Sunday, 11 December 2011

Breastfeeding & Sleep Training: The Advice I Was Given and Why I’m Glad I Didn’t Listen

Before my baby was a few weeks old I had already been told what so many of us have heard time and again in our early days of motherhood,; when we are emotionally fragile, overwhelmed, hormonal and exhausted;

“You shouldn’t hold him too much or you’ll spoil him”


I had just waited my entire life to become a mother. I had dreamed about what it would be like and spent nine (actually more like ten) months waiting anxiously to hold my precious child and now I was being advised that holding him too much was not only a bad idea, but perhaps even detrimental? Wow.

This was my introduction to the parenting culture that has evolved in North America over the past century; detachment parenting.

I always thought I would be a “good mother” and never let my children sleep in my bed. I wouldn’t spoil them by holding them too much. I certainly wouldn’t breastfeed past a year. That would be weird.

GASP! That is honestly what I used to think. I don’t know where these ideas came from and I can’t believe they were beliefs I used to harbour, but it’s true. Not only do I no longer feel this way, but I feel the exact opposite!

When I became pregnant I felt confident and capable of growing and birthing my baby, but after my son was born, the voices of the outside world slowly began to drown out the voices in my own head and heart.

“Don’t let your baby use you as a soother”
“Don’t let your baby in your bed – you’ll never get them out”
“Don’t nurse on demand – you need to be on a schedule”
“You need to let your baby learn to self-soothe”
“It’s time to let your baby cry-it-out”
“Aren’t you going to wean soon?”


The list goes on and on. There were plenty of well-meaning comments in the first year; but these always left me feeling like I really didn’t know what I was doing, or that I wasn’t doing it “right”.

But as time went on I started to find my footing beneath me and didn’t take those comments to heart anymore. Thank goodness I found the confidence to parent my son in a way that feels right, rather than how everyone else thinks I should.  Had I listened to all of the advice that was given to me, I would have missed out on many of the most heart-warming, tender moments of my life so far…


Breastfeeding my son has been one of the most challenging journeys of my life. We struggled from day one (something I attribute to being separated after birth for nearly an hour, for no good reason). It was months of toe-curling pain, nipple shields, thrush, and perseverance. He latched and nursed properly at the bare breast (without the nipple shield!) for the first time when he was four and a half months old. Thank goodness we never gave up. It has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life.

Watching my son grow and thrive because of the nourishment I provided him has been incredible. This has done amazing things for my confidence and also deepened our mother-child bond and continues to do so every day. There is this notion in our culture that breastfeeding is only for nutrition. I know now that it is so much more than that. The comfort, warmth and love my son receives while at the breast nourishes his soul. Just being at the breast, whether he’s physically nursing or not gives him such a sense of peace and security. And, yes, that means I am being “used for a soother”; and that’s exactly what nature intended! When he is teething or not feeling well, it gives him the comfort and nutrition he needs when nothing else works. It is my greatest mothering tool, hands down.

Nursing a toddler is different in many ways, compared to a newborn; he doesn't nurse as often and it is much more sporadic and he is often standing on his head while doing it. But the idea is the same. At almost 20 months, it is still nourishing his body and soul and neither of us are ready to end our breastfeeding relationship.


Co-sleeping with my son has also been quite the journey. We started out with him beside the bed in his bassinette, and when he outgrew it, he went to his crib across the hall (around six months). I felt weird and lonely for him and he obviously felt the same without me.

I spent months pacing the halls, rocking him and bouncing him, until, at ten months, I reached a breaking point. I was utterly exhausted. It was affecting everything and I couldn’t function. Everyone kept saying “you have to let him cry” “it will be hard, but just get your husband to hold you back from going into his room” “It will make things so much easier”.

My head was spinning and I didn’t know what else to do, so one night we decided to let him cry. I had read all the books and heard so many success stories, so we did it, even though every cell in my body knew it didn’t feel right.

This was a good lesson for me. I had always trusted my instincts up to this point, but thought that 'sleep training' was some kind of exception. I thought I needed to ignore those instincts and it would 'work' and soon we’d all be sleeping. Any mother who has done this knows, that that instinct is pretty freaking hard to ignore. Now, I realize, there are no exceptions to when instinct applies; they are there for a reason. They are a primal way of alarming me when something isn’t right.

So after a few nights of  'sleep training’, instinct took over, and I marched into my baby’s  room, scooped him into my arms, and held  him close (exactly where he belongs) and nursed him and told him how sorry I was. I didn’t know what we were going to do next, but I certainly knew that I wouldn’t let him cry again; alone in his room, frantic; thinking that he’d been abandoned.

Now we play musical beds in our home. I often spend half the night with him and half the night with my husband. Sometimes all three of us are together. It’s different every night. It’s not perfect and I’m not gonna lie, I’m tired. But, more importantly, it feels right. And I know this won’t last forever. In the grand scheme of both our lives, this period of time is like a blink of an eye. I also know that some day down the road, I will always want this back. I'm going to savor it.

"When the baby keeps you awake all night, remember you will have a lifetime to catch up on your sleep. But you'll never have this night with your little one again"~Cheryl Karpen (Eat Your Peas for New Moms)

Sharing sleep, I’ve learned, creates a much deeper bond than I knew existed. I can’t exactly explain it, but I know I can totally feel it. It is warm, cozy and loving. And waking up beside my son and/or husband is the best. The early morning snuggles (or wrestling matches) always warms my heart and every time I think to myself “if I had listened to the advice I’d received I would have missed this!” There is something sacred about the moments in which we first open our eyes at the start of a brand new day. To share this with my family is the best.

Now, I don’t have all the answers, and like every parent, I’m learning as I go. But these are the things I know for sure:

I can find research, books, articles or ‘experts’ to support any parenting decision on either side of any topic or debate going. But in the end, it’s not about what the books, experts, my friends or family think, believe or advise; it’s what feels right to me. My instinct and intuition are so much more important and wise than I can even know; and I can't think of one time in my life that I listened to my instinct and went on to regret it.  

As a brand new mom, it was so hard to ignore the outside voices. But now, I am grateful that I have learned to listen to my heart and make decisions that feel right in the very core of my being. I know I’ll make mistakes, but in the end, just like my own mom knew best, I know best for my own son; not anyone else, even the ‘experts’! The heart is a peaceful place of wisdom and clarity; and I want to parent from that very place.

With gratitude,


P.S. ~This is my own experience, and not a judgment on others’ parenting choices. I want to share my own story to help inspire others to follow their hearts and listen to their instincts to know what is best for their children.

Photo Credit: Jen McDougall, McBaby Photos, Prince Albert, SK


I have been having a tug of war with myself on letting my daughter of 7 months CIO. I am not able to do it, and I do not want to. I have had advice on how to go about it, but I am just not ready. She sleeps in her crib, wake sup like 2 -3 times through the night when I she wants me to come to the crib and pat her back to sleep. Its not a lot, and like you say... soon she wont need me, and I might feel sad about it. But, I want to listen to my instinct too.
i personally have yet to have any troubles (as some ppl call them) with my now almost 5 month old, latched perfectly soon after birth. it felt so natural. we had him in a bassinet by our bed for his first 6-7 weeks of life, then moved him into his crib. with no problems. by then he was sleeping almost 6 hrs. and now he sleeps on average 11hrs a night and is still bf. i love my little guy and its the best feeling in the world knowing he is comfortable and feels safe.
I nurse my 10 month old on demand & will for a long whole to come. I also bed share with him in our king sized bed. He's allowed to nurse as needed through the night, although its not often now. He will cuddle with me some but usually prefers to stretch out in his spot, just happy to touch me with his toe :) He does spend the first his of his bedtime in his crib in our room, but always comes to our bed where it feels right for everyone & we all sleep better. I don't believe it's spoiling to let your child feel very loved.
We have three children, and they have all been different! Our oldest nursed as needed until he was 4 (when other mamas talked about how many times a day their babies nursed, I couldn't fathom how one could count!), coslept with us for several years, and always needed to be held and talked to. My second child, also a boy, was opposite! It took me about two weeks to figure out he only wanted to nurse on a schedule - every 3.5 hrs, sleep in his own bed, swing in the babyswing (instead of being carried) and weaned 4 days before his 2nd birthday. Our daughter has been a blend of the boys but 100% girl! She loves her own bed but wants us to snuggle with her in it. She weaned at 25 months, and has always liked being held right before she falls asleep.
All this to say, that with each of them I've had to figure out what works best and go with that - children are not a "one-size-fits-all" package deal!

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