It’s almost a year since my breastfeeding journey with Leroy ended. Yup, we’ve been on this extended breastfeeding with my toddler for several years. This chapter is one that was both challenging from the start, and also ended so traumatically for both of us.
It took me such a long time to pen this down because it’s difficult to put down my emotions into words. When it comes to topics close to my heart, it’s a struggle to write and read it without tears.
1 – 7 August 2020 marks the World Breastfeeding Week.
Whenever this time of the year comes around on the years of my nursing journey, it brings back plenty of memories and tears.
Was it easy to stop breastfeeding a toddler?
3.5 years old – that’s a rather grand old age for a nursling, right?
Vera was breastfed for 21 months, and my experience as a first-time breastfeeding mum was already challenging. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile or following me on Instagram, you’d know that it was a case of me being the weakest link. I wrote an open letter to her after she self-weaned and when she asked if she could have my breastmilk again when baby was born.
In total, I’d been nourishing both kids for about 5.5 years. It was anything but easy or natural. Don’t be duped into thinking so, because both every nursing relationships is different. Haha, yes, same mother, different kid… breastfeeding didn’t get any easier for me the second time round. In fact, there were even MORE issues.
To put an end to this “hard work” was a practical decision. My body was taking a toil from all the non-stop night nursing sessions as if he was at a daily buffet. But our weaning method didn’t go the way I thought it would, or hoped for. Which made me sad and angry at the same time!
Breastfeeding challenges – let’s talk about the less rosy stuff
There’s no instruction manual for motherhood and breastfeeding in reality goes beyond the books. We already know all the benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and mummy. Those information seem to paint such a glorious image that this is a natural phase, and that things would be easy and problem-free.
And, the beauty of breastfeeding was a big draw to want to nourish my babies with a natural milk source plus antibodies. I’m thankful that my supply was way better this time round, and he was exclusively breastfed. With a better supply, that also posed more issues for me, sadly.
Sorry, it isn’t a fairy tale. I say that with my sample size of 2 kids. HAHA. Our lactation chapters were anything but beautiful fairy tales loaded with glitter and loving hugs. There, I’ve said it!
What were the challenges? First, definitely the lack of sleep. Make that for both mum and child.
At 3 years old, he should already be sleeping through the night (STTN). But he wasn’t. And, I wasn’t either! The accumulated lack of sleep over the years was terrible (can I say that??). I wasn’t getting the rest needed to function optimally the next day; it affected my moods and thereby affecting our family.
For our growing child, K and I were worried about his development since he wasn’t getting the full rest he deserved. That was a bigger concern, to be honest.
And of course, there were the inconveniences like having to pump-on-the-go. I had to lug an extra bag full of breastfeeding tools like my milk bottles, storage bags, ice pack, and the heavy breast pump… Worse, it gets stressful trying to pump outside when I was in a rush. Anxiety makes it more difficult to clear the boobs! I had to also make sure the expressed milk was kept chilled with an ice pack or in the office’s fridge. I had to try to pumped enough to clear, else a full suite of blebs, mastitis and blocked ducts would come knocking! I’ve shared about my life as a working mum who had to pump and dash home – click here to read.
Oh yes, the full suite of nasties that most people don’t talk about! How could I forget them??
I was pricking myself with needles every 2 weeks (or less!) during the first 9 months of nursing Leroy. It was madness! The recurrent blebs were stubborn and kept appearing. So mummies, remember to exfoliate your nipples in the bath. Nobody told me this and now I’ve to share this tip with YOU so you don’t encounter the same troubles, okay?
As if the needle works weren’t bad enough, I had mastitis twice in the first 6 months. The blocked ducts were extremely stubborn too! I dreaded the blocked ducts because that meant traffic jams in the paths! That also meant I had to call the lactation consultants and massage ladies for help. Which meant spending more money. Whoever said breastmilk is free?? LOL.
Why did we decide to wean our toddler from breastfeeding?
When Leroy was still latching at 3 years old, family and friends shared their concerns. As a second-time mum, you pretty much grow a thicker skin, and I had gotten immune to certain comments by then. Haha!
My husband, on the other hand, was adamant that we should stop. Understandably, because whenever Leroy fussed at night during his night buffets, it would stir him as well. All of us co-sleep in the same bedroom and he’s a light sleeper, causing his sleep quality to dip with the “disturbances”.
He had raised his concerns many times over the year.
“When are you going to stop breastfeeding him”
“Maybe it’s time to stop breastfeeding this toddler. It’s becoming a bad habit.”
Along the lines of these and more, our conversations about weaning came and went. Should we do a cold turkey? How do we handle that since my son would only want me at night?
Then, the threats started to pour onto my child. Yup, the usual things like suggesting to put chili on my nipples so it would deter him from latching and so on.
I clearly understood that the thoughtfulness of the intent was for our health. But I couldn’t do it. Maybe I was so conditioned and “used to” nursing that it made stopping so hard. I didn’t want to take the step to say “No!”, and break up. I wasn’t brave and felt vulnerable at the same time. It felt like de ja vu because I had the very same thoughts when we toyed with the idea about weaning Vera. The lucky thing was: she self-weaned during the first trimester of my pregnancy with Leroy. But of course, it was also a huge step for her to decide to stop, which also made me very sad. Sigh.
Can we blame our hormones?! Haha.
How did I try to stop breastfeeding my toddler?
Okay, if you’re all about gentle and respectful weaning practices, or thinking about weaning your toddler without tears, please hold your heart before reading the next few paragraphs. It was NOTHING close to gentle or whatsoever. Lots of guilt and tears flowed!
So, here’s a walk down memory lane for me to recollect how we eventually stopped breastfeeding Leroy who was a toddler by then.
At first, I started dragging the intervals for my pump sessions, and eventually didn’t have to express milk. Next, I only latched him on demand. With that, I was basically like a water cooler, right? Or so, they say. Haha.
Next, I gradually decreased his day feeds with reduced latching. I had to say “no” by not offering him during the day. At first, he was understandably upset about it, so I had to find ways to make him forget that he wanted to nurse. I could use the excuse that others would see us in the day when we were out, so he knew the boobs were off-limits then. A part of me knew that my toddler was mostly comfort nursing.
There was once I had to give in and nurse him in his friend’s mum’s car after a school excursion at around 3 years old. Thankfully, she understood and made no judgey remarks. I was thankful for that. I deliberately left the nursing cover at home and told him we didn’t bring it, but in fact, my top was loose, breastfeeding-friendly and could easily hide him. I wasn’t entirely ready. Would I ever be?
This followed with sticking to just bedtime nursing sessions. But you know, many folks would say that latching to sleep is a bad idea. Yes, I know. Yes, I did that. Yes, I kinda regretted starting this “bad habit” that conditioned him to associate sleeping with nursing. Sigh…
Making the decision to break this relationship was very difficult.
We weaned so dramatically with so much tears and guilt…
In August 2019, we went on a short trip over the National Day weekend. To reduce latching opportunities, we substituted his feeds with formula milk in a bottle or UHT packet milk. He’s fine with drinking both, thank goodness! But at bedtime, he needed the comfort of snuggling into my chest, and I had to start depriving him of that… sigh…
We returned home and a few nights later, I think he started fussing and whining over something. My memory is a little fuzzy now, although I remembered him being upset at bedtime. He could articulate and tell me what he wanted or felt, so that also made it more heartbreaking to hear words like he wanted mummy, he wanted to drink mummy’s milk etc.
This time round, hubby put his foot down on matters and unleashed a stern warning to him. He was to stop breastfeeding so
both all of us could have better sleep. I was to comply, of course. I guess, that was really the last straw which pushed the final button for us to stop breastfeeding our toddler.
Leroy was wailing. I was in tears. It was an awful atmosphere that night. I would never forget how painful my heart was as it crumbled along with the drops of his tears.
My poor child tried to keep his tears muffled under the covers. He crept close to me and asked for a hug and started sobbing out loud in the dark. I tried to keep a strong front. But, it was extremely difficult not to speak with a quivering voice. That night, we ended up cuddling each other with plenty of tears.
All I could recall was that I kept repeating myself that night, “Mummy loves you, baby.”
Post-breastfeeding snippets with my breastfed children
Since we stopped, from time to time, he would still ask me if he could drink mummy’s milk. In fact, Vera would ask the same too, and has even tried nursing when Leroy was still breastfeeding!
Does it feel upsetting? In all honesty, yes.
Was I angry with my husband? Yes and no. Yes, because it wasn’t done the way I had hoped for. I’ve shared how I eventually stopped breastfeeding Leroy with some friends, and they were legit shocked. LOL. But I guess, someone just had to make that move for the betterment of everyone. My attached toddler wouldn’t stop, and neither would I, so, someone had to be that “bad guy”?
I’m tearing as I’m writing my experience down with memories flooding my mind while swallowing that lump in my throat…
I guess, this is probably why it took me almost a year to share my story. This shall be my way to commemorate our 3.5 years of breastfeeding you, Leroy. I hope you are not mad at mummy and daddy anymore…
Here’s a note to all pregnant mums, new mums and mummies out there: do what you’re comfortable with and don’t compare your journey with others. Motherhood is a tough role in itself, and please don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to meet your own breastfeeding goals. The most important bit that I’ve learned? Mum’s sanity and child’s health are key. Fed is best :) The duration of our nursing journey doesn’t make one mum mightier than the other ;)
Whatever the challenges, worries, expectations and reality, remember to take a step back and see how far you’ve come. Hug your children tightly; hug yourself tightly!
Are you thinking of how and when to stop breastfeeding your toddler? I hope my experiences and tips would offer some comfort or help in one way or another. Feel free to share your weaning tips and tricks too!