baby proof: weaning.

July 24, 2019
erin and silas | reading my tea leaves

I don’t have a fail-safe method or a prescription for a seamless and easy transition away from nursing and toward sleeping peacefully until 7:30 am, disturbing neither parents or neighbors. (Hint: No one does.)

Faye stopped nursing at 20 months. Silas stopped nursing at 30 months. I didn’t have any particular end date in mind with either kid. Or any real expectations. I stopped pumping during the work day with both kids when they turned one and began to supplement with milk and kefir and bowls full of yogurt at breakfast. With Faye that transition was simple. With Silas it resulted in a pretty noticeable hormonal plunge for me and a tough few wintry months spent working my way out of a deep funk. The dip in my mood made me less eager to wean entirely—and Silas himself showed no interest in stopping—and so we continued, nursing in the morning, and after school and before bedtime. Somehow another entire year passed. I sometimes felt utterly depleted and I sometimes wondered if wanting to nurse was what kept him so consistently waking up with the birds. More often, I felt that searching for causal relationships between the whims and desires of a toddler and their unpredictable and capricious behaviors is a foolhardy endeavor. We carried on until we didn’t.

This spring I managed to coax a dropped afternoon nurse session. There were tears and demands and expectations, but there wasn’t a terrible hormonal plunge for me and Silas came to understand that my answer wasn’t going to change. This summer I dropped the morning nurse session, which was more difficult for Silas. It resulted in 5 am howling and beating of breasts (his, mostly), but we muscled through there, too.

Earlier this month James and I spent three nights back at our own apartment, readying bunk beds and desks and generally giving the place a once over. We sold our crib and put our box of board books to the curb. I passed along baby slings and a hanging jumper we never once used. It all sounds more deliberately symbolic than it was, or maybe it was exactly the kind of symbolism we didn’t know we needed. A packing up and shipping out of one era, an ushering in of a new one.

I returned to a kid still eager to nurse in the evening, but also with a noticeable decrease in milk to offer. He nursed twice, fitfully, and on the third evening, I told him simply, there wasn’t enough milk left for him to have. He wanted “to see it.” And he’s let me know every night since that he would like “milk from mama.” But he’s been satisfied with an offer of “milky in a cup” instead. Sometimes he has two cupfuls. He falls asleep snuggled next to me, his arm slung across my chest. His curly hair smells just the same. His warm body is as soft and cuddly as ever. Mine too.

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47 Comments

  • Reply Judith Ross July 24, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    You bring back so many memories with this post. My second child also took longer to wean…. Without spelling it out, your last paragraph beautifully captures all the feelings around this separation.

    (But is Silas really 36 months? I think you may have a typo in there.)

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 24, 2019 at 12:15 pm

      oops! 30!

      • Reply Judith A Ross July 24, 2019 at 1:28 pm

        And, P.S. I felt compelled to start weaning #2 after he almost completely unbuttoned my skirt, which had buttons from waist to hem, on the bus in Boston. I almost didn’t notice what he was up to until it was too late!

        Sorry for the hormonal downshift, I hope things are starting to normalize this summer.

  • Reply Lauren July 24, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    Nursing is such a THING, man. I felt entirely unprepared with my first child for the demands and emotions of it all. Yes, it is natural but also, it is a learned behavior.With SG, she nursed for a year fairly easiy and I introduced sippy cups early enough for her to instigate the weaning herself. With Henry, though, it was entirely a fraught experience. He has a slight tongue tie and was honestly a humongous baby. He had colic, so his anger as a newborn really interfered with his ability to latch. My entire maternity leave with him could be summed up with a photo of me crying topless on the floor trying to feed him while he was red from screaming all day. Needless to say, I ended up pumping for most of the time I nursed him, but he just never felt as comforted by it as SG did. My milk was never enough to make him feel satisfied, so we started supplementing early on. AND IT MADE THINGS SO MUCH BETTER. He was happier, easier to calm. Maybe because he was full. Maybe because the bottle was less work. All I know is, there was a lot of grief for me about not being able to do it for longer than 4 months. The grief at first was more about me not living up to what I was able to do with his sister. But I ultimately had to put that down because it doesn’t serve anyone, and he’s so jolly and happy now at nearly 2 years old. And I dealt with (and am still dealing with) hormonal struggles as a result.

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 24, 2019 at 12:23 pm

      Indeed! So glad for that jolly fellow! And sending love to his mama.

    • Reply Kyung July 24, 2019 at 3:48 pm

      Your post brought tears to my eyes. My youngest is 12 and it just reminded me of all the gradual beginnings and endings of childhood and watching them grow.

  • Reply Daphne Bundros July 24, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Beautifully written. Thank you.

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  • Reply Amanda July 24, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing – heading toward this with my second (only evening nurse left) and know it will be so sad. Always encouraging to hear from others and find comfort that it can be done, and the snuggles remain.

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  • Reply Rachel July 24, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    Oh man, we didn’t make it as long as you guys because my milk supply dropped pretty quickly when I stopped pumping around one year and she started losing interest shortly after (to be honest, she was always pretty businesslike about nursing). I didn’t mind her weaning early-ish and I just feel really lucky that our transition ultimately ended up being gradual and painless, but I had a crazy hormonal reaction the week I stopped pumping. I remember just feeling consumed by rage as I was driving home from work at the end of the week and feeling so confused until I suddenly put the pieces together. Feeding a baby is such a journey, and it looks so different for everyone. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  • Reply Christie July 24, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    *sniff*. My third (and last) baby stopped nursing in June. I had to go away for a week to a conference. By the time I came back, she had forgotten. She never asked again (she was 21 months). I knew that was likely, but I am not sure I was entirely ready.

    • Reply Katie August 2, 2019 at 12:56 am

      I weaned my almost-24-month-old right before her little sister was born (nursed all through pregnancy but had pretty much no milk production for the last few months). 3 months later, with no real memory of being breastfed, my eldest became curious and asked to nurse just like her newborn sister was doing. It’s easily the sweetest/most comforting/most insanely – INSANELY – annoying thing going on in my life right now. Never in a million years did I think I’d end up tandem nursing.

      My sister in law had 5 babies in 8 years and the youngest showed no signs of weaning at 36 months. She put pickle juice on her nipples. Voila!

      P.S. something is afoot with the comment section of your website and my chrome browser for mobile and desktop. I can’t shake the Leave a Comment form and it follows me as I scroll, often interrupting the other comments and making it impossible to read.

  • Reply Becky July 24, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    We dont have kids yet, in a couple of years. I have been at an advantage of being a nanny ( as well as watching friends have their 1st 2nd and so on). You can never know what to do until you are in it and quite clearly its different for every kid and for every family. One thing that really stuck out to me is to nurse/ wean before kids can fight you on it. So for example wean them as they go into solids and then also sleep train once weaned. This all sounds great! HOWEVER the hormones! no one talks about them! No one talks about how hard it is for the mama, baby blues depression etc. I shouldnt say no one. But it would help so much more if people did. It’s not a switch. It’s a process that you feel out. I’m rambling here but I really feel like I didnt learn a damn thing about babies and the female body til I hit at least 30! (Embarrassed)

    • Reply Jessica July 24, 2019 at 6:00 pm

      I also agree that I didn’t feel like I knew anything about the female body until I hit 30+! Huge gap in our educational system.

      In addition to the hormones and stuff, your best intentions change as you grow and have a raise your kid with individual wants, needs, and desires. I planned to sleep train at 3 months, as I’d seen some when I was a babysitter. I now nurse my 28 month old because she loves it and I enjoy it (despite mixed feelings). Weaning earlier (when she moved to solids) would have meant taking something away from a kid who couldn’t understand, and it didn’t work for me personally. I can now explain what’s happening and why (5 minutes on each side to end the day) and it’s so peaceful. To each her own!

    • Reply Sid July 25, 2019 at 3:54 pm

      I’m with Jessica on the timing of weaning being very personal/individual. Plus my kids would both have “fought” me over weaning at any age. At least by the time they were 2-ish I could offer them an explanation (e.g., the boobs need sleep so no more boobs at night – the “boobs” definitely needed a full nights’ rest at that point!). One of my favourite lessons from La Leche League meetings (a wonderful free resource for all sorts of parenting information) was that nursing is a relationship between two people – if it isn’t working for one person (or both) then it needs to be re-evaluated. By the time my kids were two I was DONE. I broke it to them as gently as possible and our relationship changed accordingly. Also, for what it’s worth, sleep training works for some people some of the time but it too needs to be about the individual child and their parent(s).

    • Reply Kirsten July 26, 2019 at 8:47 am

      I’d say you don’t really learn much about kids until you have your own and meet your particular child! I was a nanny, thought I knew enough about kids and had Opinions about what/when I’d do things, nursing included. But then I had an actual kid and all that went straight out the window, much to my surprise. I’d have saved myself a lot of stress without having ideas about how things should happen. No one “rule” works for all families or all kids, even if you think it will work for your future one. Open mindedness is key!

  • Reply Alison Ness July 24, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Gosh, very unexpectedly this post left me in tears – and I’ve never even been a breastfeeding mother, my babies both took bottles. But your reference to packing up the board books and setting them on the curb and the general growing up and moving on aspect of children got me in my feels today and I thank-you for that 🙂

  • Reply Anna July 24, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    I’m on this journey with my 23 month old and it is so much harder than I ever expected it to be. I keep waiting for this magic moment that she’ll be done, and I’m just not sure that will happen. The mama guilt is so real. Thanks for such a beautiful retelling of your story.

  • Reply Catherine Zack July 24, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve been hoping you’d write more after your Instagram post the other day. We’re at 24 months + 2 days (ha! who’s counting) and this mama is about ready for her sweet son to be less interested. I resonate with the unfolding of your story. We’ve been at morning + night + post-nap since he started daycare at 14.5 months (and no pumping since then). But after a month-long vacation (yay!) and 24/7 together time, it was back up to several times a day. Now we’re back home and settling into daycare rhythms again, and once we’re more settled I hope to drop the AM session. Thanks for the inspiration and love the “happy ending” with cuddles and cup a milk. Keep it up, mama!

  • Reply sam12587 July 24, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    I beleive in natural weaning however my youngest just did not outgrow it.
    I think he would have gone to ten if I let him. I ended up telling him that the body parts were broken and wouldn’t work anymore.

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  • Reply Brook July 24, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    Thank you for this post! For some reason, I expected (ha) weaning to be mostly tear free and easy to do gradually. Can you tell I am a 1st time parent?! So reassuring to hear you experience included some tears too. Nursing felt so different than I expected-in all aspects. It was hard for me to negotiate weaning when it was the one thing I could give my son that my partner couldn’t AND it was my body…hard to articulate. Which is also why I appreciate your words.

  • Reply Isa July 24, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Thank you for sharing your journey in such beautiful words. They came just in time as we have to slightly change our rhythm ourselves since I will start working and my baby will start day care in a few weeks. The last weeks were full of milestones here, giving away baby stuff etc and I don’t know where the time went and if we’re all ready for so much transitioning. . . But I guess that’s what this parenting thing is all about 🙂

  • Reply Megan July 24, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    This post hit me like a ton of bricks. My babe is nearly 7 months old and I just got my period back in full force. I noticed my supply and her interest waned during that week and a half, but we’re building back up. I’m no where near ready emotionally, mentally, prepared to stop nursing. Maybe it’s time to have a well woman visit, or see a lactation specialist, or perhaps even a therapist. Thank you for shedding a light onto a subject I realized I know nothing about.

  • Reply Archana July 24, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    Erin,

    I follow up question from our conversation on talking to pregnant women about their bellies.

    Is it invasive to ask new mothers about the babies feeding habits ? ( since could would involve having to talk about the mother’s body)

    ( p.s: she is a friend. Not asking a random woman I know or someone I met on the street. )

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 25, 2019 at 9:12 am

      I think if it’s a friend you have all kinds of other intimate conversations with then it’s probably just fine. Body aside, breastfeeding/feeding can be sensitive for lots of folks to discuss as it so often gets charged with judgement.

  • Reply Tamara July 24, 2019 at 6:16 pm

    Aw, whenever other mothers share stories of the stages of childhood, its always so poignant. It’s been ten years since I last nursed and still the tears were right there, the memories of his soft baby skin against mine so vivid. I’m sure it’s not always easy to write about such personal things in a public way but thank you so much for sharing.

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  • Reply Katharine July 24, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    Thank you for this post and all those who have commented, it is very refreshing to see so many women share their stories. I nursed all 3 of my babies but each experience played out very differently. My oldest (10 now!!) was exclusively breastfed as an infant (no pumping, no formula, no bottles) and continued to nurse frequently and enthusiastically as we introduced solids. She gradually weaned herself until she finally stopped asking at about 2 years of age. While I found myself somewhat depressed/saddened during the weaning process, I was ready to have my body back and it felt easy and natural with very little physical discomfort given how little milk I was producing at the end. I hoped things would be much the same with my older son (now 21 months), but his nursing journey was quite challenging. He began to lose interest once we introduced solid foods and his rate of weight gain started to slow. I struggled to keep up my milk production (and convince him to keep latching on!) until, feeling defeated and physically inadequate, I finally consulted with his pediatrician to get advice on transitioning from breast milk to formula when he was just shy of 9 months old. Looking back on it I wish I hadn’t fought so hard to keep him nursing, as it was stressful and at times traumatic for both of us. I guess I felt a bit like I was failing him. Fortunately, he did extremely well with formula and eventually whole milk, and now is no less happy or healthy than his sister was at his age. My youngest is nearly 5 months old and he is an amazingly hearty eater– at the rate he is growing he threatens to outweigh his willowy older brother in the next few months! We will be introducing solids soon and I find myself nervous; I relish the sense of closeness that nursing provides and I worry that things will change rapidly as they did with his brother. I suppose I really have no idea how the rest of this journey will play out, but I take comfort knowing that he will be happy and well nourished even if I am not the primary calorie source! After having two very different nursing experiences with my older children I’m trying to avoid having clear goals and expectations with my youngest. Instead, I’m enjoying this unique bonding experience one day at a time.

  • Reply Rita Tocta July 24, 2019 at 8:54 pm

    You are such a special lady Erin, I learn so much from you. I always prefer your longer posts. Just a question, didn’t Faye wanted ‘milk from mama’ like her little brother? I am not a mother but I recall that my great grandmother Valentina, since my grandfather and his brother were just a couple of years apart, that the oldest (my grandfather) would always end up asking and getting some too

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE July 25, 2019 at 9:09 am

      That wasn’t my experience. Faye was never super attached to nursing and after she stopped she wasn’t really interested. I think it helped that she has lots of her own comfort rituals apart from nursing and that she saw nursing as something special for her baby brother!

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  • Reply Alexa July 24, 2019 at 9:07 pm

    Ah, this is on my mind lately, too. My boy is 18 months this week and, like you, I never had a timeline in mind, I’ve just been grateful for our journey, mutual interest, mutual ability, etc. But we are ready to grow our family and it isn’t happening as quickly this time, and I can’t help but wonder if nursing is why (my cycle returned at 9 months and regulated at 16 months). It’s really hard to think of weaning for the future, when I am still happy in the moment I am in.

    Anyway, it is true: no easy answers. Thank you so much for sharing your story. <3

  • Reply Lauren July 24, 2019 at 9:15 pm

    I planned to nurse for one year, but then another went by. And now yet another. I heard tale from confident mothers of several children that “they just lose interest some day” or “toddlers are too easily distracted to remember to nurse” and was assured that I didn’t really need a plan in place. But that is not my child. At three she still loves to nurse, and will nervously ask me when “big kids have to stop getting milk.” I honestly don’t mind the morning and bedtime nursing, so have continued but have no idea how or when we will wean! I fear a rocky road for us both as it truly will be the end to a sweet chapter in our lives. Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • Reply Karen July 26, 2019 at 3:36 am

      My daughter was the same! My son self-weaned at around 2 but my daughter sounds like yours and actually ramped up the nursing as a toddler. I eventually stopped when she turned four, with plenty of preparation and explanation as I felt she would go on forever otherwise and she was fine, it was the right time for both of us so don’t be afraid of a gentle nudge. She is now a lovely self-confident almost-12-year old who still remembers nursing and will soon be embarking on a womanly hormonal journey of her own…time flies!

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      • Reply Lauren July 26, 2019 at 8:33 am

        Thanks so much for sharing Karen! It is a comfort to hear from those who have walked the same path.

    • Reply Kirsten July 26, 2019 at 8:53 am

      I’ve been so surprised at how my breastfeeding journey has been so far. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed for as long as my daughter wanted. I did, but found that when she was about 20 months I was just sooooooo done. I wanted my body back. I never got that “oh my god breastfeeding I love it so much” feeling my mom still talks about. I actually found that I preferred the cuddles that weren’t BF related because they felt more real and reciprocal to me. Who knew!? So we weaned and I was so happy. It went ok with relatively few tears, but my daughter still talks about it at 2 and loves to say “hi” to my breasts. I’m expecting my second in December and am already surprised at how I excited I am about BF again. I’m going to do it – I stay home and do think it’s a nutritional gift I’d like to give my kids, but I feel like weaning will happen earlier this time. Then again, who can say?

  • Reply Melkorka July 24, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    Beautiful writing. Nursing my second is so different than my first, this was a timely and comforting read. Thank you.

    • Reply Elizabeth July 25, 2019 at 3:40 pm

      Gosh, same. My older son weaned at 40 months, when I was 2 months pregnant with the baby. Neither of those things were planned, per se, but they added up to a surprisingly gentle and easy end to a long journey. Nursing started to really hurt. He was old enough to understand. The last few times, we talked about how we could try, but if it hurt, we would have to stop right away. He said he didn’t want it to hurt. I said I didn’t want it to hurt either. So we would try, and it would hurt, and then we would stop, until one day, he stopped asking.

      I’m now almost a year into nursing the baby. His interest waxes and wanes. He always wants to nurse, but rarely in the intensely attached way I remember his brother nursing. I wonder how long it will last, and how it will feel to wean this time. I didn’t particularly miss nursing after his brother weaned, but then I knew another baby would be coming soon. That won’t be the case this time – or ever again.

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  • Reply Jasmine July 25, 2019 at 8:59 am

    Thank you for this lovely reflective post! We weaned when my daughter was 13 months old. She had a bad cold and was distressed by the many failed attempts to latch with a blocked nose. I had been thinking about weaning, but hadn’t made any firm plans. Things aligned a certain way and it just seemed to happen. I did have some discomfort and needed to express once, but the physical aspect of it wasn’t as difficult as I had expected. Now I look back on breastfeeding as a beautiful shared experience, a gift for both me and my daughter, and a redemption for the childbirth that – beyond my control – became way more medicalised than I had wanted it to be.

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  • Reply Katy July 25, 2019 at 9:34 am

    I didn’t realize my last time nursing would be my last, but I somehow remember that specific middle of the night nursing very clearly. Mother’s intuition? Who knows. I had SEVERE perinatal and postpartum anxiety which manifested in the kind of sleep deprivation reserved for torture. Going back to work and pumping/carting milk and parts on trains and on slogs from the train station to work and back every day made it even worse. So I surrendered, got on medication, and dumped the milk I pumped from then on as I weaned. Thinking back to that last nursing brings up a lot of emotions for me, and as I continue to deal with the windfall of weaning I’m falling somewhere between the camps of anger/sadness/feelings of failure at what I didn’t get with my baby (nursing for as long as I would have liked to) and of relief/thankfulness for medication/reality/happiness that my baby girl is super healthy and took to formula as if nothing had changed, making things a lot easier for me.

  • Reply Gemma July 25, 2019 at 10:50 am

    Thank you so much for this post. We’re at 15 months and I’m not sure when/if she’ll ever want to stop. I’m happy to keep going for now but conscious that the time is approaching where this might change.

  • Reply CANDACE July 25, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you so much for posting. THIS sums up what I’m going trhough right now. I FEEL SO ALONE most of the time. my 19 month old girl we are slowly weaning. But the am wake ups at 5am to nurse are killing me! I too don’t pump anymore but she likes morning and afternoon and night nursing. Sigh.

  • Reply Diana July 25, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    This was such a great post. I never thought I’d still be nursing my almost 20 month old, and kept waiting for him to be like, na mom, get that out of my face. I have loved breastfeeding and it’s SUCH a useful tool for fussiness but I also have many many moments of being so over it. I’ve had 2 overnights away from my babe recently that would have been great opportunities to wean and I chickened out both times. I think if anything he’s getting MORE interested in nursing as time goes on. So, we’re likely going to have a pretty rough tearful transition not the gentle losing of interest I was hoping for. Grateful for this story today.

  • Reply Kirsten July 26, 2019 at 8:55 am

    Also, follow up – for anyone weaning a toddler I found the book “Loving Comfort” to be HUGELY helpful to my daughter understanding what was happening. We changed the words so it wasn’t quite so “toddler-led”, but it really helped her deal and I credit it with making our process relatively tear free. She still likes to read it, despite being weaned.

  • Reply Sonia Singh July 26, 2019 at 9:57 pm

    Also teared up reading this beautiful post with my sleeping 23-month old nestled beside me. The demands for mama milk these days feel never ending – almost like she’s nursing more than in her newborn days! And yet, I know they will end, and feel so sad to contemplate it. Just can’t imagine how the heck she’s going to lose interest! Thanks for sharing your experience and all the emotions that go along with these transitions and shifts. Parenting is one long lesson in impermanence!

  • Reply Melina Gac Levin July 28, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    I actually searched your archives for something on weaning a month ago, when I was preparing emotionally for weaning my own 29 month old. Coming across it now helped me find the tears I needed to release now that she and I are on the other side. We had similarly tried to taper off nursing a few times. Attempts that were dropped quickly due to her protests, my response to the shifts in hormones (depression that seemed to take over from one day to the next), and a general sense that neither of us were ready. A month ago, things shifted and it felt clear to me that it was time. Her dad and I made a book for her that we read together in preparation. There were still protests, but I felt able to be next to her as she navigated the stormy feelings without being pulled to join her in them. A separation had already taken place. We are all still feeling the ripples a month later. But you’re right… when she’s curled up next to me, her soft hair on my cheek, the air around her head is still just as warm and sweet as ever. Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective.

  • Reply Sarah July 31, 2019 at 9:57 pm

    I just weaned my 3rd child a month before her third birthday. Reading this post and these comments help me feel validated in the mixed bag of intense emotions I’ve been feeling. Thank you!

  • Reply Kiley August 1, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    Oh this made me tear up, reading the post and then again reading the comments. My son had a tongue tie and continues to have severe soy/dairy allergies, and we were put through the ringer trying to figure out what was wrong. It made nursing in the beginning so difficult and physically painful for me, I used to have my husband hold my hand while the baby latched. Eventually we found our groove and pressed forward. Now that my supply is dropping, and we’re supplementing with formula when he’s at daycare, I already find myself nostalgic for our evening and morning feeds. I’m trying to take him in, the way he smells like milk and the feeling of my skin against his. On one hand it will be nice to give up the restrictive diet and share the responsibility of 3am feeds, but I will miss our special time together.

  • Reply Suzanna September 22, 2019 at 11:06 pm

    Hi, would you mind sharing where you got your bag? Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 23, 2019 at 9:36 am

      It’s an old one from Baggu.

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