I personally feel that it is important that we establish healthy nursing boundaries when the relationship isn't working for us anymore. Our needs as mothers are also important.
When my son Leo was around 21 months I found that at least night weaning needed to occur in order to make nursing pleasant for us again. I was getting overwhelmed by his need to comfort nurse when I needed my rest and so decided on gently weaning him. I found that I had to actively enforce these boundaries, gently but firmly, while teaching him other ways to be soothed or self-soothe himself. It was a process. When I became pregnant again soon after, dry nursing was too much for me and it was affecting my relationship with him so I had to make the conscious choice to temporarily wean him completely until that baby was born and my milk came back in (he chose not to tandem nurse after all but I digress). I just made sure that I was emotionally present with him during this transition, because naturally he was upset over this but it really was what was best for all of us. Previously I believed firmly in child-led weaning however it became apparent that it didn’t coincide with my own needs.
I often find other mothers have trouble honoring their own feelings around nursing because they are afraid of emotionally crippling their children, but an important part about growing up are these very transitions. However many women feel the need to push past their discomfort to the point of mental breakdown, which isn’t healthy. On one forum for example, a mother posted about feeling overwhelmed nursing her preschooler and when some replied urging her to establish boundaries that honored her feelings too she reacted by saying all she wanted was support in extended nursing rather than being judged; though that is certainly not what was really occurring. Although she may have only wanted to have her feelings validated, being encouraged to grin and bear a relationship that was no longer working for her quite obviously was not going to be supported by everyone on the member list she was reaching out to. Many felt that being supportive entailed pointing out that she mattered too. So why couldn’t she accept that reality?
The mother as martyr is not a new observation, especially within the AP community but emotionally breaking down is one of the dark sides to this kind of identity. No one is meant to deny their needs indefinitely, it’s not natural. Even as parents we can only delay filling our own reserves for a time; they still need to be addressed somehow. There is a reason why there is a saying of ‘take care of yourself first’. We mothers are often the glue that keeps the family together and if we are overwhelmed, our parenting suffers and so do our children. That’s why it is important that even when it comes to our nursing relationships with our children that we constantly evaluate what is really working or not and to honor those changes, even if it doesn’t fit in with what we originally planned or expected. There are more ways than simply breastfeeding to meet a child's emotional needs; they just need to be implemented consistently and compassionately.
Sometimes our hubbies are the ones that see the strain better than we do too. I know that mine was the first to point out that it wasn’t really working anymore, despite my beliefs about extended nursing. At first I was offended that he would even suggest doing something about our nursing patterns, but it was obvious that he was right in thinking a change was needed. I just wasn’t ready to hear it as I was lost in complete mama denial mode because of preconceived ideas I had about motherhood. When I started to lose my mind I started re-evaluating my beliefs and made the conscious choice to honor my own feelings despite the original reluctance. It was the best thing I could have done for all of us and should have started the process sooner even. You live you learn.
Have you had to erect your own nursing boundaries with your children? How did you proceed and what was the result?