When breastfeeding ends suddenly: A cancer survivors guide to making peace with breastfeeding grief by Laura Lyth
There are lots of reasons breastfeeding may end suddenly. An unexpected medical emergency, prolonged time apart, or sometimes toddlers refuse to latch after a nursing strike. Sudden weaning has physical, emotional and hormonal effects on the mother. If weaning is not something you wanted you may experience breastfeeding grief, the grief for what could have been, for what was once there and has now gone. This alongside engorgement, leaky breasts, painful breasts and a screaming baby isn’t fun.
When my youngest baby was 2.5 years old I was diagnosed with stage 2B cervical cancer and was told I would have to wean immediately. This on top of being told I would lose my fertility meant no more breastfeeding again, ever. This broke my heart. My child adored breastfeeding and to take away his comfort in a time that was so uncertain for our family felt unfair and almost cruel.
I explained that evening, “Mummy needs medicine that will make you sick if you drink boobies". He repeated back, “boobies sick, boobies all gone", “yes", I cried. I rocked him to sleep that night as he cried for his milk, I whispered in to his ear while his soft hair stroked my cheek, “I know sweetheart, it’s hard, it’s not fair. Everything will be okay, I love you so much”.
Lots of distractions, praise and special cuddles got us through the coming days and weeks while we weaned. I was surprised by the strength and resilience of my child. He coped much better than I did and taught me that we were both stronger than we could have ever imagined.
With time and by talking things over I eventually found some peace in gratitude, I am so grateful for those 2.5 years I breastfed. There were plenty of times when I felt frustrated, touched out, irritable, sick and I wanted to stop. I hear the frustration of mums whose babies struggle to latch, whose teeth scrape as their latch gets lazy, whose nipple twiddling acrobatic toddlers drive them crazy. My message to you is please don’t stop on a bad day, wait another day, another feed, until your mind is calm and you can make a decision led by choice, not emotions . Breastfeeding or not, hold your babies close, rock them, cuddle them, you never know when the last time will be the last time.
If you are struggling with the sudden ending of a breastfeeding journey please know that this is a perfectly normal response. Talk to your partner, family or friends. Join a breastfeeding support group, speak to a doctor or health visitor. Debrief with an IBCLC. Talk it out, let it out, get it out , breastfeeding grief is real and your feelings are valid. You can also join an online support group on Facebook to meet another mums who may have experienced similar to you.
While my heart will always yearn to feed again the bond and connection developed though our time breastfeeding didn’t end when breastfeeding did. It carried us through the fear, through the pain and into where we are today. 1 year in remission and a 4 year old child whose fond memories of breastfeeding and words, “it tastes like love", have inspired me to write my first children’s book, “The Milky Way", dedicated to the lasting love between a Mother and child formed from their breastfeeding journey.
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