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My nine-month-old son will only fall asleep if I am breastfeeding him, day and night. For daytime naps, I have to lie down with him, and if I try to get up he immediately awakens and starts to fuss until I lie down with him again. At night it is the same story, and we spend three-quarters of the night in the same bed. Breastfeeding has been going well for us, and he is mostly a happy, healthy boy, but I am exhausted by his constant need for physical contact. How can I ever put my baby down to rest without his needing me to be there? Do other mothers find this problematic? My mother-in-law tells me I have “spoiled” him and that I should let him cry it out, but that is not an option I am prepared to consider. I am feeling “touched out” and would appreciate hearing from other mothers who have dealt with similar feelings.
Both of my children have been like this at different phases in their first years of life. Settling in with a smart phone or a book helps to pass the time until they are soundly asleep (or done napping). I wore my son in the sling for his nap and I could keep up with my preschooler at the same time. Using a sidecar crib has helped. It helps with nighttime feedings because I have the comfort of my own bed and do not have to get up to nurse him. Most important for me is to remember that this is a season and does pass. Each child and the length of time are different but I consider it an investment in helping my children be secure and confident as they grow.
It is helpful to make some alone ‘me time.’ Find and enjoy something renewing. It might just be 15 minutes a day or a couple of hours every few weeks. Find what refreshes your spirit and make time for it.
Alina Mattson Pohm, Montgomery, Alabama, USA
I remember being that touched out. I read that it takes a baby longer to reach a deep cycle of sleep during a daytime nap. I would lie down with my baby on the bed, in such a position that we were only attached at the breast and not touching at any other point. Then when she was really asleep, I would slide a finger into her mouth, to detach her, and roll away. Initially I had a 50% success rate that went up to 85%, thwarted by trying to move before she was fully asleep. Having a good book by the bed helped as did accepting my baby’s needs were just that, needs.
To a baby, if you’re not there, you’re gone forever and it’s panic stations. I would try to listen for her stirring, so I was there when she woke up. Mastering back carries with my wrap sling, so she could nap on my back was a help. I would let her feed to sleep, transfer her from front to back, tie her on, and get on with what I wanted to do. Sometimes she would go to sleep on my back without nursing, which was great.
Nighttimes, well that’s a hard one. At nine months we tried to get our baby to settle in the cot so she would sleep on her own. For about a week, I would nurse her to sleep, try to put her down, only to have those eyes shoot open and the crying start. After a week of really bad nights we decided to go back to co-sleeping fully, but with the cot by the bed at the same level, so I would follow the same technique as daytime naps, getting her to sleep and then rolling away, with about the same rate of success.
Babies seem to have heat sensors, and will roll toward you and end up sleeping under your armpit, even if they start out in their own space on the bed.
Every child is different, and my first has a much higher need for physical contact and is much more emotionally sensitive than my second. When my second would happily sleep on her own in the Moses basket, I wondered what was wrong with her! At night she nursed to sleep, but tandem nursing the two of them to sleep left me with nowhere to roll over, so usually I’d make the best of it and sleep too.
They do grow out of that intense need for your presence. It takes a while and the intensity comes and goes in phases. Living through it all can be tough. It’s very tiring and other peoples’ expectations can make it more so, but when I look back on it, it went so fast!
They still like milk and cuddles to go to sleep, but cuddles with dad or grandma will do, and they need me less in the daytime too. I have sometimes resented that my husband got to watch TV or chat while I was settling the kids, but equally he felt left out and inadequate when they would settle for me, while crying for “mummy milk” when left with him. On the plus side, I get lots of cuddles.
There were a couple of books that helped me particularly, Nighttime Parenting: How to Get Your Baby and Child to Sleep by William Sears and Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide For Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, which helped me see that some children’s needs are just more intense than others, not wrong, not right, just different. I also found the LLL meetings very helpful, as most of the other mothers were coping with the same things.
Hope this helps you realize you are not alone.
Mary Baxter, Chilwell, Nottingham, UK
How can I ever put my baby down to rest without his needing me to be there?
I love taking the opportunity to relax when we nurse to sleep. I bring my phone and catch up on emails and Facebook, and sniff my little guy’s head a few times even after he’s asleep. I find that is worth that extra “staying” time so that he is deeply asleep when I climb out of bed.
Tova Ovits, Brooklyn, NY, USA
It can be so draining, feeling as if you are tied to your baby! I remember that antsy feeling, when you’re forcing yourself to lie still when all you can think of is all the stuff that needs doing or when you’re resenting the fact that you aren’t asleep! It’s also distressing when you’re having second thoughts yourself, to hear criticism from others that leaves you worrying it might be all your fault! Many moms have been in your situation!
Sometimes relaxing helps and accepting that this might be physically good for you, helping to give you the extra rest you need. Meditation, breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques can all contribute. As unbelievable as it sounds right now, your child will outgrow this stage, even if you do absolutely nothing!
Cicely Rodal, Cary, North Carolina, USA
My son did the waking up from a dead sleep when I rolled away, until we had his food sensitivities all figured out. So that might be something to consider investigating.
Lynn Biberdorf Carter Ofs, Kirksville, MO, USA
I remember what it was like when my youngest child wanted to breastfeed almost ceaselessly. I found it hard to devote so much time to breastfeeding while my two older children also needed my attention. There were occasions I felt sheer exhaustion at not being able to break away from my daughter. The slightest move was enough to awaken her or result in her feeding with increased vigor while apparently asleep.
It got easier when I fought it less. What made it easier at nighttime was not getting up when she awoke because we shared the same bed for a year.
You are responding to your son’s needs and this shows that he is loved rather than “spoiled.”
Emer Martin, North London, UK
I found the most recent book from LLLI Sweet Sleep: Nighttime & Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family full of excellent solutions. On page 71, the suggestion to this difficulty is to wait until your baby has been asleep for a while. You can tell if he is in a deep sleep by gently lifting and dropping his arm. Wait until his arm is totally limp when you let go, then he isn’t as likely to wake up when you “ooze” him away from your breast.
If you are sitting up and want to lay him down, the authors say, “you might want to start by breastfeeding him with a receiving blanket at his back. Then you ooze him with the blanket, so that he still feels that same warm surface against his back and isn’t as likely to startle awake.” A simple and effective technique!
Jenny Maguire, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
I empathise! I feel this frustration too when my baby demands so much physical presence. I find I cope best when I let go of my feelings of resentment and try to treat myself in small ways to make up for all the time I no longer get to spend my way. Oh, and your mother-in-law is just plain wrong, because how can you possibly spoil a baby by making him feel loved? You are building his trust in you and helping him develop a sense of his own security.
Martha Hansen, Odense, Denmark
Mother’s New Situation
My husband was initially quite supportive about the idea of my breastfeeding our baby, agreeing that it was the healthy choice, but since our son’s birth, two and a half months ago, he has had a change of heart. He seems to resent the time I spend breastfeeding and appears frustrated and jealous that he is unable to calm the baby as easily as I can. Breastfeeding is going quite well but, of course, takes up so much time that my husband perhaps feels excluded. He keeps telling me I should introduce a bottle and that I need to get back to “normal.” I want to continue exclusively breastfeeding until six months and don’t want any one else (not even my husband) to feed my baby. Am I being selfish? How do other fathers of breastfed babies behave in the early months? How can I help him bond with our baby and carry on breastfeeding without causing a rift between us?
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