What our days used to consist of
I know there are a lot of new parents out there who are wondering whether their kids will ever stop needing to be breastfed or rocked to sleep, or when they will start sleeping in their own bed. We recently learned – if you just let them be, one day it will ACTUALLY HAPPEN. No kidding! All on their own. No crying, no sleep training, no tears. And it can happen quite suddenly too.
Miss A has never been easy. From the start, she was a terrible sleeper, very fussy and when she was old enough to start solids we also learned she didn’t seem to like food too. Luckily one thing that did go right was she was a total boob addict and I never had problems with her latching or not wanting the boob.
Even though it was tough not getting a full night’s sleep, I decided sleep training was not for me. I was happy to rock her, breastfeed her to sleep and co-sleep for as long as she needed. I didn’t exactly set out to do these things before having kids, but when I had her I just felt that it was natural not to force her to be independent before she wanted to be. All kids eventually sleep through the night without needing their parents. Just a matter of time.
For 2.5 years, we ploughed through. It wasn’t easy. It seemed like I was rocking and breastfeeding all day and all night long. There were even plenty of times I breastfed her AND rocked her at the same time. For her entire first year, she napped on top of either my husband or I. Even past her second birthday, there were many nights where she was still up about 10 times a night crying and screaming from night terrors. But my motto was “just roll with it” and roll with it we did. Then a couple of months ago, something happened. It all stopped. And it was very sudden. It was not like the waking gradually decreased…she went from waking through the night to suddenly waking up once or twice or none at all.
By then I was pregnant. I was still breastfeeding her to sleep and warned her my milk would decrease or change taste, but what I didn’t expect was for my supply to completely dry up before I even reached the end of the first trimester. After a while I noticed I couldn’t feel any letdowns anymore. I asked her if she had been getting any milk and she said no. I decided comfort nursing for the next six months was not for me. While she did suck for comfort and to get to sleep, there were times when she also wanted milk and was frustrated there was none. It was also uncomfortable for me and my pregnant body. So I decided it was the end. It was time to wean. It just felt like the right time because she was old enough to comprehend the milk was gone because “baby needed it”. She was surprisingly very understanding of the fact and I felt it was a lot easier for her to accept that compared to perhaps telling her she needed to wean because she’s a “big girl” now. Yes she was a little sad about it but there were no tears or fussing. I was definitely more sad about it than her and shed my fair amount of tears over bidding our journey goodbye.
I did let her comfort nurse a few times after deciding to wean to ease the transition and all those times were when she woke up grumpy. I thought it would be the session before sleep which would be hardest for her to let go but that actually turned out fine as she was happy to accept a bedtime snack and then rocking as a replacement for breastfeeding to sleep. It was when she woke up grumpy and in a daze that she couldn’t remember there was no more milk and all logic was out the door. Those last few comfort nursing sessions was pretty important for both of us I feel. It just gave us time to accept it was the end…and to let me really treasure the last few times of her staring up at me, pulling at my ears and scratching my face (hah who would have thought one day I would miss all that). After a while, she stopped asking.
Then something else happened. She didn’t want to be rocked anymore. To ease the transition from being breastfed to sleep, I would ask her if she wanted to be rocked to sleep or put herself to sleep. For about a week she wanted to be rocked. Then she started saying she wanted to put herself to sleep. For 2.5 years, she had maybe fallen asleep on her own only once. And suddenly, she just decided she wanted to lie down and put herself to sleep and she started doing it every day.
Then another thing happened. She wanted to sleep in her own bed in her own room. Mind you, just a couple weeks before this moment she was still declaring she wanted to sleep in our bed forever. I have no idea what suddenly made her own bed so attractive to her but it happened. She was suddenly out of our bed. One night she even took herself to bed after her bath without us needing to tell her it was bedtime and fell asleep on her own. The change was so dramatic we couldn’t believe it. For 2.5 years, I rocked and breastfed this child to sleep and slept squished beside or underneath her. Then out of the blue with no forcing, no training, no tears…she decided for herself to cut the cord. She had grown up.
So now our bedtime routine just involves tucking her into her bed, giving her her pillow or soft toys to cuddle or sometimes a little LED light to hold if she complains of the dark, spraying some “anti monster spray” around the room (we put water and lavender oil in a spray bottle and drew a “no monsters spray” label for it), and saying a bedtime prayer. Sometimes I still stroke her hair, pat her back or give her a little massage while chatting to her about our day. It’s not because she needs it to sleep, but just to have some closeness and cuddle time before bed. Then I kiss her, say goodnight and it’s lights out. Sometimes she will call out for me at night and this is because she tends to ride up the bed until her head is squished into the bed rail. So usually I just come in, readjust her, tuck her back in, give her a little pat and she turns over and goes right back to sleep.
I admit while reaching the end of this journey has been bittersweet, it’s also been a bit nice having a small break before #2 comes along. After a few weeks of not having to wake through the night, it is suddenly hard to imagine doing it all over again..and changing nappies in the middle of the night too! But maybe it will feel better this time knowing there is precedent that confirms there is actually an end in sight.
So for all you parents still rocking, bouncing, patting, shushing and breastfeeding all day and night…keep rolling with it. You’re doing a great job. Despite what others may say, none of that will hinder their development and you are definitely not affecting their ability to learn to fall asleep on their own either. They certainly do not need to be left alone to learn to self soothe. What we did was when Miss A was old enough to talk we started talking to her about falling asleep on her own and sleeping in her own bed and room. We read books about it and talked positively about it, but we always kept helping her to get to sleep by breast or rocking. We just had to trust that she would tell us when she was ready to go to sleep on her own…and that she eventually did.
I promise that when they grow up and do everything you wanted them to do…you will suddenly miss the times that they actually needed you. So while you can, enjoy getting your chest/face scratched out while they’re breastfeeding, struggling to breathe under the weight of their sleeping body, sleeping squished up against the side of the bed, and having no freedom to even eat or go to the loo. Good times!