I let M cry herself to sleep this month. It was both hard and easy, if that’s even possible. Co-sleeping hadn’t been working for weeks. I’d noticed she slept more peacefully during the day, alone, than she did next to me at night. A couple times during her naps it had taken me longer to get to her than it did to put herself back to sleep. I’d seen she could do it. I was also starting to lose my mind with the number of wakings each night. I know it’s a season, but something needed to change.
So, the first night I ate ice cream on the kitchen counter as I watched the clock. Maybe that sounds cold, but I was self-soothing, too. 25 minute crying spells punctuated by periods of sleep. By midnight I reassessed my goals. We wouldn’t do the whole night, just bedtime. My nerves were frayed and I missed my baby. The next night 9 minutes, the following just 30 seconds. Now bedtime is, dare I say it, easy.
Still, I nurse her twice a night and sometimes fall back asleep with her in my bed until she starts to climb my head again and remind me why co-sleeping wasn’t working. If I had it my way, we’d sweetly snuggle in deep slumber all night long. Ha. Instead we dance between her travel crib and my bed, listening to the intensity of her needs. And, this is a huge improvement, as we both now sleep for actual stretches of time, and many wakings she puts herself back to sleep.
Maybe we’ll focus on removing one of those remaining feedings next, but for now we’ll catch our breaths and just be happy for the easy bedtimes and respective moments of independence. A friend reminded me it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. After all, they call it baby steps for a reason.
Month nine has reminded me how every child and parent relationship is different. I especially realize this now, as we navigate our own middle ground, carving our path that doesn’t match any particular sleep training plan beyond our own.
I’m also reminded how childhood is a state of perpetual change, of togetherness and letting go. Her sister declared her own independence this month, without any forethought, and now sleeps soundly in her room. My heart aches a little to let them both go in these small ways, but I’m confident it’s time.
Parenting is filled with a lot of pesky questions. If you assume positive intent, most inquiries are well-meaning attempts at conversation. Still, when you start to get the same question over and over, it can begin to feel like societal pressure.
Like the ludicrous question everyone starts asking before your first baby is even crawling, “When are you going to have a second kid?”
Or, my current favorite, “When are you going to stop breastfeeding?”
This question seems to skyrocket around the one-year mark. And, I get it. Before I had E, my goal was to nurse for a year. However, with 12 months already gone, I am not ready to stop and neither is she. Accordingly, I started doing a little research to support my desire to continue and as it turns out, there are plenty of good reasons to keep nursing:
Breast milk passes immunities from mother to child, in many cases shortening the duration of illnesses. Likewise, breast milk is easier for sick kids to keep down than solids or cow’s milk.
Breastfeeding supports a special bond between mother and child, creating quiet time for both and helping to ease emotional challenges, such as tantrums. For me, the need to be still for 10-15 minutes a few times a day is like being forced to meditate. Sometimes I fight it, but the end result is centering in a world that rarely stops moving.
Premature weaning can be confusing and even traumatic for emotional toddlers who have depended on nursing for comfort, leading to more challenging behaviors as they struggle to establish other soothing methods, (although this obviously varies greatly by child).
Extended breastfeeding has been shown to decrease multiple long-term health risks for mom, including breast cancer.
I know there are additional arguments, but this list was reassuring enough for me. What I really don’t understand, is why nursing beyond one year is referred to as “extended” breastfeeding when the worldwide average is somewhere between two and four years with some cultures continuing even longer. The fact that this conversation continues to happen in the media and comment streams are filled with “disgusted” bystanders just goes to show how uncomfortable we still are as a society with such a basic, natural act.
On the same token, however, I also get why breastfeeding past one (or even to one) is not for all moms. When I started to ask around in my mom groups, I found moms breastfeeding well into toddlerhood who still pump regularly at work. While I am impressed by their dedication, I am not sure I would be as eager to continue if regular pumping were part of my equation. Likewise, I have talked to moms whose babies self-weaned earlier than one year or who faced physical challenges in sustaining the relationship.
Thankfully, many moms also shared positive stories of nursing well into the second and sometimes even the third year. By talking about it, I hope to be one more voice in normalizing breastfeeding past 12 months. I used to think “extended” breastfeeding would be uncomfortable, (in a non-judgmental-but-weird-for-me kind of way). Now that I have my own little person, it does not feel strange at all, excluding perhaps the vibe I sometimes get from others around me.
So, next time I am asked, I will smile and answer, “We’ll stop nursing when it stops working for one or both of us.”
For now, it works and I feel lucky.
Side note: While doing my homework, I enjoyed this interview on extended breastfeeding with Dr. Mayim Bialik, (oh to be so poised in the face of hostility!).
Maybe every month seems crazy and I just forget, but month nine seemed extra challenging. Two very sharp top teeth appeared. Two high fevers. One cold. Fourteen nights of very little sleep. Yes, I counted.
Silver lining, month nine ended with a new house. In fact, I type right now as E sleeps in her new Montessori bed, my out-of-the-box approach at getting her to sleep on her own. She refuses to be set down in a crib. Who can blame her, I don’t like to sleep by myself, either.
But, I can’t spend all my time asleep with her, so I did my homework and came across the Montessori bed. It works like this, a mattress on the floor with baby-safe bedding in a baby-safe (as much as that is possible) room. According to Montessori teachings, it gives babies the space to develop on their own terms. Honestly, though, that isn’t what sold me. If anything, I was a little skeptical a baby would sleep with so much freedom.
However, it was worth a shot because it was the only method for her to have her own space and for me to still be able to lie down next to her when needed. I nurse or sing to her with a little back rub, and she (usually) goes to sleep. So far, it works for a couple hours at a time and I no longer have to fear her tumbling out of our bed if she awakens without me.
As she gets bigger and I get antsier for time to myself, I completely get why parents choose to let babies cry it out. Still, I am hopeful for a gentler approach. Next stop, should there be one, is back to the crib and (a little) crying. My fingers are crossed we are headed in a good direction with this set-up. I also have to remind myself to treasure these moments of closeness as they last.
Patience, patience, patience.
Month nine has been a hard month, but a good month too. Our little adventure back home with the big family included many joyous moments. There are definitely things to be missed about communal living, just as there are things to be celebrated about our own space. Life is always filled with trade-offs. I am grateful for both experiences.
As we begin month ten, I am hopeful we will find a good rhythm on our own, E will sleep more independently, and I will make a serious dent in the book I am writing. Oddly, I feel like I will be able to write more living on our own because her naps are less interrupted and I have more space to bring in daytime caregivers. Then again, maybe being the mom of a baby makes it hard to write in any setting, but I am hopeful.
I’m a sucker for early gratification, (you know, the opposite of delayed gratification, really not as unseemly as it sounds…). I have been known to give birthday presents early and often insist people open their presents on Christmas Eve. Basically, I have a hard time waiting when I know someone I love is going to love something I can give them.
Starting Eloise on solid foods has been no exception. While our laid-back pediatrician gave us the green light to start solids between four and six months, I wanted to be cautious, especially since the general recommendation for beginning solids is now six months and Eloise had colic (which can be an indicator of stomach sensitivity). I also wanted to be careful not to let food crowd out the nutrients and immune protection of breast milk prematurely.
Still, she was showing the signs of being ready earlier than six months– particularly a strong interest in what we were doing during mealtime. While this is not the most crucial sign, I started researching and came across baby-led weaning (or baby-led feeding in the states). Instead of spoon-feeding “solids,” babies are given food to feed themselves that is of appropriate size and consistency to prevent choking. The idea is that babies will only eat as much as they actually need/want and solids will remain more of an exploration than a replacement of breast milk in the beginning phases.
This seemed like the perfect solution– if Eloise was not ready for solids, she would hypothetically be unable to get (and keep) the food in her mouth on her own. A little more research showed that beginning this exploration at five and a half months was not dangerous. So, we set her up with smushed avocado and let the fun begin. We hovered to make sure she did not put more in her mouth than she could handle, and sure enough, she had a blast while only consuming a small amount. Now we have a way to keep her occupied during meal times that is teaching her fine motor skills while also giving us a little quiet (and entertainment!) while we eat.
Even though I’m not sold that baby-led feeding has to be an all or nothing endeavor, I am excited to introduce more foods as she continues to grow in her readiness for solids. And, the pictures below pretty much say it all. I guess I should also add it’s a little on the messy side…
I always envisioned parenthood involving plenty of travel adventures. However, now that I have a little one (LO) of my own, I realize just getting out the door can feel pretty intimidating. This summer we have taken three road trips with Eloise. It hasn’t always been easy but we have learned a lot in the process. Here are some of the tricks we have found most useful:
1. Unless you have one of those magical babies who will sleep anywhere, you have to build in nap time(s) for your LO. This changes the dynamic of travel. In my opinion, accommodations are key. You want to stay somewhere comfortable enough that you still enjoy being away from home while your LO sleeps. A view is a major plus.
On the flipside, you have to be strategic about actually getting out and seeing/doing things during your LO’s wakeful hours, otherwise the trip may feel like a waste. This may mean sacrificing a nap or two. Finding the right balance is key as too little sleep can make for terrible evenings but too much may mean you don’t get to enjoy your destination.
2. Bring a sound machine! White noise will help baby (and you) tune out unfamiliar noises and sleep better. A rested baby (and family) makes travel more enjoyable.
3. Pack more clothes for your baby than you think you will need. Blowouts don’t just happen at home. Two plastic bags, (one for soiled clothes, the other for trash), help too!
4. Be prepared for shifts in feeding (and sleeping!) patterns. If you are a breastfeeding mom, this may mean bringing a manual pump. Eloise is a distracted nurser and it takes time for her to focus. This means she sometimes skips feedings on the road, causing me a lot of physical discomfort. On the same token, a major traffic accident left us at a standstill for a couple hours on the way home from Mendocino. Expressed milk would have been wonderful when she started screaming. Instead I did the famous lean-over-the-carseat trick. Not fun, (except maybe for the bored passengers in nearby cars).
5. Carseat safety seems obvious but it is easy to make mistakes when harnessing LOs. In Eloise’s case, I had the straps too high above her shoulders, (straps should be positioned at or below shoulders). Little things like this make a huge difference. Check out this FB group for advice regarding seat safety. You can even post pictures of your LO and techs will tell you whether you’re using your seat correctly.
6. Long rides inevitably involve a meltdown or two, (unless of course you have one of those aforementioned magical babies). I discovered a good bag of tricks goes a long way. Light-up toys that make noise distract Eloise during a tantrum. Likewise, a selection of pacifiers helps to put her to sleep. We hit up the local grocery store before our first road trip this summer and bought a variety. I now won’t drive without a pacifier handy and prefer to keep a few different kinds as she alternates preferences. And, if all else fails, you can annoy other passengers by singing Christmas songs, or my absolute last resort, play cell phone videos. Eloise has a thing for watching her cute self. I’m sure she’s not the only vain baby out there.
7. Don’t bring your whole house. You won’t need it. The second trip we took this summer I brought way more baby gadgets than we needed. Clothes, diapers, medical supplies, carriers, and a small selection of toys is enough. Bigger items like activity gyms and rock ‘n plays did not prove necessary. To save space, babywearing can be a good alternative to a stroller.
8. Get gas and stock up on grown-up food before you depart, that way if baby is asleep you don’t have to risk waking the LO for a pitstop. The farther you can make it down the road before stopping, the better. It sucks to be cruising along peacefully and need something you could have prepared for ahead of time. Babies know (and don’t like!) when the car stops.
There you have it. I worked hard to learn these seemingly simple tricks. Traveling with baby has proven to be more work than expected, but definitely worth the memories. I would love to hear your tricks as we are bound to end up in the car again sometime soon (and I still have anxiety about being stuck on the road with a screaming babe). Also, for those of you who have flown with babies, please share what has worked, I need some major encouragement to take that leap!
Before Eloise arrived, breastfeeding in public was one of those causes I did not fully understand. Yeah, babies need to eat and Americans are often too uptight, but I didn’t get why women would want to nurse in public areas. I just figured it was simple enough to find a discreet location to share an intimate moment between mother and child. While I did not really care if mothers nursed openly, I just figured privacy was more desirable for the mom.
Then Eloise came along and suddenly I was the only person in the world physically responsible for her nourishment 24/7. As is common in the days after birth, her weight dropped as we waited for her jaundice to improve and my milk to come in. At just four days old, she was down nearly a pound to five pounds, four ounces and we were back at the doctor’s office to determine whether we needed to return to the hospital.
In desperation, I nursed every second I could, including in the lobby of the pediatrician’s office. This baby was going to gain weight, darn it. I began in the area designated for lactating moms, which was really just a pathetic set of chairs set by a very pubic stairwell. However, once our name was called and Eloise was still eating beneath the protection of a nursing cover, I made the decision not to stop her as we walked to meet the nurse.
With each step, I kept thinking how every single ounce she consumed counted. I figured in a room full of other moms my desperation to give my baby what she needed to stay out of the hospital would be understood. I was wrong. Not only did people stare, but one mom loudly moved her tween son to the other waiting room and another commented to her teenaged daughter about what a young mom I was, (hello, I’m 30 lady!).
Suddenly it all made sense. Not only did I understand the fierce biological need to provide your child with nourishment in any setting, I also got why so many moms feel like it is worth standing up for their right to nurse in public. I just didn’t realize that modestly nursing beneath a cover would feel so taboo. I thought it was just the moms who pop their boobs out who made others feel uncomfortable. Turns out people don’t even want to know you’re nursing beneath a cover. Either way, people need to get over it.
Which makes me wonder, why have breasts become so threatening? Is it because we have over-sexualized them? Or because we don’t want older children to know how they were fed at the beginning of life? What happened to all those people with “I heart boobies” breast cancer bracelets?
A month after Eloise was born, I visited a local art museum with my mother and grandmother and realized how limited the options are for breastfeeding mothers. I could either sit in a disgusting bathroom stall, return to my broiling car, or pick a bench somewhere in the museum. I opted for the latter and searched out the most remote seating in a darkened room but still found myself uncomfortably surrounded by a tour group.
That’s just it though, even with attempts at secrecy, I feel uncomfortable nursing in public because now I expect people to respond the same way those mothers did at the doctor’s office. And, it turns out people do often respond the same way, as states like Texas still struggle to pass laws to protect nursing mothers in public.While I’m not going to stop nursing when I’m out and about, it would be nice to live in a society where lactating mothers are treated as commonplace instead of a distasteful spectacle.