*****UPDATE: After writing this post I discovered the cause of my breastfeeding pain which you can read about here. Though in this post I speculate that pain may be a natural part of the weaning process, I am happy to say that I no longer feel that is necessarily true. *****
If you have followed Love Parenting for a while, you’ll know that I am passionate about full term breastfeeding. If you had asked me a year ago I would have told you that I expected Little Cat to breastfeed well into childhood, guessing until around seven years old. He has always been an avid breastfeeder (as a newborn he once cluster fed for nine hours straight!) and he still adores breastfeeding more than anything in the world. But in the past six months or so we have experienced some unexpected changes to our breastfeeding relationship.
To begin with, I noticed a change in my milk production. It was still plentiful, but it had noticeably dropped from the abundant fountain of milkiness there had once been. Around this time LC’s feeds became a bit shorter, but other than that there was no change to his feeding habits.
A few months later, things began to change again. Several occurrences happened in quick succession.
I began getting a strong pain in my left breast whenever LC fed. It felt as though he were trying to suck my breast inside out, and I had to tell him to stop frequently. At three, although he has rarely been limited in his feeding, he was very understanding, and we were able to talk about it and come to a compromise about just having a quick go, or trying again a bit later. The pain was only during feeds and stopped as soon as he did.
A few weeks after this I began feeling a mixture of irritability and nausea during feeding. I don’t believe in ignoring signals from my body – I want to listen to it and be respectful to my own needs too, and so again, sometimes I would find myself having to cut feeds short when the feelings got too much to bear. (Yes I did take a pregnancy test, as these symptoms are typical for nursing mothers during pregnancy. I already knew it would be negative before the result appeared, but it doesn’t hurt to double check.)
Shortly after this, I started experiencing some toe curlingly painful latch pain on both sides during feeding. It was a massive surprise to me after having a perfect latch in the three and a half years since he was born, and as far as I could see his technique was no different. Again, this led to me having no choice but to cut some feeds short.
The strangest thing along this whole process is that sometimes I get hit with the whole lot – Irritation, breast pain, latch pain and nausea, forcing my hand and making me have to cut the feed very short after just a few sucks on each side. But then at other times, I get no symptoms whatsoever, and really enjoy feeding him for as long as he wants. As these pleasant feeds become less and less frequent, I treasure them more and more. It breaks my heart that this part of our relationship is starting to show that it won’t be around forever. I want to hold on tightly and never let it go.
Six months ago when this all began, Little Cat was feeding for around five to ten minutes at a time, every hour or so during the day. Now his daytime feeds are far more spaced out, more like every three or four hours, though we have gone much longer on busy days. He still wakes to feed between 2 and 5 times a night, but now I have reached the stage where my nipples and breasts continue to ache long after a feed, and unfortunately I frequently have to put him off and say no when he asks. I would say I feed him a maximum of three times a night now.
I really feel as if this is the beginning of a very slow and natural weaning process. It is a back and forth negotiation, and although I am saying no, or finding distractions when I can’t manage to feed him, I am trying to offer when I feel able to.
Of course, I could force myself to push through all of these issues, through the pain and feed him for as long and as often as he would like. But as someone who believes in natural, instinctive and authentic parenting, I think that would be going against everything I believe. Motherhood is not about ignoring your own needs and fighting against your body. I want to listen to what it is telling me, and respect my limits. I want to embrace the changes, difficult as they may be emotionally. Fighting against myself could easily lead to resentment towards breastfeeding, and I have no doubt my intuitive son would pick up on this.
Since he is now the one who initiates breastfeeding 90% of the time, I am making a conscious effort to initiate contact and connection with him in other ways, in order to ensure he knows that I am still there for him, and invested in our relationship. I must admit that this is much harder than flopping down for a breastfeed – I have always said it is the ultimate tool in connection as it is so easy and comes as second nature. Now I am having to think more and establish new habits which is not always the easiest thing for me to do. We are cooking more together, reading more, having lots of cuddles and role play and just having some wonderful and insightful conversations while we sit side by side.
I honestly can’t say for certain why all these changes have come on so suddenly at this point in time. It could be to do with my own health, I was definitely feeling run down and stressed in the run up to our trip to Costa Rica, but even after a month of relaxing, eating and sleeping well in beautiful sunshine, letting go of deadlines and feeling a total release of stress, these issues are still very much present.
If I’m honest with myself, I think it is just my body’s way of bringing our breastfeeding journey to a gentle end. And I would much rather this slow dwindling, which enables both myself and my son to come to terms with this slowly and gently, giving us the opportunity to cherish what we have left and say a proper goodbye, than an abrupt and final end. I don’t want it to stop, but if it has to, I’m grateful for the time we have left. Who knows how long that may be. Maybe a year, maybe only months. The one thing I do know is that breastfeeding my child has been one of the most profoundly transformational, eye opening and precious things I will ever experience. I never could have imagined how special, how fulfilling and how utterly incredible the simple act of feeding him could be. And I am beyond grateful for the time we have had.
Have you experienced similar physical changes during your breastfeeding journey? How did you cope with them both emotionally and physically?
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