Once you breastfeed past a certain age – past infancy, past toddlerhood and into childhood, you start to see weaning finishing in a certain way. I’ve always had fairly low expectations about the end of our breastfeeding journey, and lately my goal has been to get through one day at a time. I had no intentions of telling my 5 year old he isn’t allowed to breastfeed anymore – we’ve come this far for me to make a decision like that based on my own feelings. I thought that one day he would either tell me he didn’t want it anymore, or that he would simply choose not to have it. But last week he got sick.
He had an illness that involved sores in his mouth. He wasn’t SICK sick, he didn’t have a fever, he wasn’t lethargic, he didn’t cough and he wasn’t snotty. He still wanted to run around and play as usual – he was upset that he had to stay at home and didn’t really understand the risk of people catching his illness when he didn’t really feel sick.
He could barely eat anything because it hurt to swallow, and he couldn’t chew, because his tongue and the roof of his mouth had sores too. He doesn’t take medicine and I don’t encourage it anyway, but we talked about it and he preferred to deal with the pain. I did manage to get him to gargle salt water a few times.
And on the Tuesday when we first noticed he had a sore mouth, he couldn’t breastfeed. He couldn’t even latch without pain, and there was no way he could get to suckling. He said he couldn’t make his teeth move right without it hurting, and I knew the vacuum would have caused him pain. The night we realised this, he was quite matter of fact when he told me he couldn’t have milks, so he was just going to cuddle me instead. No tears, no great upset. The next morning he awoke for his morning breastfeed (he normally breastfeeds twice a day) but again, couldn’t. So he hopped out of bed to find his favourite Transformer toys instead.
The next night he didn’t ask or try. He wasn’t upset. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him about it because I was worried bringing it up would upset him. Another morning and another night passed with no breastfeeding.
On Friday night, he cautiously asked for some Easy Mac. I felt like I held my breath when he sat down to it. He devoured it. I realise Easy Mac is a terrible choice, and it barely qualifies as food, but when your child hasn’t eaten in 3-4 days, anything will do. We went to bed that night and I wondered what would happen, but again he didn’t ask, and I didn’t bring it up.
And that was that. I was really surprised and taken aback, because I never expected sickness to be the end of our breastfeeding journey. I felt sad, not that it was over but that it was over in a way that felt really unfair. I felt like my son had been robbed of the luxury of being able to make a decision about no longer breastfeeding. But as he wasn’t talking about it and wasn’t asking for it, I didn’t bring it up and I resolved that if this was it, then I would let it be.
The next morning, Saturday, we could see no trace of sores in his mouth. Thank goodness, because he had to play soccer at 9am, and his cousin’s birthday party later that day. We had an extremely busy day that day, and although he hadn’t shown any obvious signs of illness, Saturday was too much for him. We had a very cranky and upset child at 8pm that night. He was resisting bedtime with all he had, and my resolutions went out of the window. I quietly said to him that his mouth wasn’t sore anymore, and he could have some milks if he wanted to. And then he was happy, settled and peaceful.
Until this illness, he’d never gone more than a day without a breastfeed. I am proud of the fact that he coped so well with his illness, and I know that when the time comes, he will handle it well. But that time is not now.