Skip to main content

The Last Feed? Part 1

Our boys nursing their bunnies to sleep
Four months ago, I published an article all about my rejection of the sleep training culture, extolling the virtues of following my baby’s lead, the second time around. The liberation from rules and schedules was the birth of my maternal instinct and true enjoyment of motherhood.

When my eldest was just six months, he slept through the night, 7pm-7am every night. To outsiders, we’d discovered the holy grail of parenthood. Yet there were major cracks under the perfect, unbroken surface of sleep.  To achieve this, I had to leave him to “self soothe”; I rarely witnessed that magical moment of watching him pass from wakefulness to sleep; I had to rouse him if he fell asleep at the breast for fear of “bad sleep associations”, but I didn't dare break out of this, too worried about giving our child "poor sleep habits".  But if you’ve read my other blogs, you know all about this.

When our second boy was born, all those rules went out of the window for both our children, choosing to listen to their needs instead, to follow their lead. Another two years on and we’ve cuddled/massaged/sung our boys to sleep every night.  We’ve been there at every wake up, every nightmare and every moment of sleep.  Our almost-four year old occasionally says that he can go to sleep by himself and we take our leave. Our youngest has fallen asleep after a breastfeed most evenings and has napped out and about in the sling or buggy.  However, since his second birthday, his needs have changed and I’ve tried to respond to these changes.

Age two, the breastfeeding- alongside a full balanced diet of good food- increased during the day, especially when in a new environment or when hosting a houseful of guests.  He would crawl into my nap and request “my mummy milk”.  His molars were coming through, he woke up every two hours through the night, he could become very tearful without warning and he became intensely possessive over everything.  “Welcome to the terrible twos” most people would quip but what a world of wonder he was discovering anew. His language skills suddenly exploded with new words, he was forming more complex sentences and his understanding had clearly improved.

Another six weeks later, in his 26th month, he gradually stopped asking for milk from me during the day. He sometimes skipped his daytime nap and was consequently falling asleep very quickly by bedtime.  His night wakings reduced to just once per night and the teething calmed.

By this time, I was pregnant with our third child and wondering what might happen to my milk. Breastfeeding through pregnancy is perfectly normal but I do know that this is when many older siblings self-wean as their mothers’ bodies change through pregnancy. Many report pain and discomfort; milk can dry up or nurselings can reject the colostrum produced later on, ready for the newborn. However, many mums do choose to continue to nurse both children, tandem feeding their toddlers and babies, allowing their children to form a unique bond of trust and care.  With my two year old feeding every evening and at least once a night, I had to adjust to the idea that this could be us. I tried to romanticise the tandem feed and spoke enthusiastically about the idea to friends and family, preparing them and me for this possibility.  I began to dwell on those picture-perfect photographs shared in the Facebook support group for 'Breastfeeding Older Babies and Beyond', normalising Natural Term Weaning and tandem feeding, especially where siblings tenderly held hands while co-nursing.

However, deep down, I was anxious about this idea. I’d night fed without a break for over two years and was struggling with exhaustion and sickness during this pregnancy. I was happy to feed both but not during the night. Something had to give.  I’d read about  night weaning and was interested in other mothers’ experiences.  Friends were starting to night wean their toddlers.  But for us, it never felt like the right time. His bedtimes were so swift and I could get him back to sleep within seconds with another feed, lying side-by-side, both relaxed and content. Taking away this vital sleep-maker seemed like a ridiculous and counter-productive idea.

But then the migraines began. Crippling debilitating headaches that lasted all night and resumed in the day.  Caused by tiredness, pregnancy hormones, diet, screen time...? I don't know.  I was waking for more water, re-positioning cushions, loo trips, paracetamol and tiger balm. Extra wakings and nocturnal breastfeeding were suddenly frustrating. I couldn’t do it anymore but to suddenly stop was not an option.

I waited another week or two and spent the time talking about the night-milk finishing and persevering with  cow’s milk, just like his big brother enjoys.  I'd limited his bedtime feeds to one side only and used countdowns to try and shorten the feeds.  I bought the beautifully illustrated (yet flimsy and over priced) publication Nursies When The Sun Shines to try and help him to prepare for the change.  This was a big waste of money: every time I began to read it, he closed the book and picked up a different book.  I collected photos to make a story book for him, saying goodnight to all his family and friends.  We bought a different bottle which he'd enjoyed drinking milk from while at a friend's house.  But, above all, I talked about the change and used role play to help him to understand.  My intention was to only stop night-feeding.  I wasn't completely ready to say goodbye to this particular nursing journey.

Then the inevitable night finally came.  I'd been struggling with another bad headache, linked perhaps to the ice-cream I'd enjoyed.  I'd fed him as usual at bedtime and although I tried not to let him fall asleep at the breast, he was soon snoozing away in my arms.  The last thing I'd said was "mummy milk is finished now." I hadn't necessarily planned to start the night-weaning that night but sometimes these things happen by themselves.


[Coming soon...  The Last Feed? Part 2- Night Weaning Begins]


Popular posts from this blog

Early Motherhood Clouded by Thick Fog, Just Like This Year's Supermoon.

Our youngest has the box room at the back corner of the house, its window to the side.  Looking out, there's a disappointing view: a thousand bricks, rising high into the blue.  Yet, there is one slither of visible sky.  Every evening, after bath time, we snuggle on his low bed, reading stories and settling for a milk feed.  The curtains are closed and the lights are dimmed to a low warm light.

We must have been a bit rushed one evening, a later bedtime with an overtired baby.  We collapsed onto the mattress, comfortable and settled at last.  It was only then that I looked up and realised that the blinds were up and I'd forgotten to turn the night light on.  But the room had a glow more lovely and soft than usual; the moon was steadily rising up through the narrow visible triangle of sky.  We both stared up in awe at the bright crescent moon and our little 17month old pointed and muttered "moo".

We've now spent a few evenings pointing at the moon and have observe…

The young, the old and the lonely, part 2: 'Babble and Bubbles' at St. Joe's.

After two years of trying and failing to set up a regular intergenerational social, I was delighted when Charley Allen, Activities Coordinator of St. Joseph's Care Home, Tring, commented on my post in the local Facebook group: a desperate last chance to team up stay at home parents, their little ones and isolated older adults.  The idea came from my often lonely and anxious experience of early motherhood. The major trial of leaving the house with a tiny baby was always rewarded by a natter in the shops or on a park bench, cooing into the pram, telling me "he's gorgeous".  His lovely little face brought so much joy.  Surely we could make this a regular thing?
Charley works with older adults in a local care home, specialising in dementia care.  She was excited by the possibility of opening the care home doors to babies, toddlers and their parents.  We chatted about what might appeal to both under 5s and over 75s, deciding on traditional nursery rhymes, a story, bubble…

The Young, The Old and The Lonely: Setting up a Playgroup in a Care Home, Part 1

When I first became a mum, the biggest surprise was how lonely the day-to-day could be. Sanity was usually saved by elderly folk, who were also out getting fresh air in the middle of the day. They had time to chat and stories to share. The baby in my arms was proof enough that I was harmless.  His tiny presence made opening lines easy enough; conversation flowed freely between strangers, bridging generations, differences and histories. A park bench or check out queue became therapeutic moments in the day, cooing over little one's eyelashes, or sharing ad hoc games of peekaboo. They were brief chance encounters but spread so much joy.

It seemed obvious that these meetings need not be left to chance. For all the new lonely mums out there, there's double the number of lonely older adults.  If only I could adopt a granny, or visit someone housebound, or volunteer for a befriend the elderly coffee morning.  A hot cuppa: that'd be a dream. Adult conversation? Yes please.  Bringi…