Hallelujah I’ve finally stopped breastfeeding!

This is going to be my first parenting post on my all-new-slightly-kicked-up-the-bum, posting-every-few-days/weeks blog and I’m slightly nervous about writing it because a) its about extended breastfeeding and weaning, which I feel is a little bit socially unacceptable and b) because its about parenting and this just seems to be an area where people can easily feel that someone is judging them for their parenting choices. One of the reasons I feel a bit wary of posting about extended breastfeeding is that I’m worried it will be seen as braggy – there is so much guilt and pressure around breastfeeding that I really don’t want to add to that. I had a really really horrendous time feeding Etta at around the 4-6 month mark, and although I do feel pleased that I got through that phase and carried on breastfeeding, it was such a hellish time that I don’t think any mum should feel that they HAVE to put themselves through that in order to feel like a good parent. Sometimes taking the decision to stop doing something that is stressing you out, or affecting your ability to relate to your child is a really good parenting choice. I do also think that mothers should have the right to celebrate their parenting victories. So whether that was deciding not to breastfeed because you knew that was the right choice for you, or giving yourself a pat on the back because you survived a year of being kicked in the face by a nursing toddler, then allow yourself a ‘Hell yeah! I did it!’ moment for your baby feeding journey. This is mine.

When I made the choice to breastfeed, and to try to exclusively breastfeed up until 6 months, I thought I would probably be feeding Etta  at 6 months, that there was a slim but very unlikely chance I’d still be feeding her by 1 year, and really I would have definitely have fully weaned her before she was able to ask for milk in public by yelling “I EAT MUMMY BOOBY!” on the bus. As you may be able to guess I did not manage to wean before the cringe inducing bus incident happened, just before her 2nd birthday. That incident was however a bit of a catalyst for finally making the move to stop breastfeeding. I realised that I was no longer really comfortable feeding her in public, and desperately needed more personal space.

I loosely subscribe to the ethos of Attachment Parenting, as we cosleep, babywear etc and I believe the research around how babies and young children form attachments shows that being emotionally and physically available for your child is important. However in many ways I am a slightly reluctant practitioner of it due to needing absolutely immense amounts of personal space in order to feel even moderately normal. I hugely buy into the ethos behind AP but I think that the reality of it can be quite guilt-inducing (at least for me!) because you are constantly having to balance the ideal of being available to your child with the reality of sometimes being too stressed out, grumpy or tired to do that.

When Etta was super tiny, from 0-3.5 months-ish I remember thinking how incredibly easy and hassle free breastfeeding was. In hindsight this seems so smug, but I also think I was lucky to have this lovely calm time right at the start of our breastfeeding journey, or I might never have stuck it out! I was also very lucky to have a mother who was also a breastfeeding counselor, and who was pretty much on hand 24/7 with all the support I could ask for. I often wonder if everyone had this kind of access to a breastfeeding counselor how much smoother things might go in those first few months.

When Etta was around 4 months old she went through a 2 month phase of not feeding unless we were at home, lying down in a darkened room. Because she was still needing to be fed every couple of hours, this made going out anywhere (or even having people round) immensely stressful. I also suspect that it changed her from a baby who could just drop off to sleep if I left her alone on the living room floor without toys nearby when I spotted her sleepy signs to a child that HAD to be fed to sleep – because she would always end up having her nap while we fed. Although it seems like a long way away now, I remember being obsessed with sleep, and obsessed with whether I was feeding her enough. I can even remember worrying that I had given her an eating disorder – yes I was going completely insane! I ended up doing a lot of expressing and giving bottles of expressed milk, which was also hugely stressful (respect to anyone who does this for any length of time). At this point I started seriously considering quitting breastfeeding. I actually wonder if I should just have been less hard on myself and given some formula in place of expressing. It was at this point that having a mum who was a breastfeeding counselor took on a different dimension. Although she was still an immense source of support to me, in my head was the constant pressure to continue breastfeeding because how bad would it look if I, child of a well known local breastfeeding counselor stopped breastfeeding BEFORE my child turned 6 months?

When I look back on this period of my life, I don’t think I was really thinking rationally at all because I was just SO stressed out. Luckily I confided to my mum about the guilt I was experiencing and she said “You should make the decision that is right for you, not based on the fact that I am a breastfeeding counselor. I will support your decision whether you decide to stop breastfeeding altogether, supplement with formula, or carry on breastfeeding exclusively.” She also advised me to ring the NCT breastfeeding line and speak to a breastfeeding counselor who was not her, so I would be free to talk about all the issues affecting me, without worrying about her feelings in the matter. I can’t tell you how much this changed things! I felt really released from a lot of guilt about my own choices, AND speaking to the helpline resolved many of my issues within about a week. I almost felt a bit silly for not ringing them sooner, but it felt like a huge psychological hurdle to accept that I was having enough difficulties that I actually needed help.

Although we came out the other side of this phase, I do feel like my relationship with Etta was quite affected by it. I got into a mindset of obsessively worrying about sleep and milk intake, AND even better, worrying that my worrying was having an effect on her – yay, I love my brain! I also to some extent tried to hide my worries from friends and other mothers because I perceived these thoughts as neurotic, so I think I was probably putting out a very ‘yes I am super relaxed about all these things’ image, while actually worrying about them a lot. Maybe some of it was an attempt to NOT worry about these things as much, by saying that I wasn’t really that worried about them. Anyway, whatever it was, I don’t think it was particularly healthy , and it created a bit of a disconnect between my experience and the way others perceived me. I found being a new mother a bit like starting at a new school, where I wasn’t sure if anyone liked me and I wondered if I should try to fit or just go with it and be the massive weirdo that I know I am! So basically I now realise I was probably experiencing massive anxiety alongside the whole tiny baby craziness.

Luckily when Etta was about a year old I came across a group called Mothers Uncovered which runs creative discussion groups in Brighton and decided to go along and try it. I’m not really quite sure what I thought the group would be like, but I am so glad that I went. It is described as ‘a support service to new mothers through workshops and arts projects’ but somehow to me that doesn’t quite cover it. It was really quite life changing for me! Through lots of discussions and activities mothers were able to tell their stories and share their experiences of motherhood, in a way that didn’t really happen when I went to parent and baby groups. I realised that I had really lost touch with that ability to live in the present and enjoy tiny beautiful moments with my little girl. I think this is still something that I struggle with, so I wouldn’t say that I just went to the group and then left, instantly ‘cured’ of all the strange thought patterns I’d got into. But it gave me a chance to notice what was going on with ME rather than with my baby, and to start discussions with other people in my life about how I was feeling.

I think one of the things that made me realise it was time to stop breastfeeding Etta was that I started to let my worries about how stopping would affect her get in the way of really listening to how I was feeling about continuing to nurse. I eventually burst into tears after she requested to feed and then suddenly had this realisation that I didn’t want to be feeding her anymore and that I DIDN’T HAVE TO! Sometimes I wish that my relationship with feeding my child wasn’t so fraught with emotion, but I suppose that inevitably our decisions about how we nourish our children will be difficult because they are linked to our love for them.

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11 thoughts on “Hallelujah I’ve finally stopped breastfeeding!

  1. I very much enjoyed reading this, and I appreciate the admission that AP can be guilt-inducing in practice. The basic idea that parents should listen to their child’s needs makes complete sense to me, but some of the details that AP insists are necessary simply don’t work for my family.

    1. Ah I am so happy that you enjoyed reading this! It’s funny, I don’t think any parents I know who are into AP or even media articles have ever set out with an intention to guilt women, but maybe sometimes in our intention to do the best job we can we omit details and paint a more glossy picture and that sets up unrealistic expectations for other mums. I’m sure when I tried to appear to be a ‘relaxed mum’ other women felt guilty that they weren’t being more laid back – but in the end it was a fiction! I guess it’s just about trying to find a balance between your child’s needs and your own, and being honest about our experiences.

  2. Love this Em and yes you have hit the nail on the head with the whole guilt thing. It happens the minute we start even thinking about having a child and continues on for…..well forever.

    The good news is (as you’ve discovered and kudos to you for realising so early on because it took me until child 3) that its a totally pointless emotion. That’s not to lessen anyone’s need to feel guilty because we all do with our choices in one way or another but it serves no purpose other than to make us feel bad. To actually understand that there are so many different and wonderful ways to parent our little ones is liberating at best. No “one way” is the “right” way only what’s right for you(s) and making peace with that allows us to enjoy the journey so much more.

    I breastfed all mine but felt a failure with the first two for so long because I didn’t manage to get to the 6 month milestone. Looking back I was a strong parent in so many other ways at that time (where I could have fallen apart a million times over) and I can see that actually the breastfeeding thing became an enormous part of me feeling rubbish. It actually tainted what should have been a wonderful and magical time. It became ‘everything’ instead of one facet of parenting.

    It wasn’t until I ‘made the milestone’ with the second two and then found that the trumpets didn’t sound as we mutually agreed at 18-22 months to stop feeding that I realised how much energy I had wasted in feel so bad about my earlier experiences.

    As parents we need to congratulate our personal successes (look how amazing we are I mean seriously is there any greater achievement than growing little humans?) and look past the things that don’t work out as we imagine they will. Any parent will understand that much…..parenting is rarely as we envisage it and we can only all do the best we can at the time. What more is there to give?

    Great blog. 🙂 Will add it to my blog list 😀 So many women will relate to what you have said I am certain! x

    1. AW thanks so much! I was quite unprepared for the bucketloads of guilt that came with my entry into motherhood. I am definitely still battling with guilt – despite knowing logically that it is pointless – if there was a magic off switch for it I would definitely be hitting it though. Something that’s really heartened me is people’s response to this post – I guess there is much more room in everyone’s minds for different ways of parenting than I sometimes perceive.

      It’s interesting that you had similar feelings to me about the 6 month milestone. I think there is a sort of ‘acceptable narrative’ of motherhood and breastfeeding that I for one certainly absorbed pre-parenthood wherein we all exclusively breastfeed happily up to 6 months and then stop without any heartache or difficulties. Ditto that all AP parents are zen earth mothers (not knocking anyone who is) who are 100% unconflicted about their choices. I think there is room for much more diverse parenting and breastfeeding practices than we commonly see depicted in mainstream media.

      I’m so glad that you found peace with your choices. Just have to also add that you are my parenting idol! Taking your four children to aurora chase in a camper van is truly living the dream! xxx

  3. Oh the parenoting guilt! Hormones have a big part to play in it I think! You’re right, it is so hard to talk/write about breastfeeding without seeming braggy/bullying/obnoxious/so many other things… which is a shame! I bf Athena till I was 3 months pregnant & she was around 15 months. Thankfully it was fairly easy to stop but even tho I knew it was right (for both of us) I still felt the guilt. I can’t imagine having a bf counselor as a mum tho! So lucky… mine kept asking if we would ‘stop now she’s on solids’ etc!

    1. I really agree with you about the hormonal influence – I’m slightly hoping that a few weeks post weaning and I’ll be slightly less guilt-fuelled! I think re talking about breastfeeding it’s very hard not to come across as either pro- or anti- rather than pro choice on the matter! In many ways it was amazing having a bfeeding counselor as a mother but she is so well known in and around Brighton for her awesome skills, that sometimes she is a hard act to follow! Poor you with the comments about solids. I find it hard enough to make parenting decisions and having them undermined by someone close to me would probably cause me to flip out!

  4. Well done to you – I breastfed my boys for ages – even fed the first one throughout the second pregnancy and fed them both until the new baby was 5 months. Then I just had to stop with the first as I was very tired! It isn’t easy so I hope you feel proud for persevering. My sons are 32 and 35 now and it wasn’t easy back then doing it out in public – lots of hard stares and glares! But as it’s what breasts are for – I ignored the, and felt sorry for their ignorance. Don’t ever be nervous about promoting breastfeeding – you may help someone make a better choice.

    1. Thank you! I do feel proud of myself – in part because some aspects of it have not been easy. Feeding a toddler and a newborn is no mean feat either – respect to you for doing so! It is sad that feeding in public is not always a comfortable experience, though I have been lucky and never experienced a negative comment or even a funny look!

  5. Hey Emily! I read your blog post and as you already know I have no sprogs of my own! I just wanted to congratulate you on the restyle of your blog and writing a really personal and interesting post, keep up the good work 🙂

    Karli x

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