With a firstborn who hated nursing due to reflux issues, breastfeeding started as a struggle and quickly ended with regrets and feelings of failure. Then when my daughter, Lucy, was born, I got the special nursing relationship I had hoped for and planned to go on for at least two years (partly because it was going so well and partly because extended breastfeeding decreases my risk of breast cancer, something I’m concerned about because my mother is a breast cancer survivor). But when a new pregnancy changed my milk, Lucy self-weaned at 13 months. So here I am in round three with my second little girl, Gwen, now 14 months. Everything has been great, but a few weeks ago I started feeling restless and irritable about still nursing.
We practice ecological breastfeeding and due to reflux, my kids usually prefer to snack frequently. After the baby turned one, I was feeling touched out and physically and emotionally drained. I was dreading nursing her and I was also worried about a weekend trip I would be taking (my first night away from her) and how it would all pan out. So I decided I was done. Just done. No more. She was nursing about 10 times a day and once at night and I was over it. But having never weaned a baby (the first two self-weaned), I was nervous. How do you do it?
I asked around and got a few suggestions. Some said, if you’re done, just be done, cold turkey. Others said, keep it up and push through. And then some said to try “don’t offer, don’t refuse.” My skin was crawling with that touched out feeling. But that third option was resonating with me and so I tried it, I wouldn’t offer, but I wouldn’t say no if she asked.
What I realized the next day was that SHE wasn’t insisting on nursing 10 times a day. I was offering whenever I had a spare moment and so she’d just eat because it was offered. I was so used to taking every opportunity I wasn’t helping the “big kids” to sit down with her and nurse like we did in the newborn days that I hadn’t transitioned to letting her ask when she was hungry. In one day we went from nursing 10 times a day to nursing 4 times a day. Only when she was “asking” (she was fussy when everything else seemed ok, after a few days she learned to say “Nuh”). In 48 hours I felt so much better. I wasn’t irritable and touched out, but I still felt connected to her. That 4 times a day quickly shifted to twice a day and once at night and then she dropped the nighttime feeding. Before my trip out of town she was only nursing once a day and I thought with regret, when I get back she’ll be done.
But she wasn’t. She wanted to nurse as soon as she saw me and has been nursing once or twice a day since. I’m not sure how long she’ll keep this up, but I think we’ve found our groove for what works for us. It’s all new territory for me because I’ve never nursed a child this old and I don’t know exactly what the next year will look like. But I like letting her take the lead and show me what she needs.
I’m not a breastfeeding expert, but if I could tell a few things to myself when I first became a mother here’s what they would be:
- Just because you have a difficult breastfeeding relationship with one baby doesn’t mean you’ll have those same issues again.
- Don’t get stuck on what you expect breastfeeding to look like. Medical issues, new pregnancies, etc. can change the length of the relationship.
- Be flexible and don’t beat yourself up over what you envisioned as the ideal.
- Breastfeeding is a relationship, a two-way street. When it’s working great for your baby, that’s wonderful. But when it stops working out for you, the mama, that’s significant and you’re allowed to make changes.
- If you’re dreading nursing instead of looking forward to a bonding time, consider what’s making you feel that way. Follow your instinct when something feels off. Sometimes a simple fix can get you back into your groove.
I’m really grateful that we found our groove again.
Has anybody else experienced this touched-out reaction when transitioning into nursing a toddler? Any tips to share about having a positive breastfeeding relationship as your baby grows?