Problems with Nightime Nursing and Co-sleeping

I have been co-sleeping and nursing my son since he was born. Although there have certainly been challenges; this gentle approach has always felt right to me. However, lately I have started to question the way my husband and I are handling nighttime parenting. To start with, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get our son to sleep. I try to nurse him to sleep but it often doesn’t work at night anymore. My husband will then take him and rock him while he crys. Sometimes he will fall asleep while being rocked, and other times I will take him and breastfeed him again, and then he will finally nod off. This takes over an hour and is starting to exhaust all of us. He still wakes constantly at night to nurse and we have started to try and soothe him in other ways to see if this helps cut-down on the nursing. We have found, however, that this is now practically impossible! He crys and thrashes and rejects any other forms of comfort besides the breast. I feel like I have created a true breast addict! Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated as I am starting to question how much longer I can carry on in this matter. Thank you!

Babies are supposed to be “breast addicts,” in the sense that you and I are pretty much addicted not only to eating or drinking several times per day but we would prefer warm human input regularly. That’s healthy, not addiction. You are handling the challenge of this phase very well.

Frequent feeding or comfort nursing during the night is more common than not in cozy cosleepers. This pattern can last for a couple years and sometimes peaks around 15 to 18 months. Ideally, the hormone releases during suckling send you both easily back to dreamland. It’s OK if you wish to try to reduce this pattern but it’s simpler for many to accept the norm and just meet their baby’s needs. Remember that babies raised with consistently affectionate, responsive parenting become more secure children and adults, while better yielding to parental input as teens.

Doesn’t it seem that if a baby needs sleep, they’d just fall asleep? It has always seemed peculiar to me… the manner in which babies sometimes need so much help falling asleep. It’s very common, and it does pass.

Babies experience many reproductive hormone changes in their first year outside the womb. Initially, hormones rise, and babies generally sleep longer hours in this period, just as adolescents seem to need extra sleep. After 2 or 3 months, hormone levels begin declining. I liken phases of sleep difficulty during the first 12 months or so to common peri-menopausal insomnia.

Some babies do better when their evening remains pretty calm and peaceful while other babies will tire better right after some rough-and-tumble play or other activity. In general, the most stimulating activities should occur in the morning and afternoon.

Still, let’s be sure there are no environmental factors that are contributing. If your son has any rashes, stool irregularities, excess gas, frequent spitting-up, waking with screams, or frequent, unexplained fussy periods during the days, it’s possible that he’s reacting to foods in your diet. Cow’s milk proteins are the most common culprit by far but it could be any food or multiple foods. You might want to try some elimination dieting to see whether this makes any difference.

Mothers know when their child needs to sleep, even if the child is having difficulty getting to sleep. With this in mind, I suggest that you might try toying with his bedtime hour. Especially in babies who are still napping twice per day, a preference for late bedtime hours, up to 11pm, is common. Also try to see that baby enjoys some good, bright light during each day (even naps should not be in darkness) and dimming light toward bedtime.

Please relish in every moment of health-promoting oxytocin-releasing opportunity to hold, nurse, rock, sing-to, and comfort your baby. These precious encounters will become only sweet memories far too soon.

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