Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Lisa Hassan Scott, Wales, UK
Photo: Destiny Tillery
I’ve just woken up from the all-night feed.
My toddler is two years old and loves breastfeeding now as much as he ever did. Some days he feeds only once or twice, other days he never seems to be doing anything else.
I’m fine in the days. But at night it sometimes becomes wearing and I wake up irritable and resentful, wishing he would let me have a few hours strung together when he is not attached and sucking.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding offers sympathy:
“Nursing an older child isn’t always a garden of delights. Sometimes you may feel pure joy at being able to relate to your child this way. Other times you may wonder if it’s ever going to end. It’s natural to go back and forth in how you feel about nursing your toddler. All mammals seem to have mixed feelings in the later stages of nursing, feeling blissful at many feedings, but annoyed and impatient at others. You’re right on track.” (p.208, 8th edition)
Fortunately, the experience of having three children has taught me that it does end, in fact it ends all too quickly.
My secret, desperate (and irrational) wish in the night that my son will just “grow up”will come true one day and I’ll want to take back that wish and have him back at my side.
When my daughter was a baby I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I could help her to sleep better at night. I read books, talked to anyone and everyone, asked various people for advice, and tried a lot of their suggestions.
“OK, maybe if we give her a bedtime routine—bath, story and then bed—she’ll settle down to sleep more easily.”
When that didn’t work:
“Maybe the story is too stimulating. Let’s try story, bath, then bed.”
Nope, that didn’t work either.
“Keith, maybe you should try getting her to sleep so she doesn’t come to expect having me feed her to sleep?”
That didn’t work and neither of us could withstand listening to her crying. It made us both so sad and frustrated.
Next we tried introducing solids:
“Maybe if she had something more in her stomach she’d sleep better at night?”
If you’ve guessed that that tactic failed as well, you’ve guessed right! I’m ashamed to say we fell for it all. We tried it all. None of it worked. In fact, if anything, things got worse.
We wasted our energy trying to solve this problem, we felt demoralized and our sadness and frustration made us more tired. We quarreled with one another because of that tiredness, and the rift between us made us feel isolated and unhappy.
What I didn’t realize at the time, which I now know, is that our daughter’s needs were a constant. That’s worth repeating: a constant. In other words, what she needed was me and my milk. That’s it!
My attempts to manipulate 101 other factors in my attempts to convince her that her needs were otherwise were essentially futile. I know that now.
Oh sure, people try other methods to deal with those needs. Perhaps a pacifier, a teddy bear, or a blanket. Still, the underlying need is for the comfort and reassurance that mummy brings.
For me, there was no point in my trying all of these things to change her needs—they were unchangeable. The only thing I could change was me. And that’s the secret—this is what helped me.
When I changed my attitude, my thoughts, the things I said to myself and others about the situation, everything changed and I felt better.
Here’s an example.
My baby wakes in the night for what seems like the hundredth time. I’ve just got back to sleep, and I feel like I’m pulling myself out of treacle to see what she needs. I latch her on to the breast and we’re both quiet. If my mind stays quiet, I return to sleep. But here is the string of thoughts that keeps me awake:
“Oh no, not again. Why can’t she just let me sleep? I’m so tired. How am I going to get through the day tomorrow? I’m going to have to cancel all the plans we made and I’m going to be so irritable and so is she. I wish I could just go to sleep. What’s wrong with her that she needs to be awake yet again at this age? She’s not a newborn!”
I’m so tired and now I’m angry that I’m in this situation. I feel trapped and irritated.
I’m properly awake now and I’m so cross that I’m going to be awake for a while, cycling through these thoughts until the day begins or I fall asleep again.
And in the end, it’s not the baby who kept me awake, it’s my own mind. Realizing this was the key for me—my mind affects me so much more than I previously appreciated. When I am able to change my thoughts to ones of soft acceptance I am able to cope. When I dwell on my baby’s littleness, on his neediness, and on my fortunate position in being able to meet those needs so easily, I fall back to sleep in a snap.
And here’s something else—all those thoughts in the night very rarely come true.
The day is never really as bad as I think it will be. There are times when I struggle, but those struggles are never as bad as I think they’re going to be. I’m an adult: I can adjust. I get through it, perhaps a little tired, maybe more irritable than I’d like to be, but we do it, and I can be satisfied that I’ve met my baby’s needs in the best way I know how.
He’s only little after all.
Lisa Hassan Scott is an LLL Leader living in South Wales with her husband Keith two daughters, and their son. She writes a parenting blog.