A GENTLE END TO BREASTFEEDING MY FIRST CHILD

 
fresh lilac in a lilac colored ceramic vase by samantha spigos

Seven months pregnant and growing bigger and tighter and sorer every week, I felt more ready than not to start weaning my daughter off breastmilk. That’s also to say I was hardly sure if I could handle it, or if she could, but I suspected my intuition was correctly guiding me. In motherhood, there is innate wisdom borne in each of us — a most helpful truth when it comes time to make deep decisions. When I found out I was expecting another child, I wept at the thought of not being able to nurse Rosemary as long as I had originally hoped. Sure, I could co-feed both, but my personal inclination was to direct all breastmilk to the new babe and allow the older sibling to flourish independently. But my heart ached. I understand now that part of my journey in accepting my new mothering role to two was to lay bare my unsure, aching heart, and allow it to become fortified in courage. Thankfully it was fleeting (innate wisdom, etc.), and as with so many things, the transition, though not without challenge, proved quite natural. Women around me said it would be, but it’s hard to know until you know.

Being a woman particularly interested in how other women raise babies, I’ve learned that the nuances of breastfeeding are myriad and personal. A woman’s ability to breastfeed, or not, and for how long, and using what method, is humbling to hear. There is much to be gleaned from every single mother’s journey. I am blessed with a great milk supply and I genuinely love breastfeeding. It did not come easily, and after many tears, a lactation consultant, and the support of those around me, Rosemary and I established a breastfeeding bond that I remain incredibly grateful for. She and I are five weeks weaned now, something I can hardly believe!

At my midwife appointments, my body kept indicating that I was under stress and fighting off sickness. I felt so tired, regardless what I did to improve my energy. Around the same time, Rosie was thriving and seeming to use my body more for comfort than for fuel. Maybe it’s time to close this chapter, I thought. I was nervous to air those thoughts to my midwife and doulas, but as soon as I did, her response was, “You don’t have to convince us! If your body and mind are telling you it’s time, it’s time.” By my next appointment, my body was healthy and hydrated. Our intuition knows!

fresh lilacs in a lilac ceramic vase by samantha spigos

I think it took us three weeks from the day I started weaning her to the day we ended. And another two weeks for her to seem unaware that breastfeeding was an option. Now when she looks at my body or touches my breasts (which she usually does inquisitively while laughing), I tell her that the milk is all gone (using the sign for “all gone” which she knows well) and that it’s for the new baby. She seems to recognize that there is a baby inside my belly, or at the least she gives kisses and says “baby” every time she seems my bare belly. In the first few weeks, however, she would just cry with her head on my shoulder when I did not submit to her desire to nurse. Heartbreaking, but healthy — that’s how it felt. I would rub her back and offer words of comfort like, “I know this is really hard for you. This is hard for mama too. We are going through a transition together.” I would follow up with words like, “I love you, and will always hold you. It’s OK for you to cry.” By not talking about another baby, but instead allowing her to be the focus of my words and attention, I think / hope / could sense that she felt comfortable, even if she was confused. I marvel at how she adapted so quickly. Kids are amazing. Another sweet outcome of the transition was witnessing her relationship with Mark. Rest time had always been a Mom game. Now Mark could rock her for bedtime and sink into that truly unparalleled snuggle time.

Another something to note is that Rosemary uses a pacifier. We have always tried to use it sparingly, but are of the philosophy that comforting aids are not harmful as long as the parents are attentive to the emotions and signals of their little ones. During the breastfeeding transition we definitely saw Rosie become more attached to her pacifier at times of rest. She’s still using it, and each time I feel riddled with guilt or concern over it, Mark and the rest of my family lovingly respond with, “One thing at a time.” And it’s true — our family is soon to go through the biggest transition yet, and I want my daughter to feel comfortable and safe as it happens. If that includes a pacifier, great.

Where our days were punctuated with restful breaks to breastfeed, now they are filled with restful snuggling in the rocking chair. Some days I miss sitting and nursing, but most days I am content with my playful little girl. She plays for longer durations now, literally smells the flowers — ah, to smell a lilac for the first time!, and especially loves snuggling up with books. To be a mother so blessed. She is the gift of my life.

I hope to illuminate something that I was unsure about before going through it. Each woman’s path is unique, and raising humans is about as intimate as it gets. I hope my words offer you something, whether it’s a look into one woman’s approach, or the confidence to know that you too can blossom through an uncharted experience. As I have, so can you.

a child with a flower by samantha spigos

—S