It has been a long time coming (as my husband has pointed out to me gently), but I have recently made the difficult choice of slowly weaning my son as a means of restoring equilibrium to our home environment, and especially to my mental health. It has become increasingly apparent to me that nursing my 21 month old no longer brings me pleasure but makes me anxious and irate and this in turn has affected the way I have been relating to him on a daily basis. I have been behaving in ways that embarrass me because they are not how I want to parent but I feel disjointed because of the commitment nursing demands of me which I can no longer meet without overlooking my own needs.
Breastfeeding has not been easy for me, with my initial struggles due to health issues and emotional issues like the PPD I am still recovering from, but it has all-in-all been a beautiful journey. I have greatly enjoyed giving this of myself to my son despite everything I have gone through because of the peace and joy it has brought him but I feel that it is no longer beneficial to us to continue as we have. Our nursing relationship right now is aggravating me, from no fault of his, but simply because I am no longer able to physically tolerate the sensation of breastfeeding anymore essentially. When my son latches on, the feelings of aversion, anxiety, and anger are no longer manageable and I catch myself breaking down emotionally when he signals that he wants to nurse for comfort. I am not a very nurturing and comforting mother when I stiffen up and grit my teeth. I also sometimes curse under my breath which he definitely picks up on too and it troubles him. It is the most difficult at night when he wants to nurse back to sleep from every little night waking which only serves to increase my ire and make me a veritable beast which is not fair to him (I really am no good on little sleep to begin with either).
I am heartbroken because in my mind breastfeeding is a beautiful gift that I want to give my son for as long as he feels that he needs it, but I can no longer ignore how it affects me and in turn, affects our family as a whole because I am so unsettled. I think that what troubles me the most is that I am disappointed that ‘extended nursing’ is not working out for us when it is something I greatly looked forward to when we decided to start our family. I had wanted to nurse for at least the recommended two years, which we may just make it to, but it will not be by nursing on demand anymore. I just can’t handle it anymore.
And so I have been slowly transitioning my son to seeking other forms of comfort when distressed as a means of preserving our nursing relationship as much as I can without sacrificing my well-being along with it. Since he has been able to understand and adhere to simple directions and concepts for some months now, such as when I say: ”Daddy is at work” he knows that though he is gone right now that he will be back later and does not become anxious anymore, he has been able to grasp some boundaries I have put in place when it comes to nursing. It has taken a few weeks of consistency (and he sometimes still needs to be reminded and allowed to express his distress over it gently) but now he knows that we only nurse to sleep for a few minutes on each breast during our afternoon nap and for bedtime. If he wakes up during this time, instead of being nursed automatically back to sleep, he is now gently rocked to sleep or has his backed rubbed. Sometimes he still struggles with this fairly new routine and still asks to nurse from time to time outside of those ‘windows of opportunity’ but has been recovering more quickly from my initial rejection and accepts other options. He now (mostly) automatically asks to be rocked or carried around for a little bit or given kisses and hugs when distressed which has been a great relief for me. It has allowed me to really appreciate those few instances that we do nurse because it no longer exceeds my emotional tolerance for it.
Once he is comfortable with these new boundaries and is able to follow them without constant reminder, the next step is to replace nursing to sleep with another gentle bedtime routine that brings him the same level of comfort and relaxation. My aim is to be able to put him down to bed without having to knock him out first but there is no rush to this, as he is still quite young.
I feel that gently phasing out nursing over time is going to help me enjoy motherhood again as I will no longer be on edge all the time. Although I would love to still be nursing him when we are ready to have another child and tandem feed, I feel that it isn’t in our best interest because of the emotional reaction I have to nursing one child already. In a way I grieve this loss but I am able to accept that I have underlying issues that I need to address and that is okay. What is important to me is that the transition is as gentle on him as possible and both our needs are met, even if it isn’t in the form we originally anticipated.