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TO BREASTFEED OR TO SLEEP? THAT’S NOT THE QUESTION.

As the world joyfully celebrates the Breastfeeding Week, in the quiet of my house in Donabate I’m thinking about my own breastfeeding journey. It was obvious to me I would breastfeed my baby. I had a sharp moment of realisation that it may not always happen despite huge efforts when a dear relative went to hell and back trying so hard to breastfeed and then pumping exclusively for a few months (honestly, what a hero!). Yet in general I remained oblivious to the scale of the possible problems, numbers and statistics. I was going to breastfeed, full stop. Even if it meant much less sleep for me, I thought I’d somehow be OK.

I was indeed the lucky one. It just happened. Despite the c-section, despite 3 hours of separation after birth, despite the bottle they gave Ally in the meantime. My daughter was cooperating, I had some inner confidence and we were in business! Was it all easy peasy lemon squeezy? Of course not! Well, actually it definitely was squeezy at times. There were weeks when on the thought of those tiny toothless gums approaching me I could hear the theme song from “Jaws” in my head! Plus of course, I quickly became a complete mess because of sleep deprivation, especially since I decided there was no point involving my hubby during the nights, as he could not feed Ally anyway. Rookie mistake!

Today I’m thinking of all those Mums who give up breastfeeding because they are understandably so exhausted. Don’t get me wrong: if your original plan was to breastfeed for 1, or 6, or 9 months, you’ve then reached your goal and you’re happy to take the next step with the bottle – high five, well done, champers for everyone! Maybe even G&T! But today I specifically think of those breastfeeding Mums who planned to continue with their milky way for longer, but are at the end of their rope with sleep deprivation and ready to give up now, immediately, tonight, just so they can be off duty and sleep longer than 2 hours straight.

If this sounds like your story, please know that it does not have to unfold this way. Yes, there is little to no shut eye for Mums at first. The sleep of the newborns is messy; their circadian rhythm is yet to develop as they slowly adapt to the world while breastfeeding on demand all day and all night long. This period is called “the 4th trimester” for a reason, hang in there Mama! I vaguely remember reading somewhere that human babies are so immature and dependant on parents after birth, comparing to other mammals, since our ancestors started walking on two legs. It was simply impossible for the pregnancy to last longer with this new body posture. I admit I had some very low moments during my sleepless nights when I cursed those crazy monkeys and all that evolution!

But see, the key moment comes around 4 months of age (adjusted, that is calculated from due date), when the sleep patterns mature. And the key question is whether your now older baby associates sleeping directly with feeding (or with anything that YOU need to do to send him or her sleep). The answer is: as long as after 4 months of adjusted age your baby does not depend on feeding to fall asleep and has mastered the skill of self-soothing instead, the road to better sleep is open. If healthy sleep habits are in place, you can expect your baby’s sleep to start truly consolidating then, slowly but surely. And this is when you can start getting your sleep back too.

My own original goal was to breastfeed for 6 months. At 4 months of age my daughter was waking up every 30-60 minutes at night. I wasn’t in my top form as you can imagine, if they paid me €1000 for spelling my surname I’d probably have lost the money. At 4.5 months a lovely Polish sleep coach helped us start setting things straight; it took a few weeks as we were using the gentle Pick Up-Put Down method. At 5.5 months my daughter ultimately chose sleep over milk at night. I suddenly had a sleeping-through-the-night baby, whose cheeks were getting chubbier from eating more during the day. To say that I was positively shocked is an understatement.

My daughter will be 2 years old in September and we’re still having one snuggly breastfeeding session in the evenings. What can I say, time flies when you have fun! With no nursing at nights and days with predictable rhythm of naps and mealtimes, it all felt so much easier. Breastfeeding indeed turned into those magical moments of staring into each other’s eyes that you read about in sugar coated parenting articles. OK, I won’t lie, there was a phase of Ally smacking my face or mouth farting while sucking (skills!). But overall it’s been so unbelievably great and honestly it will be probably emotionally harder for me to soon end this journey than it will be for Ally.

Long story short, soon enough there comes a time when you can breastfeed and sleep like a boss. Don’t give up on breastfeeding. Solve sleep problems with sleep solutions, not feeding solutions. It works, true story!

 

This article is not intended, nor is implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a health care provider with questions regarding medical conditions, or the health and welfare of your baby, toddler or child.