I can’t quite remember the first time it happened, but I remember my confusion about breastfeeding my baby to sleep.
At the start, I didn’t think about breastfeeding Precious Sparkle to sleep, sleeping was just part of the feeding process. In the early months when I had the thick dark cloud of inadequate weight gain hanging heavily over me, I found this to be an unfortunate part of feeding. O yes, that horrible fear of a negative verdict from the health visitor at the next weight check. No new mum wants to hear that their child is losing weight when he should be gaining.
I remember many attempts to keep my little man feeding and not sleeping; my word … so many advise about how to do it – solicited and not. ‘Tickle his feet’ … ‘hold him near an open window whilst moving him from side to side’ … ‘blow air on his face with your mouth’ … ‘I just talk with mine, and that keeps him awake’ … ‘switch him from breast to breast often’, ‘undo his clothes’, ‘change his nappy’, and so many others I can’t remember.
Oh, those were difficult times. The feet tickling rarely ever worked, talking and undoing his clothes didn’t seem to make any difference, and the breast switching was too much of a burden when latching was an unmastered art. Thank God, babies outgrow these tips in no time, though it seems like forever when you’re going through it.
It took me a while to actually connect breastfeeding as a way to get him to sleep, though I observed over and over again that he usually slept whilst feeding. I remember pacing with him up and down to get him to sleep at night, and making up different kinds of movements along the way. We eventually got into some kind of routine; and I particularly started feeding him to both eat and sleep.
And then the question about how he slept began, and the advice started pouring in. I remember the horror on some faces when they learnt that I allowed him to sleep whilst breastfeeding. They obviously thought it was not the thing to do. I was assured that I was creating a future rod for my own back.
‘You must take him off the breast before he falls asleep, and put him in his cot sleepy, but whilst still awake’. ‘He has to learn how to sleep by himself, otherwise he will not sleep by himself for a very long time to come’. ‘You really should start training him to sleep without the breast’. ‘He is going to be so dependent on you for his sleep and that’s a bad idea’.
Then after some months, there were points like, ‘he needs to learn not to wake up in the middle of the night for feeds’ … ‘no wonder you’re so tired, you’re still feeding him through the night’ … ‘teaching him to sleep doesn’t involve a lot of crying’ … etc.
On and on and on and on, comments were made verbally and via facial expressions; some were gently spoken and others implied. I know folks were looking out for me and I really appreciated it. However, I didn’t know how to do what they said I should do. I just couldn’t master training my little one to sleep without the breast.
I tried many times but his crying was unbearable. I was told it was because he was used to feeding to sleep, and that eventually he would learn to sleep without my breast help.
I found myself talking a lot about my need to be persistent with training my little one to sleep without the breast. I also took care to explain why I struggled to keep up with it, and I recounted our few sleeps without the breast over and over again.
You see, there were days when he had catarrh and sniffled a lot; I just really couldn’t bear him crying when I knew I could feed him to sleep without tears. I especially felt that crying made his sniffles worse, and I didn’t want that for him. I modified the different sleep methods I came across to accommodate what I was comfortable with.
Eventually, I started questioning myself about what was so bad with feeding to sleep when I knew it worked for my baby and I. I met mums at my breastfeeding group whose norm was breastfeeding to sleep.
It seemed I’d forgotten that I wasn’t my friends or family, and I wasn’t the mums I’d read about. Those who didn’t breastfeed to sleep or thought less of it were entitled to their view, but I’m also entitled to decide the sleep path for my son and I. It dawned on me that I could admire the ‘sleep-without-breastfeeding’ impact of my friends’ ‘no-breastfeeding-to-sleep’ methods, without feeling the need to emulate them.
In the end, I concluded that whilst breastfeeding my baby to sleep meant his reliance on me for sleep, it was okay. I’m okay with breastfeeding my baby to sleep and how others react to it is not my problem. I have nothing to be ashamed of; I’m alright with breastfeeding my baby to sleep. I’m alright with telling those who ask that I breastfeed my baby, and now my toddler, to sleep; and I plan to continue doing so until my child self weans.
Yes, I’m really okay with him using me as a dummy and sleep aid. I’ve learnt that one of the ways to keep up with motherhood is to OWN my responsibility for my child’s well being.
I can’t abdicate this role and let the way others mother, dictate how I should be with my child. He is my child, right?
So, I have decided to breastfeed my child to sleep for however long he needs me to. It doesn’t mean that I always want to, or even that I always like it; I definitely don’t always feel like it. But I’m happy with my decision and I hope you’re happy with whatever way you choose to get your child to sleep too.
It’s worth noting that Precious Sparkle sleeps without breastfeeding when I’m not at home, he and his dad have found what works for them. I’ve also noticed in recent months that he’s happy to doze off next to me, after he’s fed enough. Their needs change as they grow, and it’s such a privilege to walk with them in this, as we know best. 🙂
Did you find it hard to decide how to get your child to sleep?
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