Today we finally stopped breastfeeding. My little one is old enough for me to explain that we are stopping, but looking down at her suckling for the last time, I realized just how much I am going to miss it, to miss that closeness, that intimacy that breastfeeding your child gives you. There will be women reading this, perhaps who are newly pregnant and thinking about whether to breastfeed or not, perhaps some who are having difficulties and about to give up. To you, whoever you are, I would just like to say – I hope this helps you with your decision.
I should hoist my flag right now and say that I am a great believer in the health benefits that breastfeeding offers to both mom and baby. When I made the decision to breastfeed, I considered the evidence irrefutable, and as I, like most moms, just wanted the best for my baby, so, for me, the decision was an obvious one. However, the decision is yours, and yours alone. I have seen situations where breastfeeding moms sanctimoniously gang up on a new mom who either by choice, or circumstance does not breastfeed, to ‘explain’ the error of their ways; a situation where a friend of mine who was breastfeeding, gave her baby a bottle at night so that her husband could help with the feeding, but didn’t feel able to tell her friends about her ‘failure’; and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, seen young moms, trying to breastfeed, being subject to peer pressure because it’s not seen as cool! All are equally misguided.
Whatever decision you make, to breastfeed or not to breastfeed; to stop after two weeks, two months, or two years, it has to be the right decision for both you and your baby. As Abraham Hicks once said….’make the decision and then make it right’. The worst thing you can do, is to make a decision because of what other people think – let me tell you why… if you aren’t comfortable, if you aren’t happy breastfeeding, if you don’t do it willingly, you will be sending non-verbal signals to your baby. In my experience, they are unbelievably sensitive to mood, and atmosphere, so in addition to perhaps being stressed and unhappy, you will end up with a stressed and unhappy baby, and that is not what you are trying to achieve. Give yourself a break, and if in doubt, go with your gut!
So, for me the decision was the easy bit. The implementation was the challenge. I approached my pregnancy, childbirth, and the prospect of breastfeeding with the view that if tens of millions of women have done it before me, surely it couldn’t be that hard. It therefore came as a bit of a shock to realize quite how unnatural it felt, the first few days of breastfeeding. Although I had been told otherwise, I still assumed that you just sort of pointed your breast at the baby and everything automatically happened. The reality was that both baby and I needed to learn how to do it. You have to learn how to hold the baby at the right angle; how to tease baby into moving its mouth so that they can get a latch on correct…. I could go on! I’m sure for some people it does come completely naturally, and I’m equally sure that if you have a subsequent child, your previous experience would help considerably, but in the case of a first born, you’re as much a novice as the tiny scrap of humanity who is relying on you to get it right. In our parents’ or grandparents’ generation, people lived much closer to each other – there would always have been family and close friends around to help and advise a new mom. Today things are a bit different, and new moms can feel isolated and inadequate, but there are plenty of places to go for professional help if you need it. Don’t forget – you are not the first mom to think it somehow doesn’t feel natural. It’s not you. It’s no different than learning any new skill, it takes time, effort and practice.
Even though I considered myself to be well read on the subject, there were still things that happened to us, and I thought – why didn’t anyone tell me that! Call me stupid, or at least a bit dim – for example, for ages I didn’t realize that my baby fell asleep whilst feeding, but continued to move her lips so I thought she was still suckling, when actually she was asleep!
Then of course, there is the pain – cracked nipples, general soreness, and… for me, and many other women I’m sure – the onset of mastitis. This is the point I believe that whatever their earlier resolution, many women change their minds when confronted with this reality. It is difficult to explain to someone with no knowledge of it, quite how painful a blocked milk duct can be, and how inadequate warm baths or hot flannels can feel in the face of what can be seemingly excruciating pain, or as in my case, how inadequate you feel, late at night, sitting in a foreign Accident and Emergency department, among the drunks and brawlers with your precious bundle cuddled close to you, not because they are sick, but because you desperately need pain relief and antibiotics.
Ultimately I, like many millions of women before me, rode the storm, and passed through the uncertainty, doubt, pain and confusion. At some undefined point on the journey, all the negatives evaporated, or perhaps the two of us just figured out between us how to go about it. At some other point, though I couldn’t tell you now whether it was before or after, I realized that I was actually enjoying it. In my mind it became a quintessential part of the bonding process that was happening between me and my little one, and something that will forever define a difference between our relationship and all others she ever forms. So, on this day, as I look back, I feel many things – pride that I was able to deliver on both the mental and physical benefits that I believe breastfeeding offers; sadness that this phase of our relationship is now past; and happiness too knowing that I shall never forget the best times, in the stillness of the night when there was just us, with me nurturing my precious offspring in what had ultimately become, the most natural way in the world.