The bittersweet end to breastfeeding
I remember the first time I put my fresh-from-the-womb newborn on my breast. I was trying to gently coerce my nipple into her tiny mewing mouth and the nurse who was helping me remarked, “Someone’s done this before!” And I laughed because I really didn’t know what I was doing. But maybe, I thought, it’s just like everyone had promised: maybe once baby arrived, these sorts of things really did come naturally.
But it didn’t come naturally, as it turns out. It was just as friends who had babies warned: “It will be difficult, it will hurt, you will want to give up, you will cry.” And oh, how I wanted to give up. For those first few weeks and months, every time that hungry little mouth came near me I cringed, announcing to anyone within earshot that I couldn’t wait until this stage was over. It hurt. My god it hurt. And it was exhausting. By exclusively breastfeeding and not offering my daughter a bottle (as our pre-natal coach had advised), I was responsible for every feeding. Every two hours. For weeks. Worst of all, I didn’t have great supply, so I was supplementing with formula and a complicated, messy, tedious tube system. Yes, I hated breastfeeding.
Then one day, it got better. First we ditched the “never give your infant an artificial nipple” warnings and after a few weeks of protest from the little one, we got her on the bottle. Once I starting sharing the responsibility of feeding with my husband – allowing me to sleep for longer stretches of time, and for my cracked boob hats (as Chris from Parks & Recreation calls them) to get much-needed breaks – everything changed. I packed up the tubes, and together baby, boobs and I finally seemed to click. I overcame my modesty and proudly breastfed anywhere and everywhere.
Those sweet, quiet, snuggly moments became something to cherish. She would latch on and I would watch as calmness swept across her face. Love would course through me like adrenaline. She would fall asleep with my nipple still in her mouth and I would sit there marvelling at the fact that I was this source of great comfort for this little person. My body was keeping her alive. I would stroke her rosy cheeks and her soft head and lean in to smell her skin. If she was awake, she’d lift her hands to my face and we’d lock eyes, gazing at the newness of each other’s faces. This was my version of slowing down and catching up with my daughter. I have no doubt that mothers who exclusively bottle feed have this experience with their babies, too. But for me, these moments always came when she was on my boob.
But at 9.5 months, and after weeks of waffling, I’ve come to the decision to stop nursing. I’ll be honest, it comes down in large part to vanity. Instead of shedding weight from breast feeding (as was promised!), I’ve kept it all, and with an end to mat leave around the corner and an entire work wardrobe that doesn’t fit, I need to shed this baby weight. We also want to start planning #2, and to do that my body needs to get back on schedule. I am reminded by those close to me that I am not doing a disservice to my child. She was given the gift of breast milk for nearly 10 months. She is healthy and happy with her formula and her baby food. She is ready. It’s me who isn’t.
Funny. Nine months ago I would have thought that this moment would have come as a relief. I pictured this great sense of freedom. But I only feel sadness.
It’s the first real milestone that marks her move toward independence – this reduction in her dependency on me. For the first time since she was a tiny ball of dividing cells, she doesn’t need my body to sustain her anymore. I know it had to end eventually. It would be hard whether I stopped at 12 months or nine months. But cuddles with a bottle just aren’t the same as those delicious, soul-stirring moments when I’m quietly nourishing her body with mine. When she gazes into my eyes and pulls my hand to her face asking me to stroke her cheek. When her eyelids flutter and then close as she falls asleep in my arms, her body sinking into mine, and mine into hers. What I didn’t know during those first tumultuous weeks and months was that nursing would end up being one of the most rewarding, peaceful moments of our first year together.
I’m glad I stuck with it.
Did you breastfeed your baby? What did you love about it, and what did you struggle with?
Do you have any favourite moments?
Want to read more? Here are a few other essays on breastfeeding and bottle feeding you might enjoy:
5 Reasons it is Ok to Formula Feed Instead of Breastfeed, from Yahoo Voices.
You Can’t Guilt Trip Me About Bottle Feeding My Kids, from Jezebel.
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