Coping with Frequent Night Nursing
I love my children, and I love breastfeeding. Yet, there have been times, especially at night, when I have felt seriously touched out and have wanted to run screaming from the room rather than nurse my child again! I’ve even been tempted to night-wean my children several times. But honestly, I could never go through with night weaning. I guess, in my soul, I knew they just needed to nurse. Here are some things I’ve done in order to survive.
My current child is 16 months right now. She nurses most nights every 2 hours, in my estimation. I never sleep through nightly nursing sessions, as many nursing mothers can, just because I’m not capable of it. I just can’t sleep through the sessions for some reason. So I’m up over the course of the night A LOT! I am seriously touched out on a regular basis, sometimes to the point that I feel like I might just scream. Seriously. and this is not my only child that has nursed at night regularly. My first nursed every two hours at night until he was 2.5 years old (he spontaneously night-weaned when I was pregnant with number 2). and my second child nursed at night regularly until she was 4.
The most important things I’ve done to make the nights tolerable are this:
- I make sure I’m physically in bed at night, trying to sleep, for at least 10 hours.
- My husband is required to get up at least one hour earlier than me and take the baby out of the bed and out of the room to give me a break.
#1 is important because I have to get around 7.5-8 hours of sleep in order to be a happy mom. So if I’m up all night nursing, I have to be in bed for much longer than those 8 hours. So if that means I have to go to bed at 8 or 9 pm, I do it. For me, I’m willing to skip interacting with the husband in the evening, or watching TV, or whatever. Sleep is more important to me. If the baby isn’t ready to sleep when I go to bed, my husband hangs out with her and the other kids while I get a head start on sleep. He knows to bring the baby in when she is *really tired and ready to nurse* (sometimes he rushes it when she just starts to get cranky, and then I have to lecture him a bit!).
#2 is sooooo important because I’m usually totally touched out by the end of the night, and I absolutely need that hour or so totally alone in bed to recharge. It really helps me so much. When my husband takes the baby out of bed in morning, he sometimes just sits with the sleeping baby on his chest in front of his laptop. Or if the baby wakes up, he feeds her breakfast and reads to her and stuff.
Here’s another thing I’ve done to cope: I’ve adjusted my expectations. I know this sounds kind of simplistic, but bear with me. There were some nights when all I could think about was getting the baby detached from my breast so that I could roll over and sleep without touching her. By the end of the night, I’d spent most of the night trying to detach and feeling stressed and miserable when it didn’t work for at least half of the nursing sessions. Plus, I was exhausted and angry about it. It was bad. Then, one night, I sort of went into it thinking that I was going to make the best of it, making sure I had a really comfortable pillow for my lower back, and just trying to relax and sleep and get comfortable in the nursing position. After those nights, even if I spent equal times nursing, I realized I felt better. I didn’t realize the difference at first, until I talked about it with my husband. and then it was like, “Eureka!” So now I try to go into the night just figuring that I’m going to be attached to the baby most of the time. Not that I don’t often try to detach. But I try not to get all caught up in focusing on getting away from her. And it makes me feel so much better when morning comes. If I’ve managed to have a few hours of independent sleep, that an extra bit of coolness. If I’ve spent most of the night with a baby attached to my breast, that’s OK, too, because I didn’t set myself up for failure in the beginning.
One last coping strategy that comes to mind: Use childbirth coping strategies to get yourself by in the most stressful moments. I was reminded to use the childbirth strategies when my first was getting older, and he was sort of giving me “the willies” when we nursed (people who have nursed older children sometimes have this toe-curling sensation than can really bug you.) A fantastic unschooling parent suggested that I use coping strategies to get through the rough patches. Now I use the coping strategies when I feel touched out and really want to run away. My favorite coping strategies are listed in Birthing from Within: An Extra-Ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation . They have all sorts of visualization strategies that have really worked for me. My favorites are “spiraling” and “Quaker listening”. You can use these visualizations to either distract yourself from freaking out, or you can use these things to relax. It’s really similar to childbirth in a way. In labor, you have this pain sensation. So you need to focus on other things to reduce the pain. With being touched out, the replacement for pain is the sensation of this nursling who is nursing and being in constant contact with you. We love our kids, but sometimes the sensations just become too much for us (just like in birth). There is one visualization that involves spiraling smoke from your core, which can help you to relax and fall back asleep at the same time.
I love that birth metaphor. Just like we go through the pain (and hopefully, pleasure) of birth for our babies, we sometimes have to go through some more stressful things in meeting their needs in the early years. It’s also important to remember that we often need a partner’s support in breastfeeding, just like we need our partner’s support during labor and birth. [This is, of course, if we have a partner in our bedroom at night. This may be more difficult for single parents!] Our partners may have no idea what “being touched out” feels like, as they may have had no idea what giving birth is like. But partners can still try to understand and help us through it. If we explain that the work of breastfeeding is just a continuation of the work of labor and birth, perhaps the partners will feel more able to give us the help we need to cope with night nursing.
[Photo credit: Raphael Goetter]