Breastfeeding: The Final Chapter

This is the long overdue continuation of my last breastfeeding post….

It took me a long time to appreciate the advice that my friend gave me: that I didn’t have to be perfect at breastfeeding; I just had to do what worked best for me and Baby Boy.

At various (many!) times throughout my 10+ months of breastfeeding, I have felt inadequate and ashamed due to my breastfeeding failings, some of which are probably unavoidable, but many of which I suspect I could have fixed if only I’d worked hard enough. I have often worried that other moms were judging me when in a group setting, I was the only one who pulled out a bottle to feed my baby while everyone else pulled out their breast (even as I told myself that the fancy Medela bottle I was using should clearly signify that I was feeding my baby breastmilk which was just as good as what their babies were getting).

When comparing breastfeeding notes with the “true” breastfeeding moms [i.e. those women who can pop a breast out at a moments notice, insert baby and go; those who can feed their baby anywhere and in any position (I can feed him on a plane! I can feed him on a train! I can feed him on a boat! I can feed him with a goat!); mothers whose little ones have never tasted formula; those for whom bottle feeding is a foreign concept; etc. etc. etc.], I always made sure that I slipped in a casual comment about some common issue that I’ve experienced while breastfeeding (see, I can do it too!), while carefully guarding the extent to which I continued to rely on work arounds, even many months into the breastfeeding experience.

Even as I write this post, I feel like I am exposing myself to ridicule by some nameless, faceless woman who managed to perfect the art of breastfeeding. After breastfeeding for over ten months, my dirty secrets include the following:

1. I have never breastfed Baby Boy in public (unless you count my mother’s or my in laws’ couch). I have no issue with the idea of public breastfeeding; I was just never able to figure out a position that worked for us without the aid of a breastfeeding pillow.

2. Until Baby Boy was six months old (aside from some clumsy fumbling with lactation consultants as we struggled to find a comfortable breastfeeding position for us and a few early feeds using the football hold), I only ever breastfed using the trusty beginner friendly cross cradle hold position. At six months, I figured out how to breastfeed lying down, increasing my position repertoire to its current grand total of two.

3. For a period of about five months, I only breastfed Baby Boy from my right breast.

4. I pumped at least once a day every day of Baby Boy’s life until he was ten and a half months.

5. For the first eight months, I only fed Baby Boy from one breast per feed.

6. I introduced the bottle at two weeks.

7. I have never had a day (24 hour period) where every one of Baby Boy’s feeds was directly at the breast.

8. From about five months on, I have regularly supplemented with formula.

For a long time, I was worried that  I was some sort of breastfeeding fraud, because what I was doing was not “normal” for someone who continued to breastfeed as long as I did. However, as time went on, I slowly realized that while not perfect or ideal, my version of breastfeeding worked for me and Gus.

It used to bother me that Gus continued to require long feeds even as he got older. I kept hearing that as babies got to two months or so, they would suddenly be satisfied with feeds of ten or twenty minutes at a time. Gus eventually got down from his hour+ feeds at the breast to 40 minute feeds, however it wasn’t until he was seven months or so (and enjoying lots of solids) that his feeds stopped being 40 minutes each.

I wondered and worried why our feeds took so long, until I noticed that most women who breastfed fed their babies very frequently. I, on the other hand typically fed every three hours during the day, with an eight to ten hour stretch overnight. This pattern started when Gus was very young, and stayed very consistent until about seven months, remaining consistent regardless of whether he got bottle or boob, breastmilk or formula.

It finally dawned on me that since Gus was not constantly at the boob, when he was ready to eat, he would need to consume higher volumes at a time than a baby who was breastfeeding every hour or two during the day, or every three hours around the clock. When I did the math, it actually made perfect sense: when bottle fed, Gus took 250 ml (8 oz) at a time; this was the higher end of what I would typically pump from both breasts in 20 minutes. Therefore,  it should take about 40 minutes for Gus to consume 250 ml directly from the breast.

As this became apparent to me, I also realized that fewer, longer feeds were actually less disruptive than frequent short feeds, and I started to really look forward to the feeds that Gus and I did at home where I was able to spirit him up to his room for a 40 session at the breast. Given the choice, I realized that I actually preferred our pattern to the constant disruption of a frequent feeding schedule.

Once Gus started consuming more calories through solids and cut back on the frequency of his milk feeds, I came to really cherish the cuddle time and bonding that came so easily with the act of breastfeeding. I also started to use breastfeeding more as a strategic tool (for myself, when I was tired and knew that a breastfeeding session would take longer and be more relaxing for me than a bottle feed would, and also for Gus when I knew that he needed comfort and not necessarily just food). It was only in the last four months or so that I truly came to appreciate these tangential benefits of breastfeeding.

For the longest time, since I felt very tuned in to the various ways that women struggle with breastfeeding (both due to my own personal experience, and also due to the many stories I’d heard from my close friends), whenever I spoke to a new mom who was struggling, I made sure to communicate that breastfeeding was tough and that there were so many different ways that it could go wrong. I made sure she understood that if it was too much, stopping was a perfectly valid choice, despite the overwhelming message that bombards new moms that breast is best. I took pains to communicate that her experience was not necessarily the same as my experience and therefore it was reasonable for her to make different choices than I had.

However, recently when someone I know was struggling with the early days of breastfeeding, I was surprised to find myself encouraging her to keep at it. I was worried that if she stopped too early, she would miss out on the possibility of a truly rewarding, pleasurable experience that was probably waiting for her if she just fought through the initial obstacles. I tried to communicate how much I’ve benefited from the flexibility that a mix of bottle and breastfeeding have given me, and how I am glad that I did not have to sacrifice one for the other. In the end though, breastfeeding did not work for her and she stopped after a few weeks.

As for me, my milk is drying up. I stopped pumping two weeks ago, and have packed away my nursing bras and tops. Baby Boy is down to a few minutes at the breast in the morning, and even that is quickly slipping away. My final thoughts on my breastfeeding experience? Frustrating……challenging…….soul crushing…..but 100% worth it.

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Breastfeeding: The (Almost) Final Chapter

It’s time for one last (okay, second last) breastfeeding post. I last wrote about my experience with breastfeeding  here and (because I had so much to say), here.

When I first set out to write about breastfeeding six months ago, it was to write a post that I (due to time constraints and competing priorities) never got a chance to write.  I wanted to start out by sharing my experiences, but the desired introductory paragraph morphed into two giant posts. The post that I set out to write remains in draft form and was going to focus on the pressures that women today feel to breastfeed at all costs, and how damaging that can be to a woman’s self esteem, her identity as a mother, and even her relationship to her baby.

My remaining breastfeeding days (at least with this baby) are numbered; Baby Boy is losing interest and my supply is drying up. It’s time to finish the post that I never got to write, however, over the last six months my experience with breastfeeding, and my thoughts on the topic have evolved. So bear with me as I dust off my draft, and once again write way more than I’d planned to.

Until I became pregnant, I had no idea that breastfeeding was such a hot button issue, and I also never gave it a second thought. I assumed I would do it, but I did not feel passionately about it, and the decision to breastfeed was not an ideological one. Rather, my decision (if you could even call it a conscious decision) was driven by the pragmatic view that I had breasts which would produce milk for my baby when the time was right, and therefore I would feed that milk to my baby. End of story.

Shortly after becoming pregnant, everywhere I turned, I started hearing about breastfeeding. My prenatal yoga class had a lactation consultant give a talk, and both she and the yoga instructor shared their own struggles with breastfeeding. At my labour preparation classes, almost one full class was devoted to breastfeeding, complete with videos and diagrams of the proper way to do it, and a discussion of the common issues that women face when trying to breastfeed. Apparently, there was more to breastfeeding than picking up your baby and putting them next to your breast.

All this discussion about breastfeeding could be boiled down into two overriding themes:

Theme #1: Breastmilk is a miraculous substance with immeasurable benefits, many of which cannot be replicated with formula.

Taken at face value, the logical extension is that as a mother who wants the best for her child, there is no question that breastfeeding is the way to go.

Theme #2: Breastfeeding is HARD, and has driven many a new mother to the edge.

Therefore, having difficulty breastfeeding should not come as a surprise, nor should the decision/need to use formula as a result.

And therein lies the problem. When considered separately, these two “facts” about breastfeeding can be easily reconciled with a new mother’s experience and expectations; however taken in combination, each is a force that results in pulling a mother in opposite directions, leading to unnecessary frustration, guilt, and shame.

Once Baby Boy was born and we experienced our own breastfeeding struggles, I was amazed at the stories I heard from other mothers. There were the friends who in hushed tones admitted to supplementing, or relying completely on formula, due to low supply. Then there were the stories of two separate acquaintances whose babies never latched. Despite this difficulty, both women went to extreme lengths to give their babies the breastfeeding experience, using elaborate tubing feeding mechanisms for six months. One of these women pumped eight times a day for 45 minutes at a time, for six months. Stop for a second and think about that. Do the math. Is it any wonder that looking back she regrets going to the lengths she did and regrets how much quality time she lost with her baby when he was young because her super human efforts to provide the best for him made her miserable?

Despite going into motherhood with a clear head on the topic of breastfeeding, once Baby Boy and the resulting breastfeeding struggles arrived, my pragmatic mindset and cool detachment went right out the window. At our prenatal classes, the instructors had warned us to expect breastfeeding to be difficult for up to six weeks. They stressed that most women will struggle for that long before things click into place. This was a very important message for me, because within a few days of Gus being born, I was counting down the days until six weeks would come to pass. It gave me huge comfort that whatever struggles we were having would have to sort themselves out within six weeks.

With every day that passed, bringing us that much closer to the magical six week finish line, my overriding mantra was that easier times were just around the corner. However, each passing day that breastfeeding continued to be a struggle also brought on sheer terror when I considered the possibility that maybe breastfeeding was not going to be possible for us.  Since latching was our immediate concern, hearing of women whose babies never latched, even after months and months of trying absolutely terrified me. In the moment, it felt like the absolutely worst thing in the world. I was incredibly jealous of women who were able to pop a baby up to their breast and have them suckle like it was nothing. To someone who has never tried to breastfeed, it is impossible to try to explain the depth of emotion I felt (panic, terror, insert your own extreme noun) when I considered that the six week finish line may mean an end to breastfeeding rather than an end to struggles.

The panic did not stop once Baby Boy was able to latch and we started to settle into a routine. At around the four week mark, the lactation consultant that we’d worked with most closely gave me a follow up call to see how things were going. I thought we were doing well, however when I reported that Baby Boy was typically feeding on the breast twice a day, and getting pumped bottles three times a day (for a total of five feeds), there was a pause on the other end of the line. ” You really should be further along by now.” Cue deep sinking feeling in stomach, sheer terror, panic, what have you. We were failing after all.

I shared some of my struggles around this time with a friend of mine  who has served as my primary sounding board for all of my motherhood concerns. She has three amazing kids and a wonderfully pragmatic approach to motherhood. I explained to her how I was trying to wean myself off the pump, to the point where all of Baby Boy’s feeds would be at the breast (by this point latching was not a problem anymore, but as I explained in my first breasteeding post, I found the logistics of going without pumping to be difficult). I stressed to my friend that  I HAD to learn how to breastfeed properly, to reach that magical place of breastfeeding Nirvana. “Or not” she said. “If what you’re doing is working for you,  why change?”.

And as always, she was right. To be continued…..

This Time Will be Different

Sometime this year, my husband and I will start the process of trying to conceive baby #2. This moment is still months away, as there are a number of moving pieces that have to fall into place before we can reasonably attempt any baby making. At minimum, I need to wean, get my chicken pox vaccine, and get my period back. Since we have five frozen embryos from our IVF cycle, we are planning on jumping right into doing a frozen transfer as soon as we are in a position to do so, therefore there will also be the various tests and procedures that our clinic requires before proceeding with a transfer, not to mention coordinating our schedules with both the clinic where our embryos are, and the clinic where we will do our monitoring for the cycle. The many joys of procreating by committee will soon be upon us.

While I have tried hard not to speculate about what trying to conceive will be like this go around until the time comes, in the last few weeks I’ve often found my mind spinning as I try to process the ramifications of what getting back on the baby making train will mean for us. This is due partly to the fact that we are starting to have preliminary discussions about what our timing is going to look like, and that I am getting close to weaning Baby Boy (I had planned to breastfeed him to a year, which is another two months away, but based on his lack of interest over the last few weeks I suspect our wean date will come sooner than that). I have also recently read a lot of blog and twitter posts that touch on some of the issues I have been struggling to get my head around, related to life after infertility, secondary infertility, and infertility amnesia.

I have no idea if or when we will have another baby. If we do have another baby, I don’t know if we will get pregnant via frozen transfer, natural conception (ha – sounds like immaculate conception to me!), or through further fertility treatments. I don’t know if it will happen on our first try, or after multiple attempts. But despite all of the uncertainty, rather than feel panic at the thought of climbing back on the roller coaster, I am at peace with whatever our outcome may be. I am at peace, because I know that the worst is behind us.

The experience of infertility while trying to conceive Baby Boy was akin to falling down a deep chasm, and having no idea how far you had left to fall, or what sort of landing you would have. Along the way, we were willing to grasp at anything that would help us achieve a quick and safe landing – in the six months before we conceived Baby Boy, my husband and I agreed that we would pursue donor eggs, donor sperm, or surrogacy if we got any indication that any of those would resolve our infertility (unexplained infertility is its own deep chasm, but that’s another story).

I am a planner by nature, and while trying to conceive Baby Boy, having a plan gave me some semblance of control over an uncontrollable process. I was always two steps ahead: if the current cycle/treatment option failed, I had a plan A, and then a plan B if plan A failed. At the time we conceived Baby Boy, I had my plan A and plan B all set, and my husband and I had the resources (financial, emotional, physical) to keep going balls to the wall until we achieved our goal. We were not at the point where we had an end date (whether fixed on the calendar, or based on a number of things happening, or not) at which point we would change course to pursue adoption (when we had last discussed it, this was an option my husband was not interested in), or living permanently child free.

While overall, our mindset was that given enough time and treatments, we would eventually be successful, not knowing how our story would end was still terrifying. The future held so much uncertainty, and there was no way of knowing how much more heartbreak in terms of failed cycles, pregnancy loss, or even just the cruel passage of time we would have to endure before we held our baby in our arms.

This brings me back to my original point about starting the process of trying to conceive again. No matter how many times I turn the idea of it around in my head, I come to the same conclusion: this time will be different.

This time will be different because we are not starting at zero: not only do we know way more than we should about all the ways that conception can go wrong and therefore are intimately familiar with how difficult it can be; but the existence of our five frozen embryos (that paradoxically only exist due to the extent of our struggles first time around), mean that we are starting out ahead of the game.

This time will be different because we are no longer in a chasm of unknown depth. I can look ahead and know with certainty that I will not have to endure multiple fresh IVF cycles in order to bring my baby home (I am not ruling out the possibility of doing another fresh cycle if none of our current embryos take, but I don’t see a scenario where I would do more than one more fresh cycle). I know that if we are to have another child, it will take us less time to conceive this time around than the 3+ years it took us the first time, for the simple reason that due to my age it has to (I’ll be between 37 and 38 when we start trying again).

This time,  there are limits to what we will go through in order to conceive. I know that we will transfer each of our existing embryos until one sticks, but if we are not successful, we are not going to go to heroic efforts to have another baby. Lastly, knowing that we had the strength to survive failed cycles and pregnancy loss the first time around gives me comfort that if needed, we have the strength to survive again. All of these factors mean that when we start trying again, we will be able to feel, or at the very least, see the ground below our feet. We will be able to reach our hands out and find something sturdy to hold on to, rather than grasping at air as it slips through our fingers.

This time will be different because no matter what happens, I will never forget that even our “worst case scenario” of being parents to one healthy, amazing baby boy is many people’s dream.

Baby Led Weaning – Weeks 7 to 10

As I mentioned previously, one way that we are having fun with solids, is that every week I buy one fruit and one vegetable that I would not normally buy in an effort to expand our horizons, and continue to introduce Baby Boy to new foods. I have had some challenges in introducing food groups other than fruits and vegetables, which I will write about in other posts.  Here, however are our latest fruit and vegetable successes:

Plums and collard greens – Plums were straightforward – I just cut them into wedges, and Gus ate away. Many of our vegetables of the week so far have been root vegetables, because for some reason I typically stay away from them in the grocery store. I’m more of a leafy greens person, so leafy greens are usually well represented in our diet. However, while we eat chard and spinach by the bucket (not to mention all types of salad leaves), I only remember ever buying collard greens once or twice before. This time around, I made the collard greens by sauteing them with olive oil, chopped onion and garlic, some chili flakes, a pinch of sugar and some sesame oil.

I thought they turned out quite well. The texture is definitely tougher – more like seaweed than other greens I’m used to. My husband, however didn’t like how oily they tasted  since we usually steam/boil our greens (though every collard greens recipe I found included some kind of oil). Gus, as always enjoyed the new food.

Golden melon and parsnips – Golden melon is similar to honeydew, and I served it the way I always serve melon to Gus – cut into cubes/small wedges, with the skin left on so it is easier to grip. Melons have been a big hit, and golden melon was no different. The parsnips turned out to be a hit for the whole family, so much so that I have since bought them several more times and incorporated them into our regular meal rotation.

The recipe I used for parsnips is very straightforward: peel the parsnips, slice into wedges/fingers and toss with oil and herbs, then bake at 450 for 20 minutes (or even longer, until they brown nicely). We lived in upstate New York for a year, where we bought our groceries at Wegman’s and fell in love with quite a few of the Wegman’s (aka Weggers) store brand items. Probably my favourite is the Wegman’s basting oil, which is a grapeseed oil with some herbs and spices mixed in. It’s great for meats, fish, and of course roasted vegetables. So this is what I used on the parsnips, and they turned out delish! If you leave them in the oven a bit longer, the sugars come out and they become almost caramelized. My husband couldn’t believe how good they tasted without me adding all sorts of crazy unhealthy ingredients to them. In case you’re wondering, Gus enjoyed them too.

Red bananas and rutabaga – this particular week I had a tough time picking a fruit. My friend had recommended starfruit, however the only starfruit left in the store was pretty sad looking. The red bananas were tiny little bananas, and based on the description in the store were supposed to taste quite sweet when eaten like a normal banana. The first time I tried the banana however, it was quite woody tasting. I soon realized that there is a reason that they are called red bananas – when they look black or brown they are not yet ripe and don’t taste good at all (this is the complete opposite of “normal bananas”). However, when the skin turned bright red, the banana inside was wonderfully sweet, but the taste was not as cloying as a ripe, sweet “normal” banana would be (the banana also stayed firm, unlike a ripe normal banana). Gus is a big fan of bananas, so he happily gobbled the red bananas.

I continued our trend of buying root vegetables with a rutabaga. Rutabaga looks like a giant turnip, and has a similar taste and texture. After reviewing a few rutabaga recipes, I chose one for rutabaga fries – cut the rutabaga into spears, toss with olive oil and minced garlic and herbs. If I remember correctly, I tossed them with some paprika too. This turned out well, and was a hit all around.

Pumello (Pomelo) and turnip – Pumello is a citrus fruit that looks like a giant grapefruit (and is about the size of a small melon). I was planning on doing something fun with it, but I wanted to serve it dessert style, and I kept finding recipes for pumello mains and salads. In the end, I just served it in slices. The pumello was pink on the inside, and had a very thick pith. The pith is apparently quite bitter, so you want to make sure you clear it all away from the flesh before you serve it. The taste was similar to grapefruit, but sweeter, and Gus seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. As a general comment, I should mention that citrus is one of the types of food that can be allergenic/harder on the digestive system, so if you are just starting out, it should probably not be among the first foods introduced.

Our (root) vegetable of the week was turnip. I’ve been roasting a lot of my vegetables, so was looking for something other than a roasted (or mashed) turnip recipe. I found one for caramelized turnips, which sounded pretty awesome, but I don’t think really turned out for me. The recipe calls for cubed turnip to be sautéed with some water and a chicken bouillon cube (I skipped the bullion cube, though I may have added some low sodium vegetable broth – I can’t remember now) for 15 minutes or until the water evaporates. Then you stir in some butter and sugar, and after cooking for another 10 minutes the turnips are supposed to get brown and sticky. Mine never did get brown and sticky; they just got really soft, so I was pretty disappointed with how the recipe turned out. But, it was good enough for Gus and we were able to cross another vegetable off our list. I think I will give this recipe another try in the future, as  it sounded so yummy and I suspect I screwed it up somehow.

That’s it for now!

Working 9 to 5…(Part 1 – the Background)

My latest favourite picture of Gus. It was taken the day before I started work and is currently the desktop background on my computers.

My latest favourite picture of Gus. It was taken the day before I started work and is currently the desktop background on my computers.

Last week, I went back to work. While everything went as smoothly as can be expected, I am still processing the change from full-time mom to full-time employee, and feeling a bit worn down by the whole thing. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to stay home with Gus for 8.5 months, as I know that many working moms in other countries (especially in the U.S, but even in many European countries) have much shorter maternity leaves. However, in a Canadian context where many, if not most women take a full year I do feel like I am missing out by going back early.

How ‘Bout that Year of Maternity Leave, Eh?

While we’re on the topic, I may as well explain how the year of maternity leave thing works for those who are unfamiliar with the process. In a nutshell, the government has a program where mothers (who have given birth) are entitled to up to 15 weeks of maternity leave, and parents (mother or father or both combined) are entitled to a further 35 weeks of parental leave (i.e. both parents can take parental leave, but they have to share the benefit). Before you are entitled to claim benefits, you have a 2 week waiting period where you are not paid, which adds up to 52 weeks, and voila there you have it! Assuming you have 600 hours of “insurable earnings” (this is roughly four months of full time work) in the last 52 weeks, you are entitled to the benefit. Something that most people don’t know (sadly, even people who can benefit from it), is that about three years ago, the government introduced a program where even self employed people can receive maternity and parental leave benefits.

The benefit you are entitled to depends on your average weekly earnings over the last 52 weeks – you are entitled to 55% of earnings up to an earnings ceiling of $47,400 (so 55% of 47,400). I was entitled to the maximum benefit and after deductions for tax, I ended up with $1,700 per month in my pocket. Some employers have “top-up” programs where they will top-up what the government pays you to 75% or more of your actual salary, though I believe this is often just for the maternity leave portion of the benefit.

So Why Go Back Early?

There are many reasons why some women go back early – many couples share the parental portion of the benefit, so dad gets to stay home for a few months, other people find their finances too tight to afford a full year, while other women are at a point in their career (or on a certain career track) where being away from work for a year is not a viable option. In my case, unfortunately it’s a career thing. When we first started trying to have a baby, we thought we had all our ducks lined up in a row, and that we would start a family at a point in our life where it worked for us on all levels (emotional, financial, career wise, relationship wise, etc).

Unfortunately, with the whole process taking about 3 years longer than expected, we were in a different place (figuratively and literally – having moved across the country two months before conceiving!) than we’d expected. Before we moved, I felt fortunate to have found what I thought would be a dream job back in Toronto. Unfortunately, it turned out not to be the case, and I quit after about four months, or just after the end of my first trimester. I ended up taking a contract position with a place I used to work years ago, which took me right through to my maternity leave. After the super stressful situation at my previous job, the contract was a dream, however it was a lower level position that what I am qualified for. A low stress job with no responsibility was perfect while pregnant, but it’s not the type of work I want to be doing long term, so I knew that I would have to look for new work after maternity leave.

While I really wanted to take the full year of leave, this would mean that I would be looking for a new job after being out of my field for a year and a half (and actually closer to two years, since I am not putting the failed job where I worked for four months on my resume). This made me really nervous, so before going on leave, I decided that I would start looking for work when Gus was 9 months old, which meant that I was mentally prepared to go back at that point.

In an interesting twist, before I went on maternity leave, I found out that the company where I was doing the contract would soon be looking for a short term replacement for someone going on maternity leave, but in the department which was actually more suited to my skill set than the department I’d been working in. The timing didn’t line up perfectly, but long story short(er), I’m back on contract now, doing a combination role of low level, necessary work for the department I was with last year, and higher level, interesting, looks-good-on-my-resume work for the other department. This should tide me over until the fall, at which point it will be time to make a further move. I have about five more posts worth of thoughts on the whole work thing, but I’ll leave them for another time.

The actual point of this post was to describe our new routine a bit..what has changed and what has stayed the same since I’ve gone back. As my word count is already up, I’ll leave that for part 2.

 

You are Getting Very Sleepy….Part 2 (The Slow Slide and the Quick Fix)

Gus getting ready for his first night sleeping in his own room!

Gus getting ready for his first night sleeping in his own room!

This post continues where the last one left off…

The Typical Sleep Pattern

As I mentioned in my last post, despite our best efforts, we eventually found ourselves with a sleep problem on our hands. Gus was a great sleeper at night from the beginning (naps are more complicated, and I will save that for another post). When I say great sleeper, what I mean is that within a few weeks of birth, he settled into one of two sleep patterns: either sleeping for ten hours straight; or sleeping for eight hours, waking up for a feed, and then going back down for another hour or two. I realize that this type of pattern early on is very unusual, which is why I attribute this to his being predisposed to being a good sleeper, rather than to anything that we did (or did not do).

Another thing I should mention is that Gus has slept in his crib from day 1 (for the first two months or so, he did do naps in his bassinet, but always slept in his crib at night).  While he has always slept in his crib, we had his crib in our room, based on the recommendations for safe sleep that we received, which recommended that babies should sleep in a crib (typically better air circulation than a bassinet) in their parents’ room until they are six months old.

Sleep Regression?

Early on, when people would ask how Gus was sleeping and we would answer honestly, they would usually be surprised, but then would be quick to point out that it probably wouldn’t last. I had read about sleep regressions, however Gus’ sleep pattern stayed pretty consistent as he got older. Around four months, (which is a typical sleep regression milestone), it did become harder for him to fall asleep initially, and there were nights where he would fuss and even cry before falling asleep (for a while, this even became the norm), however his overall sleep pattern remained the same (down for bed around 8PM, then awake at either 4AM or 6AM to eat).

The Slow Slide

Just before Gus turned six months old, we made a small change in our sleeping routine, since I figured out how to breastfeed lying down in bed. Now, instead of offering Gus a bottle for his 4AM or 6AM feeds, I would breastfeed him. This was relaxing, enjoyable and let me stay in bed longer. A few times when Gus woke up an extra time in the middle of the night, I breastfed him then too, since it was so easy now. I soon decided however that this wasn’t a good idea, as despite our best intentions I was sliding into breaking rule #2a, so I made the decision that for any wake-ups before 4AM, Gus would get a bottle, and any wake-ups after 4AM, we would breastfeed.

Despite my continued focus on sleep, around 6.5 months Gus started to regularly also wake up around midnight. This wake-up often coincided with when I was going to bed. Since he was still sleeping in our room, I suspected that me having the light on to read, and the general noise I was making was causing him to wake up and stay awake. My suspicions were confirmed one night when my husband and I were up later than usual, and we heard Gus wake up. However, just as I was ready to go up to calm him down, Gus got quiet and went back to sleep on his own (when he woke up with us in the room, even though we would try to soothe him by just talking or singing to him, we would invariably need to pick him up and feed him before he calmed down enough to sleep). I knew that it was time to move Gus into his own room, however I resisted as long as I could as I enjoyed having him in our room so much.

By now, we were no longer enjoying the ten hour sleep patterns, and were lucky if we got only the 4AM wake up. The midnight wake ups were pretty consistent, and sometimes there would even be another wake up. One night I realized that Gus was starting to eat less at his 4AM feed, and it dawned on me that I was now doing exactly what I had worked so hard not to do: I was feeding Gus when he woke up in the middle of the night not because he was hungry, but to soothe him to go back to sleep, which then meant he was not as hungry at his “normal” feeding time.

The next night, I ran a test. I gave Gus a bottle with half the milk I normally would at his midnight feeding, and sure enough he settled down to sleep just fine after that, and breastfed for 30 minutes instead of 2o minutes when he woke up at 4AM. The following night, when Gus woke up at midnight, I once again gave him a half-bottle, however this time he was still fussing when he was done. This was a rare night when my husband also happened to wake up, and he insisted that Gus must still be hungry since I’d given him such a small bottle (this is a constant battle between us – my husband thinks Gus is hungry at any sign of discomfort, while I take into account when/what he last ate and consider what else could be wrong). I insisted that Gus didn’t need any more, but since he was still crying, I started to doubt myself and asked my husband to go get the bottle of breastmilk we had in the fridge.

In the time it took my husband to come back, Gus had almost calmed down, and I ended up giving him only a few sips of the bottle before he settled down completely and fell back asleep. The sleep was short lived, as he woke up crying at 2AM (I managed to talk him back to sleep that time), and then again at 4AM and 6AM. This  was our worst night of sleep since Gus was about two weeks old, and after that I decided that it was time to finally move Gus to his room.

Since Gus was also teething and getting over a cold, I expected that moving him to his own room would help the sleep situation, but not completely solve it.  I also expected that Gus would take longer to settle down since he’d be sleeping in a different room than he was used to.

The Quick Fix

On our chosen night, we set up the crib in Gus’ room, and got him ready for bed as we normally do. We put him down in his crib, left the room, and within minutes he was asleep. I couldn’t believe how easy it was! That night he slept through until 4AM. The following night, he went to sleep with no problems again, and slept through until 5AM. The next two nights he again went to sleep easily, but this time he woke up at 6:20AM both times. And just like that, our good sleeper was back!

You Are Getting Very Sleepy…Part 1 (the Rules)

So far on this blog, I have been pretty quiet on the topic of sleep, which may seem like a glaring omission for a brand new  parent, given that sleep is probably the number one topic that people discuss when it comes to babies. The main reason for this omission is that Gus has been a very good sleeper, which I attribute partly to his innate nature (i.e. he’s programmed to be a good sleeper), and partly to our efforts from the beginning not to get in his way and mess up his ability to sleep well. However, baby sleep is a tricky thing, subject to regressions and changing habits, and even despite our best efforts, we recently found ourselves with a sleep problem on our hands.

Before Gus was born, my husband and I heard all the horror stories about how our sleep was going to be disrupted once the baby came. This was annoying enough early on in pregnancy, but got increasingly annoying as pregnancy progressed and my sleep got worse and worse. By the third trimester, I was getting up almost constantly to pee, and when I wasn’t, I was waking up uncomfortable due to aches and pains of late pregnancy and the inability to find a comfortable position to sleep in. So hearing that I should “enjoy my sleep while I can” was the last thing I wanted to hear!

While everyone was quick to tell us how tough sleep was going to be, I don’t think anyone had any helpful tips for how to avoid/minimize the pain. However, despite this, we were lucky to go into parenthood armed with what I consider to be two very helpful rules:

Rule #1 – Don’t set your baby down already asleep, but rather put them in their crib/bassinet sleepy but awake.

This is one of those things that while not intuitive (i.e. left to my own devices, I would have done the complete opposite), actually makes a lot of sense, and is probably the most helpful thing we learned in our very informative babycare class. The basic premise is that babies will wake up several times a night as they move from one sleep cycle to the next, and if they wake up somewhere that they don’t remember falling asleep, they will become disoriented and distressed and will have difficulty putting themselves back to sleep.  However, if the baby wakes up in a familiar place, it will be much easier for them to put themselves back to sleep, often without the parents even knowing that their baby had woken up.

While this sounded so logical, I was worried that it would be impossible to implement in practice. On our first night home with Gus (technically his third real night) when it came time for him to go to bed, we swaddled him tightly like we were taught at the hospital, and placed him in his crib on his back. He smiled a tired smile at us, we turned off the lights and left the room. And…that was it. He was asleep within minutes. I couldn’t believe how easy it was! We did the same thing the next night, and the next night, and the night after that, and each time it was just as easy as the first night. Gus is now 8 months old, and I think I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve put him in his bed already asleep. The nice thing about having this rule in place, is that the few times where Gus was overtired and in full meltdown mode, we had the option of choosing to break it and using the standard parent bag of tricks to get him to fall asleep before being put in his crib (contrast this with with parents who already use all the tricks on a nightly basis, and then when they really need them, there is nothing left).

This brings me to our other rule.

Rule #2 – Don’t (breast)feed your baby right before they sleep.

Like rule #1, left to my own devices, I would have done the exact opposite (in fact, I remember when Gus was very young how many people would say “time for a nap” as soon as I finished feeding him). However,  since Gus was born 13 days late, I had some extra time in late pregnancy to read a few parenting books. One book I read stressed the importance of separating the eating and sleeping portion of your baby’s routine with some activity (e.g. a walk, a bath, some play time), so that your baby does not associate feeding with sleep (and therefore need to be fed in order to fall asleep). This is particularly important with breastfeeding, which in addition to providing food, is such a relaxing and comforting activity, but I also applied it to bottle feeding.

Where necessary, we broke rule #2 from time to time (more often than we broke rule #1), however we were always mindful that we were doing something we shouldn’t and very careful not to do it too often/too many times in a row so that it would not develop into a bad habit.

Once Gus was born, we stumbled on another practice, which I think further helped him sleep well at night. I’ll call this rule #2a:

Rule #2a – Only bottle feed for middle of the night wake ups.

Due to initial challenges with breastfeeding, we introduced the bottle very early on, and decided that any middle of the night feedings would be bottle feedings. Our main rationale for bottles at night was so that my husband and I could share in the night feedings (however as it turned out, my husband only ended up doing a handful of them since I was always the one who woke up, while he managed to stay asleep!). A secondary rationale was that since breastfeeding was proving to be difficult to figure out (and taking a very long time), we would save it for the day time when everyone was functioning at their best and had the patience/time to figure it out.

While our reasons for bottle feeding at night did not have anything to do with ensuring that Gus slept well, I suspect that this practice did exactly that. Our feedings at night were purely a business transaction: Gus would get his bottle; I’d change his diaper; and then put him back to bed. This is very different than the soothing, cuddly practice of breastfeeding. At my baby and me fitness classes, sleep is a popular topic of discussion, and I hear of many women who get into a pattern of breastfeeding their baby every time they wake up, only to find that their baby is waking up more and more, and eating less and less each time, but needing the comfort of the breast to fall back asleep.

I should mention that when I refer to bottle feeding, I’m not necessarily speaking about formula (I only point this out, since many people suggest that formula fed babies sleep better – I personally have not found a noticeable difference between formula and breastmilk). We do supplement with formula, but Gus primarily receives breastmilk (whether via boob or bottle), and our night time bottles have been almost exclusively breastmilk.

Overall, these rules have served us well. However, even with the attention that we have paid to ensuring Gus sleeps well, and being blessed with a baby predisposed to sleeping well, we still found ourselves with a problem on our hands, which I will elaborate on in my next post.