Frequent feedings, endless pumping sessions, sleepless nights, painful engorgement, clogged ducts—I thought I’d be ecstatic when the day finally came to stop breastfeeding.
But I wasn’t. The truth is, it took me a while to realize that this was the end.
With all of its challenges, I loved breastfeeding my little baby. I loved snuggling close, hearing her quiet sighs as she drank. I loved the way she’d drift off to sleep. And most of all, I loved that I was nourishing her and helping her grow.
I knew quitting breastfeeding was inevitable, but I didn’t know what that looked like. How would I know when it was time to stop?
Our Breastfeeding Journey
Like many others, I had a slow start to breastfeeding. I relied on nipple shields to help her latch, pumped after every feeding and visited The Breastfeeding Center of Charleston multiple times to make sure she was drinking enough and gaining weight. Eventually, we got into our groove.
That all changed when she was four months old.
I’ll never forget the way she cried out in frustration as I tried to bring her to my breast. Her face was red as she screamed and sharply arched her back trying to hurl herself away.
I was distraught and disheartened. What happened? Did I already nurse my baby for the last time? Was I really ready for this phase to be over? I couldn’t just give up, could I?
I visited The Breastfeeding Center again and the lactation consultant determined my supply was low and offered some helpful suggestions: nurse if you can, pump in place of feedings, stay hydrated, eat enough healthy foods, and power-pump at night.
I was hopeful that we could continue: My supply would increase, then she would nurse more, and then we’d be back to normal.
That didn’t happen.
The End of the Road
I continued “triple feeding” (nursing, pumping, and bottle-feeding) for three more months. Our nursing sessions were getting shorter and shorter—she consistently launched off the breast to take in her surroundings. She wasn’t sleeping through the night, and I was pumping for hours to make sure I had enough for her bottles.
I was exhausted.
As I pumped, I found myself Googling phrases like “when to stop breastfeeding” and “how to stop breastfeeding.”
I knew it was time to quit, but I didn’t expect how many different, conflicting feelings I’d need to come to terms with before I did.
I felt selfish, guilty, and sad.
I felt like I was being selfish for wanting to stop, for wanting my body back, for wanting more free time, and for just wanting to go to bed instead of power-pumping at 10 p.m. Moms put the needs of their children above everything else. Isn’t this just what I should do?
I felt guilty. I was also working hard to keep my supply up, and I did (usually) have enough milk, so why should I stop? Having also recently given up my full-time income, I felt like breastfeeding was, in a way, my financial contribution to our family—wasn’t this part of my “job” now?
And I just felt sad. Sad that this phase was coming to an end. I already missed the snuggles, the way she’d fall asleep in my arms, and the way she relied on me. I felt sad thinking that my baby doesn’t need me in the same way anymore.
But here’s the truth . . .
The truth is I wasn’t being selfish. My daughter was about to get the best version of her mom—a mom that was less stressed, more rested, and ready to play (without being attached to a breast pump).
I feel proud that I was able to nurse her as long as I did. We were lucky to be able to bond in that way. Not to mention, being able to breastfeed her for seven whole months, despite our challenges, was a great accomplishment.
I feel grateful that she’s entering a new phase too. As she grows, she’ll continue to need me in different ways—this is just the first of many ways our relationship will change over time.
And I feel so relieved. I’m not worried that I won’t have enough or stressed that my freezer stash is dwindling faster than I’m restocking. I’m not disappointed when she doesn’t finish the bottle or frustrated when I accidentally spill expressed milk on the counter. I don’t need to be the one to get up at 3 a.m., then 6 a.m. because my breasts are sore and swollen—I’m glad that I can (finally!) share this responsibility.
We still get to snuggle close when I feed her with the bottle, she gladly eats it all up, and once we’re finished, we share more smiles, laughs, and cuddles as we play.
The Bottom Line
Whether you breastfeed, exclusively pump, formula-feed, or a combination of them all, breastfeeding is not your “job”—there is SO much more to being a good mom.
For me, quitting breastfeeding was a lesson in grace. Do I still feel a twinge of guilt? Yes. Do I still doubt my decision when she leans close to my chest? Yes. But I try not to dwell on those feelings. I know giving up the stress, the pressure, and the exhaustion I was feeling has made me a better mom.
That’s all we try to do: be the best moms for our kids. Every mom is different, every baby is different, and every situation is different.
You’re doing what you’re doing for a very important reason, mama. You’ve got this.