A day without nursing

The Boychick has been nursing a lot less in recent months. It started when I needed to put limits on when and for how long he could nurse, especially during and around my period — I kept expecting the sensations to bother me less, and for him to nurse more, at different points in my cycle, but it never happened. Each menstrual period seemed to herald another step-down in frequency, duration, and because of that, production. Which only made the sensations worse, my aversion stronger.

But still, we were hovering at 1-3x a day for the past couple months: upon waking, usually before bed, sometimes another when he needed the connection.

Thursday night: I am lying in bed with The Man and the Boychick, after a day of feasting and family, of privilege and oppression, belly pleasantly over-full, heart full just-right. I am smiling, watching my lover read to our child. My mind is contentedly cruising over the day, when it occurs to me — he didn’t nurse this morning. It is bed time, he has easy access, but is already half asleep, and hasn’t asked. If he falls asleep without nursing now, he will have gone for one full day without nursing, for the first time ever.

And he does.

Watching him sleep, my brows crease, my breath catches. My eyes feel full, my breasts don’t; neither milk nor tears fall. The Man asks if I am OK. I shrug, nod, roll over, go to sleep.

When we wake up the next day, I ask him if he wants milk. He says no, tells his dad to pick him up and take him to the front room. The Man picks him up, asks him again — he considers for a moment before exclaiming “Yeah!” and diving back in bed with me. He latches on, and I stroke his hair and examine his face, all angles and dimples yet still softly curved, and in it I see both the baby he was and the man he will probably grow in to. He smiles without unlatching, and we nurse longer than we have in weeks — a few minutes per side, him swallowing but a few times in the whole session when just two short years ago, forever ago, he would have gulped twice for every breath.

I lose myself in him, in us, in this moment. I hurry to etch it into my memory, promise myself I will never forget, knowing even as I promise that the lines will blur, the image fade, and soon it will be impossible to look at him and see this not-baby not-child, just as I have forgotten the exact shape of his younger face.

He nursed again yesterday morning, this morning not. No evenings at all, and so perhaps this will be another day without nursing. Maybe we have nursed for the last time — maybe it will be months yet, though I doubt it, as much as I’d wanted to say we’d made it to three years. I likely won’t know the last time, won’t pause and study him and strain to memorize the moment like I did that morning. It will just not-happen one day, and then another, and then I will realize it is has been days, weeks, and the moment I’ll want to remember forever I will already have forgotten.

It’s not supposed to be like this, my heart cries, but this is exactly how it is supposed to be, I know. One moment, after another, each one the same as the one before: but in the small infinity of many moments pressed together, everything changes. My child grows up, my heart breaks and keeps beating, and life goes on.

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31 Responses to A day without nursing

  1. With both of my kids I have gone back and forth between wanting them to wean and never wanting it to end. With my first, I went between being happy he weaned while I was pregnant with my second so that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the demands of tandem nursing and being upset that he weaned because I couldn’t use nursing as a tool to deal with the big emotions that come with being 2 or 3 and having a new baby in the house.

    My daughter, my baby, my last child, is the same age as your son. She nurses mostly at bedtime and in the morning when she wakes up. Some nights she nurses constantly. Some nights she sleeps through. Most days she doesn’t ask to nurse at all (outside of the usual times) and other days she begs all day long.

    It is bittersweet, confusing, trying, emotional.

    And your post about the nipple sensitivity at certain times of the month reminded me that I should go upstairs and take my calcium/magnesium supplements (helps a lot).

    • “Bittersweet” is so the right word. It keeps coming up, and more and more I’m realizing it does because it is so accurate to describe the emotions around weaning, even if it is cliched.

  2. Weaning is so bittersweet, and so full of mixed feelings.

    My daughter nursed until she was 34 months old. And I was ready to be done, mostly. I will admit, the lines are starting to blur. But not as much as I might have expected. It’s sort of like anything with babies, some parts of it just remain etched on your mind in a way that cannot be removed.

    No matter what, you can feel glad in knowing that the Boychick weaned in his own time. If only all children could be so lucky.

    • I think it’s almost never as clear cut as mother-led OR child-led when it comes to weaning (sometimes, sure). I’ve put so many restrictions on him, put him off so many times, until he stopped asking during the day for the most part. And I had to, and don’t regret choosing that (I regret that I felt I needed to, but I couldn’t control that), but it does mean that maybe he’s stopping sooner than he would have otherwise.

      And does that matter? Probably not. It’s a dance, this, both of us giving and receiving, stepping forward and stepping back. Other than the sadness that this particular dance seems to be ending, I’m ok with that.

  3. Once we made it to 2 years, my goal, I was more than done. I thought I’d never not want to nurse but I really started to dislike it. When the kiddo weaned at just over 25mos I was so happy. She never was a comfort nurser and my supply was nearly gone anyway so it was time. The first day home after a vacation was the official beginning of not nursing, in retrospect, it wasn’t planned. It was so nice to just be able to wake up without having to nurse, so nice to put her down for a nap or bedtime without having to nurse. I felt really free then. For the first time ever someone else would be able to put her to bed!

    • The Boychick stopped nursing to sleep for naps and nighttime months ago. He’d sometimes nurse before sleeping, but stopped nursing to sleep once I had to start limiting the time he could be on. It was tough at first, but the past few months, The Man has been the one doing bedtimes without any calls for milk, and other than occasional sadness at missing that snuggly time with my child, I’ve loved it. Weaning and someone else doing bedtimes weren’t synonymous here.

  4. Your post was so beautifully written and got me a little teary eyed. Tonight I was stroking my 18 month old’s face while he nursed and thought about how much I’ll miss it when he’s done.

    • Thank you (and welcome!). As much as I’ve disliked much of the act of nursing the past many months, I also don’t want it to end. Even if we have another baby (huge if), once it’s over there will be no nursing him again. And that’s when I start getting choked up.

  5. Gritty eyes welling up with big fat sleep deprived tears.
    What a wonder piece, I so relate.
    Roo is 19 months and my 4 th baby.
    At the age if 42 and with 3 little businesses on the go it’s unlikely I’ll have any more so at the moment even though nursing all night is exhausting I’m kind of savouring every moment.
    Roo is the one of my babes who truly lives feeding, albeit rather sporadic by day.
    He asks for “bub” and if I’m preoccupied and don’t answer his pleas imediately he then endearing and very clearly asks for “Mummy Milk”.
    I get nipple sensitivity and reduced milk supply but somehow I carry on.
    How wonderful that you are totally nature to naturally take it’s course.x

  6. I’ll second the teary-eyed reaction. Thinking of weaning fills me with such…well, I just don’t know that I’m ready to handle the emotions there right now. But reading stories like these helps, it really does.

    Sometimes (like now, nursing at keyboard), I can be so cavalier, so unaware of connecting to the moment, the now of nursing, the images I want to burn into memory, as you describe, and I simply take it for granted. Thanks for the reminder.

    On the more amusing side, every time the subject of weaning comes up, Sam says, But then what will he do all day? As if nursing is Mikko’s favorite pastime or something — which I suppose it is at the moment!

    • Before it started happening, I truly had NO idea how I could possibly parent the Boychick without nursing. I clearly remember thinking “but how would he ever go to sleep??” (and “but when would I ever get a break??”) And then… it happened. I couldn’t fathom it, but then, I didn’t need to, because it happened without my understanding.

      Life is weird.

  7. I loved your touching story, and congratulate you for being part of the tiny percentage that makes it to two years. I think often of all the women who were set up to fail and had hopes to make it to a year, yet never made it past the first few days or weeks because of “booby traps” they were not even aware of . . . and sadly, tend to blame themselves instead of the cultural and institutional barriers. There is a beautiful story about weaning a toddler in the book “Unbuttoned: Opening Up about the Pleasures, Pains, and Politics of Breastfeeding” that I found to be poignant like yours. It is so important that more mothers hear stories about breastfeeding beyond the first six months if we want to change our culture to one that accepts, embraces and celebrates nursing!

    One of my biggest regrets is that I don’t have any photos of me breastfeeding either of my children, if you don’t already have pix, I encourage you to take some.

    • I have LOTS of nursing photos from his babyhood, and at least one or two from about a year ago, but none from recently — he likes to be on the other side of the camera, which doesn’t help! And no professional pictures at all, nursing or not, which I am starting to slightly regret. Perhaps that’s another post…

  8. This is exactly the way I’m feeling: if nursing gets less and less and 2 days in a row, my nearly 3 yo is not nursing, I think “oh no, I didn’t properly remember it the last time and it might have been the REALLY last time…”.
    You made me cry as you put my feelings into words…

  9. Annie puts it perfectly when she calls it bittersweet. My daughter is 8 months old, and we’re still at a point where I cannot even fathom not nursing. I have friends who say, “Oh, you should come out drinking when you’re done nursing! We’re gonna throw you a party!” I politely agree that yes, I should go out with them when I am done nursing – but that’s going to be a long ways away.
    Anyway – I loved your post. This is my first time on reading your blog, but I will keep up with it.

  10. Well said my friend. I too had to put limits on nursing at various times. With my oldest it was because I was tandem nursing him and his baby brother. If I didn’t limit my toddler, I’d have nursed all day long! And my sanity needed a break. Eventually he declared that he was a big kid and could eat pizza and that he would save the milk for his baby (brother).
    My middle one wasn’t ever a comfort nurser like his big brother, so once my supply started to dwindle (due to pregnancy) and he found solid food, his nursing tapered off. I didn’t discourage it because like you the less supply I had, the more “uncomfortable” the act of nursing became.
    My daughter had to be supplemented due to my needing surgery when she was about 16 months. That started her down the weaning road. Especially since she started becoming quite the daddy’s girl and really enjoyed snuggling with him and a bottle. Since nursing her was so painful during my recovery, I was glad she took to him and a different choice so readily.
    With my Lilybug I remember the exact day and time she nursed for the last time. Dec. 29th, 2006 She had fallen and gotten hurt and came running to me for “nursies” and comfort. She nursed for about 15 minutes and fell asleep on my lap. I had a feeling it would be one of the last times, so I committed it to memory, much like you described. Now I am ever so glad I did.
    You are right that it is a dance. It is a give and take. And what a beautiful way to describe the intricacies of the nursing dyad! I am ever so grateful that I had the chance to nurture all 3 of my children in such a special way. But in turn they also nurtured me. The love in their eyes when they looked up at me, still latched but smiling, the sweet pats and caresses on my skin, and the chance to learn patience and perseverance, all gave me lessons in love and mothering I don’t know if I would have gotten otherwise.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, and allowing me to remember!

  11. Beautifully written, and definitely provoked a few tears from my eyes as well.
    My wee man is 17 months, and still loves nursing, but the other day, I realized for the first time that at some point he won’t want to anymore, and a big part of me will be absolutely crushed. And I will miss that prolonged cuddle time so acutely. I also had no problems with breastfeeding (aside from the first few weeks, due to undiagnosed tongue-tie), so I won’t even have the relief that a lot of mums have when they wean.

    He is, and will remain my only child, so once he’s done – then we’re both done.

    Note to self: make sure to spend more time ‘in the moment’, taking full stock of this wondrous and fleeting time with my boy.

  12. I agree that you share your thoughts beautifully here. The whole push-pull that is breastfeeding and parenting. I have had several friends write weaning letters to their children as they’ve become convinced that their children really are weaned. They’ve said that it helped them a lot to be able to set their thoughts down for themselves and their kiddo.

  13. What a beautiful post. Life is so precious and so fleeting. Thank you for reminding me that I spend too many of my moments being stressed or rushed, and need to drink in all these precious seconds and minutes and moments because they will not come back.

    I love your blog. Love it.

  14. oh yes, I got teary-eyed too – a simply beautiful post.
    I wonder how my little one and I will get there. He still loves it and needs it often, and I’d be happy to cut down, but not to end. He’s stopped nursing to sleep all on his own, so I have faith that he will be ready to stop at other times too. The thought of it ending does make me teary.
    I also like your point somewhere in these comments that weaning is very rarely totally mother-led or child-led, it’s a dance between the two.

  15. <3 As I think about weaning Keagan at four years old I am sad because I know I will never have another child. At the same time I know I have not truly *enjoyed* it for some time now. I am goddamned proud that we made it this long. Thank you for sharing. <3

  16. Oh my. This all gives me such… mixed… feelings. My daughter is 23 months old and still happily nursing, although I’ve just recently stopped feeding her at night. And goodness I was surprised how easily that went. At the moment I’m as you described – I can’t imagine how she’ll ever stop.

    But at various times I’ve really wanted to – when she was about 13 months I got a cut on one of my nipples that quickly graduated to an open wound – feeding was excruciatingly painful and I only managed, and managed to get it to heal, with a gerry-rigged nipple guard and various gunky concoctions that I made up from creams and ointments. Ever since then, although things got back to normal, I’ve had the memory of that pain at the back of my mind and any time I get even the slightest bit sore I nearly panic. So I won’t miss that, anyway, even if I miss all the rest!

  17. I’m bawling Brooklin is only 5 months but I know soon enough I will write these same words. :S

    • As you probably know, it’ll seem like forever going through it, and a blink of an eye in retrospect. Just enjoy the moment as much as you can.

  18. My daughter is only 8 months old and I plan on nursing until at least 2 years, but every time I read weaning stories, I get sad and teary eyed. Thanks for the reminder to enjoy it while it lasts.

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  20. Coming late to the party. I wish I’d made it to two years with either of mine. The first weaned herself at 15 months – she decided she liked white grape juice more than Mommy Milk. I cried for days. I wasn’t ready. I offered and was refused more times than I want to count.

    The second made it to 19 months, and then I was gone on a trip for five days. When I got back, I offered, but she declined. A week later, she asked, but it was pretty much too late. She still looks at my breasts in fascination and talks about how they gave yummy milk. She does remember nursing still, and she’s almost four. She also asks me when I’m going to have another baby so I can make more yummy milk. At age 38 and on the verge of divorce, I don’t know if that’s happening.

    My breasts still ache when I hear a newborn cry. My mother, who nursed all four of us (between 1963 and 1976, when it was Not Done!) says hers do too.

    I so much miss the closeness of a teenyone snuggling up to me. I only wish my life were more stable so I could even consider the pros and cons of another.

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  23. Wonderfully written. My daughter and I made it to 29 months. She has slowly given it up, and I’m so thankful I let her do it on her own time (eventhough I had no support from family to do so!). As I knew it was coming, I took time to try to memorize her face as she nursed. I didn’t know the last would be the last, but I do remember it and for that I am thankful. I’m just now shedding my first tear of her weaning, thank you for pulling it out of me.

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