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Why Stop Now?

Lesley Houchin-Miller
Holland, MI USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 5, September-October 2002, p. 172

My little boy, Lucas, loved to nurse. Other breastfeeding friends of mine would joke that Lucas would definitely be the last in our group of breastfeeding toddlers to wean. For the first six weeks of his life, it seemed as though he wanted to nurse every 15 minutes. As he grew to be a toddler, he continued to be a frequent nurser. I quickly became accustomed to sitting on the floor in any public place, letting Lucas climb into my lap so he could nurse away in delight. It's amazing how breastfeeding mothers can open the door to a public establishment and, within seconds, locate the best potential nursing spot. We nursed anywhere and we nursed often.

One week after Lucas was 18 months old, he abruptly stopped breastfeeding. The first day, I thought it was a nursing strike. I racked my brain trying to think of anything unusual going on in our lives. Everything was fine. No changes. Lucas had a mild cold at the time, but was happy as a clam.

Each time I offered the breast, he would arch his back and turn away. I called my friends, who were astounded. They all assured me that Lucas would be back to the breast in no time. After all, this was Lucas, the breastfeeding pro. That night, we went to bed without our usual "nurse-nurse to night-night" routine. I was beginning to worry and couldn't help feeling emotionally bruised. Why was he suddenly rejecting me? Early the next morning, while he was still sleeping, I put my breast into Lucas' mouth and he nursed as well as he ever had. I was so overjoyed, believing that our nursing strike was over. I am sad to say, now, that was the last time we ever nursed.

Several days later, at our LLL Group meeting, I broke down in tears, explaining that Lucas hadn't nursed in four days and I couldn't figure out why. It was so comforting to have other compassionate mothers who sympathized with me and showed genuine concern. I didn't have to worry about anyone saying, "How liberating! You should be happy he's weaned," or, "Good grief, isn't 18 months long enough?" Instead, I got some great suggestions for luring Lucas back to the breast: providing lots of skin-to-skin contact, taking baths together, and making the breast available, especially while Lucas was in a light sleep. We talked about possible reasons he might be striking: ear infections, teething, stress, or a new pregnancy. None of those possibilities applied to Lucas or me. As perplexed and hurt as I felt, I was still so thankful that I had a circle of friends who cared. I didn't have to go through this alone.

I continued to pump for a little over a month to avoid engorgement at first, and then later to keep up my supply. I hoped that someday if Lucas decided to nurse again, my milk would be right there waiting for him. I gave the "nurse-nurse" milk that I had pumped to Lucas in a cup. He enjoyed it but he didn't savor it the way he did when he'd nursed. I was determined to continue giving Lucas those antibodies, vitamins, and minerals he needed. But pumping became an emotional struggle, not to mention very time-consuming. For 30 minutes of pumping, I would sit, watching him look through a book or listen to music, and wonder, "Why won't he just nurse? What have I done wrong?" Then I would look down, see how my milk supply was dwindling, and feel hopeless.

Lucas' weaning has added some new challenges to our daily lives. Fifteen minutes at the breast was how long it used to take him to drift asleep at naptime and bedtime. Now we struggle to calm him down with soft music and back patting. This whole process takes about an hour and a half. Temper tantrums and hurt feelings can no longer be soothed by breastfeeding. Many times during my day, I think, "This is when I would just nurse him and he would be fine." I often wonder how mothers who never nurse a small child get through their day!

This difficult time of adjustment has also made me wonder how young babies handle weaning. I am an adult who has had 30 years to learn how to handle disappointment, but when my little boy suddenly decided he didn't want to nurse any more, I was devastated. I felt jilted and unloved. Yet, I am experienced enough to know that I am still the most important person in Lucas' life. I am thankful that I chose to follow my son's lead in our breastfeeding relationship. Being a sensitive mother means that when letting go of my nursing relationship with Lucas, I can be sensitive to his need to be loved in other ways.

Lucas is now 20 months old. He is as happy now as he was when he nursed to his heart's content. I still grieve that our breastfeeding relationship ended so abruptly. Somehow, I believe this is the way Lucas will continue to live his life. He is a bound and determined, sturdy little lad. He nursed as long as he wanted. When he decided that he was finished, that was that. Maybe part of motherhood is embracing these little ones for as long as we can, while trusting them to know when they are ready to let go.

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