Breastfeeding: It’s Emotionally Complicated

nursing mother poster from 1930'sI did not think that I would be nursing my daughter until she was almost two. It’s not that I have anything against it. It’s just that I was not raised in a breastfeeding family. And there were a lot of babies in my family.

When I had my son I was not totally committed to breastfeeding him. I knew how important it was, and I was willing to give it a try, but I felt good knowing there was a formula backup. And then he was born, and I really wanted to nurse him. Unfortunately he was born with the most horrible case of reflux. I mean, spend several days in the neonatal ICU because he chokes on his vomit and stops breathing kind of horrible. Like, have to call 911 when he was about four weeks old because he choked and stopped breathing kind of horrible.

By the time the 911 call happened, I was already supplementing this choking kid with the ferocious appetite. The doctors were no help. Refusing to prescribe some damn reflux medicine, the (male) pediatrician simply told me to totally cut dairy and coffee out of my diet. Guess what. Dairy is in everything. Oh yeah, and have you ever been a new mom who is sleep-deprived, probably experiencing PPD, and totally overwhelmed? I was basically living off on coffee, milk, Nutragrain bars, and bananas. So yeah, no. At my six-week postpartum appointment, my doctor helped me sit up, patted me on the back and told me it was okay to stop nursing if I was overwhelmed. No one ever said, “hey, here’s help, we pretty much live in a nirvana of natural birthing/child rearing/feeding options.”

So I stopped nursing.

I substituted not nursing with insisting on making every bit of solid food that went into his mouth. But I never stopped feeling more than a little sad and guilty about it. The sadness I felt over my perceived “inability,” or “failure” was nothing I ever dreamed I would experience.

And this is why it was so important for me to nurse my daughter.

As if she were born aware of my previous nursing struggles, she not only obliged my wish to be a successful nurser – she insisted on it. All the time, in fact. I’ve documented this in another blog post, but in short, at one point she was literally on me around eighteen to twenty hours a day nursing. And it was frustrating, but I did it. Because she needed to, and I was committed to it. To her.

When she turned one, I thought I was going to wean. I was ready, and she was one. But neither of us were actually ready, so we kept on going.

When she was around 15 or 16 months, I can’t remember, I did start to wean off the nursing sessions, one at a time. Eventually, and until just this last week, she nursed always when she woke up in the morning, and depending on how she was feeling, maybe once in the afternoon, like when she got up from her nap.

This is the short of the very long story in which at times I resent her for needing me all the time, and I resent my husband for not being able to help out more, so I decide right then and there that I am done nursing forever.

And then I feel guilty for resenting everyone for something that was ultimately my choice, and I back down on my no-nursing stance, and we continue to nurse. Vicious cycle.

And so it’s all been going pretty well and good, and nothing has changed really, except that she is so much less a baby and so much more a little girl now. And I feel like the time is right to stop nursing.

Plus, she’s been a total whiny disaster lately, I think because she is hitting some developmental/physical growth milestones, so a part of me figured, if she is already whining, maybe now would be a good time to wean. I don’t know the logic here, I wasn’t really thinking about how that if she’s having a hard time with something, then maybe it wasn’t the right time. I just kind of figured, why not go for the gold! And so I did.

She, for the most part, has been fine with it. She still asks once a day or so to nurse, and the first couple of days of these times were hard for her. For us, really, I felt so bad! But we substituted nursing for a cup of juice (her new favorite drink), a lap sit, and some soft words and head rubs.

It seems to work for her, but I’m still emotional about it. In fact, I’m having a hard time even writing this.

I really never dreamed that I would be sad about weaning. She needs to move on, clearly, and I need to move on, clearly. We’ve shared triumphs and sorrows, laughs and cries – literally during the act of nursing – for almost two years. Two good years!! But that is precisely why it is hard to give up, and there is a part of me that wants her to depend on me in that way, and for us to continue to share those moments. Forever.

Have you had moments with your children that you had a hard time giving up?

About Laine

Elaine GriffinElaine Griffin (a.k.a. Laine) is a freelance WordPress designer, content creator, and speaker. She brings her background as a sociologist, advocate, and educator, to her work and her writing, which has been featured on BlogHer and The SITS Girls. On The Laine List she spills her guts about life, motherhood, and balancing work and family. She also sprinkles in some fun recipe and cocktail posts. On Elaine Griffin Designs, she writes easy to follow tutorials about WordPress, social media, SEO, and blogging.
Working from her home office in Finger Lakes Region of NY, Elaine, a wine lover, also enjoys the beauty of living in wine country!

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  1. says

    Laine- Nursing is very, very hard to do exclusively. For all its benefits, the honest truth is that it does take a toll on your body and your sleep and your feelings. What you describe as the cycle of self-induced difficulty and resentment is something I think most women struggle with. It is a rare woman who has the selflessness and compassion to never feel that way when they are sleep-deprived and at the mercy of powerful PP hormones. I was an exclusive breastfeeder, working mother, co-sleeper and make-my-own-food mommy- and I did okay through the cracked nipples, mastitis, literally (and I mean that as in, LITERALLY) not having a REM cycle in 6 months because my kids nursed ever 2 hours even until they were a year old. I did okay with it. Until I didn’t. I remember one night, I was so exhausted and exasperated that I did one thing I thought I’d never do- and let my son sit in a playpen and cry. He was 9 months old and I let him cry for 5 hours. I sat in another room just to gather myself because I was so tired. I considered quitting nursing, co-sleeping, my job. I loved my son through it all and knew it wasn’t his fault- but these are the things moms endure. He nursed until he was 14 months old, he moved into his own bed at 1 and I survived. :) Whatever you choose should not be wrought with guilt. Your child will be fine whatever you choose because kids are resilient. What they want is time with you and your love. I only write this verbose comment to let you know that you are not alone in your frustration and exhaustion. Good luck- and get some sleep! :)

    • Laine says

      They are resilient, aren’t they? Unfortuanately I have been there and done that with the crying it out. Last night, in fact! :)
      I can’t imagine doing all that and working outside the home too!

  2. Jenn Adams says

    Well done. Made me teary. Such a strange thing breastfeeding. I had a serious love hate relationship with it. We went 11 1/2 months. My goal was a year but when the time is right it is. Good for you for going that long and having the strength to stop! Good luck through the transition!!!

  3. says

    I am a single mom. I did not grow up knowing anything about breast feeding either. Still a part of me just felt it was what I wanted for my self and my daughter as I carried her in the womb.

    Thankfully our worst issue was terrible thrush about 6 months in. I learned so much in that first year.

    I really had not planned to nurse forever be that two years of four. Still I knew that we would work and figure it out. The sessions went away one by one. Nap time was first. Then bed time.

    First thing in the morning was last. I still like to sleep in and we all know little kids do not. I thought she would then not give that up until I could get out of bed before she did.
    Instead one morning before her second birthday she forgot.

    Snuggled in bed she just talked and hung out with me. It didn’t take long for my supply to cease. It took her at least two weeks to remember and by then there was nothing.

    • Laine says

      This is such a bittersweet story! Did you feel very emotional about it, or were you able to just go with the flow, so to speak?

  4. says

    I miss the snuggling. At 16 and 13 my kids are not into being snuggle bunnies anymore. It makes me sad. My son still hugs me in the morning when I drop him off at school (he’s the 16 year old), my daughter…not a chance. This was a great post, thanks for sharing your story!

    • Laine says

      I know, I love the snuggling. In spite of the nursing, Gen has not historically been much of a snuggler. Ben is, though. He assures me he will always want to snuggle with me. :)

  5. Megan says

    Hey! I was right there with you. Kev hung on forever, he would start to wean then get sick or we would travel.. ugh it went on and on. Then I went back to work and he would not drink ANYTHING but breast milk (thank God he would take it from a cup, not a bottle though) Finally around 15 and a half months I booked a trip to CA and we had 4 weeks we did it. My husband had to hold me down a few nights so I wouldn’t run to him and nurse. I have been happy about weaning until last weekend (it has been ayear now) and he got really sick, he was miserable and I wished I could nurse him… I guess thats part of this Mommy thing:)

    • Laine says

      I know what you mean, Megan about feeling like just when you are about to let go, something happens and they become full-on nursers again! I have thought about what will happen when Gen gets sick. Nursing always becomes such an integral part of making them feel at least comfortable when they are sick.

  6. holly schindler says

    my breastfeeding experience with finley was very similar to yours with ben. i gave up too, it was too hard trying to eliminate all the problem foods. i also made all of his solid foods, organic, just to ease my guilt. now baby #2 is a pro breast feeder! i will never forget our first nursing session in the hospital, it was like magic! it felt right from the beginning. it does crack me up though when women gush over the love of breastfeeding. it is sweet, but did i not get that womanly boob feeding gene? its a hell of a lot of work!

    • Laine says

      I remember us comparing stories, Holly. I know what you mean about the first time in the hospital. I felt it with Gen too. And she never wanted to leave my side/boobs right from the beginning. I was even scolded in the hospital for letting her sleep in the bed with me. But they wouldn’t keep her in the nursery so I could get sleep, and a mama’s gotta do what she’s gotta do!

  7. says

    My daughter (19 months) was weaned around her first birthday. My son at 4 months! (son was first born too) I was very much at the point of starting to despise everyone while nursing my daughter, especially since at one years of age she was NOT sleeping through the night, those 12am, and 3am feedings were killing me, almost literally. Luckily I didn’t have to worry too much about weaning as my body simply said “I ain’t gonna do it anymore” and began to dry up, she happily took to the bottle as I couldn’t give her enough anymore. And at first it’s the great relief of being able to say to others “Here you can feed her” and then it was me crying because she was past the point of needing only what I could give her! She definatly has ran me ragged, so today, now that’s it has been six months, I hate to say that I really don’t miss it anymore. ;p

  8. says

    Wow, super-popular post, Laine.

    I did not breastfeed. Though I’m a 44 chest, my man-breasts just didn’t work. :)
    MLB did, however, and I can remember her going through similar issues. Hope it all works out with the wee ones and you as you want it to. Just don’t feel guilty – I know it’s the mom thing to do, but you all beat yourselves up way too much!

  9. says

    I nursed my son until he was about 15 months, and then he gradually stopped. We were down to just one time, first thing in the morning, and one morning he got up and didn’t want to. I can still remember how bright the sun was shining on that November day, and how his white blond hair glowed as he ran off to play. He’d always been a 24/7 nurser, refused a bottle, and made me so exhausted and overwhelmed and at times such a cranky pants I was ashamed of myself, but then it was done and I missed it. He’s almost 17 years old now, and that moment still tugs at my heart.

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