Stopping breastfeeding

So, this is it: the end of my breastfeeding journey with BabyGirl. After thirteen months, I have decided that it is the right time to stop and I have been surprised to have mixed feelings about it. Part of me wants to run around whooping for joy, waving my nursing bras and tops aloft before burning them (although I probably shouldn’t do that, particularly since a friend lent many of the tops to me…). Another part of me feels sad that we have reached this point. And yet another part of me even feels guilty for stopping at all.

This kaleidoscope of emotions really characterises breastfeeding for me. I have always been grateful that I have been able to feed BabyGirl but it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Sometimes I have loved it: the snuggliness, how BabyGirl has slotted into my arms and dozed off peacefully as she fed, the cleverness of nature in helping me to provide for my child. The lazy part of me has definitely found it easier to do nightfeeds this way and to never have to worry about how long we’ll be out as the milk is there with us, on tap. Sometimes, however, I admit I have hated it: the biting, the soreness, the sheer exhaustion of being the sole person able to feed your baby. On a superficial level, I have also despaired at the humungous size my breasts have grown to, disliked having to wear nursing bras and tops with easy access, and felt awkward about feeding in public – I somehow am not one of these mums who can discretely pop their nipple out, instead I have often been sitting self consciously with what feels like my entire huge expanse of breast on show.

Then there has been the actual experience of breastfeeding. Two hellish weeks to begin with, when BabyGirl couldn’t seem to latch on for some reason and I had to express and cup feed, which just felt exhausting. The relief when it eventually clicked. The complacency a little further down the line when I thought I had it all sorted. The absolute exhaustion when BabyGirl turned into a feeding machine which, coupled with some terrible breastfeeding insomnia, left me wondering if I could indeed make it to the minimum six months I’d originally intended. (I did, through sheer stubbornness, but it was a relief to introduce one bottle feed that D could help me with.)

No, it’s not straightforward, this breastfeeding lark. It’s not just a physical thing, either. I certainly didn’t appreciate the emotional side to it before I had BabyGirl. The last few months have been a doddle, though, as BabyGirl has slowly dropped her feeds, to the point where I realised I have been breastfeeding maybe even less than once a day since the eleven month mark.

Just as I didn’t really have a clue how hard it can be to start breastfeeding, it seems that stopping is also trickier than I first thought. Physically, it has been easy as we have been phasing out the feeds so gradually and naturally that I haven’t suffered from any engorgement. BabyGirl hasn’t even batted an eyelid at the change, perhaps because she has been less and less interested in breastfeeding anyway.

Emotionally, it is another story. I may have only been breastfeeding once every day or so, but stopping altogether suddenly seems very final. I began to question whether I should have allowed the feeds to dwindle so much – maybe I should have been a bit more proactive in putting BabyGirl on the breast once she started to become disinterested – the WHO guidelines do recommend breastfeeding to at least the age of two after all. I haven’t liked being at a point of no return. In addition, I have felt a sadness that I won’t be feeding BabyGirl anymore. I can’t really put my finger on why, since overall I am happy it is the right time – perhaps as it signifies the end of a chapter in BabyGirl’s babyhood? And then there are the hormonal responses. Weirdly, I have had really awful PMT symptoms, despite it being completely the wrong point in my cycle. It was only after a few days of this that I started to wonder if it had anything to do with the breastfeeding.

I belatedly decided to do some research into the effects of weaning. There is quite a lot about engorgement and cabbage leaves, which I had expected to find, but not a lot about anything else. Interestingly, though, a couple of articles popped up dealing with the side effects, listing depression, nausea, mood swings and headaches among a few others. Apparently, weaning causes a drop in prolactin levels, the hormone that stimulates milk production and also induces feelings of calm and well being. Ah-ha, that explains the feelings of PMT and the urge to burst into tears for no reason whatsoever! This is backed up anecdotally by many threads and posts on forums from women who are going through the same thing.

With all the information we are given about breastfeeding, I find it amazing that I haven’t come across this before. I am also surprised to be suffering so much when I have been barely breastfeeding at all for the last month. Thankfully, BabyGirl seems as happy as ever, so it’s just her mum that’s a hormonal wreck.

Has anyone else noticed any strange side effects when stopping breastfeeding?

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