My son nursed to sleep for his nap on a Friday in March. He snuggled up close to me and I took a deep breath to the ease the pain of his latch. I watched his lashes flutter as he found sleep and comfort at my breast. That was the last time my firstborn nursed and I am thankful that I was ever-present in those moments. Writing this down makes the end so real and I find myself replaying the memories that I have of him nestled at my chest from infancy well into toddlerhood.
Nursing was by no means easy for us. It took my son 11 weeks to latch on his own, he was prone to nursing strikes and biting while teeth were coming in and he was very picky about when and where he had his “baby milk.” But, I can honestly say that nursing my son was the most beautiful dance I’ve ever danced. It helped me build confidence as a mother, find peace in sorrowful days, and develop a lasting bond with my child that continues long after the milk is gone.
Baby on the Way
When I first discovered I was pregnant again, my son was still nursing four times a day. I quickly developed nipple sensitivity and each latch required a few deep breaths and a wince. When I was seven weeks pregnant we went on vacation and my son nursed around the clock. I was incredibly nauseous and his cries for milk made me equal parts enraged and exhausted. I don’t think I have ever been that tired in my entire life. Upon returning home from our trip, I considered weaning him. I felt that every ounce of energy I had left was being drained by nursing and with his second birthday approaching, I knew he would adjust.
And then I actually pictured a day where he and I weren’t nursing anymore and it brought me to tears. No matter how hard these moments were, I decided to stick with my plan to let him decide when he was ready to be done, even if that meant continuing to nurse him alongside an infant.
It did get a little better. We established some ground rules for him not to talk while nursing and if I counted to 10 it was a warning to be done with that session. Sometimes he would ask to count to 10 first. As each week passed, his interest in nursing became less and less. Upon waking he would ask for cereal instead of milk. If my husband was around he would rather play with his daddy than nurse out of boredom. There was always naptime; his favorite time of the day where he would climb into my lap and nurse until he was sound asleep. Sometimes it took two minutes, sometimes 30.
There were days that after the sting of the initial latch I would rock and soak in how beautiful it was to have this connection with him. And then there were days when the entire session was so irritating that tears streamed down my cheeks as I tried to sit still and quiet until he was asleep enough for me to run out of the room.
As he showed less interest in nursing, I began to be overwhelmed with guilt. I felt that if I hadn’t gotten pregnant he would still be happily nursing, and while I’m overjoyed to be with child, it was hard to let go. One of my friends from La Leche League helped me put it into perspective by saying, “This is your first step in mothering two children. There will be many more times that your firstborn doesn’t get exactly what he wants because you are tending to the other child. He’s becoming a big brother; he just doesn’t know it yet.”
Who’s Weaning Who?
The times I offered and he refused were just as frequent as the times he would ask and I’d distract him. I honestly can’t tell you if I weaned him or if he weaned me and maybe that’s why my heart is at peace. Maybe that is exactly how our dance was supposed to end. I don’t know how I knew it would be our last time. Perhaps because he hadn’t asked in two days and I was very aware of him climbing into my lap again or maybe it was because more than anything, I wanted to remember. A mother of four once told me that she had happily nursed all of her children into toddlerhood and when she looks down the only child she can ever picture at her breast is the last one. Not being able to look down and see my firstborn is a crushing thought, but knowing there will be another new life looking up at me very soon makes me grateful.
If you’d like to commemorate your baby’s weaning process, take a look at this Jewish tradition.