As a mother, I can’t remember how many times I read online, in a book, on a Facebook or Instagram post, or was verbally told that “breast is best” when it comes to feeding babies. Thankfully this narrative is shifting to “fed is best” because not every mother may choose or have the ability to breastfeed— and both of these are more than OK. My own hope and goal (apart from the societal pressure during both my pregnancies) was to be able to nourish, care for and bond with my babies through breastfeeding. 

While there are countless articles about the benefits of breastfeeding, how to increase your milk supply, and baby-led weaning, I found out the hard way how few resources were available to moms who had to end their breastfeeding journey before they were ready to. The reasons for this can be many, but the outcome is often the same: a range of negative emotions. Anger, frustration, guilt, shame and grief. 

mom breastfeeding a baby using a boppy

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When breastfeeding goes well, it is truly such a beautiful and remarkable thing. But when it doesn’t go the way you planned—or the way you prepared for it to go—it can be really devastating. 

So much went well. Both my boys latched easily shortly after birth. We were fortunate to not have any difficulty with tongue ties. There were diet adjustments on my part as both my boys seemed to have lactose sensitivities. While I had to supplement with formula at six weeks with my firstborn due to a lack of employer support (a six week unpaid maternity leave and pumping on my lunch break without having actual pumping breaks), with my youngest I fed on demand for over 12 months.  

But both of my breastfeeding journeys came to abrupt, unplanned, unforeseen and traumatic ends due to emergency medical events—at nine months with my firstborn and around 14 months with my youngest. 

Related: To the mama who recently stopped breastfeeding

Receiving a thyroid cancer diagnosis and emergency surgery and subsequently having to quit nursing before my oldest son’s first birthday was heartbreaking. Spending ten days in the ICU due to an anaphylactic reaction when my youngest was 14 months old, bringing our nursing journey to an end was equally devastating. 

I wasn’t prepared for the feelings of anger and then guilt and then grief that followed both times. Wasn’t I lucky and fortunate to have been able to breastfeed my babies for any length of time? Yes. But was this a sudden loss of something both beautiful and painful that had become deeply ingrained into my identity as a woman and a mother? Also yes

Related: How to stop breastfeeding—while keeping yourself and your baby happy

Overnight, everything changes when you are breastfeeding—as with any other aspect of motherhood and parenting. There is swelling and engorged, leaky breasts. There are cracked, swollen and tender nipples and nursing on demand (hourly sometimes) with nothing more than 30 minute naps in lieu of unbroken sleep for months. 

There are the nursing bras, nursing pads, lactation teas and snacks. There is the guilt when you eat something you suspect upsets your baby’s stomach, and then the subsequent diet adjustments. There is planning your schedule and activities around your feeding or pumping schedule.  

Then there is the bond with your baby that nothing can come close to capturing. The feeling of contentment and waves of love that washes over you as you hold your nursing baby in your arms while looking down at them, especially during those early mornings or late night feedings

As with any aspect of being a mother or parent, breastfeeding can become an extension of your identity and nothing can prepare you for the abrupt end of that journey—and all the negative range of emotions that come with it. 

I wasn’t ready for the grief that the end of my breastfeeding journey brought. I’ve needed the reminder on this post-breastfeeding journey that it’s OK to grieve, it’s OK to feel like I’ve lost something precious. And I’ve needed a reminder that this story deserves to be shared. 

So, mama, whatever your journey with breastfeeding has been, it’s OK to grieve the loss of something precious to you. You don’t have to grieve alone or suffer in silence. Because I see you and I share the grief that you carry.