I wish just one person had told me this when I was pregnant! I spent our early weeks with Sweet Pea lulling her to sleep with long walks, bouncing, and singing to her. I diligently tried to lay her down “drowsy but awake” only to have her pop awake and need to go through the whole process all over again. Exhausting. I began to dread nap time!
Read almost anything about baby sleep (and nearly every new parent is busy looking for answers on sleep!) and the one nearly universal piece of advice is to not let baby fall asleep nursing. And it really is good intentioned advice. If baby falls asleep at the breast, at some point she will begin to associate nursing with sleeping, and may find it difficult to fall asleep without nursing. But both the composition of breast milk and the act of sucking (notice how many babies fall asleep with pacifiers!) are biologically designed to calm and soothe babies and help them fall asleep.
Yet I had absorbed our cultural notion that babies should learn to fall asleep without any “sleep props.” And it had worked well for every baby I’d taken care of previously. The trouble was, it wasn’t working for Sweet Pea. I tried to adhere to the pediatrician’s advice to put her down drowsy but awake. It worked precisely once. I had some small measure of success when I was able to pat her back to sleep after partially awaking when I transferred her from my arms to her bed. But getting her to sleep in the first place took FOREVER. She needed to be swaddled or carried in the SleepyWrap and walked around or held in our arms and bounced. On particularly bad nights, I would eventually breastfeed out of sheer desperation, but I always felt guilty about “cheating” or “taking the easy way out.”
At some point in those early weeks, I came to my senses and realized that breastfeeding to sleep WORKED for us. My knees and arms were much happier with the reduced need for bouncing, and Sweet Pea was much happier and easier to calm. It took me a long time, though, to be emotionally ok with it. I still felt like a cheater, a lazy mom, even a little bit of a failure. My one encouragement during that phase was knowing another mom who I really admire who also openly nursed her babies to sleep.
So if you find that you want to nurse your baby to sleep, or that it’s the easiest way (or only way!), give yourself permission. You won’t win any points from the sleep experts, but you will be one step closer to honoring your own inner wisdom.
What new parent advice did you eventually discard? How did you feel after you decided to go against the grain?