Words by Denise Watkins
Breastfeeding was never a question for me. I always started immediately in the hospital after my children were born. None of my children have ever had formula and did not drink milk from the bottle (except for on a couple of random occasions). I was always on tap. Always on call. We were attached at the nip.
I’ve never questioned the nourishment breastfeeding provides. There is nothing better for a child than their mother’s milk. I was fortunate that my body produced a great quantity which allowed me to breastfeed. And at 20 months, baby girl was still reaping the benefits.
And the bonding! Being able to provide such nourishment and comfort. We spent a lot of time in close proximity to each other. The twiddling. The acrobatics. The snuggles. The love. I never hesitated to feed my baby whenever she was hungry, whether that be in church or at the mall or in my home or yours, wherever, whenever.
Baby girl was 20 months old and still waking up a couple times a night for a feeding. And throughout the day she was nursing around the clock. I have tons of videos and pics of the smiles we exchanged, the blinking game we played, the falling asleep, the soothing when she was sick or needed comfort, and the poses she’d end up in – oftentimes upside-down or hanging off the side of the couch. There were countless doctor appointments, trips to the store, visiting guests, playdates, you name it, in which I was feeding throughout. And I snapped pics. Every. Single. Day. I cherish these times.
I had no intention, no date in mind to stop breastfeeding. I had been ready though. And I knew baby girl was ready too.
We had gotten to a point where I was breastfeeding all day at any place. Even while I cooked or answered the door. We spent most of our time together. And usually if we were in close proximity to one another, I was breastfeeding even though baby girl ate table food very well. Breastmilk was no longer her main supplement but more of a snack.
Some children could be weaned to one or two feedings a day until gradually reducing. But with Eden it was all or nothing.
We had tried once before – spent a few days away. But when we got back, she picked up right where we left off, brought my milk supply right back, lol. And that was ok at that time. She wasn’t ready.
How do you know when your child is ready? You’re the mama and you know. You just know.
It was a Thursday night. I had this terrible nagging cough that kept me up most of the night. And in the minutes where my throat was calm, Eden had a restless night, woke up four times, then up for the day at 6:30am.
I knew then that I would not be able to function throughout the day if I were to nurse as usual – for us this would be around the clock, especially because baby girl hadn’t gotten much sleep and would nurse for comfort the majority of her waking hours.
This would drain the little energy I had left and I wouldn’t be at my best for myself and my family. I knew then, at 6:30 on this random Friday morning, that our breastfeeding days had come to an end. This wasn’t the reason why we stopped, just the indication.
We had a talk. I told her that she’s a big girl now and that she’d no longer drink milk from mommy’s breast. She said ok and just like that, my baby had grown into a big girl.
Truthfully, if she didn’t agree and actually make strides toward this, I’d still be breastfeeding today.
I felt that it was important to engage her and talk about this with her. These have been her breasts for almost two years. She’s a big girl now and it was important to respect that. I made it our decision, not just mine.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There were tears involved. She had one fit. It was about an hour or so after our talk. I think the reality had set in. She wanted it and I didn’t give in. I reminded her that she was a big girl and mommy’s milk was all gone. I held her and asked if I could hug her. I rocked her in my arms and she was soothed. The last thing I wanted to do was rip her comfort away. So I made sure to provide her with the same level of comfort and love to ease the transition. I had plenty of snacks and small meals prepared to offer her at the times when she’d normally be ready for her milk. And I gave her plenty of hugs and snuggles. I even made up and sang a “big girl now” song.
The breast discomfort during this phase is similar to that in the first few weeks of beginning to breastfeed.
Stopping cold turkey has its challenges on the body. Milk just doesn’t stop automatically, though it does slow down to a gradual end. The first day was a breeze. On the second day, my breasts were getting full. And on the third day, I was engorged. I pumped a little to ease the discomfort on those two days – just enough, around 1 ounce. I also wore comfortable sports bras with nursing pads. After that, I didn’t feel my milk coming in anymore. By the fifth day I felt like I had rocks in my chest (clogged ducts). I had 3-5 of them in each breast as my milk slowly leaked out over the course of ten days. Each day I’d feel the lumps travel closer to my nipples then leak. To help ease the discomfort, my husband gently massaged them each night before bed. By the morning they were noticeably better and I had some leakage throughout the day (Days 5-9). On the tenth day I woke up and had my breasts back. No more sensitivity, no more lumps, no more milk.
The other day baby girl had a flashback and said “milk?” and I replied “You’re a big girl now. No more mommy’s milk.” And she laughed and fell into my chest and gave me a big hug. Just memories now. Great ones.
She’s eating more foods now, but she’s also getting hungry now. You see, throughout our breastfeeding journey, she always had my milk on demand – as soon as she’d wake up, before bed, between naps, in the middle of the night, at Target, on the plane, at Disney, you name it. She had never been hungry before. So, physiologically her body is going through changes that she may not emotionally understand yet. She’s had a couple of fits of frustration, not realizing that she was hungry, particularly in the morning between the time when she’d wake up and breakfast.
I thought nap time would be a challenge because I’d normally nurse her to sleep, but it wasn’t. We’ve replaced the breast with hugs and snuggles. And I have to say – she falls asleep faster, not necessarily in my arms, is so much more independent, and seems a lot happier. She was ready for this! Instead of feeding her to sleep, I simply hold and snuggle her and she falls asleep in minutes! I didn’t want to go from feeding her to sleep to just putting her in bed cold turkey; I want her to know that mama’s love is still right here accessible to her.
Then tonight, on our three week anniversary, I held her before bed. Two minutes in, she leaned away, pointed at her bed, and wanted to go to it. So I gave her a big ole hug and kiss, said goodnight, and tucked her in.
My big girl is so much more independent now. She’s eating more and trying new foods. She’s more receptive to leaving my lap and trying new things. She’s falling asleep on her own. I’m looking forward to new milestones. I couldn’t grasp the idea of potty training before; now it doesn’t seem so challenging.
Connect with the author through her Instagram @loccrush