A Farewell to Breastfeeding

This week, V. turned 18 months old. And the very next day, her Mum stopped breastfeeding.

I’ve detailed in previous posts our on-going difficulties with breast-feeding. Looking back, the issue that was most difficult to surmount was the pain breastfeeding caused, the impact on our daily routines and the massive drain on my wife’s energy. Pain came if the milk wasn’t all used up, if the feeding routine was changed, or the length of time of the feeding. There was pain when the baby changed position or became distracted and looked up, breaking the attachment. The distractions became such an issue, that F. had to retire to a quiet room on her own yo perform a successful feeding. With feeding in public a distant memory – despite the colourful nursing covers we had bought – F.’s own routine became curtailed when we also had to consider getting in the baby’s naps. So some days she didn’t get out of the house. That idealised picture of the woman breastfeeding whilst vacuuming the carpet or taking a phone call? Never happened. In a year and a half.

And pro-breastfeeding sources didn’t help. The advice our prenatal class teacher gave can be summarised as ‘if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong’. And breastfeeding books didn’t address any other scenario other than complete success. Their answer is; just keep trying.

What was really the clincher in F. deciding to finish breastfeeding, was just how darning she found breastfeeding, both physically and mentally. Good nutrition, sleep and supplements, didn’t seem to help with the tiredness. So much so, F. went for an anaemia test. When we found it out she didn’t have anaemia, it was another step towards deciding to stop breastfeeding.

The process of weaning V. off breast milk turned out to be fairly easy for her. Although V. had been breastfed from the beginning, the rocky start we had meant that she had always been fed formula as well. Many pro-breastfeeding sources take time to describe why formula and bottle feeding is so bad. But unless both baby and mother immediately take to breastfeeding – and considering the staggering drop-off rates for breastfeeding, I doubt if there are too many instances of this – you’re going to need formula. Otherwise the baby is going to be in the position of not putting on enough weight according to your doctor. FYI about formula: they’re not all the same. You may have to find one your baby likes.

And when V. really started with the solid foods, breast milk became more of a lifestyle choice. So the baby didn’t complain that much when my wife began to reduce the frequency of feeds to twice a day, then the length of each feed. It was a low-key, smooth end to an extremely bumpy ride.

Perhaps you don’t choose breastfeeding. Breastfeeding chooses you. Because up until recently, if my wife had told me she was stopping breastfeeding, I would have been relieved. Because breastfeeding can be a bitch. I have an appreciation of what she’s given up and an understanding of how sad this closing chapter is for her. But I also have a gladness that my wife may return to her usual levels of energy. As the bystander, I haven’t experienced the closeness of mother and baby. I have to take my wife’s word for it that she believes that breastfeeding has contributed to us having a healthy toddler.

As an addendum to that final point, one of the proposed advantages of breastfeeding his that it helps protect baby from illness. How, I don’t know. But the day after she quit, V. got a cold, as did her Mum. But then again, so did I.