Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Early Parenting Choices: Sleeping and Nursing

If there's one thing that I've learned through my two years in this parenting gig; it’s that doing what works for you and best for your family is the right answer. There is no other answer out there for you.  However, sometimes it’s nice to hear others experiences and views to help guide you and help you make your choice.

I've found so much inspiration and had so many aha! moments since I started writing this blog.  I found other mothers that were using similar techniques, had similar views and read the same books as me. And all of these things were what the general public or society make us believe aren't right.

I had my struggles finding my place in the first months. I unfortunately believed or had a lot of society’s views in the back of my mind. It was overwhelming.  What technique should I use? Who should I believe?

So called experts were telling me to that my baby should sleep in their own room; An infant needs to learn to fall sleep on their own; Don't spoil your baby by picking it up every time it cries; You should let your baby cry it out; Nursing your baby to sleep is a bad habit; Rocking your baby to sleep is a bad habit. But all of this advice is so unnatural. How did society get so messed up?

Your baby does not need to be moved into their own room by a certain age. I moved E from the bassinet beside our bed to his room when he was 3 1/2 months old. Why? Partly because we didn't want to tiptoe around, but mostly because 3 months seemed to be the standard age. Would I do that again? No. What a pain in the butt it was dealing with getting out of bed and having to go get him rather than easily nursing him beside me. I'm not sure how long I would wait to make the transition next time because it will depend on the child. But I know I won't be giving myself a deadline. And you don't even need to make that transition – co-sleeping families are just fine too.

Nursing your baby to sleep is frowned upon in almost every book you read. Why? Because everyone says your child will become dependent on it. Dependability - is that really such a bad thing? I nursed E to sleep every opportunity I had for our almost entire nursing relationship (16 months).  It was by far, the best trick I had up my shirt sleeve. The closeness and comfort you give to your child through breastfeeding is a magical thing. It’s a power that only you can provide. Besides, what else could you be doing? (besides household chores that is). I’ll admit there were times I would be frustrated in the beginning, but these days were far outnumbered by the advantages. Nursing for comfort is allowed.  Your child will benefit. Take advantage of it!

I often hear people say that your baby needs to "learn" to go to sleep on their own and should be sleeping through the night.  Why? All other mammals nurse and comfort their young to sleep.  And if their young wake in the night, their mother is nearby to comfort them back to sleep.  A time will come when they no longer need your comfort and they will have the confidence to fall asleep on their own.  Don't rob yourself and them of that short and sweet time. I treasured my time nursing E to sleep and I now miss that special time we had together.

Some people let their children cry it out. They shut the door on them and teach them to fall asleep on their own. They brag because they say it works. Sure it works. Your child just gave up hope and trust in you. As parents you are the only ones they can trust and you are denying them this.  They will have trust and many more issues as they grow older if this is a regular occurrence. I believe this. Maybe I shouldn't judge, because this is what works for them, but to me it seems like it only works for the parents, not the children.

I also believe that letting your child have a little cry is okay sometimes when they are upset.  As E grows older and understands that we have a routine and that he is to go to sleep in his crib, I give him time to let out some cries as I leave the room. But he trusts that I will come back if he is distressed. His brief cry usually turns to talking and then to sleep.  He wakes up happy and calls for me and I happily retrieve him and let him cuddle in our bed with us for a few minutes before we start our day.  If he wakes in the night distressed I happily bring him into bed with us.  I have never let him scream for me.  It’s not fair. He is relying on me for comfort.  Why would I deny him that?

These are all things that worked and continue working for me.  They may not be what my parents or grandparents would recommend, but for my family they are the right choice.  I have an extremely happy boy that trusts me.  I am proud of the parenting choices I have made so far. 

So a message to those parents that are confused about what the right choice is -  follow your gut.  If listening to your child cry makes you cry - pick him up and hold him. Do what you feel is the best and natural. Don't let anyone else make these important choices for you.  Your child is depending on you and only you.

And here are some extremely helpful resources that I found comfort in and to help you make your own INFORMED choices:

The Truth Behind Common Breastfeeding Myths from Nurtured Child
Cry it Out (CIO): 10 reasons why it is not for us by PhD in Parenting
The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg


  1. I have three kids. And 1 piece of advice my mom taught me and stays with me to this day is don't listen to advice, do what is natural. She also mentioned that she never had any books and literature and internet web sites to read or browse when she was raising us (4 kids), and we survived. I believe mothering should come naturally, and perhaps for some it doesn't, and talking with other moms is a good tool. But there are SO many theories out there which one do you listen to? Although I must admit hearing other mom stories on blogs and websites has been helpfull at times for me. I also nurse my baby (babies) to sleep. I have co-slept until age 6 months +, and continue to do so because that's what works best for me. I have at times let my baby cry it out. And I don't believe that putting a baby on a schedule under 6 months of age is appropriate. I've fed my baby solids before 6 months of age, because each one of them nursed around the clock, and this kept them content for longer periods of time. I've yet to nurse my baby to the full year or more, and again that's been the best choice for me. So those are a few things I do that 'aren't by the book'.

  2. This really resonated with me. I really agree that we can get so wrapped up in what culturally we are "supposed" to do that we ignore our own instincts and what we know to be the right thing. We are so vulnerable as new mothers and it is so hard to push back against cultural norms to do what is really best for your family. It certainly gets easier with time though.

  3. I don't think it's possible to "spoil" an infant. Food, love, security should be in abundance. Their needs deserve to be met immediately. Having said that, I didn't breastfeed or co-sleep. This wasn't because I didn't want to spoil the children. Sometimes, you just have to play the hand you're dealt...

  4. this is a great post Alicia - i think another thing to note is that your parenting choices will potentially be different for each child. (because sometimes you can get kids that are COMPLETELY different, like mine first slept through the night but never napped and terrible breast feeder, my second never that i mean never, other than 20 minutes at a time, and nursed at least 24-28x a day). It's okay to make different i think that goes along with the whole, don't make arbitrary rules for yourself.

    i had the opposite experience of you - i was immersed in natural parenting books and advice with my first, that was my plan, right from the home birth...but absolutely NOTHING came naturally to me and my daughter. there are a lot of myths about how breastfeeding is so natural and wonderful. I had really put it up on a pedestal, and when it was extremely difficult and challenging, and not like the books said, I was devastated that my body was "not working right" in my eyes at the time. I did persevere and with lots of help from lactation support we did have a breastfeeding relationship but it took about 4 months to establish, 3 of which were not even on the right breast and from day one, it was my husband feeding her with a tube attached to his finger, me attached to a hospital grade pump i had borrowed from the local health unit.

    neither of my babies was comforted by nursing. which i still have sad thoughts about, 6 years later... it was very sad to see other babies instantly comforted at the breast but mine would scream and cry and struggle. so, sometimes, you do have to change your 'plan'. the opposite way. i would have loved to side-lay for nursing. that didn't work at all due to my anatomy and my daughter's fear after aggressive suctioning at birth. That being said, people need to know ultimately it is their choice. Whatever way they choose. I was happy I stuck with it, even though an extended nursing strike of over 5 weeks at 9.5 months meant nursing was over for us. And my son was a whole other matter with his reflux, nursing was painful for him. Sleep deprivation for 6 months and I was happy my modified version of cry it out (Elizabeth Pantley was a life saver for me - I'm glad you mentioned her!) worked. especially when the older child was having night terrors that whole first 6 months of the baby's life as well. No one was sleeping in our house, and having the baby in the room with us was even worse. My husband and I took turns 24/7 bouncing him on a bouncy ball. that's all that worked.

    I absolutely agree that there should be no rules, but what evolves naturally and works for your family. More moms need to know that this is okay, so thanks for sharing!!! :D

    Lara (viva_lara on Twitter)

  5. I found your blog via twitter, and I have really enjoyed getting a glimpse of your world. I have been debating what the appropriate response is for our 7 MO Buddy Bear in regards to sleep and breastfeeding. It is so encouraging to know that doing what works, even if its not what the 'experts' say to do, is OK, because its what works for you and your family. Thanks for helping me feel a little more normal about being a mommy.