A while back, I mused about what would become of my breasts when I was done nursing my youngest of my two children, Emily.
Emily weaned completely about six months ago, shortly after her fourth birthday.
Weaning had been a very long process for us that took close to two years, as Emily slowed her nursing sessions to twice per day, and then only to once per day either in the morning or before bed.
I had wanted weaning to be a gradual and mutual decision. I didn’t want it to be traumatic for either of us. The beginning of my nursing relationship with Emily had been very traumatic as I suffered extreme nipple damage and had to really fight to keep my supply and the nursing relationship between my baby and myself.
Initially, I felt robbed of the “perfect” nursing experience with my daughter. I’d had tons of struggles and antenatal depression with my first child, and had ended up needing to supplement with formula with him.
Although I am beyond thankful that all was well that ended well with my son, when I was pregnant with Em, I was really committed to the idea of exclusively nursing. I felt certain that I had been better educated on breastfeeding due to the trial and error with my son, and that everything would go off without a hitch.
My confidence was shattered shortly after Emily’s birth when my nipples became mangled as a result of her tongue tie. For 11 weeks, I battled a nipple wound that would not heal. Finally we got things sorted out, but my supply never got back to what it needed to be to be able to pump milk for her to have upon my return to my job at 12 weeks after her birth.
I took a huge amount of comfort in the fact that she continued to nurse whenever she was with me, and that she almost always refused the bottle at daycare and then would reverse cycle all night with me. Sure I was tired, but I was thrilled that we were not having to supplement with very much formula, and that Emily was such a champion nurser.
Eventually, I accepted that while our relationship was not what I could label “perfect” from the get go, it ended up being pretty amazing and sweet.
And it endured much longer than I thought it would.
My son had weaned completely at 23 months. Like I said, we’d had to supplement him with formula, but he continued to nurse first thing in the morning with me until one morning he woke up, asked for milk in a cup and that was that.
I don’t remember having any truly intense feelings related to this weaning. Sure it was bittersweet, but it was not devastating in any way. And as a first-time mom, I was thrilled I’d been able to milk it out to nearly two years (pun intended!).
I had figured Em would wean around the same time. But she didn’t. She turned two and then three and still loved her milky cuddles with mama. Around the time she turned three, we started talking about what it would be like for her to not nurse anymore. Long story longer, she went another whole year and was still occasionally nursing when she turned four.
Then she stopped.
It was so gradual. It was almost unnoticeable.
To be honest with you, I don’t really think about it all that often.
Until I do think about it and then it is difficult to stop thinking about it.
A client came to my office with her toddler a while back. The child grew fussy, and she surprised me by offering him her breast, which he eagerly took and settled right down. It was absolutely the most natural and graceful thing to watch. I told her how thrilled I was that she was nursing her toddler, but the image stayed with me throughout the day and into the night along with a feeling of deep sorrow.
It had been the first time I’d seen a mom nursing since I weaned Emily.
And this is going to sound crazy, but I felt an actual physical sensation in my breasts like I used to feel when my milk let down. But it was different. It was like the shadow of that let down sensation, and I felt bereft. It was like my boobs actually felt sad.
When you are bonding and nursing with a new baby, your body creates oxytocin which is the chemical that signals the need to produce milk. It also creates a drowsy, sweet, loving feeling between you and your baby, which for me also extended to the world at large.
So, when I saw this mom nursing, it was like I got a surge of oxytocin but there was no milk and no baby to nurse. I went home and felt the need to give Emily and Jack extra cuddles.
I think about how I am no longer nursing at other weird times too. Like when I went to the pharmacy and was browsing the antacids and realized that I could take alka-seltzer again. It used to be my go-to remedy before pregnancy and nursing, but it has aspirin in it so you can’t use it during the aforementioned times. So I purchased it with a mix of hey-this-is-awesome and hey-this-is-super-sad.
I’m bummed about weaning in a lot of ways. It makes me sad to not have that connection with another human any longer. It is a reminder that children grow so quickly and things change faster than you can ever imagine. I also blame the ten pound weight gain on weaning, as well as some of my hormonal shifts and mood swings. . . although I realize those should be well regulated by now.
There is no going backwards in life.
And as I continue marching forward, I am having trouble trying to figure out what to do with these floppy appendages that seem to be a permanent DDD cup size now and give me back and neck pain. They are like an accessory that has gone out of style, only I can’t pack them away into the back of my closet or toss them in the junk drawer.
Once upon a time, they were pert and pretty. They attracted people and were objects of potential sexual pleasure. Then I had kids and they became vehicles of nurturance and nutrition.
About a week after I had Jack, I developed a urinary tract infection and went to a doctor. She was excited to hear that I was breastfeeding and shared that she had nursed her kids and it had been a great experience for her.
“But your breasts are ruined for sex forever,” She had mused. “They become like these tube socks with golf balls at the end.”
Well. . .
I guess mine are more like balloons with permanently erect, frozen peas at the end, so her very lucid description was a bit off there. But she was right about one thing– my boobs are of no use for my sex life anymore. There is a cognitive dissonance that these soft things that Emily still likes to pat and rub her face on could be used for anything other than bringing comfort to my babies.
So, I guess it is a blessing my husband is an ass man. Anyway, I digress. . .
Six months after weaning Emily, and I am still wondering what will become of my breasts now that I am done nursing. I’m trying to figure out how I feel about them, and what to do about the sense of sadness and loss.
At the end of the day I am very proud and content with the nursing relationships I had with both Emily and Jack. They were conflicted and diverse, but they were filled with love. Even as my boobs feel sad that it isn’t something I’ll ever share again with another human, I am grateful for the experiences I did have breastfeeding.
What was your weaning experience like? Did you experience any hormonal shifts or depression with weaning? Talk to me in the comments below. I love to hear from you! And please feel free to share my post on social media, or with other nursing/weaning moms in your life. xoxo and momaste!