I’ve complained a lot about nursing. My one-year-old would pull at my shirt and I’d roll my eyes while whipping it out, defeated.
It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed the tender, quiet moments of nourishment and bonding. Once he got his latch figured out and my breasts stopped running like Niagara Falls, I absolutely relished in the simple pleasure of holding my son close and feeding him while my preschooler yelled from the bathroom, “I’m ready to have my butt wiped!”
Seriously though, it’s been a powerful tool. I never needed to prepare bottles or run to the store. I always had what I needed to feed my baby, and never accidentally left my nipples at home. I’ve depended on nursing to keep my baby quiet during necessary times (phone calls, airline flights, and story times with big brother). I’ve also used it to get him to fall asleep in a jiffy, and to make the worst of boo-boos all better fast. But what was once a tool became a crutch.
The sense of peace I felt from nursing was eventually replaced with aggravation. One time, I was carrying my one-year-old on my hip in Target. I bent over to check out a pretty throw pillow, and BOOP! – he grabbed my breast from my sundress and popped it right into his mouth. And again as we walked through the parking garage to our car.
I was powerless to reclaim my lady bits because my hands were filled with bags. I trudged through the pool of cars with groceries in my hands, toddler on my hip, preschooler by my side, and my ninnie in a mouth.
It’s not society that made me feel uncomfortable. In fact I often felt that keeping him quiet and still was the polite thing to do. It’s that I didn’t personally enjoy it anymore. I hated my necklines constantly being stretched out, my nipples being tickled and scratched, and the immobility and fussing that came with the endless desire to nurse. I was ready to reclaim my body, rather than offer it as a pacifier.
This past week, I took my boys to the pediatrician for check-ups. When the doctor came into the room, my 15-month-old was throwing a fit on my lap and clawing at my chest. I told the doctor he wanted my breast, and was visibly frustrated. She said, “Today’s a great day to stop.”
She warned me that once I make the decision I shouldn’t turn back or it would be harder on both of us. She also assured me he’s resilient, and would suffer no damage. “These changes are harder for adults to make than children,” she said.
I didn’t want to cut him off cold-turkey. I wanted it to be a slow, natural process for both of us. I didn’t want him to feel confused or rejected, and I didn’t want my body and hormones to suffer a shock. For months, I attempted to cut out feedings gradually, but as the pediatrician noticed – he was as aggressive as I was submissive.
He’d cry and throw fits, and at some point I’d give in because I wanted to be able to have a quiet conversation with someone or go on a family walk or do anything peaceful. I know cold-turkey weaning isn’t necessarily the recommendation, but just like giving up cigarettes, each quitting experience is unique.
I knew for us it would be easier to simply take the option to nurse off the table. I cold-turkey weaned my 15-month-old nursing addict because I didn’t want to spend any more time frustrated, and I’m happy I did because the process wasn’t even that bad. Sure it meant a couple days of early wakings and painful engorgement, but I expected a rough couple of days.
The most shocking part about the experience is that he totally understood from the get-go that he wouldn’t be nursing anymore. I always talked to him and explained things to him, but I underestimated how much he really comprehended. I thought our last time nursing would be bittersweet, but it wasn’t. I felt a mixture of relief and pride. After all, he wasn’t the only nursing junkie – I was, too.
I expected lots of big emotions come bed time because he was used to nursing then. He pat my chest saying, “Mil, mil,” and I told him there’s no more milk. I hugged him, loved on him, laid him down, and he went to sleep. He’s capable of so much more than I ever imagined.
For the next couple of days we stayed out of the house a lot to keep him distracted. We spent many hours at playgrounds. My boobs were growing into my chest (actually just my left one) and I went to bed with ibuprofen and ice packs. Things were a little leaky too.
My little guy was fussy for days, and then it dawned on me: maybe he’s normally fussy and that’s why I kept him constantly at the chest. Maybe fussing is just what toddlers do. I felt good about him finding other ways to soothe himself. I also enjoyed comforting him in new ways that fostered more connection and actual engagement (I nursed from my left breast for a reason – so that my right side was free to type, text, and troll Instagram).
By the sixth day I felt like we were in the clear. I feel so much freer and energized, and I enjoy my babe’s company so much more because he’s not constantly demanding a quick nip. We are enjoying a new dynamic to our relationship that is devoid of nursing resentment and his neediness.
My only complaint about cold-turkey weaning is holy engorgement! I thought the first couple of days would be the worst, but it didn’t seem to get better. I read about using cabbage leaves and they actually really helped, not only to relieve the pain (refrigerate them) but also to dry the milk. Why didn’t I invest in some cabbage sooner?
Back when I complained about wanting to be done nursing, people would often say, “Just do it.” I didn’t feel like it was that easy, but actually, it was. Sure there was some physical discomfort for me, but my toddler never suffered. I weaned him cold-turkey because I no longer enjoyed nursing. As the parent, I have the power to make changes, and I should because if Mama isn’t happy, nobody is.