If you breastfeed or have breastfed in the past you likely know this is a topic that women are starting to talk more about and share their experiences with others. From latch issues, low supply, over supply, tongue ties, lip ties, blisters, to thrush, women are sharing their knowledge. When it comes to weaning, however, it seems there is a bit less conversation. The struggles of weaning and the emotional rollercoaster it can create came as a bit of a shock to me and now I’ve decided to share my breastfeeding journey.
When I became pregnant with Henry, there was no question in my mind that I would breastfeed; I felt very passionate about it and lucky to have the ability to feed my child in this way. I didn’t do much research about the struggles that can arise when breastfeeding, because I felt the fear it would instill in me would be more damaging than the benefit of gaining knowledge. That may seem backwards to some, but that was the path I chose. And for the most part, I don’t regret it. However, I wasn’t fully prepared for the difficulties that can come with breastfeeding.
For me, supply was never an issue. My milk came in quickly and in the beginning it took awhile for my body to adjust to Henry’s demands, which meant we were both constantly soaked in milk. For the first two weeks, Henry ate like a champ. We had no issues. Then, I started to get pain when he latched. And then the pain got excruciating. I dreaded all feedings and cried almost every time. I would pull away when he went to latch knowing the pain that I was about to feel. Then he would cry, and I would cry more. My determination (and stubbornness) made me not quit. I hired a lactation consultant, who was extremely knowledgeable. She helped me with different feeding positions, latching techniques and helped to determine Henry had a lip tie. At 6 weeks, I was still having extreme pain and we opted to have Henry’s lip tie cut. I felt so guilty about putting him through it; luckily he only cried for about 1 minute and then was over it.
But still my pain persisted. I did endless reading (books, blogs etc.), joined countless breastfeeding groups on Facebook, read all the helpful (and not so helpful) comments people had, and read so many stories about people who breastfed and had issues they overcame. Nothing I tried helped ease the pain.
Over about 3 months, the pain began to subside. In all honesty, I’m still not sure why. I don’t feel like any techniques or tips I tried made much of a difference. In reality it may have just been that Henry was older, his mouth more developed and he was able latch more easily.
We continued to breastfeed without issue until a few days after his second birthday. Weaning was always something that I thought would happen organically, or on his terms. I wasn’t concerned that he would “nurse forever” or “always want it” as some people had told me. I had fairly easily cut out daytime feedings and for the past 2-3 months he was only nursing in the morning and before bed. If I wasn’t around during those times, John was able to put him to sleep or give him some breakfast without much issue.
This all seemed to be going great, until I started to realize just how depleted and drained I had become. My energy levels are low most of the time, I’m not sleeping well and I have been gaining weight (despite a healthy diet); my headaches are becoming more frequent and I haven’t been able to heal injuries as quickly as in the past. I knew something wasn’t right. These symptoms are sometimes referred to as “maternal depletion” or “postnatal depletion”, although the latter term is typically reserved for the time soon after a baby is born. I feel as though it also encompasses the period throughout breastfeeding as well.
Throughout my pregnancy and breastfeeding I had my thyroid levels tested regularly (I have hypothyroidism); I take medication daily and due to hormone fluctuations throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, it was really important to stay on top of my levels. The past two times I had blood work, my doctor suggested increasing my medication (which I did both times, much to my disappointment and frustration). To me, this was an indication of something larger going on. I refuse to accept that this is “just the way it is”.
In a need to regain control of my health, I knew what I needed to do: I needed to wean Henry completely. With John on board, we began last Monday morning, knowing that John would be home all week to put Henry to bed at night. In the mornings, when Henry would come into our room (he can crawl out of his crib), John would simply scoop him up and take him downstairs for breakfast. By the time I came down, he had forgotten about his “need” for milk. All week, he asked for milk about 5 times. Each time I just told him it was all gone and then tried to distract him. To my surprise, he accepted my explanation. At two years old, he typically doesn’t handle “no” very well, so I didn’t think he would do well with me saying no to milk but for some reason he understood and didn’t push me.
It has now been a full week since Henry has nursed. Physically, the week went ok. I had some engorgement but it went away after about 3 days. However, it was a tough week for me mentally. I felt guilty for taking his milk away without him totally understanding why. I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not I’ve made the right decision for him but I know that nutritionally he doesn’t necessarily “need” breastmilk. This morning, around 2:30am, Henry woke up, came into our room and climbed into bed next to me. He didn’t ask for milk, but just gave me a huge hug. At first I thought I should try to put him back in his crib, but then I realized that wasn’t what he needed. He just needed to know his mama was still there for him. He needed me to reassure and show him I can give him the comfort he needs without giving him milk. So we cuddled for the rest of the night (and slept a bit). I shed a few sad tears, but also a few happy ones, knowing he had come to accept what was happening, and knowing this part of our journey has ended.
Now I can focus on feeding and nourishing my own body so that it can come back to health fully. Although it is an enormous factor, food alone will not help me replenish entirely from our journey; I also need to work on filling my cup in other ways, both spiritually and emotionally. Stay tuned for a post on how exactly I plan to do that!