First of all, I apologize if you came to this post looking for information about how to wean your baby.
This post is sort of the opposite of a how-to post.
Today I have a piece on Brain, Child about my top 10 picks for best books about breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding has been on my mind a lot these days. It’s on my Facebook feed (today’s Scary Mommy op-ed, an impassioned op-ed today in Brain, Child by the wonderful Wendy Wisner, the Sunday New York Times editorial “Overselling Breastfeeding“, my friend Lauren Apfel’s fantastic Ms. Magazine piece,…). It’s on my Kindle (a review copy of Courtney Jung’s Lactivism out next month). It’s all over my google searches (“clogged ducts”; “how to wean”; “mastitis symptoms”). It has dictated my clothing choices for one year (nursing tanks are my daily staple). It has prevented me from getting more than three or four hours a week of sleep in a row for, again, more than a year (and, yes, I know I need I should do something about that). It dictates my schedule. (Whenever I’m asked to teach, to try to schedule an appointment, to plan any sort of event or obligation, my mind does a quick calculus of when and where I’ll be able to feed or pump.)
And I’m just tired. I’m tired of being hungry all the time because apparently I need to eat about 20,000 calories a day to feel full. I’m tired of getting clogged ducts. I’m tired of getting bitten by little almost-toddler teeth every few days. I’m tired of being someplace and realizing that I’m uncomfortable because I need to pump or feed. I’m tired of the middle-of-the-night path from my bed to the crib. I’m tired of being the one who is responsible for feeding the baby.
I feel trapped. I’m so done with breastfeeding. And as I type this, I know that I’m saying something somewhat culturally unacceptable. I know this because of the constant “weaning” google searches. Along with lots of overly simplistic explanations of the process (“drop one feeding every 2-3 days!”), I read lots of descriptions of why weaning should be “baby-led,” “gentle,” and “respectful,” mainly, it seems, for the child.
I wish there was a magic wand to wave that could perform an instant weaning.
I know this feeling. It’s the same trapped feeling that I had much earlier with my son. After five or six weeks of breastfeeding, I couldn’t take it anymore. The pain. The latch that would never improve, despite repeated visits by the lactation consultant to my house. The feeding and screaming and puking. Then the constant pumping because he refused to nurse. When a pediatric GI doctor diagnosed him with reflux and a severe milk protein allergy, she said that I could try an elimination diet (no dairy or soy) with the help of a hospital dietician or start a hypoallergenic formula. In truth, I barely hesitated before I took the formula. I was done. And in that moment, I felt only relief. No guilt whatsoever. (That came later.)
And this is why I have so much sympathy for women who don’t want to breastfeed. Or who breastfeed for an hour or a month or a year and want to stop, no matter how much support they get. Because it starts to make you a little crazy to be doing something that you just don’t want to do, in your gut, in your heart. It affects your relationship with your child. You become just a little, sometimes, resentful. (Or a lot.) You start to dread feedings some of the time. You get angry that your spouse can’t fill the same role that you do. You are not yourself. You know it isn’t right for you.
For many, I think it seems very un-maternal to admit to this. That you crave separation. That you don’t want to sacrifice for your child anymore. That you’re done with being this type of source of nourishment and comfort. That you want to end a relationship with your baby that the child loves.
What I hope women get out of the latest flurry of publicity about breastfeeding is that it’s okay to be just done. It’s okay to listen to that feeling. Your child will be just as healthy, just as thriving, just as bonded to you if you stop. You don’t have to push on, muddle through, become a lesser, more exhausted and stressed version of yourself as a person, if you don’t want to, just because your original breastfeeding goal was for three months or six months or a year. There is no prize, no trophy, no certificate of “Best Mom” given to the mother who persists despite being miserable and despite doing something that she doesn’t in her heart want to do, or is only doing it because of some external feeling of obligation or duty.
Breast milk or formula — the physical food we give babies — is only one form of nourishment. The other is the love, attention, and joy from ourselves, our minds, our rested bodies. If the process of giving the first form of nourishment is getting in the way of the other, then it’s okay to let go. Go ahead and wean. Again, this feeling might happen in a week. It might happen in a year. It might never happen for you. And all of these experiences are okay.
The way that you feed your baby does not make you a good or a bad mother. When the way that you feed your baby is getting in the way of your relationship with your baby, with your own happiness, with your own goals, then it’s time to move on. It is time to wean.