It's been decided. Our breastfeeding relationship is coming to an end.
I so deeply wish it was on both of our terms, but it's mostly mine. I always imagined her weaning would be a mutual decision between the two of us, graceful and tear free. About halfway through my pregnancy I started to despise nursing my daughter all together. As someone who had loved everything about breastfeeding, this was really really weird to me, I didn't think it was normal. I would avoid nursing when she would ask, by simply distracting her. We had finally cut back to just nap time and bedtime nursing.
I had started having something called, nursing aversion. Which I've now learned is actually really common for pregnant mothers who are still nursing, one out of three. Nursing aversion, for me, felt like a creepy crawly icky feeling every time my sweet girl latched. At times, it was so strong that I wanted to throw her off of me. It was an icky feeling. It was repulsive. It was unbearable. It was psychologically painful. It would always last the entire time and would almost immediately stop when she was done. I tried a few different methods that are "known" to decrease this sensation: limiting caffeine intake, particular vitamins, counting down from 100 while nursing, even pinching my arms to distract myself from the pain. The aversion mildly subsided, but at this point, her latch had gotten lazy and I was now able to feel her little toddler teeth clenching my nipple.
The following is quoted from Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond, a publication by La Leche League International:
The biggest issue I faced was very unexpected. I was prepared for negative feelings toward my toddler’s nursing when my baby was born but it didn’t happen. The three of us had a wonderful nursing relationship. Then when my son was about a year old and my daughter was three my feelings changed. Nursing my daughter became an awful experience. She still had a strong need to nurse and I just couldn’t take it. I felt uncomfortable, anxious, and angry when she was at the breast. My emotions and reactions were primal and very strong. —Elisa, New York It’s almost impossible to describe the feeling; it’s kind of like if you could take the sound of nails on a chalkboard and turn it into a physical sensation. Sometimes the sensation made me feel like screaming at the top of my lungs while running around and around in a really tight circle. —Lisa, California
The best I can do is to say it felt like bugs were crawling all over my body, and I couldn’t brush them off. It started out difficult and annoying, and soon became intolerable. People used to ask me, “Does it hurt?” And I’d think, “I wish!” Pain, I could deal with. This was so beyond pain. It was just icky. Really icky.—Barbara, Minnesota
I felt like my old childhood dog who weaned her puppies by just getting up and walking off every time they tried to nurse. The feelings I had during pregnant nursing could only be described as “primal”—it was so instinctive to recoil from nursing that I really almost couldn’t help myself. I had a strong urge to pick her up and throw her off of me and run away from her. I was in no way prepared for it and I felt like the worst mother on the planet. Since my experience, I’ve done an informal survey of all my co-Leaders and other LLL moms around who nursed while pregnant and a majority of the ones I’ve talked to also experienced powerful negative emotions when nursing while pregnant—Kelly, Georgia
I just need my body to myself for a little while.
I wondered if it would be this way with the new baby. I had heard through other moms that it can go either way. Some mothers felt this way with the new baby, and others would only feel it when their toddler nursed, and not the newborn. I wasn't sure if this was a risk I was willing to take. I didn't want to hurt that bond with my newborn.
I took some things into consideration here. I didn't want our last memories of nursing to be filled with resentment, agitation and me pinching my arm to distract myself. I wanted to remember those little nursling snuggles at three in the morning when she didn't sleep through the night yet. I wanted to remember the happy times.
So I decided today, May 10th, 2016, would be the last day she nursed. Ever. I wanted to be able to look back years from now, and remember the last time she ever nursed.
She was in the middle of playing with her toys when I asked her if she wanted milk. She seemed a little surprised that I would ask during this time. As she crawled up onto the couch she got distracted by "baby" and gave my belly a kiss and rested her head. I thought of it as a I love you so much brother/sister, that I'll pass mommy's milk onto you one day soon. And something amazing happened.... This nursing session didn't make me want to throw her off of me, there was pain, but my heart was too full to feel it. In this moment I knew that this was the right choice for us. When she was all done, we talked about how she is a big girl, and doesn't need mommy's milk anymore, this didn't seem to phase her. But I know come bedtime time tomorrow, it would be a different story.
I wish I could give a list of options and advice for this topic, I really do. No matter what decision you make, or how you wean, this. is. hard.
Looking back over the past few weeks, I do realize, we didn't quit cold turkey. We did slowly wean over time and we just didn't realize it. Cutting back to just nap time and bedtime was huge. When she would ask during the day, I would simply tell her, "Not right now, next time you get milk is bedtime". Of course she was upset, but this seemed to work fine for her after she got used to hearing it. I thought about cutting out nap and still doing nighttime, but she doesn't nurse to sleep at night like she does for nap time. I figured quitting all together would be a little less confusing for her. One night of confusion and you're done, right? Wrong. My strategy would be to distract her as much as possible while putting her to sleep, to make her forget milk. Stuffed animals, a book, her light up pillow pet.
The following bed and nap times, I just wore her out to pure exhausted, so going to sleep wasn't a struggle. Play dates, playgrounds. But you can only do that so much. The following night of our last nursing session, I had to face putting her to bed, at her normal time, no milk, just going to sleep on her own.
The first night time came where she would not nurse before bed. I changed her into pjs, brushed her teeth and read her Goodnight Moon. I laid her down in her bed. I must have stayed in the room too long, because soon after she was asking for milk. Eventually crying for milk, there were lots of tears on both ends. Eventually Daddy had to come help comfort us both.
I wish there was an easy answer to this. It's really hard. It's also important to do what you need as a parent to save your sanity. Eventually, lots of cuddles later, she did go to sleep.
Whether you decide to gently wean or consider to nurse through the nursing agitation, it's a tough choice to make. You are not broken. You are not a bad mother. You have provided for your baby for so long. You are amazing.
Below are some tips to help you through this fragile time, until you can make the decision that is right for you breastfeeding relationship.
1. Distraction. Apps on my phone. Social media. YouTube videos. Calling a family member. These were all helpful, they made time go by quickly.
2. Limit caffeine intake. Apparently caffeine can make nursing aversion heightened. This may make for some serious caffeine headaches, but if it does the trick, it may be worth it.
3. Vitamins. Always talk to your doctor before going this route, but deficiencies in certain vitamins may make nursing aversion stronger.
4. Get more sleep. Easier said than done, but being well rested can help immensely.
5. Stay hydrated. Mothers who are dehydrated can be struck by aversion as well.
Below are some sources on gently weaning that I found helpful....