. I just nod, I think the baby under my top tells that person enough. People have strong opinions on breastfeeding. My opinion is simple: do what suits you and your baby. It is not about anyone else’s views or beliefs. It is about you two and your relationship. If you don’t want to breastfeed, don’t. Formulas are getting better every day. If you need to stop because it is painful, or it is affecting your relationship with your baby, which it can do, stop and do not feel guilty. The usual questions I get are “How do you do it with work ?” and “Why are you still feeding her?” and if I choose to answer, I say that she loves to breastfeed and she is happy. Motherhood is a selfless thing. You just want a happy, safe and well child. You will do anything to ensure that.
A common misconception of ‘extended breastfeeding’, as it is often called, is that you are ‘babying’ your child for too long. That couldn’t be further from the truth in my opinion. Rosie was eating solids when she was four-months-old and has never used a bottle; she went straight to the cup and cows’ milk at once. She walked just after her first birthday. She is the most inquisitive, social and playful child. Breastfeeding has never stood in her way.
Having said all this, I feel I’m nearing the end of my breastfeeding journey. It’s nearing the time to wean her completely. That is easier said than done. At a recent business breakfast in a café, I caught the eye of another mum. She had a baby around the same age as Rosie. He was causing a very familiar fuss. She tried to feed him food from her plate and to give him his cup – all in vain. He knew what he wanted, and if he freaked out enough, he would get it. I knowingly smiled as she rolled her eyes and allowed him to breastfeed. I saw her have a small argument with her partner because she, like me, gave in. I could sense she was annoyed with herself. She is trying to wean. But, weaning a 15-month-old is tough. She gave in because it’s hard. It is difficult to stop, both for your baby and for you.
I don’t have any magical tips or advice. I also know that I am not alone in my fear of that very last feed, or letting the breastfeeding bond go. Lots of that bond is based on holding her close, speaking to her gently and looking into her eyes, all of which we can do without breastfeeding. I believe that we will know when the time comes, and we will both enjoy that very last time my body nourishes hers and the next phase of our bond and our journey as mum and daughter.
Gail Condon is a former nurse and the author behind the hit personalised children’s books, Writing for Tiny. She hails from Cork and lives in Dublin with her husband, Paediatrician Michael Carter and their daughter Rosie. This week she Guest Blogs for HerFamily.ie.