Embracing Motherhood How to Establish a Bedtime Routine with a Baby (or What to Do When Your Baby Won't Nurse to Sleep Anymore)

Establishing a Bedtime Routine with a Baby Who is Used to Nursing to Sleep

I usually just like to nurse my babies to sleep, but at some point this starts to not work, and instead of panicking and thinking that the world as you know it is over (like I may or may not have done), just know that this probably means your child is ready for a bedtime routine.

Julian, My 4th Child

Julian (my fourth and the recent inspiration for this article) didn’t all of a sudden stop nursing to sleep one night. It was a gradual progression that began when he was about 15 months old.

At this time, our nightly nursing sessions were getting longer and longer, and I remember one night after flipping him from side to side and nursing him for like an hour, and he just looked up at me and said, “Hi!”

I was dumbfounded, I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t have a plan.

All I knew was that I couldn’t let him keep nursing, and I didn’t want to just let him stay up later. He was tired. I needed to do something. (Also, I was starting to experience what I later learned was nursing aversion…more about that here.)

1. The First Time I Put Him to Bed Awake

Feeling like I was out of options, I decided to just lay him down and see what happened. When I placed him in his crib, he SCREAMED bloody murder. I knew that he wasn’t sick, teething, hungry, or needing to poop, and I also knew that he was tired, so I expertly tucked him in, whispered, “Nigh-night, I love you!” and closed the closet door (where he sleeps). As I sat back on the rocking chair to see what would happen, my mind felt blank. Usually I go into these situations with a plan, but I just felt helpless as I listened to him wail.

Then, a miracle happened. After about 90 seconds of crying…it stopped.

I sat there waiting for awhile until I was sure he was settled in, and then I went out to the living room to enjoy some much needed alone time with my husband. 🙂 He didn’t make a peep until he woke up for his usual 12 am and 3 am nighttime wakings. When I nursed him at these times, he went right back to bed.

With every child, I have always been determined to never let them “cry it out”, but inevitably, a few tears are usually shed during this transitional phase.

2. New Bedtime Routine: Reading Stories

The whole “nursing and nursing and nursing, hoping he would fall asleep, and then putting him down awake if he popped off the breast” became our new bedtime routine for about three months.

Finally, when the nursing aversion made it practically impossible for me to nurse one second longer, I knew that I would need to get him going with a bedtime story routine as soon as possible. The first night I tried it, it was super successful!

When I remembered how well bedtime stories had worked for all of our other children, I kicked myself for not starting this routine sooner!

Even if he was nursing to sleep some nights, on the nights that he didn’t fall asleep nursing, we could have read some stories and made this transition even easier. But alas, it is so hard to change!

3. Setting the Scene for a Successful Bedtime Routine

By getting everything prepared ahead of time so that the environment can be the same every night, it will make the nightly routine that much easier. This is what has worked for me. You will have to find what works for you, but this might be a place to start.

  • Rocking Chair: I have a nice comfy rocking chair in the corner of our room that I always nurse him in before putting him to bed in his crib.
  • Books: Next to the rocking chair, I put a stack of his favorite books.
  • Salt Lamp: I love the reddish glow of this dimmer lamp, plus it purifies the air by releasing negative ions!
  • Sippy Cup of Milk: I love using sippy cups with handles like this so that my babies can hold on to them and feed themselves. I fill it up with raw milk, but you could also use water or a glass sippy cup like this.
  • Silky: Every night, Julian sleeps with this special silky that I hand made for him. I’ve always wrapped him up in it while we’re nursing, and I tuck it over his legs while we read bedtime stories.
  • Fan: I like the white noise of a fan. It’s helpful to have a sound buffer since he sleeps only a few feet from our bed.

4. Julian’s Bedtime Routine

Children love and crave routines, especially with something that predictably happens every day…like bedtime. Each activity precipitates the next, and it makes the entire process predictable, fun, and easy.

  1. Big Kids’ Bedtime Routine: I’ve been wanting to write a blog about this for quite some time, but basically, we get our pajamas on, wrestle, cuddle, have family time, eat a snack, brush our teeth, and then begin a series of reading everyone stories and tucking them in. Julian has always tagged along with one of us during this process until I’ve been ready to nurse him to sleep.
  2. The Rocking Chair: When we were just starting to wean, if he would try to wiggle into a nursing position, I would nurse him briefly (or distract him with one of his favorite books), and then sit him on my lap. After that, I cover him up with his silky, give him his sippy cup of milk, and get ready to read.
  3. Reading Books: Sometimes I’ll read a whole stack of books, but if he’s really tired, I like to stick with just three. Before I read the last book, I say, “After this book we’re going nigh-night.”
  4. Sing a Song: Once he realizes he’s going to bed, he sometimes starts to cry so I try to distract him with a song and maybe even a little dance/spin move. (For some reason, I started singing him, “Boom, boom goes the little green frog one day, boom, boom goes the little green froggie, pee-i-pickle-i-pee-i-pickle-i, boom, boom goes the little green froggie.” With each child, a different song has emerged.)
  5. Drop and Run: If I can lay him down, cover him up with his silkies, get out of the room, and shut the door in less than 1.5 seconds, then there is a much better chance he won’t cry!
  6. Milk Cup: Julian and Elliot never did get into pacifiers like Ruby and Ophelia did, but Julian has really liked taking his milk cup to bed with him. It’s got a child safety top, so it usually doesn’t spill unless he sucks on it, but if it does, I’ll just wash the sheets.
  7. Wake Up Time: When Julian wakes up in the morning or from naps, sometimes I like to let him linger in bed, especially if he’s still laying down and stretching. I will sit by his bedside, rub his head, sing him songs, make funny faces, or whatever. I also like to let him play in his bed sometimes during the day. This helps him to become familiar with his little space during a time where he isn’t focused on going to sleep.

5. What if He Cries?

  • If He Cries Right Away: Sometimes he screams and cries really loudly when I first lay him down. My first instinct is to just pick him up and comfort him, but I want to give him a chance to fall asleep on his own. He usually never cries for longer than 15-30 seconds. The first few times we went through this routine, I think he cried for more like a minute or two.
  • If He Cries After Being Quiet: When babies try learning how to fall asleep on their own at first, they may be quiet at first, but then get frustrated if they don’t fall asleep right away. What I do here really depends on the nature of the cry, past behaviors, personality, how our day has been going, etc. Typically, I like to give him a minute or two to see if he’ll settle down on his own. If he starts happily babbling, I know he’ll be okay, but if his cry escalates, I will get him and quickly go through our bedtime routine again.
  • If He Wakes In the Night: When we were first weaning, I would still nurse him in the night with gradually shorter sessions. That worked pretty well at first, but then he got frustrated by the short nursing sessions, and so one night I just stopped altogether. Now, when he wakes in the night, I quickly go through our bedtime routine and lay him back down. If he cries for a long time, I’ll get him up and go through the routine again.
  • Naptime: Since I’ve been doing this routine, he’s been up pretty early every day and has needed nice long naps. (*Before I started this routine, sometimes he would fall fall back asleep after our morning nurse and then be able to go through the rest of the day without a nap.) I go through the same routine at naps as I do at night. I wait to put him down until he shows signs of being tired (gets really clingy, cuddly, and says nigh-night after I do), and then we go through our routine. Many times I can hear him talking or singing quietly for quite a bit of time, but if he’s not crying, I leave him in there. Many of our children have been in a transition out of naptimes, and if they were awake for awhile and then started to get fussy, I would get them up. So far, Julian has always fallen asleep.
  • Laying Little Babies Down Awake: In my experience, it’s always easy to lay a little baby down when they are awake yet sleepy and let them fall asleep on their own. “Experts” say that this will help to train them to fall asleep when they are older, but this has never been the case for me! Things like teething and illness usually mess up even the best of sleepers 🙂

In Conclusion

Every baby is different, but after having four, I’ve started to notice some patterns. Even though babies are ready for a bedtime routine at different ages, they all eventually crave one. By establishing a good bedtime routine from a young age, it will make bedtime that much easier as they get older. Our two older kids sleep soooooo good and do sooooo well at bedtime. Sometimes these baby/toddler years of sleep seem like they will be endless, but babies who learn good sleep habits eventually turn into young children who have good sleep habits as well.

Sweet dreams!

*You might also like my article about nursing aversion and weaning tips and my 15 month old who still wasn’t sleeping through the night.

Why Can't I Stand Nursing Anymore? A Tale of Nursing Aversion

How Nursing Aversion Led to the Weaning of my 15 Month Old

I was bombarded by a range of emotions when one of my favorite things in the world, breastfeeding, started to make me recoil. I thought something was wrong with me, I thought I was failing motherhood in some way, and I started slipping into a pit of depression because of it. After much research, including reading about other mother’s stories, I realized that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t failing as a mother, that my feelings of revulsion were the result of my changing hormones, and that there was something that I could do.

Tips for Weaning

If it wasn’t for the nursing aversion, I was hoping to nurse Julian until he was at least two years of age and/or let him self wean, but alas, that did not happen. Reading through my story may resonate with you as you are on your own journey, but you also might just be looking for some quick weaning tips, so I’ll give you those right away. 🙂

  • Gradual weaning. Sure, you can go cold turkey, but with risks of mastitis and lots of tears, I advise a more gradual approach.
  • Get through the night. Save night weaning for last. If your little one gets over tired, all he/she will want to do is nurse anyways, so just get through the nights at first.
  • Don’t offer, don’t refuse. If your child wants to nurse, let him, but don’t offer it.
  • Distract, distract, distract. Keep your child busy, busy, busy with his/her favorite activities.
  • Replace nursing with milk. If you haven’t already, start sippy cups of milk. We like using raw whole cow’s milk, but use what works for you.
  • Give plenty of food. Make sure your child is getting a nourishing diet so that he/she doesn’t need to breastfeed for the calories. Milk is high in fat and protein, so keep that in mind too.
  • Find other ways to bond. If your child loves nursing for the closeness and cuddles, make sure you’re providing plenty of other opportunities for physical closeness. My favorite is reading. We can cuddle up and be close and the book provides a nice distraction! (Check out my blog about reading with babies here and my favorite books for babies here.)
  • Nurse as long as you can. When my nursing aversion was in full effect, I could only nurse for about a minute. I would literally count to 60, and then say, “Ok, that’s enough.”
  • Tea tree oil. When Julian started catching on that I didn’t want him to nurse, it was like it made him want it even more! So, I put a bit of tea tree oil on my nipples, and one taste of that and he was like, “NO WAY!” Yes, it felt kind of mean, but I was getting pretty desperate at this point.
  • New bed time routine. If you’ve always nursed your little one to sleep, you’ll need to start a new routine. Having a sippy cup of milk, a silky, reading three books, and singing a song became our new routine. Did he cry a bit at first? Yes, but never longer than a minute or two. (Read more about setting up a bedtime routine for babies here.) *Some people have success with Daddy taking over the bedtime routine and nighttime wakings, but with me being a stay at home mom and Daddy working, we never got to this point.
  • Nighttime weaning. Getting them to bed is the hardest, after that, maybe you’ll get lucky and there won’t be any night time waking! (Ha, yeah right!) But if there is, you have to use your best judgement to get through the nights. Can you nurse long enough to get through it or are you so completely over it that you’re about to lose your mind? If the latter is the case, then maybe a few tears will need to be shed until the transition is over. I hate, hate, hate the idea of “cry it out”, but inevitably, all of my children have cried a little bit during this transition period…not hours and hours of “cry until you puke” crying, but protest cries only after all of their needs were met.
  • Know that “This too shall pass”. When you’re in the thick of a situation, it may seem like it will never ever ever end, but rest assured that there will be an end to this.

My Story

If you’re experiencing nursing aversion due to fluctuating hormones (due to pregnancy or the return of your period), I hope that by reading through my story, you will know that you are not alone! I was feeling so miserable and so guilty, and once I started learning that nursing aversion was actually a thing, I almost wept with relief. So here is my story: the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

The Moment It Happened

The gradual annoyances with nursing that I started to feel when Julian was 15 months old were nothing compared to the moment that nursing aversion hit me with full force. Julian was 18 months and it was the middle of the night. He woke up to feed (like he would about two times every night), and I laid him down in bed beside me, ready to close my eyes and fall asleep as he nursed. But as soon as he latched on, my eyes popped open, and I bolted upright into a sitting position completely overcome with a feeling of utter revulsion. I looked at him intensely trying to figure out what was going on thinking that maybe he got a bad latch or something.

But alas, his eyes were closed and he was sucking away with a perfectly normal latch. Regardless, it just felt different. It was as if he was lightly flicking the tip of my nipple with his tongue instead of getting the deep latch that he usually did. It felt weird.

I tried to fight this intense urge to just push him off of me.

Instead, I flung my legs over the side of the bed and tried to get him to detach on his own (like he usually does when he’s done nursing and ready for sleep again). I got lucky and was able to gently pull him away and lay his sleeping body into his crib.

He didn’t wake up the rest of the night (thankfully), but I was worried about what it would feel like the next time we nursed. Usually, I nurse him every morning when he first wakes up. It’s always a fun way to cuddle, bond, and start our day. So the next morning, I got in my nursing chair (hoping the night before was just a fluke), wrapped him up in his silky, got my phone ready in case he fell asleep again so I could browse, and settled in to nurse.

The second he latched on, that revolting feeling took over, and it took every ounce of my willpower to not immediately rip him off from my body. Once again, I was sure his latch had to be off. He had tongue tie surgery at 6 weeks old, but we never fully got rid of it, and nursing did always kind of hurt a little bit. Or maybe with all of his new teeth that came in, his mouth was just different…

I kept nursing him as I tried to figure out this weird feeling. It wasn’t pleasure, and it wasn’t pain, it was just weird. If you could translate nails on a chalkboard into a physical sensation, that is the best way I can describe it. The feeling of wanting to make it stop was some kind of primal urge like when you get an itch and find yourself scratching it without even thinking.

This Has Happened Before…

Then, I remembered feeling the EXACT SAME WAY with Elliot when he was 18 months old. He went through the same thing where nursing didn’t put him to sleep anymore, and he just wanted to nurse more and more and longer and longer, getting more aggressive and grabby with each nursing session.

I remember the weird feeling from nursing Elliot got so bad that pain became a welcome distraction. I would dig my nails into my arm or bite myself as I nursed just so that I could continue. When my husband noticed I was drawing blood, he was like, ‘Something has to change’.

I wondered what was wrong with me. Why would I feel this way? What was I doing wrong? What was going on???

What is Nursing Aversion?

First of all, nursing aversion is not feeling “over-touched”. You know that feeling when everyone needs you at once and you feel like you’re standing on a little chair trying keep snakes away with a little stick? Well, it’s not that.

It’s not a choice. It’s not a failure. It’s a primal and physical reaction based primarily on fluctuating hormones due to pregnancy, tandem feeding, or menstruation.

Abby Theuring (The Badass Breastfeeder) explains how it made her feel.

“I was overcome with a physical [sensation] in my nipple of stinging, prickling and buzzing and a creepy crawly feeling all over my body; an emotional feeling of disgust mixed with fear mixed with irritation mixed with the heebeegeebees.”

On the La Leche site, Barbara from Minnesota gives her definition of nursing aversion.

“The best I can do is to say it felt like bugs were crawling all over my body, and I couldn’t brush them off. It started out difficult and annoying, and soon became intolerable. People used to ask me, ‘Does it hurt?’ And I’d think, ‘I wish!’ Pain, I could deal with. This was so beyond pain. It was just icky. Really icky.”

I like Kate’s definition of nursing aversion.

“The toe-curling, blood-boiling, rip-your-hair-out, bite-the-back-of-your-hand and want-to-go-running-down-the-street-screaming feeling that you may get when your toddler asks for the boobies (again).”

My Definition of Nursing Aversion

After much curiosity and research (there’s not much information out there about this), this is my perspective on nursing aversion.

During birth, we are completely flooded with oxytocin which helps us to bond with and breastfeed our babies. Whenever I nursed, I could feel the flood of this love hormone surging through me. I loved nursing (once we got all of the kinks worked out), and I always looked forward to this special time with my babies.

Many people talk about nursing aversion occurring during pregnancy. (La Leche League also calls it breastfeeding agitation and explains how it effects nearly one-third of women during pregnancy.) And although Ruby and Ophelia self weaned during my pregnancies with Elliot and Julian, I never experienced nursing aversion. Yes, nursing became a bit more painful during pregnancy, my milk changed, and they really seemed to lose interest, but it was NOTHING like what I’m experiencing now.

At any rate, as Julian and Elliot became older and my period returned, I believe that oxytocin was released in gradually diminishing levels during our breastfeeding sessions until it just wasn’t there anymore. Without oxytocin, prolactin isn’t released either and this is what stimulates let down. Without oxytocin or prolactin, the body starts to halt the production of milk, and this is what I imagine usually leads to weaning. As my body began to produce less and less milk, this is probably what caused Elliot and Julian to get progressively more grabby with longer nursing sessions as they desperately tried to hold on to one of their primary mode of comfort.

The Guilt

With Elliot, and now with Julian, I felt like breastfeeding was the best thing I could give to them. It was so nourishing, it was bonding, and they LOVED it.

How could this thing that was so nourishing, bonding, and wonderful make me recoil so intensely?

With Elliot, I weaned him quickly because the gradual weaning seemed to just make him want to nurse more and more and more. I didn’t like he results of that at all. To this day (he’s 5 now), I think he has suffered from it. He always has these fears of me abandoning him and always needs lots of extra cuddles.

Now, with Julian, I didn’t know what to do, so of course I did everything wrong at first. 🙂

Weaning By Quitting Cold Turkey

The revolting feelings I had nursing Julian were so intense that I just didn’t think I could handle one more nursing session. He was drinking plenty of milk and eating lots of solid food, and I felt like it would be best to just quit cold turkey.

That night, I put my salt light lamp by my rocking chair, set up a stack of books, and got a sippy cup of milk ready for our new bedtime routine. As I sat in the rocking chair, he arched to nurse, but I pulled him into a sitting position, read three books while he sipped on his milk, and laid him down. He cried for about 15 seconds (like he usually would after I would lay him down if nursing didn’t put him to sleep), and he was quiet. “Well that was easy!” I gloated to myself.

When I thought about our two upcoming nighttime feedings though, my heart sank. I had no idea what to do. My husband and I talked about it, and I said I was going to try a sippy cup and books (I even had a bottle on hand). During his first waking, I tried giving him the sippy cup, and he HATED it. He pushed it away and tried desperately to nurse. Knowing how it would feel, I just couldn’t bring myself do it, and I laid him in bed.

He screamed for about 5 minutes. I couldn’t stand it! My heart was breaking for him.

Just when I was about to get him, he stopped crying. As I finally drifted off to sleep 3o minutes later however, he woke up again…crying for me. I tried the sippy cup again, and put him back to bed crying. This happened a few more times, and it was awful, but somehow we made it through the night.

Weaning with More of a Gradual Release

The next day, I was determined to be vigilant about not nursing (because of what we had gone through the night before). While I was talking to my sister Lisa about everything, I started getting my breast pump ready. I have this one super boob that produces the bulk of the milk, and it was super duper full at the time.

When Julian saw what I was doing he bee-lined for me. I felt like if I were to nurse him, everything we went through the night before would have been for nothing, but I just couldn’t refuse him, and so he nursed. My engorged breast was so full that nursing was actually a relief, and I barely noticed the weird feeling that I could tell was just lingering under the surface.

I knew he didn’t drain me all the way and that we would probably need to nurse again later. “Maybe a gradual release would be a better way to go about this after all?” I wondered. (Ummm…yes!) I decided that I wouldn’t nurse him to sleep, I would try not to nurse him during the day (don’t offer, don’t refuse), and that I would nurse him (for as long as I could, even if it was just a minute or two) when he woke up in the middle of the night.

A New Problem Emerges…Mastitis

My right breast still felt pretty full at bedtime that night, so I nursed him quickly and then transitioned into our new bedtime routine of reading books. He went to bed that night without making a peep. Even after I nursed him, my right breast was feeling pretty sore, but I didn’t think anything of it.

Then, in the middle of the night, I woke up in intense pain. My right breast was throbbing, and I felt awful. I could feel myself burning up with fever, but I was shivering and shaking. I felt like I might be sick, but I just took some ibuprofen, put an electric hot pad on my breast, and somehow went back to sleep again.

When Julian woke in the night to nurse, I massaged my sore breast and realized that there were some major obstacles buried deep in there. Plugged ducts…masititis…oh no!

The details of my recovery from mastisis would best be saved for another post, but just know that it was awful. I had to nurse him like crazy to get rid of the lumps…and every time I did it was so painful that the nails on a chalkboard took a backseat! But at least in all of this, we established a new bedtime routine that didn’t involve me nursing him to sleep.

Where We Are Now

Overall, gradually weaning has been an easier and more gentle method for Julian (although I personally would have preferred cold turkey). I had to nurse him a lot at first to help me get over the mastitis, but once that was done, I was able to go back to “don’t offer, don’t refuse”.

I tried really hard to keep us busy and to keep him distracted so that he wouldn’t think about nursing. When he did want to nurse, I wouldn’t get the silky or even get very comfortable, I would just pop him on the breast and let him nurse for about as long as I could tolerate it (maybe a minute or so). On one of the first days, I put some tea tree oil on my nipples when he wouldn’t leave me alone, and it was VERY effective at keeping him away! At night, if he leaned down to nurse, I would nurse him quickly before going into our new bedtime routine.

Now, when he wakes up to nurse in the night (usually twice), I let him nurse for about 1-2 minutes, and then I put him back to bed. Sometimes he cries for about 15-30 seconds, sometimes he babbles the ABCs, and sometimes he’s just quiet. If he cries for a longer period of time (or if he’s quiet for a bit and then cries again), I repeat the process. Occasionally, if I’m worried that he might be genuinely hungry for some food, I’ve taken him into the kitchen to cook up his favorite food – dippy eggs and toast.

*3 Months Later: Now that three months have gone by, I wanted to give an update. At 21 months, Julian goes to sleep after his bedtime routine every night without a peep, and most nights, he sleeps right through the night (unless he’s feeling sick). If he does wake up, I give him a sippy cup of milk and either go through the bedtime routine again or just rock and cuddle him until he falls back asleep. As we finished our gradual weaning, I would always make sure to stuff him full of food before he went to bed and he just started sleeping through the night. Yay! After about 3-4 weeks of not nursing, he stopped lifting up my shirt (although now he is obsessed with my belly button…and his own for that matter) and seemed to gradually just forget about it.

Julian (18 Months) and I Hanging Out and Happy!

Julian (18 Months) and I Hanging Out and Happy!

In Conclusion

I wrote this blog to help me understand what I was feeling when breastfeeding gradually became less enjoyable and then suddenly repulsed me. I learned a lot from reading about other mother’s stories, and I hope that by sharing my story, I can help other mothers realize the same thing.

All in all, I think that nursing aversion is nature’s way of saying, “It’s time to move on.” This mama dog trying to wean her puppies is a really good visualization of this. 🙂

Embracing Motherhood My 15 Month Old "Baby" is Still Not Sleeping Through the Night

My 15 Month Old “Baby” is Still Not Sleeping Through the Night

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning, and it feels like my head just hit the pillow, but now he’s crying again. I wait for a minute to see if it’s just a quiet whimper and he’ll fall back asleep, or if it’s more of a full on cry and he needs me.

His cry gets louder and takes on a shrill brassy tone. I jump quickly to my feet keeping my eyes still half closed because I don’t want to fully wake up.

He’s sitting up in his crib, and I pull up my shirt over my right breast so that I’m ready to nurse before I even scoop him up. We plop down onto my tower of pillows (that have been there since he was born), and as we nestle under the covers, my head tips back, my eyes close, and I drift back to sleep.

I awaken to little fingers tickling at my neck, and before he can fully wake up, I cradle him in my arms and tuck him back into his crib.

As I walk through the closet door, take one step, and plop immediately back into bed, I wonder once again why I didn’t just leave him in our king sized bed in between us, like I did when he was smaller. There’s definitely plenty of room, but for some reason, I just sleep better when he’s in his own crib. And even though I know I’ll have to go and get him again in a few hours, the time in between I will be sprawled out on my belly hugging my body pillow (that is now just a part of my side of the bed after four pregnancies) and sleeping HARD knowing that there’s no one next to me that I might squish or who might kick me in the face.

I nurse him again at 4:30 a.m. and wonder if I should just get up for the day. I’ve already gotten about 5 hours of sleep, which is pretty much par for the course these days, and there’s so much to do…

But against my better judgement, I decide to close my eyes again just for a moment. Before I know it, I am startled awake by a small little cry. I know that I must have been sleeping because the remnants of an intense dream still dance across the backs of my eyelids, but it doesn’t feel like more than two minutes have gone by. When I look at the clock, I realize it’s been about two hours since I’ve last nursed him.

As I meet him in front of his crib, he starts babbling, “4, 5, 6, 7..” and I know that he’ll want to be awake for the day. Still, I cuddle him up in bed and nurse him one last time. When he’s done, he pulls away and smiles happily at me, “A, B, C, D…” he says in his sweet little voice, and then proceeds to chant through the entire alphabet as I rock him in my arms, turning up the red glow of the salt lamp beside my bed as I look at him, smiling, and nodding the entire time.

He eventually he squirms out of my arms, slides off from our mattress on the floor, and heads over to the door happy and ready to start his day.

Not every night is this peaceful. Some nights he’s up every hour, and I feel like the walking dead as I shuffle through our nursing routine or try to bounce and rock him to sleep when he’s teething, sick, or really gassy. Other nights, Scott awakens to hear me cursing or crying as I gather my phone, Ophelia’s monitor, and Julian’s silky knowing that we’ll be out in the living room for the next few hours when all I want to do is just close my eyes and drift away.

But still, even when things are at their toughest, I’m glad that I can be there to rock him in my arms as those sharp little daggers of teeth torture his gums, help him breathe by sucking out all of his boogers with a Nose Frida, rub his tummy and pump his legs to help him with his gassy tummy, and give him nourishment and sustenance with my body’s milk.

Lack of sleep is like a badge of honor that I wear as a mother, and I’m proud of it!

On days when I’m really tired, I close my eyes for a few minutes after story time, or I might get a quick nap when Scott gets home (Napping when the baby naps doesn’t happen when you have four kids!), and I always get to sleep in on the weekends! (Thank you love!)

This idea that babies should sleep through the night at some certain age is completely arbitrary, and seems kind of fishy the way that this abnormal fallacy is spread throughout the major “parenting websites” out there as “normal”. Sleep train your baby before they can stand you say? Don’t let them fall asleep breastfeeding because it’s a bad habit you say? Make them cry it out because a baby needs a well rested mommy you say?

Hogwash! It is an HONOR to nurse my baby to sleep every night! I love being in tune with his needs! I love how his nighttime nursing keeps my milk supply up!

I don’t want to turn my mommy heart off while I listen to him scream himself to sleep every night, I don’t want him to stop needing me, and I don’t want him to stop telling me that he needs me.

Already, he is starting to show signs of not needing me anymore, and it’s scary! After 15 months of nursing to sleep every night, he is starting to pull away before he’s done, preferring instead to burrow his face in the silkies tucked in the crook of my arm and fall asleep that way. And sometimes after we do our bedtime routine and nurse, he squirms away from me until I lay him down in his crib, ready to fall asleep on his own.

The mistake I made with Ruby and Elliot was thinking that there would be some magical day that they wouldn’t need me in the night anymore.

Now, with Ophelia and Julian, I realize that the progression with sleep is just as gradual as the progression with any other milestone.

2 and a half year old Ophelia didn’t just start reading one day. It was a gradual sequence of events that began with daily flashcards at 8 months old and progressed a little more every day from there. Ophelia still needs me in the night a few times a week. Sometimes she wants some milk, sometimes a pacifier, and sometimes I think she just wants to be covered up again. Heck, even Ruby and Elliot still need to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water in the night sometimes! It’s never over. It’s never done. Having kids means that you’ll probably always be sleeping with one ear open, and IT’S WORTH IT! It’s so worth it!

I have finally learned (after 4 children) to stop Googling so much and to start listening, really listening, to what my mommy heart has to say. My mother’s intuition has more answers than any book on the shelves, and I know that when I trust in it, the answers are always more individualized and nuanced that anything some Dr. Sleep with a doctorate could have ever written.

It’s time that we all listened to our mommy hearts. It’s time that we stop trying to perpetuate the idea that there is ONE right way of doing things and that there is some unrealistic standard that we are all somehow failing. I get that it feels good to be supported by the attachment parenting group or the cry it out group once you’ve made those decisions, but neither group knows what’s best for you in every possible scenario. Maybe your mommy heart IS telling you that if you don’t have your child cry it out you are going to straight up lose it! If that is what you need to do then do it! You DO know best! Read the blogs, look at the forums, skim through the books if you must, but know that they are only there to kickstart what’s inside.

When we listen to our mommy hearts, when we respect our intuition and demand that others respect it to, it will give us the confidence to own this thing called motherhood.

Because sleep issues are just the beginning of this journey of motherhood. Before we know it, our little ones will be teenagers, and then adults, and someday (maybe) mothers and fathers themselves. And when this happens, I want to share with them how I loved these nights, how I cherished this time, how I gave everything I could, and how I loved it.

What It’s Really Like to Be Up in the Night with a Baby and a Toddler

Like a late stage Alzheimer’s patient, I feel my mental clarity slowly slipping away more and more every day. So while I’m still lucid, I wanted to at least get down some of my thoughts.

It all started many weeks ago when I noticed the same thing happening to my husband. Like how little things that used to come easily to him were slipping his mind, whenever he would sit down he would “rest his eyes” for just a minute, and the bags under his eyes just kept getting darker. Scott had been taking care of our toddler, Ophelia, in the night ever since Julian was born eight months ago, and when Julian started sleeping a bit better, we decided that we would give it a go with me taking care of both of them in the night. He was very reluctant to let go of his special time with Ophelia, but he was willing to give it a try.

I was overly optimistic at first, especially when Ophelia (27 months) slept beautifully through the first night. But she has been cutting her two year molars for what seems like months upon months upon months and having a real bear of a time with it, so it was no surprise when she woke up several times the next night and the night after that and the night after that.

I handled it pretty well at first. When Ophelia gets up in the night, it’s usually only a matter of minutes until she’s back in bed again, and I usually fall asleep while nursing Julian. But getting up a few times in the early part of the night to take care of Ophelia, a few more times in the latter part of the night to take care of Julian, and throw in couple of bed wettings or nightmares from the big kids, and the sleeplessness began to add up fast.

Meanwhile, my husband started to feel better than ever! Not only did he look amazing and chipper, but he had energy to burn and can often be found doing various projects until it’s time to settle down for the night. This really works out in my favor though, because by the time he gets home from work, I really and truly need his help and rely on him to get through the evening chores.

Our days are full and complete and when it’s finally our turn to go to sleep at the end of the day, snuggling into our bed feels like the most relaxing spa treatment I could ever ask for. But it seems like my head only just touches the pillow when I’ll hear her Ophelia’s little whimpering voice through the monitor (which I hardly even need since she sleeps in our walk in closet right next to my side of the bed), and my heart will immediately begin to beat faster as a heightened sense of awareness takes over my mind and I tenuously wait to see if the whimpering will continue.

If it does, I go into her room and pick her up out of her crib (she’s usually standing up at this point) and set her on my lap in the rocking chair right outside of the closest. The red glow from my bedside lamp illuminates the milk cup filled with room temperature raw milk as my tired hand clumsily fumbles to grab it. Neither of us speak a word as she drinks hungrily and snuggles into the crook of my arm. I smooth her head, cover her with kisses, and feel her body relax and soften as I give her a pacifier and wrap her silky blanket around her legs. As I tuck her back into her crib, I quickly arrange the blankets hanging over the side of the crib just so and tuck the other silkies under her arms as she rolls over and hugs them. When my head hits the pillow again, I almost immediately fall back asleep, and my heart is full of a warmth that I’m sure I will remember long after this night.

Thankfully, Ophelia and Julian seem to have some unspoken agreement about taking shifts. Ophelia usually only wakes up in the first part of the night and Julian gets the latter. (If they both wake up at the same time, then I’ll nudge Scott who quickly jumps up and takes care of Ophelia while still half asleep.) Most nights, Julian falls asleep in his newborn bassinet in the living room while Daddy plays him guitar during the final part of our beautifully orchestrated bedtime routine, and then we’ll carefully carry him through the labyrinth of our house and place him next to my side of the bed. Other nights, he’ll fall asleep in my arms as I nurse him in my rocking chair. If this happens, I’ll gently place him in his crib which is just a stone’s throw from our giant king sized bed that can’t fit his 26 pounds of chub and flailing arms amidst my tower of pillows that I need for breastfeeding him in bed during the night.

At the first sign of a whimper, I’ll bolt out of the deepest of sleeps and stand tentatively over his crib waiting to see if he’s really waking up. As I approach his crib, I’ll notice the position of his head, and I’m reminded of which side I need to nurse him on next. Before I pick him up, I’ll lift up my shirt, scoop him and his silky up in the crook of my arm, and he’ll hungrily latch on before I can even fall back onto my tower of pillows. Since he’s been teething, he will nurse far longer than I am able to stay awake. With my head resting sideways on my softest pillow, I’ll startle awake when he finally pulls himself off my breast.

This change makes him a bit unsettled, and so I’ll have to get out of bed (each time reminded of how weak my abs still are I try to throw the weight of my legs down in a pendulum and try to lift the top half of my body and Julian at the same time) to walk, rock, and bounce him until he is completely settled. I try to keep my eyes shut and hang onto the dream that was just starting to dance in my head until I am sure that he is in the deepest of sleeps. I am often too hasty and he lets me know with a whimper if I set him back in his crib too soon. Sometimes, I have to take him back to bed and nurse him on the other side and sometimes a few more minutes of me walking, bouncing, and patting his back will settle him down.

By the time it’s morning, I almost feel a sense of relief. Sometimes both of the little ones will sleep in long enough for me to get breakfast ready, do my 8 minute ab exercises to heal my diastis recti, take a shower, or sit down at the computer to blog a little (like what is happening right now, yay!).

I used to try to count how many times they woke up so that I could tell Scott what kind of night I had, but now it seems like more and more often, the night just all blurs together the more awake I become, and if I don’t actively try to hold onto the details, they slip away as the day moves on.

I always start my mornings so dreadfully tired, and I love to fantasize about how I’ll try to take a nap when Scott comes home for lunch. But after I drink some water, wash down a big spoonful of coconut oil (which is helping tremendously with my candida issues), and start to putz around, I start to wake up more than I thought possible. It usually takes me all morning, but at some point, I’ll find time to shower and get dressed, and at that point I feel pretty darn good!

I mean, my brain is progressively degenerating to the point where I often can’t think of simple words to describe things and often end up just pantomiming or giving vague descriptions of things that used to come to me so quickly, but other than that and my slightly more disheveled and unkempt appearance, you would hardly know how sleep deprived I really am.

But somehow, I’m able to not just get through it, but be thankful for it. Maybe it’s because I used to be up in the night with my first two babies while working full time and I really and truly appreciate being able to sleep in and wear pajamas as long as I need to, or maybe it’s because I’ve visualized myself as an old lady looking back at these moments and know that my future self will cherish these moments as some of the most precious ones of her life, or maybe it’s just because I really am a superior human who can survive with less sleep. 🙂

But the bottom line is that I don’t mentally approach these sleepless nights as something to just get through. I am truly and deeply honored to be able to go through them for my children, and I wear them like a badge of the highest honor. I am thankful that I don’t need to resort to making them cry it out or slowly wean them from me as so many forums, books, and blogs seem to suggest to tired mommas. I know that these days are fleeting, that these times are precious, and how I treat these moments now will lay the foundation for not just the rest of their lives, but mine as well.

Because in the end, when we add up all of the moments of our lives, these are the ones that I am sure we will cherish in our hearts forever, these are the moments we won’t want to forget, and these are the days that we will want to relive over and over again as our bodies let go of this earth and our minds start to fade into that sweet state of dreaming where I will finally be able to get enough sleep. 🙂

I'm Up in the Night to Nurse My 6 Month Old Every Hour...and I'm Okay with That

I’m Up in the Night to Nurse My 6 Month Old Every Hour…and I’m Okay with That

Now that this is my fourth baby (in the last five years), I really and truly SEE how fast time flies, and rather than spend hours combing the Internet looking for ways to get my six month old to “sleep through the night”, I’ve just decided to enjoy it.

I look at my oldest daughter Ruby who is five, wise beyond her years, so independent, and asserting her personality boldly into the world, and I remember those days when she was a tiny little babe cuddled in my arms and nursing into the wee hours of the morning.

As I pull her close now, she melts into my arms, and as our skin touches, I am intoxicated by the electricity between us. It’s not that I long for the days when she was a little baby again, because I have these incredible moments with her now that are just as amazing, but when I remember the days of long ago, and my mind drifts to the Zelda song Scott and I would sing to her every night before putting her to bed, how I would look at her a thousand times in the night to make sure she was still breathing, and how much we loved her laying inbetween us in our Saturday morning bed as we would ooooohhhh and ahhhhhhh over every little sound and motion she made, I feel a sense of honor and a sense of pride about how I hung on to each of those moments rather than pushing through them to get to the next stage.

All of the sleepless nights that I was up with her and all of the tired mornings that I slugged through, they all melt together into one big insignificant blur. And as I look at my little one now, finally asleep on his own after I held and rocked him all night long, I know that the memories of tiredness are not only but a flash, they are an honor.

When I look at each of my four children and remember our special moments in the night, the thought of it practically brings me to tears. They are only these little helpless babies for but a fraction of their lives, and before we know it, they are sleeping in their own beds and then we are left alone…with empty arms.

The other morning, my husband, who is always so wonderful and supportive as he not only thinks about what’s best for the children, but me as well, saw me asleep on my pile of pillows with Julian tucked in my arms, asleep on my breast, and my head bent back in an awkward angle and my body twisted in a half sitting, half laying position, and he just thanked me for that. And of course I started overthinking things (like I always do), and I thought, “He’s six months old, maybe he should be sleeping on his own.”

So that night, I was determined to get him to sleep on his own, and as soon as he drifted off, I placed him in his crib (two feet away from our bed on the floor). “Well, that was easy!” I thought. But as I climbed into bed, I felt lonely. I missed him being near me, and I could only half sleep because one ear was pricked up listening for any little sound of rustling. But eventually, I drifted off into a very very deep sleep, only to be jarred awake an hour later by Julian’s little whimpering voice.

So I got out of bed, picked him up, cuddled him close, and nursed him until he fell asleep once again. Still determined to have him sleep on his own, however, I placed him inbetween Scott and I in our giant king size bed, and was pleased to see that he layed there peacefully. But that only lasted briefly before he started to stir again, and so I cursed and angrily picked him up wondering what I was doing wrong. Scott woke up to ask me what was wrong, and I complained that he just wouldn’t sleep without me holding him.

I awoke the next morning feeling unfulfilled. All of the getting up and down, all of the strategizing and worry, and all of the anger did not make for a very restful night. As Scott and I chatted about it on our two hour weekly milk run, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to try to do anything differently than I had been in the night. (Do you ever get the feeling that you’re doing everything wrong and that you need to scrap everything and start completely over only to realize later that what you were doing before was actually right all along? Yeah, me neither.) So I decided that if he slept best with me holding him all night, than that was just what I was going to do.

It’s now the second morning after my little epiphany, and I’m sitting here typing on a quiet Memorial Day morning while everybody sleeps. Am I tired? Yes. Am I happy? Incredibly. Am I stressed? Not a bit. Last night, and the night before, I held Julian while he nursed on one side and in the process, we both fell asleep. An hour later, he woke up, and I sluggishly maneuvered him to the other side where he nursed and once again, we both fell asleep. All night long we did this dance of nursing and falling asleep from one side to the other. Never once did I have to get out of bed, never once did I awake fully, and every time I easily and quickly drifted off to sleep. I didn’t worry if I was doing it right, I didn’t fret about not getting uninterrupted sleep, and I didn’t allow myself to think, “Is it going to be this way forever?”

Because the realization is that it’s NOT going to last forever! My husband and I always joke about how every milestone we encounter with our children such as potty training, illness, and sleepless nights have one remedy… TIME. Time will pass, it slips through our fingers now like puke spilling down the middle of my bra, there is nothing we can do to stop it, and there is nothing we can do to slow it down.

If we approach each milestone as something to “get through” and  something that will “pass”, we miss the fact that these are the moments we want to remember, the moments we want to cherish, and the moments we will reflect on and look back on when we are old and gray in an empty house with only our memories to keep us company in the wee hours of the night when ironically we are the ones who can’t sleep through the night.

And so I’ll hold my little Julian all through the night, feeding him as often as he needs, knowing that sooner than I think, he’ll be eating solid food and there will come a time when he won’t even want to nurse anymore, and I’ll look back on these nights of ours together with a warmth and a fondness in my heart that I will cherish for a lifetime.