Last night, I breastfed my daughter for the last time.
I knew this would be the last time ever, that I would enjoy this special physical bond. She is my youngest and my last.
I studied her face as she nestled into me and gently patted her fuzzy peach hair. When she pulled away, I shed a tear and felt my heart explode with love. The moment was intense yet cut short by practicality – she was still hungry. I popped a bottle into her searching mouth and continued to study her little face.
Breastfeeding my two children has been a rewarding, yet difficult journey and I have finally reached the end. There is a sense of achievement in me that I managed to take the small thread of milk given to me at their births and spin it into something that could be sustained over months.
I tended that thread with dedication and love, latching and pumping round the clock to try to boost my low supply. Sometimes, the effort almost drove me crazy, particularly with my older son when I took so painfully long to accept the positive role formula top-ups played in his development.
The lessons I learnt from him, I applied to her. I approached breastfeeding the second time around with caution and an awareness of the need to balance the needs of both myself and the baby. ‘Breast may be best’, but so is a well-functioning and happy mother. I knew that a tipping point was reached when she showed increasing disinterest and I found myself, again, almost exclusively pumping. She was growing fast and too hungry to have patience for the little milk I could provide, particularly after she started solids.
As I had learnt from my son’s journey, the time I spent pumping was time I could be bonding with the baby or playing with him. Not to mention all the personal things I have had to put on hold to continue breastfeeding. I knew instinctively I had to give it away.
And so the process of weaning began…
I will miss the intimacy of breastfeeding, but I also know there are many other ways in which I can and will connect as she continues to grow. When I feel hormonally challenged by weaning, I also remind myself of everything that has gone along with breastfeeding that I will definitely not miss. All the pumping, the eating of those god-awful lactation cookies, feeling like a milking cow, and the tears of the early days when my babies beat at my breasts in frustration because I couldn’t produce enough of what they needed.
I can’t wait to be free of these things and to have autonomy over my own body once more. I can get my eyes tested (something you can’t do while pregnant or breastfeeding) and buy new glasses so I can finally stop perma-squinting. And I can also go out and not always keep one eye on the clock and the other on finding a discrete place to pump.
The end of breastfeeding is much more than just regaining some personal freedom. It also signals another step among the thousand s of steps that babies take towards eventual independence. Being a parent has taught me the gradual art of letting go. From birth on, there are moments when you realise that your child has grown from one stage to the next. Now that I have my last, those moments have become ever more bittersweet.
But while I won’t experience the early days again, I know that the end of one stage means that new stages are about to begin. Soon my baby girl will be walking, talking, playing with her big brother, and growing even further into her beautiful personality. We have so many adventures ahead of us that it almost seems absurd to mourn the passing of breastfeeding. Yet somehow I do, even with my excitement over what the future holds.
Whether you have one child or twenty, eventually you will have your youngest and you will have to walk these paths of change one last time – be it with weaning, giving away all your baby gear or your youngest starting school. For me, the last boob-bye – like so many other paths – is the joy, sorrow and absurdity of being a parent all wrapped up in one act.
What was weaning like for you? Share with us in the comments.