I didn't expect to feel guilty about stopping breastfeeding, but then I didn't envisage it ending quite like this, either.
My daughter is eight months old and simply weaned herself off breast milk all of a sudden one day. There's no real reason for me to feel guilty and yet, inexplicably, I do.
Each one of my three babies latched on beautifully from the word go and I've never had any problems with breastfeeding - barring those early weeks of excruciating, eye-watering pain as the old mammaries knuckled down to business.
I don't take that for granted - I thank my lucky stars that I've never had mastitis or milk supply problems, but the fact that breastfeeding came easily to us also partly explains why giving up this time around has been such a trial.Breastfeeding was one thing I felt accomplished at as a mother, so my baby initiating this abrupt end to our breastfeeding relationship without any prior warning has thrown me for a loop.
My formerly-milk-loving baby just decided that breast milk is for babies - which she clearly doesn't consider herself to be, now that she can sit up unaided and palm rice cakes into her mouth three at time, not to mention unravel a roll of toilet roll and decimate a packet of baby wipes in seconds.
And I know what you're thinking; eight months is a long enough to breastfeed a baby - after all she's eating three solid meals a day now - so why the big fuss about feeding coming to an end? Why not just be grateful that I was able to feed at all, and stop bleating on like I've got problems when other mothers never make it this far?
Why? Because no-one ever warned me that babies sometimes wean themselves, or that the ensuing emotional experience for the mother can be surprisingly upsetting. Had I known that, I might not have felt so silly for struggling with it.
On the spectrum of things that can upset a mother's equilibrium - and therefore her baby's too - an abrupt end to breastfeeding your baby, even when that's initiated by the baby - can be quite the roller-coaster.
And while my baby doesn't want breast milk anymore, guidelines state that she still needs around a pint of milk per day. Cue our first foray into formula milk. For a breastfeeding mum, that's a weird and seemingly unnecessary step to take.
Quite simply, I wasn't expecting my baby girl to wean. I knew she was cutting back on milk as she got to grips with eating and her solid intake was increasing, but I thought there were months ahead of lovely snoozy bonding moments before bedtime.Feeding her while out and about in public was getting trickier as she became more interested in the world around her and so more easily distracted, but I didn't see us giving up those early morning milky cuddles any time soon, either.
There's simply nothing quite as discombobulating as the realisation that your baby is ready to grow up and move on. Even if you are not.
It's also hard to get to grips with a baby suddenly self-weaning when your other babies had to be be practically prised off the boob with a crowbar.
Yes, being the mother of three kids means I feel like I more or less know what I'm doing now, but when you encounter something 'new' as a mum it's still a shock to the system. When your third child does something your other two never did, you're as flummoxed as any nervy, first time mum.
And I suspect it's especially difficult to deal with your baby weaning when she's your 'last' one, too. Barring any unforeseen circumstances or acts of God, we do not plan on having any more children. A fourth child would necessitate a bigger home and a roomier set of wheels, and while sharing bedrooms and squishing up close in the car is good fun just now, I'm pretty sure it would wear thin with yet another person to accommodate.
The 'last' baby in a family is the one you baby the most; the one whose babyhood you savour rather than survive, and the one the rest of the family dotes on, too. So when that baby does something as autonomous and independent as declaring herself 'over' breast milk, it can upset the status quo.
Of course I know that my baby is an individual with wants and needs of her own, and I realise that the sooner I get to grips with that, the better it will be for both of us, but I thought we might have a bit further to go before she started pushing me away and insisting that she's a big girl now.
I admit it; my daughter's insouciant insistence that she doesn't need me anymore - even in this small way - smarts a little. And this is just the first step on her adventure along the road to independence. How much more will the others sting?
Of course this milestone in my daughter's life is only a good thing really, and the strange sense of failure I felt at reluctantly supplementing her with formula once she refused the breast is just something I must nip in the bud.I haven't really failed; recognising and celebrating my daughter's readiness to make her first move towards greater independence is an achievement I should feel proud of, not something I should mourn.
I recently heard someone say that motherhood is the only role in the world in which all your effort is devoted towards the end goal of eventually making yourself obsolete.
It's a sobering thought but I've realised afresh that my job is to step aside and let each of my children learn how to spread their wings. I'll be watching from the sidelines and cheering on their gains but sometimes, on the inside, I will allow myself a quiet tear or two for my own little losses along the way.
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