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Why I Hate Extended Breastfeeding (Despite the Health Benefits)

weaning a toddlerFor the first time last night, I didn’t feel the need to linger over my sleepy, smiling baby as I reluctantly put him down in his crib. I didn’t hold him in my arms a little longer; I didn’t read an extra story; I didn’t have trouble tearing myself away from his crib and his adorable, happy face.

Instead, I couldn’t get out of his nursery room fast enough. I couldn’t even stay in there long enough to put him down in his crib; to say goodnight to his humidifier and his ceramic pig; to give his lovey hugs; to blow kisses from the side of his crib and then the doorway. Nope, instead I called for the husband and tapped out. I said, “you do it; you put him in down; I can’t.” I rarely utter the words “I can’t” with my son, because I’m happy to do absolutely anything for him, no matter what state I’m in. But not yesterday. Yesterday my 15 1/2 month old son spent 95% of his waking hours attached to my boob.  The other 5% of the time he was screaming at me because I covertly attempted to put my boobs in hiding.

A few weeks ago I could have written about the beauty, sweetness, and simplicity of nursing a toddler, but after the past few days of this nonstop nursing nonsense, I’m totally and utterly over it. {See what I did there? Utterly? Udderly? No? Ok…} Normally I would do anything for just a few extra minutes of snuggle time; to extend those rare moments of stillness where I can stop, smell my son’s hair, stroke his back, and kiss the top of his head without him running away in laughter and delight.

I’ve spent more than the last few months fighting to not stop nursing my son even though he’s more than a year old. It’s taken a toll on me physically and my family has been more than concerned over the course of this breastfeeding journey, but I’ve fought them tooth and nail. I was entirely convinced that continuing to breastfeed was the best thing for my son. The World Health Organization actually recommends breastfeeding until the age of two and beyond, and with good reason: breastfeeding can help decrease obesity rates, boost the immune system, improve intelligence, and prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Aside from the many health benefits, breastfeeding encourages a bond between mom and baby and provides a source of comfort for babies. Dr. Sears promotes the many benefits of extending breastfeeding, stating it improves babies’ vision, hearing, intelligence, digestion, and even behavior. He also states that it decreases the mother’s risk of ovarian, uterine, and breast cancers. I’m familiar with the benefits of long term nursing; I’ve preached them to my husband countless times. I’ve also been more than willing to share my so-called selfish reasons for continuing to breastfeed: it’s easier on me at 5 am than making breakfast, it’s a fail-proof way of calming down an irate or hurt toddler, and it’s the only way I get snuggles these days.

But like I said, this week I’m over it. The benefits mean squat to me right now. My son is a good eater and he drinks almond milk with no problem (as he’s allergic to dairy). I’d once had grand illusions of weaning down to just morning and night feeds, but I’m beginning to think my son is an all or nothing kind of guy (like he was with sleep training and night weaning). While I’m not ashamed of breastfeeding an older baby, I’m not comfortable with my son tugging down my shirt and helping himself whenever he pleases. I’m not a 24-7 milk bar; sometimes the shop needs to close up.

I’ve been lucky that my breastfeeding experience has been fairly easy, especially in the recent months. After over a year of nursing, the kid knows what he’s doing and my body has adapted easily. He has no trouble latching, I don’t have any supply issues despite an inconsistent feeding routine, and my chest doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode with pain if I don’t nurse him all day. I broke up with my pump months ago; when he skips a feeding, so do I.

While all of those things are still true, it’s not the peaceful, relaxing, enjoyable experience that it was in the infant days. Instead I’m a human jungle gym and a personal scratching post. My son performs a variety of acrobatic feats while still attached to me, with no regards to how it feels on my end. He insists that he uses a free hand to pull, tug, and pinch the boob that’s not in his mouth, and he has no qualms about grabbing my nose, poking my eye, or jamming his fingers in my mouth. The second I cover myself up or push his hand away, he screams in protest. Tantrum screams, mind you, not tiny outbursts. How dare I stop nursing him to go to the bathroom or grab a snack. (All snacks become his, by the way.) It’s no longer a much-needed break in the day or an excuse to look at cute babies on Instagram or catch up on embarrassingly bad TV that’s backlogged on my DVR.

I tell myself that my son must be going through something. He must be teething or have a belly ache. He must be going through a developmental phase and needs some extra comfort. But then as soon as I can crawl out from under his grasp (and run far, far away) he happily runs over to his dad and laughs and plays as if nothing is wrong. Of course I feel guilty wanting to be free of this nonsense. I tell myself that this phase can’t possibly last, but then again, neither can I. I won’t lie: toddler tears may not be the only ones falling these days. I’m overwhelmed with his constant need to nurse; I’m physically in pain; I’m hungry, tired of being stuck on the couch, and distraught that a hug from mom isn’t enough to comfort him.

The weaning process has been rough. I’ve tried everything, from not offering, to shoving a cup of milk in his face, distracting him with outside play, not wearing a nursing-friendly shirt, and even the awful sounding lemon-on-the-nipples route. None of it phases him. The boy’s a boob man and right now, it feels like he just might be one forever. I feel awful for suddenly switching my tune about nursing and denying my son of all the afore mentioned benefits, but there’s something to be said about mom’s sanity when it comes to providing adequate child care. Actually, there’s a lot to be said about mom’s sanity and there’s not much of it left on this end.

Want to read more true stories about breastfeeding? Check out Babble’s new ebook Parenting, Uncensored: Straight Talk from Real Moms on Breastfeeding and tune into Headline News TODAY, Friday April 26th, at 12pm EST to find out whom we’ve crowned the BEST breastfeeding writers online! 

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