It’s totally normal to be full of mixed emotions when your nursing journey stops. When you stop breastfeeding your little one it can be a bit of a roller coaster whether it was planned or not, and that’s understandable.
I’ve been wanting to write this blog for years because so many people get in touch to say they or their partners have been sad since they stopped breastfeeding. My own journey with Ayla (now five years old) was one of the most difficult times of my life and when she stopped completely I felt guilt, anger, recrimination, worthlessness but also an awful lot of relief which I didn’t think I could share.
You can read the full blog about myself and Ayla’s breastfeeding experience here but please don’t let it put you off trying because breastfeeding Bastian (now three and still an utter boob monster) has been a total contrast. With Ayla I worried that my surgery-damaged breasts just weren’t able to manage. No matter who I spoke to or what I tried, Ayla never seemed to be content after I nursed her and I was expressing drops, if anything, even when my milk ducts were swollen with milk. I suffered the breastfeeding issses vasospasms and mastitis and some nipple trauma. I felt I ruined our holiday in Denmark visiting family because I was totally overwhelmed with pumping schedules. It’s so easy to look back and say, “I wish I’d known…” but Captain Hindsight can sod off!
When Your Nursing Journey Stops Suddenly
I believe you can only do your best with the info you have access to at the time and we all know how greatly the advice we’re given varies. Contradicting advice, I feel, is what makes us feel like we’ve failed. Because when something doesn’t work you might get that nagging voice saying, “You didn’t give it a chance!”, “Did you try hard enough?”, or even, “It worked for my friend so there must be something wrong with me!”
So much is expected of us as new parents and when a lactation consultant says you need to pump every two hours, the guilt can be overwhelming when this just isn’t possible. I really like what I’ve read about Dr Newman, a breastfeeding expert in Canada because he believes expressing is only necessary if you want to do it; there are better ways to stimulate your milk flow and increase breastmilk supply.
Breastfeeding is so much more than breastmilk and whenever possible, the baby should be at the breast. A pump is not as efficient as a well-latched baby and so a baby who breastfeeds well is the best pump – Dr Jack Newman, Expressing Breast Milk
Yet there are so many of us whose babies aren’t breastfeeding well who don’t respond to the pump that feel they’ve failed. Those of us stopping for medical reasons like dysphoria, prolonged hospital stays etc. When I was pregnant with Bastian I went to a Healing Your Birth Wounds workshop by Karin Chandler and let a lot of the pain and anxiety I’d held onto go. You can find other Red Tents in Europe here which are open to any parents who have birthed a baby, no matter how long ago.
Planning For When Your Nursing Journey Stops
As our little ones get bigger even the most beautiful breastfeeding journey needs to end eventually. Some parents stop when their babies get teeth or begin to walk. UNICEF and the World Health Organsation recommend giving children breastmilk in addition to food for at least the first two years of their lives*. Some people breastfeed for years after this until their child loses their baby teeth and in some cultures the sick are given breastmilk. Some people believe it can cure cancer and you can donate milk to cancer patients through Human Milk 4 Human Babies (search Facebook for your local group). There’s no time you have to stop breastfeeding although you might feel pressure from family, your social circle, the media, healthcare providers etc. Personally I don’t find GP’s bat an eyelid when I ask if a medicine is safe while breastfeeding whilst chasing a three year old round the office, and are usually grateful for it when he immediately calms down after latching. Hopefully the reasons you stop will be when it feels mutually right for you and your child.
La Leche League have a fantastic page advising all the things you can think of after your breastfeeding stops or if you’re planning on it soon, or you can find a local group and have a chat with one of their fantastic volunteer trained leaders. Their page on When Breastfeeding Ends Suddenly is one of the pages I’ve shared most with our clients who come to us with a range of emotions from extatic to broken about stopping.
Coming to Terms
I wanted breastmilk jewellery from the moment I learnt about it but I couldn’t express the amount the company asked for. The settings on offer weren’t the style I’d wear and I knew that if I ordered a pearl I’d want to cut it open and learn how to add my own wire wrapped design. After Bastian was born I was determined to make something myself because art is my passion. I started making breastmilk jewellery for myself and quickly started selling charms, necklaces and breastmilk rings to friends of friends who also wanted a little keepsake of their journey. I elaborated on the boobie awards for breastmilk keepsakes to include special considerations for breastfeeding a disabled baby, multiples and tandem feeding, chestfeeding dads and others that clients have requested along the way.
Now we get dozens of enquiries a week from families who think their last feed’s just round the corner or they haven’t nursed in a few days. It is sad for us, in a way, but we know these children have loving families and have had the best start in life. My advice is to pop an ounce in the back of the freezer sooner rather than later if you’d like a little breastfeeding keepsake one day.
If the unbound spirit is brave enough, she will eventually attempt to heal herself… she will need to grit her teeth and re-examine her wounding, gently washing away trapped dirt and any infection. When the wound is clean enough, she can then seek out a needle and thread – Karin Chandler, Mending Our Soul Wounds
Please feel free to share this blog in your breastfeeding group and comment below if you’re nursing an older baby (or are planning on it). You can follow my blog here.
*The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommendations on breastfeeding are as follows: initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after the birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months; and continued breastfeeding for two years or more, together with safe, nutritionally adequate, age appropriate, responsive complementary feeding starting in the sixth month. – UNICEF
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