This week on the blog – in conjunction with The Breastfeeding Shop – we are thrilled to run a series of posts on breastfeeding in honor of World Breastfeeding Week. World Breastfeeding Week started August 1st and runs through Monday, August 7. It is a global movement for action to promote, protect and support breastfeeding by anyone, anywhere and at anytime. Scroll through the last three days of posts to read more of our stories on our journeys with breastfeeding, which we hope will create a safe and honest space for continued dialogue. And be sure to check out The Breastfeeding Shop, a Tricare preferred provider of breast pumps and accessories. To learn more about The Breastfeeding Shop, visit its website at thebreastfeedingshop.com. 

As a first time mom, you have general “plans.”

You don’t know what to expect, but you do a lot of reading and take input (wanted or not) from friends and family members. However, every experienced parent knows that plans are for fools. Find me a woman who created a “laboring playlist” (yes, people do it) that turned out to be perfectly timed for her contractions, and I will let her play some lottery numbers for me next week. My only plan for labor and delivery was an epidural. Guess what? My daughter had other plans. There wasn’t time for one. 

My plan for sleeping was that we would keep our daughter in our room in a Pack ‘n Play for a bit, for ease of breastfeeding and the inevitable regular wake-ups. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends room sharing for the first 6 to 12 months of life, so I figured we would be somewhere in that window. We had a crib in her room, and while I didn’t know when we would eventually get around to using it, I figured it would be before or around her first birthday.

She just turned four. She has yet to spend a night in that crib.

My daughter, perfect as she is, has always been a terrible sleeper. She woke up every 45 minutes to an hour most nights for the first year and nursed around the clock. She wouldn’t take a pacifier until she was eight months old and didn’t really like bottles (more on that later.)  I was an absolute zombie for the first year of her life. She would slowly taper down on frequency of wake-ups, but by that I mean “only” eight or so per night. I had no intention of moving her out of our room because that would mean getting out of bed and walking across the hall multiple times a night. We started with a Pack ‘n Play and later transitioned to an Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper. (It was so much easier to get her in and out of it! You should get one if you are pregnant.) I don’t have the intestinal fortitude to endure the crying that comes along with sleep training.

At some point I stopped putting her back in the co-sleeper. Either I was so tired I fell asleep nursing her, or then it just got easier to sleep with her in my arms. She was somewhere around a year old, so I was less anxious about rolling on her or getting her covered in blankets. She was no longer a tiny 5 lb. 7 oz. doll. She was a “robust” 14 pounds. Eventually, I would put her in the middle of the bed between myself and my husband, where I could be sure she wouldn’t roll off. 

As for my “plans” for breastfeeding, I was willing to give it a try, but since I had never really been exposed to nursing, it wasn’t my No. 1 priority. We had a bit of difficulty with her latch in the beginning, but with the help of a lactation consultant (which was provided through an on-base program for new parents), we developed a successful breastfeeding relationship.

I pumped a bit in the beginning and stuck the milk in the freezer. I packed a bottle a handful of times when we went out, but usually just opted to nurse her as it was simpler, especially if we were out for more than a few hours. (Remember, she nursed all the time!) I can’t recall how “well” she took a bottle. My husband said it wasn’t that great,  but she honestly only took about 10 to 20 between two and four months old. I partially blame my lack of consistent bottle feeding on what happened next: her refusal of them when we were desperate for her to take a bottle around 8 months because she had stopped gaining weight. She was 13.8 pounds from months 8 to 12 . I remember the joy I felt the day she broke 14 pounds.

Due to a combination of her developmental delays and an unexplained oral aversion (to everything except nursing), in addition to bottles, she would not and could not drink from a cup. So we carried on. We eventually got her to take a pacifier, which was very helpful.

She continued to nurse throughout the night well past her first birthday, and due to her low weight (deemed “Failure To Thrive,” the horrible medical term for a child who has difficulty gaining weight), I was told to keep it up. She needed any calories she could get. At some point it went from only nursing to her stubbornly insisting on being latched to me most of the night. But I was so tired, it was easier to just stick with the status quo, as I truly didn’t believe that night weaning her was going to suddenly make her sleep through the night. My mother-in-law told me that my husband woke frequently as a child, too, so I figured she was genetically predisposed to waking up a lot. At least by keeping her in the bed, I could help her readjust, get her latched on, and go back to sleep.

Nutritionally, we got to the point where she didn’t really need to nurse at night, but again, I was tired. It was the quickest way to get her back to sleep, and I was still certain that putting her in another room was not going to solve the issue. Besides, by this point it had gone from the baby sleeping in Mom and Dad’s room to the three of us having a Family Bedtime that involved quality time and snuggles. Both my husband and I enjoyed having her close to us (I am grateful that we agreed on this), so we didn’t try to transition her out. In fact, we invested in a king-size bed since it was apparent that she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Clearly the king-size bed gave me lots of extra space.

She continued to hate cups and bottles. No matter how many we tried, she wanted nothing to do with them. Even if I didn’t let her nurse, she wouldn’t cave and take the cup or bottle. She had no problem not drinking. She has been in feeding therapy twice a week since we moved back to the U.S. when she was 18 months old. It has been slow progress, but she finally started accepting a cup this spring. I have to squeeze it from a straw into her mouth, and she still never asks for it, but she will tolerate me keeping her hydrated. 

After she started accepting the cup, we were able to day-wean from nursing. And then she slept through the night for the first time ever this past May. She was 3 years and 10 months.  She had tapered down to about 1-3 wake ups per night, so I knew we were getting close. Then one morning I woke up and realized she had slept through! She is now consistently doing it, which is like magic.

I can’t even caption this.

I remember reading an article years ago about extended breastfeeding and thinking it was odd.

Obviously my feelings have changed.

However, I don’t expect to do this again. We nursed until age 4 out of necessity, not preference. I’m not saying I resented it, but if we could have weaned sooner it would have been easier on me. But my daughter is not a typical 4-year-old. I would estimate that across the board, she is more similar to an 18-month-old. She doesn’t talk, has very limited nonverbal communication, and does not have the same level of comprehension as a typical kid her age. She also is below the fifth percentile in weight, and somewhere in the same ballpark for height, so she doesn’t look her age.

Co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding felt right for our family. She was still my baby, not a typical 3-year-old. She still needs help with so many daily tasks — I didn’t feel like I was nursing a 3-year-old. However, weaning before she turned four was the perfect time for us.

I miss aspects of it; she enjoyed the cuddling, and it obviously relaxed her. I loved being able to give her that comfort. As for co-sleeping, I don’t know when she will move to her own room. We are expecting a second child this fall, but I plan to use the Arm’s Reach and try to keep us all together. My daughter also will be starting preschool this year, so it’s possible we will need to change things up sooner if it seems like she needs an earlier bedtime or if the baby wakes her up too much.

But for the time being, we are happy with our arrangement, which is most important, even if it was never part of my “plan.”

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