Before you read another sentence this will make much more sense if you read my post ‘Nursing Aversion and Me’ first. Ok, have you read that? Great! So here, by popular demand is how I stopped breastfeeding.
If you read my first post, which you have, you’ll know that I had to stop so the incentive was there and I was completely determined to do it.
It wasn't easy to stop breastfeeding for all the usual reasons but Ophelia has a cows milk protein allergy and so I had to make sure that she was going to be getting enough calcium after I stopped breastfeeding completely. While I was waiting for a hospital appointment to see a dietitian I decided to cut out the daytime feeds first. At roughly ten months old Ophelia was eating and drinking more than my three year old so I wasn't worried about cutting back on her day breastfeeds. She also fed continuously through the night so I knew she was getting plenty of calcium from her nighttime feeds alone.
Daytime weaning was so much easier for us compared to nighttime weaning. I used the distraction technique which worked really well. When Ophelia would come over and “ask” for boobs I would distract her by standing up, picking her up, showing her something anything that would hold her attention. I made sure I wasn't sitting down in a feeding position or a position that she could associate with feeding and I removed her feeding pillow from the living room so she wouldn't see it and think of feeding. I would offer water and snacks to make sure she wasn’t hungry or thirsty and this worked great until she eventually, after a few days didn't ask to be fed in the day anymore. So easy. I felt better already.
Ophelia’s hospital appointment finally came when she was 13 months old and once the doctor gave me the go ahead to stop breastfeeding I called my sister-in-law who I knew would tell me exactly what I needed to hear. That stopping isn't selfish, that it’s ok to not want to do it anymore. She has successfully weaned her two beautiful, happy, healthy children and her advice calmed my torn and stormy soul. I waited until the weekend when I would have some back up from my husband Paul and then we had our last bedtime feed together.
So how did I wean? First of all I spoke to women i knew and respected and asked them what they did, how long it took and just what to expect over all. The general consensus was that it would be awful, there would be lots of tears, that it would take three or four days of torment and then sleep would cometh and peace would reign supreme. Great! I was armed with knowledge and I felt ready.
This is not what happened for us. This was not what happened for us at all. We bed share with Vivienne and Ophelia so I waited until Vivienne was asleep then I brought Ophelia through to bed and instead of lying down to feed her I rocked her, hugged her and sang to her while she screamed her tiny heart out. She was so beside herself with sadness and anger that I couldn't offer her any comfort at all. Paul took turns at hugging her and rocking her and at about 3am I was ready to give in and give her the boob. Paul kept me strong and I just kept on hugging her. We were all in tears by the time she eventually went to sleep. And so it continued…not for three nights, or four but for ten nights. Ten agonising, gut wrenching, painful nights.
The first night really was the hardest. It took all my strength not to give in, to not just feed her to make the tears stop. Taking care of my own needs felt selfish. She’s so small, she doesn't understand what’s going on, so what if it makes me feel like shit it’s not her fault! But the voice in my gut said you can’t go on like this so I persevered.
By day seven I was convinced that it would always be this way. That she would scream herself to sleep in my arms forever. I could not envision her going to sleep without the boob or without screaming. Each night we had the same routine, all four of us would climb into bed, we would read our chosen bedtime story, close the curtains and put on the white noise. Paul would cuddle Vivienne and tickle her back until she fell asleep while I rocked, sang, ticked, kissed, begged and pleaded with Ophelia to go to sleep. It took hours. It was exhausting. There was no end in sight. I was resigned to a future of bedtime trauma until on the tenth night as we were going through the motions she came to me for a cuddle. She didn't pull away or fight or scream we just cuddled. I tickled her back and told her I loved her and sang to her and she fell asleep in my arms. Not the exhausted collapse from screaming for hours type of sleep but a calm at peace restful sleep. Bliss.
Each subsequent bedtime after the tenth night has been tear free. I get her to sleep a different way each night. Sometimes tickling her back works, sometimes singing. There is always a lot of trial and error and no two nights are the same when it comes to my getting her to sleep technique but we are both so much happier than those miserable ten nights.
During this process of weaning Ophelia from the boob something else was happening to me that I hadn't planned for or expected. It wasn't in any of the books that I had read on weaning of which there were many, and no one I had asked weaning advice from mentioned it so it hit me like a tonne of bricks. At around day three of weaning my hormones took a HUGE plummet. It was completely catastrophic. I had a sadness that started in my gut and radiated out through my fingers. I felt so incredibly low during this time, so useless, devoid of happiness. It was a sudden, sharp and lingering feeling which lasted long after the bedtime crying stopped.
The turning point for me was two weeks after I had stopped breastfeeding. I went to the premier of a tv show I worked on with my lifelong hero and icon Billy Connolly. I didn't think I was going to be able to go to the premier with my colleagues as I couldn't imagine a time I wouldn't be stuck in the house breastfeeding every two hours. I went with my best friend Nadia who is not only my friend but my emotional and spiritual life partner. We had coffee and cried together before we went to the BBC studios because that’s what we do when we get together. We laugh, cry, talk and release the burdens we’ve been carrying. As always when I left her company I felt whole again and full of love. I didn't feel like a selfish, horrible mum anymore, I felt like a woman who had contributed to an amazing film, my work in it’s small way was now a part of the fabric of Glasgow art history. I felt like a woman who had gotten a little bit of her life back. A small piece of herself that was lost in the madness of motherhood.
Ophelia is fourteen months old now and continues to wake often in the night. She’s teething and will cry out looking for me and where she would before take nothing but the boob for comfort leaving me feeling exhausted, empty, frustrated and trapped now she reaches out for my face. She snuggles up under my arms, buries her face in my boobs and snuggles deep in my neck and this leaves me feeling full, full of love, warmth and energy and that’s a wonderful way to feel as I look at her, cozy in the dark with the white noise on as the world sleeps.