The Way Nature Intended
By April Almeida
“Wean: to accustom (as a child) to take food otherwise than by nursing.”—Websters Online Dictionary
My daughter and I shared an incredible bond that went beyond the usual nine months in the womb. It was a bond like no other, sometimes more powerful than when I carried her within the warmth and security of my body. We lovingly and beautifully shared the sacred bond of breastfeeding. There was no better feeling in the world to me, aside from birthing her, than that of cradling her in my arms and putting her to my milk-filled breast. It felt natural, an extension of me.
While breastfeeding is not rocket science, it is a learned undertaking.
After her much-anticipated birth, I assumed that I would simply put the baby to breast and smile a heavenly smile. While breastfeeding is not rocket science, it is a learned undertaking, which did not come easy for us. Through much hard work and stubborn determination coupled with strong support from my husband and family, we managed to establish a truly incredible relationship. It took us almost 10 weeks, but during a growth spurt we finally were truly breastfeeding.
We came through many obstacles and joyous moments. We faced thrush with angry determination. We battled supply issues with perseverance and hope. We struggled with decisions about when to start solids. We fought colds and flu by researching non-harmful medications. We worked on maintaining a good diet. And we faced the usual things a mother and child do when connected in such an intimate fashion. We educated our family members, friends, strangers, and our doctor about our passion.
Through it all, ending the relationship never occurred to me. While no one in my family breastfed for more than a couple of months, I truly never gave thought to weaning. Prior to pregnancy, I assumed I would nurse the usual few months. However, I inwardly felt that because of all of the problems and difficult situations we faced in getting breastfeeding established, I wanted to go longer.
I soon became a strong advocate for breastfeeding, educating those I could and staying strong against those I couldn’t. My daughter quickly turned 1 year old, and nursing was still the way she received most of her true nourishment. Breastfeeding was a wonderful way to feed her, comfort her, love her, teach her, and parent her. To many, a nursing toddler was something odd—something not in the societal norm—but to us and those who knew us, it was just our way of life.
Our relationship was set in stone. We nursed throughout the day and sometimes during the night. I won’t say it was easy all the time. I was awakened many nights with a request to nurse, and often I was not too happy. There were times over the span of our 26-month nursing relationship when I just wanted to be left alone, when I didn’t want to sit still to feed or offer another comforting moment. And true to form, that was precisely when my demanding child insisted I do just those things. But every time she asked, there I was—ready and willing. It felt natural, and I knew she trusted that I would always let her nurse—for whatever reason.
As she grew older, our bond grew because she was able to verbally communicate her need to nurse. There is nothing more amazing than actually discussing with your child how breastmilk tastes, what it feels like, why they like it and so on. It brought tears to my eyes. I knew I had made the right choice to continue breastfeeding until she decided she had enough. While it sounds like it was a choice made by me alone, it was not. We shared the need. I simply tuned into her cues, and she made sure I knew what her needs were.
Many times I wondered how moms breastfed for so long. How did they trust that the child would ever wean? Ideally, child-led weaning was a nice idea, but the reality seemed to be that as she got older, it felt like I still had a needy baby on my hands. Could I trust that she would ever tell me she was done with nursing and that I had fulfilled her need? The knowledge that I was giving her the ultimate in immunity, nourishment, love and comfort secured my decision. This gave me peace when the road got bumpy. Weaning would occur—eventually.
As she turned 2 years old, the nursing sessions and her fierce needs started to diminish. I noticed that as she developed in leaps and bounds in other areas, she lost her desire to breastfeed. I knew this was natural and that I was still needed as a partner in our breastfeeding bliss, but it was changing. I watched her learn to draw, years ahead of her time, and the focus she had was similar to the intense concentration she once had when nursing. She wanted to read more books, and once we put all of her books in her bedroom, she was completely enthralled with reading. Nursing was becoming secondary to learning.
It was a natural progression and incredible to watch firsthand. Naptimes became happy reading times that lulled her to sleep, as the breast once did. She nursed each morning in my bed and in the evening after reading time. She was too busy now to nurse for long. I shed many a tear as she matured. I knew she needed me for the new and exciting things she was now doing, but nursing had been our foundation. I had to adjust to the limits she was setting.
At the start of her third year of life, she started to forget to nurse at night and would go to bed without giving it a thought. I was torn about offering. I wanted to remind her, to keep it going somehow. But, I knew it would be a detriment to the natural process. I had to trust her now. It was life come full circle.
Nearing the end of the first month of the New Year, she stopped asking and started forgetting much more. We created a playroom next to her bedroom, and that—suddenly—seemed to be the end of our morning nursing session. At the close of that month, I knew the end had come. My baby was now growing up and had clearly decided for herself that she had nursed enough.
Our relationship is strong, secure, and I am learning new ways to parent with the same loving, guiding way I did when I nursed her. I feel that allowing her to self-wean has offered her a way to develop and grow on her own schedule and with confidence. I will forever miss the bond of breastfeeding we shared for 26 months, and I treasure every moment. Breastfeeding is a way to parent and gives me a sense of well being and security as a mother, knowing I am not only giving the best in nourishment, but also allowing for a natural developmental growth and a head start in self-direction and self-reliance. I am blessed to have had this experience.