Who am I if I'm not breastfeeding?

Who am I if I'm not breastfeeding?

My first daughter was severely jaundiced at birth, so nurses suggested supplementing breast milk with formula. She took to the bottle naturally. Breastfeeding, on the other hand, was extremely stressful. So I stopped. I'd established a comfort level with bottle-feeding by the time my second and third babies came along, so that's what we did.

It took me until baby number four to gain enough confidence back to try breastfeeding again. My son latched on immediately, and I never looked back. I felt like I'd conquered the world. I'd mastered breastfeeding at last!

The first year of my son's life was all about breastfeeding. My world revolved around it. Instead of feeling rejected by other nursing moms like I had before, I happily became part of the club. I politely passed on a second cocktail at social events because of breastfeeding. Sometimes I wouldn't even make it to a party because I couldn't be away from the baby for more than a few hours. I even declined the invitation to my sister's destination bachelorette party because I was breastfeeding.

All of my lifestyle choices have been dictated by breastfeeding – from what I eat to what medications I can take, what I drink, and how long I sleep each night. I schedule my life according to our breastfeeding routine – not that I'm complaining! I've been more than happy to dress for easy access for my son's always-searching little lips. I didn't mind tackling the logistical challenges of always being available to my son because it gave me such a strong sense of accomplishment.

Most significant was the emotional space breastfeeding occupied in my life. It was as if I'd found a long-lost sibling or something. I found myself wondering how I ever survived without breastfeeding. I had almost missed out on this amazing bonding experience! After years of wondering what the fuss over breastfeeding was all about, I got it.

That unparalleled connection breastfeeding moms are constantly hyping everywhere you turn? Yeah – it's real. And it's magical.

Breastfeeding my son has been one of the most gratifying, amazing experiences of my life. When I sit or lie with him and put him on my breast, the rest of the world fades away. All my worries float softly, like feathers, to the back of my mind. I'm in that moment, feeling the weight of him on me, and focusing completely on our connection. Sometimes I feel like I could just exist in that cozy bubble forever.

Except I can't. My son just turned 1, and while he's still interested in breastfeeding, he's also discovered Cheerios. And pancakes. And yogurt. And a dozen other solid foods that he needs to nourish his growing little body. Weaning has begun. So 12 times a day dropped to six, then four, then three. Now we only cuddle up to nurse once in the morning, and again at bedtime. It's with a heavy heart that I accept our breastfeeding relationship will eventually come to an end altogether.

Whether we nurse for another few weeks, months, or longer, this is the tail end of a life-affirming experience. Breastfeeding will no longer be the nexus around which my schedule evolves. I'll be able to go more places, and farther away. I can wear whatever I want. I won't be as famished or as thirsty. All. The. Time. I can drink wine at Sunday brunch again.

And while that freedom should feel exciting, it doesn't. Instead, I mostly feel sad and lost, almost like I'm in mourning. It's as if I have to figure out who I am all over again. Like, who the hell am I if I'm not a breastfeeding mom anymore?

I turned to other moms who’ve "been there, done that" for help. I asked them how they adjusted to the huge psychological shift that accompanies the end of breastfeeding. Thankfully, they offered me a lot of hope for the future; the one beyond nursing bras and milk-stained sheets. Many moms told me their babies breastfed a bit here and there until they were well past the age of 2, and so when the kiddos eventually weaned, they felt ready emotionally to let go.

One mom, Deborah, told me when it was time to move on from breastfeeding for her and her baby, she tried to focus on getting her physical freedom back rather than mourning what she lost. Still, she confessed, "I was most afraid that my daughter wouldn't need me anymore, but guess what? She still did!"

Another mom, Betsy, explained an unexpected benefit to weaning. "One silver lining for me was it seemed we actually cuddled more after weaning: I was no longer just a quick pit stop at the snack bar, per se, and that somehow made our snuggle time more mutual and even more precious."

Meanwhile, other mamas I talked to bemoaned the fact that stopping breastfeeding wasn’t even a choice for them, which put my situation – a mutual winding down – into perspective. For instance, Courtney’s older daughter had to spend time the hospital when her son was an infant, and after he was bottle-fed in her absence, he refused to nurse again. "I didn't have time to grieve about it then," she said, adding, "I am still disappointed, and it isn't something I wanted.”

Cynthia got to breastfeed her babies for an extended period of time, and said, "Although I was sad when it ended for each one, I also told myself from the beginning, 'This won't last forever, so enjoy these moments!'" I am working to be as mindful as Cynthia, who also said, "When it was time to move on, I had no regrets."

I love mom Jenny's advice the most. She admits she cried when her son stopped breastfeeding. And so did he. She told me, "It's okay to be sad – both of you! Let yourself mourn the end of it, but don't forget to celebrate it too."

I'll leave you with her wise words, which empowered me during this difficult transition and reminded me why I breastfed my son in the first place: "Babies grow up if we do this right."

Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.

Watch the video: Is formula feeding OK? 2 doctors weigh in on breastfeeding vs formula (January 2022).

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