Family

Endings and beginnings: The final day of breastfeeding

Author: Canadian Living

Family

Endings and beginnings: The final day of breastfeeding

My son lies beside me in bed, his pudgy wrestler leg hooked over my hip as he breastfeeds. He squirms, his hand trailing along my stomach. He finds my belly button and hooks his thumb in -- his favourite feeding position.

I watch him in the dim dawn light, his eyes closed as he suckles, his face rapt with the ecstasy of the first feed of the day. When he wakes up in the morning he grabs at me, frantic, frenzied with the need to feed, to drink, to be calmed.

His gulps slow down now, and become nibbles, and then he stops sucking. He is full. Scrambling into a sitting position, he surveys the bedroom. I feign sleep. He bends forward and pokes my closed eye. I don't move.

He leans closer and kisses me; I smile despite myself, and peek at him. He looks at me expectantly, and when I open both eyes he beams, his smile dimpling his cheeks, radiant with morning cheer. I clutch Matthew in a hug, and I feel the tears well in my eyes. This is the last time I will breastfeed my son.

I try to freeze the moment, remember the brushed softness of his flannel pajamas, the tickle of his hair on my arm, the warmth of his skin pressed against mine. Then I hear a thump and the pitter patter of running feet as my three year old daughter gets out of bed and runs down the hallway toward our room. I let go of Matthew and our family starts the day.

Matthew is old enough to be weaned, I tell myself as I pour my children cereal for breakfast. He's seventeen months old. I only breastfed my daughter Claire until she was six months old. At the time, I was trying to get pregnant again, and so I gave up breastfeeding to increase my fertility. We transitioned Claire from the breast to the bottle in a horrendous weekend full of hysteria, wails and tears -- from Claire and myself.

With Matthew, it has been different. He drank from a bottle as well as from the breast, so I could leave him with others while I shopped, wrote, or escaped for a long walk. There were no timelines. He was to be our last child. Breastfeeding also seemed easier the second time around -- and more enjoyable.

So he's had a good run at it. Longer than most. He'll drink all his milk now from a sippy cup; I'll give him a bottle if he really needs to replace the comfort of suckling. Not that I can replace this -- the intimacy of feeding my child, his body curled into mine, nourishing him and loving him in the same act.

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It is time to move on and to give my husband more time with Matthew. My husband was much more involved with Claire's infancy. He used to feed her bottles, bathe her, put her to bed and get her if she woke up in the night. Matthew, on the other hand, has been my child most of his life: I get him in morning, feed him during the day, comfort him when he falls, bathe him, and put him to bed at night. He in turn, does not want me out of his sight. I love this, but it can be stifling.

I miss my daughter. I want to be the one to cuddle with her in the rocking chair and read her a bedtime story. Or pretend we're fish while splashing in the bath. I want to button her sweater in the morning, walk hand-in-hand to the park, and run beside her as she learns to pedal a bike.

It is time to stop breastfeeding. I know this, but I cry as I write this. I'm closing the door on Matthew's infancy -- the crazy, sleep-deprived days of round-the-clock feedings. He was so delicate, his skin translucent, his tiny fingers clutching my breast as he fed. When he grew bigger, he would tap my shoulder when he wanted to breastfeed, or lift my shirt up if he was impatient. He made loud sucking sounds as he fed, his mouth curling at the corner in a smile whenever I looked at him.

I watch him now as he plays. He squats in front of a wooden puzzle, the knob of a puzzle piece clutched in his chubby hand. He looks like a schoolboy: furrowed brow, all focus and concentration. One by one he puts the pieces in, sometimes getting it right the first time, other times after four tries. I clap when the last piece is placed. He looks over momentarily and smiles, and then dumps the puzzle upside down. He begins the task again, earnestly placing the pieces in the puzzle.

He is no longer a baby. He hasn't been for a long time. He's a toddler. A boy. My beautiful boy.

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Endings and beginnings: The final day of breastfeeding

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