On Weaning

Mr. Noah Jamal turned 19 months old yesterday. My little man has so many words and so many things to say.

When we started out together, I had decided that I would breastfeed him until he was two, but as he grew stronger and more active, breastfeeding began to feel like a contact sport. Nipple tweaking, punching, biting, scratching, kicking and karate chops to the trachea were not uncommon. I was blessed with a healthy, easy pregnancy and straightforward delivery, but breastfeeding was a tremendously painful challenge for the first eight weeks of Noah’s life in the world. You can read all about that here. I was very determined to make it work, and so I stuck with it, with so much love and support from my partners. I knew I wanted to breastfeed as long as I could.

Weaning began to feel more and more appealing, but I was torn. I felt very emotional about the idea that we would no longer share such a close physical bond. Cutting the umbilical cord is a process that takes a lifetime, I think, and as each day passes by so quickly I see my little soul become increasingly independent. I’m proud of him, I can’t wait to see him grow and blossom, but I also ache for something I can’t quite name. Maybe it’s the ability to physically hold him close and keep him safe in my arms? Maybe it’s the idea that his whole universe seems so simple as he makes his first tender steps into this huge, scary world?  It could be that I ache for something as simple as the nourishment and comfort that I alone can give him. There have been countless times since the day I learned that I was pregnant that I’ve felt like keeping my baby in my body forever, where none of the evils of the world would ever touch him. In my sleepless night-time moments I realize that I am powerless to protect him, and I’m terrified that I will leave the world before he’s strong enough to safeguard himself.  I realize that the older he gets, the closer we get to the day when I have to explain things like 9/11 and cancer and why Toronto elected a drunken crack-head for a mayor. Parenting is a terror and joy unlike anything I could ever have imagined.

I half-heartedly tried to wean a few times over the last two months. Neither of us were ready, so no surprise that it didn’t work. Then, when I resolved that I was able to move on to the next great thing, Noah got a nasty cold, and I just couldn’t deny him the comfort of the breast. When he was better, we moved to feeding only first thing in the morning and just before daddy put him to bed.

He would ask to nurse, and I would explain that I didn’t have milk just then, but that we could cuddle and have a snack, or some warm milk in a bottle or juice. He accepted this with very little protest. If he pushed harder, I found a good distraction, like a walk outside or a favourite game.  The next week, we cut out the night-time feeding and switched to a quiet snuggle on the couch with the mammas and a bottle before bed, no complaints at all here.

On one particular day, I wore a low-cut shirt. Insensitive, yes, but I wasn’t thinking as I rushed to get ready. He asked to nurse a couple of times, but when I explained that I didn’t have milk, he settled for gentle snuggle with my boobs. We were waiting for the car to get serviced, so it made for an amusing show. No more angry protests though.

Then on Sunday, Mother’s Day ironically and coincidentally, we nursed for the very last time. In the two days leading up to this event, I was really emotional. Not many places will tell you this, but you experience hormonal changes, and all of the fun that comes with that, as your body slows down and then stops milk production. I said goodbye to this sweet era of my baby’s life, the many tender moments where I’ve felt a connection like nothing I’ve experienced, and I prayed that even after I stopped being a food source, he would recognize the bond we’ve shared. I think part of me is worried that I can be easily replaced, and yes, I do suffer from low self-esteem.

Physically, I’m doing fine. No serious engorgement pain thus far. Emotionally, I still feel a bit tender, but nursing is replaced with voracious eating (by the baby, not me) and lots of snuggles and cuddles that Noah is initiating, which feels just wonderful. It’s such a joy to have him near and to not feel worried about getting injured. I think we were as ready as we could be, and I think that’s why this has gone so smoothly this time around.

You’ll read a lot about weaning. If you’re like me, all of your trusted breastfeeding resources will tell you not to wean, but I wasn’t convinced that Noah would wean himself any time soon, and it was becoming a largely unpleasant event. Public feeding had become next to impossible because it really seemed like one or both of us was being injured. You have to make the decisions that feel right for you, in the time line that suits you and your baby best. I think if we trust ourselves, and our instincts we always know when that is.

If you have questions about your own breastfeeding journey, or just want to share your breastfeeding stories, I’m all ears.

Meanwhile, enjoy this ridiculous video that somehow captures my feelings on alternative families, breastfeeding, nurturing, the soul of a mother, the bond between non-birth parents and their children, and the ridiculously random nature of the universe.

At the time of publishing, I am less tender, but very emotional and irritable. Take note mammas, weaning is hard on your body and your hormones, so take good care of yourselves. Give yourself a week of extra attention, long bubble baths and extra chocolate. You’re going to need it.

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