I had the opportunity to start weaning my daughter last Sunday, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
As a mainly stay-at-home parent, I feel fortunate I didn’t have to stop breastfeeding Elise at 12 months or earlier as many moms do when they return to work full-time.
Now she is one month shy of two-years-old. In the past few months, I’ve been telling myself I will stop breastfeeding around her second birthday.
The act of breastfeeding my daughter was not always blissful. Those of us who’ve done it know it can be downright miserable at the start (and I’ll save the rest of you from the details).
And up until 10 months old, Elise refused the bottle – whether proffered by myself, her dad or grandma, she screamed bloody murder for half an hour until she fell asleep, bottle still full and belly empty. As her main source of nourishment, I couldn’t leave her for more than a few hours at a time, and I considered weaning her earlier than I had hoped.
But then, one day, she accepted a bottle. Breastfeeding went from an obligation that tied me down to something mother and daughter both enjoyed. During the past few months I’ve gradually reduced her feedings to twice a day, and those are two times a day that I cherish.
Before her nap and bedtime, she lies in my lap in her darkened room and we sway in our rocking chair. She wraps one arm around my back and her other chubby little hand rests under mine. I have ten minutes to close my eyes and relax in an almost meditative state with her warm little body in my arms, listening to her breathe.
Despite some of the bumps along the way, the bonding experience has been mainly a positive, heartwarming one from infancy to toddlerhood.
Mayim Bialik (of Blossom and The Big Bang Theory), expressed the sensation succinctly in an interview with CNN last year when she was asked how she feeds her then three-year-old: “We curl up in a chair, and we look at each other. And he looks like the embodiment of comfort and love and security.”
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding “up to two years of age or beyond”; that and other research made reaching age two a goal of mine since I was pregnant.
The opportunity to stop though came this past weekend when my husband and I went to the island to play in an ultimate frisbee tournament. We gratefully left our daughter with my parents, who she adores. As a result, she was not breastfed for two and a half days, and when I put her to bed Sunday evening she had a surprising request: “Cow’s milk?”
“Cow’s milk or mommy’s milk?” I asked.
“Cow’s milk,” she said, pointing downstairs to indicate the fridge.
My husband warmed up a cup of milk in the kitchen. He and Elise went through their good-night ritual, I turned off the lamp and sat with her in the rocking chair as she sipped her milk, surprised by how much I resented some faraway bovine.
Then she stopped, handed me the cup and declared, “Mommy’s milk!”
I could have gently but firmly said, “not tonight, sweetie,” and encouraged the cow’s milk. Instead, I was relieved, and I stayed in her room holding her a little longer that night.
I know this mother-daughter bonding time will be over all too soon. I’m not ready for it to end just yet.
Kristine Salzmann is a former Black Press reporter and mom to 23-month-old Elise. She writes monthly for The Leader on parenting issues.