When I was pregnant with Elisha, breastfeeding was one of the parenting topics that bored me. I remember sitting in my ante-natal class paying detailed attention about the labour, how to wrap the baby, my mind was wondering whether I was having a girl or a boy and so on. Listening to the midwife explaining how to attach the baby and other ‘’breastfeeding stuff’’ was extremely overwhelming and uninteresting. Oh well, I am going to attempt breastfeeding, hopefully until 6 months. If not, infant formula is there so what’s the fuss, really? I thought….
When Elisha was born, I was shocked to learn that attaching was quite challenging to us. I was looking at Elisha, who was working very hard to latch on my nipple. She was so little, so dependent on me and I felt so protective of her. She is a part of me, she grew inside of me and I was now feeding her my milk.
The first 4 months were really tough, the pain of mastitis, followed by thrush was so excruciating. I was advised by my obstetrician to wean her and switch to formula to ‘get rid of all the pain’. However, I was increasingly in love with the experience of breastfeeding. The trusting gaze in her eyes as she was drinking the milk was priceless. It was a bonding time for us when I got to rest and gave her my undivided attention. The thrush treatment slowly reduced the pain and one day I didn’t have the pain anymore. From then on, our breastfeeding went on easily.
At 6 months old when some women started to drop the afternoon feed, I felt that our breastfeeding had only just began (without pain from thrush and mastitis). Elisha loves her breast milk and I enjoyed watching her drink, so I continued to feed her on demand. She woke up a few times a night and I had always put her on the breast. Although I was tired and I read many articles telling how feeding to sleep was a bad habit, creating reliance on the mother, my instinct told me that she felt safe when she was on my breasts. I grew up in West Timor where native women never heard about controlled crying, rigid routine and active weaning. Most of them would only know that when babies cry at night, they were looking for the milk, they would put them on the breast and go back to sleep.
I began to distinguish different advice and followed my heart on what is cultural, what is natural, what is the same for all women from different cultures and time. In the end, we are not only a cultural being; we are also a biological being. Why should I betray my heart only to conform to the society?
It is interesting how when your baby was a newborn, many people advise you on the importance of breastfeeding, however when the baby is over 6 months people start asking you when will you wean the baby. As Elisha turned one, one by one our relatives and friends would hint or ask politely with concerns, “are you still breastfeeding? is she eating other food other than the breast milk?”. Others would explain to me how it is acceptable for women in a third world countries to breastfeed their older babies as they do not have clean water, but the women in the first world countries who breastfeed their babies only do it for themselves, because they want to feel needed and they can’t let go. These comments, concerns and worries often made me feel a little offended inside. What is wrong with breastfeeding my toddler? She loves it, I love it, mind your own business please. Also, how can mothers breastfeed solely for their needs? You can’t force a child to suck your breasts but you have to actively wean them when you want to stop breastfeeding. Elisha would breastfeed when she woke up, when she got hurt, when she was hot, when she was bored. She would breastfeed about 8 times a day. One day we had this conversation.
Elisha: I want boobie.
Me: You just had milk not long ago, do you want boobie because you are thirsty?
Elisha: No. I just want to sit close to you.
I was very touched by what she said and I looked at her in the eyes and I had a lot of respect for my little girl. For many other things in my life, I had done some things out of pressure and I regretted them. I told myself that I wanted to follow my heart, I didn’t want to wean for the sake of other people’s concern. I am lucky that my husband is very supportive of our breastfeeding choice and that made it easier. I think people often comment negatively about breastfeeding toddlers because they are simply not used to it, not because they truly understand that we choose to respond to the need of our child.
We no longer breastfeed now. Elisha stopped asking for the breasts a few days after the New Year, when we arrived in West Timor visiting my parents. She was so occupied with the new surroundings and friends to play with that she didn’t ask for boobies. My breasts were quite engorged. A few days later she remembered her boobies.
Elisha: Are boobies sleeping?
Me: Yes, they are a little sore. Can you feel it is a little hard here?
Elisha: Can I put medicine on it?
So I gave her oil to rub on my breasts. She rubbed the oil on the breasts and gave them a hug and that was the end. A beautiful ending, no tears, no screaming. Now, whenever she saw “her boobies”, she would say “Can I give them a hug before you put your bra on?”. “Of course, my love”. She was ready to let go and so was I. I can personally say that all the concerns about “what if she still needs your breasts when she is 18” are not true. They do stop breastfeeding, in their own time. We are now moving into the next chapter of motherhood, happily.
This blog is written by Nini Ivana, mother of Elisha
Want to know more about weaning gently? Check out the ebook “Weaning With Love” by Pinky McKay IBCLC . Whether you are choosing to wean from breast to bottle or you are happy to breastfeed until your nursing baby becomes a walking, talking toddler and initiates weaning by him or herself, or something in between, you will find tips to make this process as easy on you and your little one as possible. Check out “Weaning With Love” HERE