Night weaning log – night 1

7:00pm Bedtime was easy and peaceful. It hasn’t been that way in a while. No pinching or climbing on me, no back and forth wanting rocked, fed, rocked, fed… Just a calm nurse to sleep after reading a couple of books. It took 20 minutes total instead of the hour it has been taking lately. A perfect final bedtime routine before a night of changes. I don’t want to move her to the crib. This is the last she’ll be calmly attached to me till morning. I’m nervous about the night ahead, but I’m ready for battle. I think.

9:40pm My wife rocked it. Got her back to sleep in a couple of minutes flat. No tears.

10:30pm Wife rocked it again. Fast, no tears.

12:15am Wife wasn’t waking up, so I gave it a shot. She cried half heartedly for milk for about 5 minutes and then fell asleep on my shoulder. I failed at the first attempt at transferring her to the crib, but got her down within 15 min.

12:35am Just got back to bed and she woke up again… Clearly my transfer wasn’t that smooth. Sent wife in. 45 minutes of intense screaming for mama. I had my fingers in my ears. The cats were crowding my face, worried about her. Finally my wife won the battle and got her to sleep on her shoulder. Transfer to crib took another half hour – Avery didn’t want to let go of the warm body. I feel bad for my wife. I know this is as hard on her physically as it is on me emotionally. Avery weighs 28 pounds now and fights us with every last ounce when she’s upset.

Crying. My shift. I chug some juice for energy and prepare myself. I check the time –

6:00am.

She slept through till morning! I have gotten up to nurse her back to sleep at LEAST twice between midnight and 6am every night for her entire life, but after being refused milk and refused mama through all those tears, she may be getting the hint…


*side note: the behind the scenes of our night weaning process included 2 weeks of cutting out all random, on-demand feeds through the daytime. I said “no milk right now” and offered water, food, or hugs instead of milk. The purpose of this was to get her used to having me call the shots. The only daytime feeds she has had for 2 weeks have been structured at wakeup, naptime, and bedtime. It has been easy to distract her with the alternatives during the day. To be honest, I’ve missed the random snuggles in the middle of play time or after a tantrum when nursing would calm her and make her so cuddly. But I’m hoping the sacrifice helped to make the transition more gradual and palatable. 

There were also some subtle changes to nursing through the night in the two weeks leading up to now. I worked on the Pantly Pull-Off (from the book, No Cry Sleep Solution) and tried to get Avery to finish nursing and fall the rest of the way to sleep rocking, instead of sleeping on the boob. For several nights, I tested whether a cuddle would suffice to replace milk at wakeups (but never said “no milk” because I was saving that for the actual weaning). 

Weaning from nighttime breastfeeding… the excruciating decision

I have loved breastfeeding. Avery has loved it. We have had such a lucky go of it. I always imagined I’d continue on-demand breastfeeding until Avery self-weaned. I was prepared to continue beyond her second birthday. But here I am, with a 15 month old, starting down the path of slowly weaning. For now I intend to keep 3 nursing sessions a day – wake up, nap time, and bedtime. But everything else is coming to an end.

The biggest influence was a combination of trying to protect my wife’s feelings (hear me out) and a hope that weaning would improve sleep.

Protecting my wife’s feelings is a complicated issue. My wife supports breastfeeding. She understands its benefits to the baby – to a point. She understands it as having nutritional benefits, but doesn’t agree with using it for comfort beyond a certain age. That age has turned out to be 1 year. She’s a big proponent of teaching independence.

However, it’s more than just my wife’s opinions at play here. It’s her emotions. It’s the fact that she struggles to feel like an equal parent. And because that is such a sensitive subject in families like ours – where one parent is genetically related and another is not – I feel the need to adjust my natural inclinations for mother-baby bonding and open up our bond to include my wife. I need to take some responsibility for bringing my wife into the loop, and for us, at this point in time, that means reducing MY importance as a parent over and above my wife. The only way I can think to do this is to slowly start the weaning process.

This whole idea came about because of night time routines. My wife wants to help out when Avery wakes a thousand times a night, but Avery would hit her in the face and scream and call for mama (me). She knew that as soon as I entered the room she’d get to nurse back to sleep. I was a human pacifier. I was ok with that. But I was preventing my wife from being able to pacify her.

More than that, I was exhausted and NEEDED my wife’s help at night. For the last 3 weeks I had felt nauseous from exhaustion to the point of not being able to eat dinner. Some days I’d just lay on the floor while Avery climbed on me and I’d feel like such a useless parent. I knew things needed to change. I had hoped they’d change on their own, but I couldn’t wait it out any longer. While it used to seem attainable to get up all night with Avery until she figured out how to sleep on her own at 2, or even 2 1/2 years old, I just couldn’t stomach the thought of being this exhausted for that much longer.

So my wife and I came up with a plan. It’s a gentle sleep training method that works for both of us – hopefully all three of us. Phase one is to eliminate nighttime feeds, cold turkey. I will still nurse her to sleep at bedtime and nurse her during morning cuddles in our bed anytime after 5am. I am NOT ready to completely wean. These feeds are very important to me.

My wife will take wake up’s up till 1am, I will take 1 to 5am. I will wear a crew neck shirt (wish I owned a turtle neck right now…). We will rock her back to sleep. No milk. We will offer her water if she is persistently asking for milk.

Phase two is about teaching her to fall asleep on her own, no rocking. I’m not ready to get into that yet. It’s too overwhelming. But this is our starting point. My hope is that she’ll have less reason to call us in when she wakes when she knows she won’t get milk.

Just as I documented the floor mattress adventure in a daily log, I’ll document the night weaning process here for anyone who wants to follow along (and offer support!).

At the time of publishing this we’ve already completed one night of this new program. I’m delaying posts by a day or two so I have time to process everything.

Breastfeeding, fashion and mom jeans

I used to love clothes. I like to think I appreciated finer fabrics and timeless style rather than being too fast-fashion-consumerist, but I also did a lot of online shopping in my fashion heyday and I was super cheap about it. I’m feeling my old love of nice clothing slowly coming back after a year and a half of maternity dresses, leggings and nursing camis. I think it’s because fall is on the horizon, and, as much as I love a flowing maxi dress, I love a good sweater and boots more. 

So what does this have to do with breastfeeding? The shirts. I have worn the same pile of camis and tank tops all year so I could easily pull my shirt down to breastfeed. Lifting a shirt up didn’t work for me – it would fall over the baby’s face a lot and annoy me. I have shirts that I haven’t worn in a long time and they’re calling my name… But I can’t comfortably wear them while I’m around my baby. The first silk shirt I wore in over a year was worn on my date night last month, for two hours. I love breastfeeding, but fashion freedom is one thing to look forward to when it’s over. 

And mom jeans. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror the other day and realized how “mom” my jeans really were. How did that happen? I’m sure I wore these jeans before getting pregnant and they didn’t look like this. Maybe it’s because now they’re paired with a nursing cami to complete the my-body-belongs-to-a-baby look. 

My goal for the fall season is to make sure my bottom half has style, and to get use out of nice shirts when I can get away with it (maybe when the baby is in daycare through the day). 

Sexy nursing bras Рare they mutually exclusive concepts? 

When I was pregnant, I bought two nursing bras. One grey bravado with moderate support that unclips, and one la leche league sports bra style that was recommended as a nighttime nursing bra (also in drab grey). I loved both of these bras. They functioned perfectly for what they were – a garment to hold in my boobs for easy release when needed to feed a baby. 

I wore these two bras for 10 months straight. My wife (ever patient and polite about it) made a comment one day about how I needed some new bras – something not so drab, to spoil myself a little. So I bought myself a bright blue bravado unclipping style. It’s the same style as my previous bra. Nice and high, wide straps, supportive as hell… But just as the other two, so not sexy. My wife tried to be supportive, but the fact is, she was saddened by how I’d let my sexy side go completely. We’ve had some long, deep conversations about this. 

Here’s my deepest and innermost confession about my breasts after becoming a mom. When I had the baby, I lost my sex drive. I didn’t have a huge one before the baby, but as a new mom, it was totally and utterly gone. Even as my body recovered (which took about 6 months) and I started to feel like myself again, I remained first and foremost a nursing mom. My baby is and always has been a big nurser. I nurse in front of family (my poor dad and father in law don’t quite know where to look), at restaurants while I’m eating my dinner, in the car on the side of the road, in the park on the grass… I need to be able to whip ’em out for a famished baby at a moment’s notice, so it’s really hard to see my breasts as something sexual. When I need to breastfeed in front of family, the last thing I want is to feel like I’m revealing sexualized breasts to everyone.  But after a while… after a year in the same drab nursing bras with cotton pads stuffed in there to absorb milky leaks, sometimes partners will start to mourn the loss of sexualized breasts. I think this is totally fair. So is not wanting your breasts to be sexual things while breastfeeding your offspring. It’s a tough subject. 

But, as it has been almost a year, I’m slowly (painfully slowly) starting to put some effort into my appearance again. I’m starting to remember that I enjoyed looking stylish, and wearing things that made me feel sexy. So after a particularly emotional conversation with my wife, I bought two new bras from motherhood maternity as a surprise for my wife. One is a simple black bra that unclips, but it has thin straps, an underwire, and it’s low enough to not be seen under a low cut shirt. The other is a black lace bralette style. It just pulls down when I need to feed the baby, so there is really nothing “breastfeeder” about it. 

I was very hesitant about buying something like this because I was afraid of feeling yucky nursing my baby in them. I was afraid that thoughts of “these breasts are sexual things” would creep into my head while my baby was nursing. So far that hasn’t been an issue. The only challenge that remains in perfectly compartmentalizing the functional from the sexual breast is that I still leak… I need be to completely emptied and then remove the nursing pads before I can turn on the sexual switch. 

But all in all, the new bras are working their magic. 

A gentle baby sleep experiment

Last night was night 1 of 10 in a sleep “training” challenge for us. Avery sleeps perfectly through the night (11 hours) when she bed shares, but we’re ready to kick her out for the sake of my back and our intimacy as a couple. I’ve tried moving her to the crib a few times and it goes well for a night or two and then it goes downhill rapidly and I cave quickly because I know that bringing her into bed with me is a 100% effective, immediate solution that gets us all sleep. 
I started practicing elements of the No-Cry Sleep Solution when she was 3 months old. I thought I could prevent the 4 month sleep regression if I instilled good habits and deterred sleep “crutches”. That didn’t work. Three months was just too young for my baby – she wasn’t ready, developmentally, for such a push toward independence. 

Since then I’ve embraced nursing to sleep as a positive sleep association – it’s positive because it makes her and I feel good inside, it makes Avery feel comforted and safe, and it actually releases hormones that make her sleepy. My approach to sleep training is now a combination of tips from the No-Cry Sleep Solution and the Gentle Baby Sleep Book. I also don’t want to refer to it as sleep training, because that doesn’t really feel like what we’re doing here. This is my goal over the next 10 days:

Get Avery to sleep in her crib at night only waking up to nurse 3 times.

My rules are:

  • Stick with bedtime routine: Mo takes her up for diaper change, moisturize, PJs and sleep sack, and tooth brushing; Mommy takes over with a lullaby and nursing in our bed until asleep.
  • Continue conditioning her lovie and have it with her in her crib at night. We’ve conditioned it for about 2 months already so it should smell like mommy and milk and comfort and hopefully it should cue sleep.
  • Get her to sleep at night by nursing in our bed. I don’t feel the need to break this pattern yet as it gets her good and relaxed for a later transfer. I’m usually able to spend the evening downstairs with only one wake-up before it’s my bedtime and time to move her, hopefully in her sleep.
  • If she murmers or whimpers, wait it out to see if she’ll fall back to sleep. If it progresses to a cry, respond right away. 
  • Respond to cries by first putting my hand on her chest, shushing her, and kissing her cheek. If the cries escalate at all, pick her up and nurse her in the chair. Put her back in the crib when she unlatches herself. Put no limit on number of night feeds (but work toward a goal of no more than 3).
  • For wake-ups after 5am, I give myself permission to bring her into our bed for a morning cuddle and to hopefully extend sleep a little longer. 

Although the two sleep books I’ve referenced contradict each other in many ways (e.g., positive sleep cues in one are negative sleep crutches in the other), they can also work really well together if you’re flexible and want to follow your instinct with just a little guidance. 

NIGHT ONE

6:30pm we started the bedtime routine, asleep in our bed by 7. Woke up 4 times before 10pm (cuddled her back to sleep in our bed) when I moved her to her crib asleep. Woke every hour until 5am. Putting my hand on her chest only worked once to get her back to sleep. Nursed 6 times. Brought her into our bed at 5am, slept until 6:30 when the cats woke her up.

I’ll wait to document nights 2-10 until the end of this gentle baby sleep experiment. Will it work to achieve our goal? Will I give in again and bed share forever?? Wait to find out.. 

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding has become like a religion to me. I take it very seriously, and prioritize it above all else. Her face lights up with a big smile when she hears my bra unclip. It’s uncanny. She knows she’s about to eat, and will soon feel full and content. While she nurses she does a little humming coo. She has done this since birth, and it’s the most satisfying sound. When she falls asleep eating she comes off and lays her smiling cheek down on top of the breast, like a pillow, always keeping it close. While she eats she holds my hand in hers, or massages my chest instinctively. Sometimes she just stares into my eyes while she is nursing as if I am her whole entire world.

Avery doesn’t want to take the bottle. I have pumped a few times for my wife to be able to feed her, and she either cries through it and only chokes down an oz or so before refusing completely and the rest gets dumped, or the bottle sits in the fridge waiting for my wife to get a chance to feed her and then gets dumped down the sink a week later. We have tried a couple of different bottles and some are better than others, but it’s a matter of the lesser of two evils for Avery. I have a few bags in the freezer, but it is such a hassle for me to pump that I just don’t want to waste my time doing it if it goes to waste.

Avery and I are perfectly matched for supply and demand. She feeds on demand, not on a schedule, and she strongly prefers to nurse side lying. Some people would find it too impractical to have to lie down everytime they needed to feed their baby, but it works for us. It forces me to relax for a minute, which seems like a win-win situation. I am very fortunate that my life situation allows for this breastfeeding relationship – and I want to take advantage of it.

I have given in to the fact that this is what my baby needs from me right now – including the 2 hours of cluster/comfort nursing she does every evening. I no longer feel obligated to return to my evening board meetings. My obligation is to my baby, and myself, right now. I suggested that my board try to do weekend daytime meetings in the new year, as this would get me back the soonest. Avery CAN eat in cradle hold while we are out in public, but in the evenings she is still very much a cluster/comfort nurser and me lying in bed with her is what she wants.

I remember when I was pregnant, asking the midwives how soon after birth I could start pumping and bottle feeding so my wife could have an equal role in feeding her. Recently, my wife has expressed that she wishes she could do more of the feeding. But I am surprisingly very protective over our breastfeeding now. This is so natural and so easy for Avery and I that I have given up all of my previous passion for equal feeding roles between partners. ¬†Selfish, perhaps. But it’s our thing.