When Breastfeeding Ends…

The first time I nursed my second son

The breastfeeding relationship between a mother and baby is a special and unique connection. Every mother and baby has their own breastfeeding story.  Nourishing a baby with mother’s milk is a dynamic journey onto itself and no two adventures are ever the same. However one universal element is that breastfeeding eventually comes to an end for mother and baby. It may happen in very different ways and under very different circumstances, but there will be an endpoint in each breastfeeding relationship. For some families it is a mother-initiated process while for other families it is a child-led process; either of which can be gradual or abrupt. Sometimes a polarity exists between the two approaches and subsequently conflict, tension, and judgement arise. However if we can suspend judgement (or better yet extinguish it all together) about what is the “right” or “wrong” way to end breastfeeding and simply recognize whatever the process is for each family, it all falls under the definition of weaning. When we can find commonalities in our experiences, we approach others with a greater love, sensitivity, and compassion. And more often than not, a weaning mother needs compassion from others because it can be an emotional process for her regardless of circumstance.

Obviously the hormonal shift that occurs during weaning largely contributes to the mixed emotions many women experience during this time. Additionally mother’s often feel ambiguous about the changes in the physical and emotional connection they have with their child. On one hand woman will commonly express feeling glad to ‘have their body back’ while simultaneously ‘missing’ breastfeeding. If breastfeeding ends sooner than a mother felt ready to be done, it can be an especially emotional time. Know that it is OKAY and very NORMAL to experience sadness and even grief when breastfeeding comes to an end. It is a time of significant transition in your role as a mother and the connection you share with your child. Because it is such a pivotal event, you may want to honor it as such. Doing so may help you process and reconcile the varying emotions you have about weaning. Below are some special ways you might mark the end of your breastfeeding relationship:

Last picture I have of my middle son nursing

Take pictures– Nursing photographs are usually strikingly beautiful; they demonstrate a bond that is often hard to express in words. Even if the pictures are just for yourself and you never intend to show anyone else, you might be grateful to have them as a memento of a special time in your and your child’s life.

Journal – Much like writing a birth story, writing a breastfeeding story can be a therapeutic process. It is an opportunity to reflect and discover. Through journaling you might come to accept, understand, or cherish your breastfeeding journey in a new light.

Write your child a letter – When my older two sons weaned I wrote each of them a letter explaining the joys and challenges of our breastfeeding relationship. I also bought them each a children’s book about breastfeeding. The book I gave to them upon weaning, however the letter I am saving to share with them when they are older.

Have a celebration – A rite of passage, even weaning (or perhaps especially weaning), is worthy of a celebration! Celebrate the fact that you nourished your child with your milk (and be PROUD of however long it lasted for you and baby)! Celebrate the opportunity to find new ways to bond/connect with your child! Celebrate your child growing and changing! Celebrate your body and its amazing abilities. How you chose to celebrate will be unique for your family. It may involve a special meal or a special activity.

What was your experience with weaning? What emotions did you experience? What activities did you to do mark the end of breastfeeding for you and your child?

-Sarah

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4 Responses to “When Breastfeeding Ends…”

  1. Meegs says:

    Great post. 🙂

    While I am ready to start gently encouraging the weaning process, it does make me so incredibly sad to think of this part of our relationship, this part of her life, being over. We’re unsure if we will be having anymore, so it makes it especially sad to consider that with Gwen being done, I may very well be done breastfeeding forever. Wow, that makes me tear up a bit.

    But we will definitely, definitely celebrate the great run we had whenever it comes to its end!

  2. christine says:

    just reading about weaning makes me sad…. my son has been cutting back his feedings and I’m sooooo not ready for him to wean! I’m assuming he’ll want to nurse a bit longer since he’s nursing a lot at night, but that has to stop eventually…. I need sleep! He’s just over a year, so it’s not like he can’t go through the night without milk!

    • Sarah says:

      I hear ya! It is hard to imagine no longer doing something that you do multiple times daily with your baby. I hope you have plenty of breastfeeding days ahead with your little nursling! 🙂
      -Sarah

  3. Audrey says:

    I am currently starting to wean my son. And while I don’t have a time limit, I am only nursing him when he wants to. Trying to make him a little more independant. It makes me so sad to know that this time in my life is over! But I am happy so see him grow. I am proud that he is healthy. And I am proud of the time I have spent breastfeeding both of my children. This post came at such a good time for me. Thank you for writting it!