Thursday, February 7, 2013

My Thoughts on Breastfeeding After Weaning

I weaned R right before we left for the US (so in mid-December, when she was almost 22 months old). Now she's been NOT nursing for almost two months, and it's become the new normal.

I always intended to breastfeed if at all possible, ideally for a year (per the AAP recommendation on the subject). My reasons were because of the extremely strong benefits to the baby (both physically and psychologically). I know that often people argue that these benefits either don't exist, or are not that impressive: but they are incorrect. Any objective review of the evidence will clearly show otherwise.

I never really loved breastfeeding. I was certainly lucky: I never really had significant health or supply problems, not even the fairly common complications of mastitis or thrush. It was a bit difficult and painful at first (bleeding blisters on my nipples=totally not awesome), but honestly it was just the to-be-expected learning curve of doing something new and relatively physically complex for the first time. Learning to ride a bike was harder, for me.

But it never filled me with joy or wonder either. I did think that it helped me to bond with R, but I always had a pretty matter-of-fact, functional attitude about it. For me, 90% of our feeds were kind of boring (I was never really able to multitask while feeding her, both because it made me terribly sleepy and because I am kind of clumsy, so had to concentrate fully in order not to drop/smother R). Generally my mind would wander as she nursed, onto my chore list or what I'd read last or other mundane topics. It was a lot more like changing diapers than some sort of emotionally transcendent experience.

Once R was a year, and my self-appointed deadline was up, I continued to breastfeed because 1. she still seemed to be getting benefits from it (a view generally borne out by the available scientific evidence); and 2. it wasn't much of a commitment anymore (by that point, I only fed her in private, at certain times, so that it didn't impact my daily routine that much). I told myself that I would wean her by two (the age recommended by the World Health Organization).

But then, rather suddenly, I was DONE. It irritated me more and more to breastfeed her. While I'd always found it boring, I began to feel grumpy and put-upon every time I fed her, counting the minutes until she finished. I felt tired of having my breasts reassigned to industrial/productive uses, of not having total ownership of my body, of leaking milk (which always made me feel gross), of being bound so intimately to another human being (because just as the baby needs its breastfeeding mother in order to live, the mother needs to feed the baby if she doesn't want to be in pain: it's a symbiotic relationship).

So I decided to wean her. At this point, she usually only ate twice a day, so I started by cutting out one. After a week, I stopped altogether. R protested slightly (by crying), but I just told her calmly that she was a big girl now and didn't need to nurse anymore. If she was thirsty, she could have water (I began always placing a full water bottle in her crib). I thought that she would object more, but actually she accepted it quite calmly, not crying after the first two days (and after the first week or ten days, did not even ask to nurse).

I didn't have any engorgement or other problems upon ceasing, because I had done it gradually. Much to my surprise (and displeasure), though, my breasts continued to produce small amounts of milk for weeks (months, really) afterwards. They still produce a tiny bit when squeezed, though for the most part they are back to normal (in terms of size, shape and softness: when nursing they were much firmer). I am glad, because I very much disliked my increased breast size (since I am already fairly busty, having even bigger ones was not attractive IMO).

I am glad breastfeeding is over. It is a big commitment, not just in terms of time spent (which is considerable, especially at first), but psychologically. If you are breastfeeding, your irreplaceability is very obvious, which is a great burden (not to say that non-breastfeeding mothers are replaceable, but it's easier to ignore the fact and fool yourself; viz all the people saying that their children are just as happy with their childcare providers as with their parents).

Breastfeeding was also hard sexually/emotionally. It considerably reduced my sex drive, and made sex less pleasurable for me (though I still enjoyed sex, and our frequency didn't change significantly). I disliked having my breasts touched (or even looked at, I began keeping my bra on during sex generally speaking), because it just reminded me of R (NOT sexy). It made it more difficult for me to step out of my "mother" role (especially because if you are breastfeeding, when you are sexually excited you tend to start leaking milk). Luckily for me, B was very supportive. I can imagine, though, that the reaction of one's husband must be a prime motivator in terms of breastfeeding: unless he is especially supportive, or nurturing of his child, a father's interests are fundamentally anti-breastfeeding.

I am still glad I did it: and if I had more children, I would breastfeed them as well. But I do understand why bottle feeding is so popular, and honestly can't blame anyone for making that decision. Breastfeeding is obviously superior in every way for children: but mothers are people too, and their welfare and happiness are also important. Sometimes the decisions you make as a parent will privilege your needs/desires above your children's, and that is OK.


  1. breastfeeding is such a complex experience. i am glad that i stopped when i did (stopped bf around 10 months but P had milk stored up until after 15 months). i love how open, honest, and nonchalantly blunt you write about it.
    I never really felt the "bond" of bf....but I was very happy to do this great thing for her. I'm actually shockingly really looking forward to bf number 2.

    1. Yes, I love how you put it: to do this great thing for her. That's how I felt too.

      I wonder if your experience will differ with baby #2? I can imagine it might be a lot easier initially...

  2. I agree with Kat, I love your honest and frank comments about BFing!

    With my 1st, my body stopped producing for a few reasons and I was sad that I didn't get a say in when we stopped BFing (~5-6 months).

    Now that my 2nd is approaching 5 months, I hope I can keep my supply up so I can at least have a stake in when weaning occurs (when I say it's ready, when the baby says she's ready, or a combination).

    Being that I work outside of the house, I was interested in reading the Slate article you linked to, but not sure if you linked the correct one. Nevertheless, it was an interesting article!

    1. That's hard that you didn't get to decide about when to stop breastfeeding: I hope it works out better for you this time! (though I've heard generally it's easier the second time)

      Looking back at the Slate article, I agree it doesn't really seem to relate that closely. The connection seemed super obvious to me at the time, maybe because I was thinking of the author's later comment (She says, "It seemed so obvious to me I didn't put it in the original piece, but let me say it now: of course my daughter's happiness comes first, that's what it means to be a parent. But I'm not so egotistical to think that I'm the only one who can make her happy. Clearly some time with me is important, but I am lucky enough to have a wonderful husband and wonderful nanny. I know she is happy/stimulated/joyful virtually all the time. Once that's settled, I don't think it's so unreasonable to ask -- on the margin -- what might make me happy.") Clearly she is a little bit delusional (because while dads are great, they aren't the same as moms at all, something I remember clearly from my own childhood: and I am very, very close to my father. And then thinking the nanny can serve the same function as a mother...But she's not the only one. I've heard lots of women talk/write in the same vein (that if you have a great childcare provider, your kid won't even know the difference!), which is clearly ridiculous.

      This isn't to say that I think all mothers should stay at home though (which I absolutely don't think), just that being a mother means you have a special and irreplaceable role (even if it's one that doesn't require your 24/7 presence). A nanny is NOT the same.

  3. I am curious what research you have seen that leads you to say that there are strong benefits to the baby of breast feeding. I haven't done a ton of searching around on this, but what I have seen hasn't been that compelling or convincing to me that breastmilk and/or nursing has been shown in good studies to be that much better for the baby than formula feeding. Most of what I have seen seems to be biased or not really a good analysis of research or other things that made me pretty skeptical. Don't get me wrong - I feel that breastfeeding is preferable for personal reasons (cost, enjoyment, satisfaction with my accomplishment, relative convenience, etc.) and also because I have a feeling that it must be better because it is naturally created food that we don't have the knowledge to fully replicate in formula yet. I nurse my 9 month old with no current weaning plans. I'm not contesting that the studies are out there, I just haven't seen them so would be curious to read them or about them. The only thing I've seen referenced that seemed like a significant difference to me was research showing reduced breast cancer rates in both mom and female babies - which is big to me because I have some increased breast cancer risk in my family.

    As always, I love reading your blunt writing!

    1. So actually when I first thought about breastfeeding I was a little bit skeptical: I thought it was good for the reasons you list, but all the inflated claims made seemed overblown (especially since I was living in the Land of Hippies Who Eat Their Own Placenta then, so heard constantly about how breastmilk cures everything ever).

      The more I read though the more obvious its advantages were. Here's the latest position paper by the AAP: (which says breastfeeding reduces incidence of asthma, otitis media--ear infections, a big deal because recurrent ones damage hearing and thus speech, respiratory infections including pneumonia, SIDS, IBS, diabetes, obesity, allergies, celiac disease, and leukemia; plus it makes babies smarter). It also seems to make your teeth less crooked (

      It's not just Americans of course: here's an overview of the research from UNICEF: Actually organizations based in poorer countries are even stronger advocates, because so many babies die there as a result of NOT breastfeeding (some studies here: (The death rate for formula fed babies in the US is 1.3 higher for comparison.)

      But every major health organization strongly advocates it. There are a few articles etc suggesting the benefits aren't that great, but this is more like the anti climate change people than a real debate.