I am a huge fan of breastfeeding. I believe that nursing one’s child provides critical (nutritional, emotional, psychological, and general health) benefits to both mother and baby, and that all women should be educated about these benefits and given every support possible should she choose to breastfeed. However, as I have written before, I feel that the “Breast is Best” campaign may be creating a social stigma against those who cannot breastfeed, or choose not to for whatever reason. Similarly, at least in well-off socially-conscious Washington, D.C., there is pressure to continue breastfeeding as long as possible.
I am aware that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the first two years “or beyond,” but its primary concern is with developing countries where there may be unsafe drinking water or insufficient nutrition from other sources. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding continue for the first year, and thereafter “for as long as mother and baby desire.” My own pediatrician, at my son’s 15-month check up, told me he wasn’t getting much nutritional benefit from breastmilk at this point that he could not get from cow’s milk and yogurt. Moreover, she warned that my son’s emotional attachment to nursing would only become harder to break as he gets older.
I had planned to nurse my son until he wanted to stop. From the very beginning, I have loved breastfeeding and even look forward to my workday pumping breaks. I am not modest, and I never really felt self-conscious about nursing my son wherever and whenever. Nursing has made traveling much easier; no matter what city or time zone we are in, I can nourish my son. It is also great when my baby is sick or teething, since he usually does not want to eat solid foods when he doesn’t feel well.
That is why I cried when my doctor told me breastfeeding was taking a toll on my body, and recommended that I wean my son at sixteen months. I read all the advice about how to wean gradually and gently and did my best to implement it, but it was still very difficult on both me and my son. I felt like I was being terribly selfish; he did not understand why suddenly I offered him a sippy cup when he signed “milk please” and pulled his little hands away when he pawed at my shirt. My guilt was only slightly assuaged by the fact that my son will still get a bottle of breastmilk every night for the next two months, thanks to a robust frozen supply.
Despite being weaned for a few weeks now, my son still asks for milk when I come home. After some cuddles and kisses, however, he is eager to show me what he learned that day and forgets all about nursing. We still have special bonding time in the evening and morning, but now we read, snuggle, and sing instead of breastfeeding. Plus, now that he knows he will not get to nurse, my son wakes up much less frequently at night and sleeps longer. As for me, I have more energy, am no longer hungry all the time, and can eat or drink whatever I want for the first time in over two years.
I wish I could have nursed my son until he decided he was done, but honestly, I am not sure that day would have ever come. Contrary to what some “Breast is Best” advocates suggested, my son does not seem at all scarred by being weaned against his will; the whole process was much harder on me than on him. Moreover, weaning has only strengthened our relationship – Mommy is no longer primarily a source of milk! In my heart of hearts, I am a bit jealous of my friends who are still nursing their toddlers, and I hope that they will not judge me for quitting, but I also know that this was the right time for me to wean my son. He does not seem to miss it most of the time – he is too curious about all the other foods he has yet to try!