For two years, I had breastfed my son to sleep, for naps as well as bedtime. Curled up next to him, I would often fall asleep right alongside him, which was okay because we shared our bed You see, we’ve lived with family since he was 3 months young and, having been reduced to one little bedroom, we didn’t have room for two beds. If I’m completely honest with myself, though, I would have had him sleep with me no matter what.
I’d always known I wanted to breastfeed and co-sleep with my son. When he was first born, I had grandeur ideas about doing both until he was four months. What a hellish four months it had become, though! I just couldn’t seem to get this breastfeeding thing right; the latch was all wrong, my positions and posture were off. Consequently, I dreaded bedtime because I would have to not only wake up numerous times throughout the night but I would have to endure the feedings, which, rather than lulling me back to sleep with him, would keep me up for hours, usually until he awoke for his next feeding.
But, I endured and, as a result, I suffered terribly for four months; until I sought the help of my mid-wife. I’ll never forget what she said to me when I went to see her, “Oh sweetie! Why did you wait so long to get help?” I don’t know! I thought what I was experiencing was just normal. Apparently, and I’m quoting my mid-wife here, my son was a “barracuda feeder”. Whatever that was, I was sure that’s what he was because my nipples were so traumatized and tore up, there could be no other explanation!
Anyhow, that’s not the point of this story…
After getting help from my mid-wife and a lactation consultant, breastfeeding became the precious, bonding experience I had always dreamt it would be. So, with my sights on co-sleeping and breastfeeding until he was one, I left my original four-month mark behind. And, when a year came and went, I decided to keep going until he was eighteen months. Then eighteen months turned to two years. Yes, this probably could have kept going until the societal stigmas and pressures of breastfeeding became too much for me to bear but my son had other plans.
About four months prior to his second birthday, my sweet-tempered, loving child became a gremlin. At night, when I would lie down to gently nurse him to sleep, he took to pulling violently off my nipple and rolling over, giving me the cold shoulder. While I dutifully rubbed his back, hoping to soothe him to sleep, he would grumble and complain, thrashing around a little. The back rubs worked for a while, but sometimes I would lie there rubbing his back for upwards of two hours! Frustrating, to say the least!
Eventually, the calming affect of my back rubs wore off and he took to nursing for comfort again. Only, it wasn’t comforting for either of us. Breastfeeding had become a power struggle. He would want it and then pull away, then want it again. On and on this went until his aggression peaked. He was no longer just giving me the cold shoulder; now, my sweet, loving son became a hitter and a hair-puller and even a biter. I would lie in bed with him enduring the punishment, trying to calm him down, and reminding him that it’s not okay to hurt Mommy, until one of two things happened: I furiously stormed out of the room in utter desperation or he would fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion.
Why I continued with this routine for over two months, I honestly can’t say. I suppose I thought the more he fought, the more he needed me. If I walked and he cried, I felt that I was neglecting my duties as his Mommy.
I don’t agree with the “cry-it-out” method of teaching a young child to go to sleep on his or her own; so, if my son’s cries continued beyond a minute or two, I felt a deep obligation to do whatever needed to be done to soothe him.
But, I’m also realistic and I knew things could not continue this way.
So, one night, just within the last couple of weeks, I decided to sit down and explain to my son how he was becoming a big boy and, while Mommy would always be here for him, I believed he was ready to start falling asleep on his own. I truly believed that my son’s outbursts and fits of anger were his way of telling me that I needed to give him his space.
The first night we tried this, I read him a book and then gave him a goodnight kiss. I told him, “Mommy loves you and I’m so proud of you for being such a big boy. You lie here on your pillow and read, while Mommy sits on the floor reading her book.” After 10 minutes of us reading in our respective spots, he asked for me, so I went to the bed and sat next to it. I wouldn’t get in the bed, though. I sat on the floor next to the bed, leaned on the edge and rubbed his back for a couple of minutes and then repeated what I had said to him earlier.
This routine went on for about an hour and while the time it took to get him to fall asleep was reminiscent of our earlier attempts that was where the similarities ended. This time there was no hitting or hair-pulling or biting; it didn’t end in my juvenile tantrums of running from the room. My sweet little boy lied in his bed (Yes! Our bed had become his bed) peacefully and calmly until sleep came to him.
And every night since has been much the same! No breastfeeding, no back rubbing, no tantrums or crying, just the constant reassurance that Mommy will be there if he needs me.
The reality is my son weaned me from our Family Bed. He let me know it was time to turn the page on breastfeeding and co-sleeping. Yes, I am terribly sad at this coming-of-age milestone but at the same time my heart bursts with pride.
How has your child weaned you from breastfeeding or co-sleeping?