I was raised with the firm belief that children should have their own space in the house. Their own room, certainly, and perhaps most importantly, their own bed to sleep in. Despite a few staged pictures from my childhood that might indicate otherwise, we weren’t allowed to sleep in Mom & Dad’s room. When I was pregnant with my first child, I very much enjoyed decorating the nursery and preparing my baby’s space. I took every care in planning and decorating, and couldn’t wait to place baby in his crib.
Then we actually had the baby, and the thought of putting this teensy, tiny, helpless creature in a room all alone on the other side of the house was… unsettling. And so we did what many parents do, and we planned to have baby in a bassinet close to my side of the bed. That was short-lived; like one night only, as I was a breastfeeding mom and still learning to nurse, so we compromised and put the baby in the bed with us – just for a short time, you understand. Until suddenly, he was 6 months old, and having a baby in the bed with us had become the norm for our family. Without realizing it, we did what thousands of families before us had done. We co-slept. We ‘shared sleep’. Or, if you prefer, we adopted the ‘family bed’.
In many cultures, the family bed is the cultural norm. In the United States, we tend to value independence to the point of insisting that our newborns should embrace the concept immediately upon exiting the womb, so the idea is still a bit foreign. Every year, there are reports of babies being injured or killed while sleeping in the same bed with a sibling or parents, and we of the safety-conscious Western world take note and feel smug that our independent babies are out of the danger zone. But in other cultures where co-sleeping is the norm, it’s a rare thing for a baby to be harmed while sharing sleep with his family. That makes sense, because when parents in our culture sleep with a baby, it’s often an ‘accident’ – mom is tired and so she ‘rests’ for a minute and ends up falling alseep in an unsafe place or way, while in cultures where co-sleeping is planned for, safety is a prime concern.
In part, this is due to how the bed is shared. Like anything else to do with your baby, there are safety guidelines and considerations to take under advisement. In researching for this article, I found that there are lots of pictures of a whole family in a bed, but very few pictures on the internet (according to Google images) that depict bed-sharing safely. According to Dr. James McKenna of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at Norte Dame University, safe co-sleeping guidelines include:
- both parents need to understand the benefits and risks associated with co-sleeping, and be committed to safety in the family bed
- breastfeeding babies should sleep next to mother; never between adults
- bottle-feeding babies are safer on a flat surface next to mother’s bed, rather than in bed with mother.
- siblings should not share sleep with a baby less than one year of age
- a baby should never share sleep with mother or father who is intoxicated, or on medications, sedatives or other drugs that would interfere with his or her awareness during sleep
- obese persons may present more of a safety hazard to a co-sleeping baby
- baby’s sleeping space should be firm, with no pillows or bedding (sheets, comforters, blankets or clothing) that could present a hazard to the baby near him/her
- persons with long hair should tie hair up and out of the way to prevent baby from becoming entangled in long hair
- sleep clothing should avoid being extra loose, or with spaghetti straps or other features that could entangle baby or obstruct his/her breathing
- the bed should be semi-firm (pillow top mattresses, or cushy toppers are no-no), and pillows and bedding should be kept to a minimum, and away from baby.
The question is, why would you deliberately plan on co-sleeping? And isn’t that weird? And how in the world do you sleep with a baby in the bed?
Though I am no expert, I can draw on my own experiences as a reluctant convert to co-sleeping parent, and working with families over the past decade to share with you. For many new parents, it’s a matter of getting sleep. Like I mentioned above, new parents are tired. We often get the advice to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, but many of us find that to be impractical advice. New babies take up a lot of mom’s time, and so when the baby sleeps may be the only time a new mom has to get things done that can’t be done with a babe in arms. This is even more true if she has older kids that need attention. Since few babies have an issue sleeping in mom’s arms, having mom lie down with baby is a natural progression. Sleep-deprived moms will do almost anything for more sleep, so if this is something you’ve been struggling with, maybe try it?
As a new practice, and/or something you may not have considered or planned on, sleeping with a child in the bed can definitely take some getting used to. To reiterate the safety guidelines above, there are some things to consider before just plopping a baby into your bed and dozing off. But, when done with safety in mind, co-sleeping with the breastfed baby has a lot of benefits, including:
- more, better sleep for mom – if baby wakes frequently to nurse, then the advantage of side-lying breastfeeding (not having to get up/out of bed) is obvious.
- Being able to get to baby when s/he first stirs means an easier transition back to sleep.
- establishment of milk supply in the early weeks; maintaining milk supply or boosting milk supply later on – having baby in bed can increase the number of times baby will nurse during the night, which is a key factor in milk regulation and production
- decreased risk of SIDS – AskDrSears has a great article that talks about the statistics, and even the AAP, who does not recommend actual bed-sharing, acknowledges that babies who sleep in the same room with mother reduces the risk of SIDS.
Even if you’re not breastfeeding, keeping baby close to mom at night (room-sharing) carries some of the same benefits as co-sleeping.
So what does co-sleeping look like when that’s your long-term plan? Beds are big, but they’re not usually made for an entire family!
For our family, we decided on the ‘bed ROOM’ plan. Essentially, one room was the sleeping room. It’s hard to see in the picture above – that was taken back in the days of 2.5 megapixel digital cameras – so I drew a layout to better explain how we set up our bedroom when my boys were small. It’s also worth pointing out that our house has a split floorplan; the master bedroom is on the other side of the house from the other bedrooms. So we chose to set up our bed in one of the smaller bedrooms for the first few years.
This worked out well when we transitioned the boys to their own room, because we were still only feet away at night. Now, that bedroom belongs to my oldest son, and we’ve moved into the master bedroom (with lovely attached bathroom). Interestingly enough, now that they both have their own rooms, more nights than not, they still sleep in the same room.
If you’re considering an unconventional sleeping arrangement for your family, be assured that there are many different configurations and durations and other options available to you. Though you may hear from dissenters, ultimately, where and how your family sleeps is up to you. If what you’re doing now isn’t working, try something new! If it doesn’t work, you can always change it again or go back to what you had before. Keep an open mind, and don’t be afraid to step outside of the mainstream, especially if it might mean more, better sleep for your family.
Please tell us what works for your family in the comments!
And now we’re gonna talk about it. As awkward as you might feel reading an article about sex during pregnancy, please know that I feel just as awkward writing about sex during pregnancy. So let’s feel awkward together, shall we?
This is why you don’t agree to things in late night Facebook messages with your fellow bloggers when you’re building-a-human-being tired. But I’m glad to do it. Sex is one of those things that still makes people squeamish to address in nearly anything other than reverent euphemisms or bawdy humor, and the advice tends to be either too clinical, colloquial or comical. I’ve clearly done It a time or two, and am therefore qualified to be your Sherpa up the Mountain of Boning. It is also clear that I’ve chosen to employ the latter-most option to keep me from getting too embarrassed. Never fear, though, because I am of the mind that it is preferable to use anatomically correct terms when one can and will be trying for a mix of those three C’s I mentioned. This article won’t sound like a frat boy wrote it, promise.
I’m stalling. I’ll stop that now.
I’m currently 31 weeks pregnant. I remember when I was pregnant with our nine-year-old daughter, and I was an energetic 19, that one day it was like a switch was flipped. Near the middle of my pregnancy, though still plagued by all-day sickness, it was go time. The flood of hormones surging through my body manifested in both uncontrolled vomiting and a libido that would rival the Mata Hari. Sexy, sexy combination, that one. But I don’t think my husband minded too much. Now that I’m almost a decade older, and despite having only mild and occasional morning sickness, my motor is clearly running much less enthusiastically. He sometimes asks me when “the pillaging will begin”, referencing the (more than one) time back then that I literally pounced on him before he was even awake. Now, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, things are perfectly average in the Boudoir d’Sites, with which I am totally fine. My husband works off shore, so the old adage that “distance makes the heart grow hornier” benefits us; and I have two weeks off a month to feel gross and unattractive in peace. For other couples, pregnancy has a way of facilitating highs and lows of momentous proportions, and many other pregnant couples experience a less even keeled and predictable sex life. This can be due to a multitude of factors, both on the part of the mother and her partner. If you’ve ever been pregnant, I don’t need to write out a laundry list of pregnancy action blockers. If you haven’t, allow me to put these images in your head:
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Vaginal dryness
- Breast tenderness
- Self-consciousness stemming from any of the above, as well as
- Change in body image
- Weight gain
- Areola spreading
- Increase in size of the Montgomery Tubercles (how’s that for a sexy body part name?)
- Anything under the sun, rational or irrational, at any time
- [Insert your own personal cold shower here]
Sometimes it’s just plain hard to get aroused when you’re emotionally shaken up for whatever (or no) reason. Men are not immune to their own personal brands of pre-coitus coitus interruptus. Based upon what I know about the male of our species, and my loving husband’s begrudging help, your baby daddy’s list might include:
- Fatigue not stemming from pregnancy
- Concerns about his partner’s safety
- Concerns about the baby’s safety
- The heebie-jeebies about performing so close to his unborn child
- Confusion about or discomfort with his partner’s changing body
- Changes in the way the vagina feels
- Subtle changes in his partner that aren’t necessarily physical
I’m going to expand on those last two. “Changes in the way the vagina feels.” Being a writer is super fun sometimes, because you get to write about your personal experiences, like that right there! I was on pelvic rest for the first three months or so of this pregnancy. When it was finally safe to get it on, we both noticed two things: my nether regions were much drier than before, and we were both incredibly sore after sex. We just assumed my discomfort was from the lack of natural lubricant, but his had us stumped. I eventually got up the nerve to ask my midwife about it, and she said it was because I had become much more acidic than pre-pregnancy. She suggested taking chlorophyll supplements. I didn’t get any. Not because I don’t value her expert advice, but because I found something that killed two painful birds with one stone and was already in my kitchen: coconut oil. We use it for everything. I mean it… Ev. Ree. Thing. I buy the organic, cold pressed, blah blah, hippie kind, and it’s great. Now I keep a little jar of it in our master bathroom so I can dash in there when the mood strikes. It’s a bit inconvenient to have to hit pause before, but it’s a lot better than feeling like our fun bits are going to fall off after. And the coconut-y scent is delightful.
The last entry on that list is something I really didn’t expect, and that my husband timidly mentioned a few days after I first grilled him for man problems. He said that I smell differently. Not bad! he was quick to add, just different, and stronger. My body and my breath, while not unpleasant, smell completely foreign to him, and he said that trips him up sometimes. I actually thought this was terribly sweet, and was glad to know that he wouldn’t be easily fooled if he was stricken blind and some strange woman pretending to be me tried to seduce him. I’ve joked that this change in aroma is Nature’s way of telling prospective males “Move along, this one’s already been fertilized!” Maybe there’s an evolutionary angle here. I’m too tired to Google it.
Feeling like swearing off sex for the remainder of your pregnancy, or your life? Well, my job here is done! Just kidding. I wouldn’t leave you high and dry. (Too soon?) There are some clear benefits to sex during pregnancy as well. What to Expect has a nice little list of things to make intercourse more appealing, including:
- Stress relief
- Better sleep (thanks to the hormone prolactin)
- Calorie burning
- Immune system boosting
- Sex helps bring you and your partner together by increasing intimacy and fostering a sense of closeness in general.
There have been a few times that I haven’t felt like sex at all, but I was feeling down, insecure and lonely- even though my husband was home. I initiated things and once we got into it I felt much better. Afterward, my melancholia was gone, and my husband felt nice because hey, who doesn’t like to be wooed? I found this post while doing recon for this article, and though it’s short and basic, I liked that there was a blog out there for dads by a dad. If your partner is still iffy, send him there. A few other pluses are:
- Sex is a good cardiovascular workout
- The hormones released can ease aches and pains
- Increased blood flow to the abdomen and genitals can also increase your sexual sensitivity and make for amazing sex
- Increased blood flow is good for baby
- Sex makes you (and your partner) happy!
If you’re still needing a nudge in the sexual direction, I found this series of three short videos informative (it’s not porn, I swear). It’s important to communicate with your partner, especially in the last trimester. Your comfort level and needs may be very different near the end of your pregnancy. Let him know, and get creative. Try different positions to find what works for your growing belly. At this stage in the game, avoid lying on your back. If sex is followed by light spotting- which can be totally normal- try a more shallow entry position, like spooning.
Sex can also have some other benefits at the end of your pregnancy. If your cervix is ripened and receptive, the high dose of prostaglandins present in semen can help further ripen the cervix and help it efface and dilate. Both orgasm and nipple stimulation cause your body to produce oxytocin, another important hormone during labor. The uterine contractions that accompany orgasm can also potentially kick start things. If it’s not time, it’s not time, but I’ve already informed my hubby that the minute he sets foot back onshore in November it is go time. I’m due in about the middle of his hitch home, but I want to do everything I safely can to get this show on the road so that he can be present for the birth of our first son and spend as much time with us after as possible. You should, of course, speak to your midwife or doctor about sex in the last weeks of pregnancy, and take caution if you’re worried about or at risk of preterm labor. And I want to think it goes without saying, but don’t have sex once your water breaks. You’d be surprised by the amount of times I’ve seen women ask this in my pregnancy groups on Facebook. Once the dam has been broken, the vagina should become a one-way street facing outward. Anything going in (including the gloved hands of healthcare professionals) introduces bacteria and increases the risk of infection.
Bottom line: Sex got you into this mess, but it can also help you and your partner become closer, relax, have some fun, and it may even get you out of it. My biggest piece of advice would be to take it easy on yourself. I feel super gross and unattractive at all times now, but I know my husband still loves me, and sees me as the hot babe that’s carrying his son (the huge boobs help). I’m sure if I polled the partners of everyone reading this, they’d feel the same way. So take it easy, don’t over think it, and happy sexing.
Evelyn’s birth story began in late February of 2013, the week my grandfather passed away. My sister called with the news, and we made arrangements to travel from Sayulita (near Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast of Mexico) to Arizona for the funeral. We spent a bittersweet week with family, and returned home. A couple of weeks went by. I was struggling to shake a bad cold, and just couldn’t regain my energy or keep my emotions in check. I attributed all of this to grief, but then the day of the March new moon arrived, and my moon didn’t. I knew. I dug out a pregnancy test from the medicine cabinet and confirmed my knowing, sharing the news with my son and husband. We were shocked, delighted, terrified, and-mostly-in love.
We had tried for over a year to conceive, been disappointed, decided we were just perfect as a family of 3, changed direction, and made plans for a big move. What would we do? Our plans suddenly didn’t feel right, but I struggled to hold on to them, researching healthcare and birth center options in Washington. We could go, as planned, coming back to Sayulita in September rather than November. We could go, and settle in, having the baby in Washington and spending the winter there. Or we could simply stay home. We chose to stay home. We stayed in Mexico for many reasons, including a loving community, a strong sense of home, and access to affordable, high quality health care. Now we just had to decide on a care provider, and a location for the birth.
I knew a local midwife, and had been present as a doula for the birth of a friend’s baby that she attended. I contacted her, and also began to see her backup physician (an OB/Gyn) in Puerto Vallarta. I felt very unsure about having a home birth in Sayulita, because we were 30 minutes away from the hospital- and those 30 minutes could easily become an hour or more depending on traffic and road conditions. I had a very positive home birth experience when my son was born in 2008, and going the OB-hospital route was not an option I wanted to consider, but I also didn’t want a curvy 2-lane mountain jungle road between me and the hospital if medical help became necessary. We considered renting a vacation home in PV and having our “home birth” there, attended by the midwife. I investigated rentals, and considered hospitals. The midwife decided that she needed a complete rest from her practice, and told us that she would not be able to attend the birth. I felt unsettled, but trusted that all the elements would fall into place. And then an ideal option presented itself- a local husband and wife team had just completed converting their former home into a birth center, with an emphasis on water birth. They are both physicians, she a GP with a specialization in labor and delivery, he a pediatrician. My husband and I met with Doctora (feminine form of Doctor) Tony, loved her energy, level of training, experience, and commitment to gentle birth, and we had our plan. I would continue to see my OB/Gyn, because in the event of a transfer he would have to be my care provider at the hospital. I began to see Tony regularly, and my visits often went over an hour, as we chatted, got to know one another, and spent lots of time discussing the beauty of birth. My pregnancy progressed normally, Evelyn settled into position, and we looked forward to her arrival.
My due date was Nov. 16. My best friend, Briana, was arriving on Nov. 7th. I took it easy until she arrived, and then began to gently encourage labor. Long walks on the beach, swimming, copious amounts of pineapple, pelvic tilts, squatting, and extra activity in general- interspersed with lying on the couch in front of a fan. Imagine peak heat and humidity in Beaumont, with no AC. That was my pregnancy, and November in the tropics wasn’t bringing any relief. My personal, declared due date of Nov. 11 came and went, and I kept moving (and sweating). On the 15th, after going to the farmers market for fresh veggies (and a beautiful bouquet of pink roses- we couldn’t resist) Briana and I headed down a jungle road to a small, quiet beach. The temperature had cooled, and it was overcast. It began to rain, and soon we had the beach to ourselves. I got into the water and enjoyed a nice long swim. It felt so good to float in the cool salt water, and spin and twirl and generally feel graceful and light. I had gained 55 pounds, mas o menos, and “graceful and light” were a dim memory. I went home feeling relaxed, and in very good spirits due to the rain. I ate an enormous dinner of beans and rice with all the fixings and went to bed. I woke up at about 2:30 and headed into the kitchen. The rain made the loveliest sound on our roof. I took a piece of “labor and delivery” chocolate, handmade and gifted by a friend, and settled onto the couch to savor it and enjoy the rain, the dark, and the quiet. As I sat there a song came to me, and I began to quietly sing to Evelyn. Just simple words to a simple tune, telling her she was beautiful, and perfect, that we loved her and were so ready to meet her. I feel into a sweet meditative space for some time, and then returned to bed.
A full bladder woke me up sometime around 7 am. My husband was in the bathroom, so I decided to stay in bed and do some nipple stimulation while I waited for him to finish (who wouldn’t?). After a few minutes of rubbing my nipples I felt a contraction through my belly and hot wet between my legs. I jumped out of bed, there was a gush and splash of fluid, and things are suddenly very exciting at the Koehler house. Today is the day! I got out of my wet clothes, we did a bit of cleanup, and I called Dra. Tony and my parents to let them know Evelyn was coming. We began to gather our kit for the birth center- my altar items, grandmother’s quilts, tea and smoothie supplies, music and camera equipment, essential oils and diffuser, clothes, etc…We had an hour drive to the birth center, but would be stopping about half way there to drop off our son with my parents (he chose not to be present for the birth). I was having contractions every 5-8 minutes, but they were not painful. It was still raining when we arrived at the house. Tony had the house softly lit, with a big bouquet of beautiful flowers placed near the door. Keith began to settle us in immediately, hanging curtains, placing the altar items, getting the music set up, and plugging in my aromatherapy diffuser. Tony checked E’s heart rate and my blood pressure, and all seemed well. I had noticed an off color when my water broke, so Tony checked my pads to see what was what. There was a small amount of meconium, but E’s heart rate was strong and we were certain that the cord was NOT wrapped around her neck (thanks to a required 3D ultrasound at 39 weeks). As long as things progressed normally, and the meconium did not increase, I could stay at the birth center. I was so relieved. I settled into a rhythm. My contractions were regular, but the intensity seemed mild. Briana was in charge of food and beverage, and she kept me hydrated with raspberry leaf tea and nourished with decadent smoothies. It’s hazy, but I think there were beef tinga quesadillas at one point. I walked, breathed, stretched, bounced, and laughed into the early afternoon. Tony had asked that I tell her every time a contraction began and ended, which became annoying. Finally I told Keith to tell her that I wouldn’t report on my contractions any longer. They were becoming more intense, and my attention was turning inward- I could no longer be bothered to communicate my experience, because I needed to be fully in it. Tony was ok with that- she explained later that she was monitoring my progress so closely because of the meconium issue. Labor up to this point (early afternoon) had been so comfortable that I expected to give birth after dark.
Suddenly, at about 3:30pm, I had a series of intense contractions, one after the other in quick succession. I was on all fours, moving through cat and cow, as they happened. When they passed I called Keith in, and asked him to stay with me. Tony suggested that it might be time to get in the tub. I agreed. While we waited for the water to get to temperature Tony massaged my lower back and put pressure on my hips. I’m not sure when, but at some point Tony’s husband, Augustin, had arrived. He had a quiet, solid, comforting presence- he just hung out in the living room until I was in active delivery. He was there in case Evelyn needed help. Keith put on my favorite Krishna Das album, and I stepped into the water. It was 4 pm.
The temperature was soothing, and I relaxed into the weightless feeling. My contractions eased up a bit, and Tony placed a cloth scented with Rose oil over my eyes. When the next contraction came, I pushed the cloth away, moved onto all fours and gently bounced and breathed. I came back onto my side to rest, and soon another contraction came. This one was very intense, and I remember feeling afraid. I wanted to express this fear to Keith and Tony when the force of the contraction passed and I could speak. Before I had the chance, Tony told me to check the position of the baby using my middle finger. She showed me the different depths it might go to, and what they meant. I slowly began to insert my finger, and immediately touched Evelyn’s head. She was here! I could do it! After this things went very quickly. Keith was sitting on the side of the tub with his legs in the water, and I was on my knees facing him, holding his thighs and waist.
With the next contraction, I opened my mouth and just let my voice go as the force of the contraction brought Evelyn down. She was crowning. With the next contraction I let out a deep roar, and her head was out. The relief was profound. I reached down and began to gently rub her soft head and feel along her facial features. Keeping my hand over the crown of her head, I maneuvered my right leg to bring my knee up and my foot down. This new position opened up my pelvis, and with one more contraction Evelyn slipped out into my hands. I brought her to the surface and lifted her to my chest as I sat back, exhausted and transcendent.
She was born at 4:30 pm, with no tears (I had a small tear with my son). Keith and I were talking to her, touching her, loving her. I couldn’t stop kissing her. Augustin and Tony were worried because she seemed so quiet, so they had Keith cut the cord (with his favorite pocket knife, sharpened and sterilized for the occasion), Augustin cleared her airways of mucus, rubbed her with a warm towel, and then she really woke up. I held her again briefly, placing her to the breast to nurse, but then had Keith hold her when I left the water to deliver the placenta. After the placenta had been delivered, I lay down with her for a bit before moving to a recliner.
She latched on immediately and nursed for nearly an hour. Briana and Keith prepared a smoothie with a small amount of the placenta in it, and I sipped on that while Evelyn nursed. My parents brought Bo to meet his new sister, and I was so happy to see him.
They didn’t stay long, because I was having some blood pressure issues and needed to rest. When Augustin and Tony were confident that we were all safe and sound, they headed for home. Briana went upstairs to bed, and Keith, Evelyn, and I settled into our first night together.
Somewhere in the Universe, two storks were matching babies to mommies-to-be…
Manager: “Cindy Adams gets a blonde girl. Betty Jones gets twin boys. Bet she quits making fun of cankles now. Renae Rose….give her one of those new experimental models.”
Secretary: “The HN’s? They aren’t production ready! We can’t figure out how to stop the screaming feature. The sleep button is stuck in the never position and we’re pretty sure there’s no off switch!”
Manager: “Eh, what’s the worst that can happen?”
…and I’m pretty sure that’s how I ended up with my high-need daughter, Emelyn (affectionately known, in certain circles, as “Gremelyn”).
From the moment she was born, she screamed every moment she wasn’t sleeping and the child never slept. It wasn’t that adorable, sleepy, singing cry either. I have heard animals being eaten on the Discovery Channel that protested less than my daughter did when she was upset. The list of things that offended her included: sleeping, not sleeping, hot, cold, temperate, stress, no stress, and days ending in Y. Of course, we drug Emelyn to the pediatrician convinced she had a twisted bowel/broken bone/demon possessing her. We were told that she had colic and reflux, was spoiled, and just “generally unhappy”…all of which were less than helpful.
One day while contemplating making a candy necklace out of Valium and licking it, I came across Dr. Sears’ 12 Features of a High Need Baby. He had plagiarized my child! There was a name for the kind of baby Emelyn was and other people had survived infanthood with babies like her with minimal PTSD. Just being able to point to a label gave me hope and a game plan and from that day forth, I gave in to the needs. I wore Emelyn, nursed her, and was around her, night and day, until she was two years old. I am not exaggerating when I say I didn’t take time off, but that’s what she needed. She would shriek and instead of hiding, I would take her out anyway. Gradually she began to enjoy our outings and balancing between the high need characteristics of “hyperactive” and “super sensitive.” Being worn exposed her to get much needed scenic variety and stimulation but also allowed her to turn into me when it was enough.
One of the most frustrating aspects of having a high need baby is the ignorance and outright hostility towards your child and life. “She’s just spoiled. She’ll never be independent if you wear her. You’re still nursing that baby?!” My one piece of advice is do not listen to the negative people. They would never deny an asthmatic child an inhaler and your support mechanisms for your baby are just as critical. What works for your and your child, WORKS and no justification is needed. For me, realizing that there was nothing wrong with Emelyn and that I just needed to make my world a little cuddlier for her was a huge breakthrough.
While I will talk about her needs as a toddler another time, I want to leave you with this story. This year she begged to do dance class, and the instructor told us three year olds inevitably lose their minds from separation the first few classes. I know my kid and was prepared for an epic meltdown. Instead she walked up to a crying girl and said, “It’s okay. Grown-ups come back” because every time she has needed someone, her needs have been met. For her, mommy will always come and that security is valuable for any child, especially one with high needs.
When you hear the term ‘baby-led weaning’ (BLW), some think of the magical time when baby starts to eat solids foods, usually after 6 months of age, and after certain milestones have been reached. Others consider ‘weaning’ to be the time when baby stops nursing completely. Though some of the terminology overlaps, I’d like to clarify that in this particular post, I am referring to the time when baby stops breastfeeding completely, rather than the time where solid foods are introduced.
In the ‘crunchy mama’ circles, BLW refers to the practice of continuing to breastfeed a baby well past infancy, until the child no longer wants to nurse. BLW means that baby sets the pace, and the mother continues to breastfeed until baby decides that s/he is done. Many babies continue nursing for a couple of years, some even nurse for what it termed ‘full term breastfeeding’, which is based on the biological norm of somewhere between 4-7 years, as Katherine Dettweyler’s research indicates. It’s hard for a new mom, with a precious squishy newborn, to imagine but as your ‘baby’ grows you don’t see the baby turning into a toddler. Breastfeeding becomes such a normal part of your day, and of how you mother, that discontinuing seems odd. ‘Mothering at the breast’ is what La Leche League calls it, and there’s ample research to back breastfeeding for several years. As the child gets older, it’s also referred to as ‘child-led weaning’ (CLW).
I was fortunate, in that breastfeeding was normal for me. Growing up, I’d seen my mother and aunts nurse their babies, so when I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I was planning to breastfeed. Normal though it was, it wasn’t easy right off the bad like I’d been expecting. I had trouble during the first 4 weeks of so with my son’s latch. I was discouraged, and in pain. I wish I’d known then that breastfeeding has a learning curve, and what I was experiencing was normal, in that it was a common problem, but relatively easily fixed with the right knowledge and support. Once I found that support (through my area’s La Leche League peer support group), breastfeeding was much easier, and enjoyable.
As I learned more about breastfeeding, it became more of a passion. I had wanted to breastfeed, but education about it outside of LLL was severely lacking in my area. I knew that I wasn’t the first mom to plan on nursing, only to have a lack of knowledge on my part compromise my success. I heard time and time again, new mothers say that they were planning to ‘try’ breastfeeding. Overwhelmingly, the attitude was one of defeat before the baby was ever even born! It was so common here to expect to fail at breastfeeding that I was prompted to get involved. I read everything I could find on breastfeeding, from humour to published medical research. I studied the anthropological and economic histories of breastfeeding. I went to LLL meetings and connected with other LLL Leaders all over the US, and finally, I went through the process of becoming a LLL Leader while I was pregnant with my second child (during which I continued to breastfeed my older son, and then tandem nursed for some time after my new babe was born). Along the way, during all of my studies, I formed some pretty intense personal ideals of what breastfeeding ‘should’ look like. I wasn’t as keen to push those ideals onto others, but I am sure they leaked out now and again.
I share that bit of history to illustrate just how much of a breastfeeding advocate I was. I was absolutely dedicated breastfeeding my own children, and to helping moms know the joy of breastfeeding their own babies. Looking back, I am sure I was overly zealous, even annoying, with my crusade to help. But that’s really where my enthusiasm came from; a desire to help. I knew how much mis-information was out there, and how awful it feels to think that breastfeeding won’t work out for your baby. For every mom who was exasperated with my determination to help them succeed, there were ten who were intensely grateful for the support. It wasn’t until I really began working with moms who were having issues that were unrelated to education that my ‘intensity’ began to wane. Seeing moms who really, really gave it their all without success was heartbreaking. Working with moms who eventually had to decide between being a happy mom and being a nursing mom was really eye opening. Time and maturity works its magic, and I learned so much from the moms I worked with. But even recognizing that desire isn’t the only factor in breastfeeding success didn’t temper my own goals and ideals for my plan to nurse my own babies until they were done, rather than according to an external timetable.
I have to admit that during the time, I was also dealing with some fairly serious depression and anxiety issues (though both conditions would remain diagnosed for quite some time yet). Despite how bad it was internally, I managed to put on a happy face and keep on keepin’ on. But nursing two babes was hard – harder than I would have admitted back then. It’s stressful on your time, body, and nutritionally. I did what I thought was best for my family at the time, and while I don’t regret making that choice, it was really hard to admit it when I realized that I didn’t want to nurse both of them anymore. I’d been such an advocate of child-led weaning, and now, here I was changing my mind about it? It was unthinkable!
But that’s the reality. I did change my mind about it, because prior to making the decision to follow child-led weaning, I wasn’t in a position to find any fault with it. But as a touched-out, tandem nursing mama with serious depression, I wasn’t doing myself, or my children, any favors by continuing to stick to an ideal that didn’t work within my family dynamic anymore, regardless of how well-intentioned that ideal was. So, because I am me and research is my thing, I started reading. What I found was a pretty big division between the ‘strictly child-led weaning’ set and the ‘wean on Mom’s timetable’ set without a lot of in-between. I didn’t fit into either camp – I still ‘believed in’ child-led weaning, but only so long as it works for both mom and baby/child. In my case, it didn’t. I needed to wean my older child so that I could continue to nurse my baby. And so that’s what I did. Over the course of 6 months or so, I slowly and gently weaned my oldest and continued to nurse my baby on-demand.
But that didn’t make it any easier for me to let go of the feelings of guilt and failure that came with not following through on an ideal that I was so whole-heartedly committed to in the past.Thankfully, our local breastfeeding support community, which was La Leche League of Beaumont at the time, and is now the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition, was very supportive of my decision to wean as it suited my family’s needs – or in this case, my personal needs, because my needs matter, too.
The biggest issue I have with the CLW ideal is that it doesn’t take into consideration mom’s needs while she’s nursing. For some women, nursing is a huge tactile issue as baby gets older and bigger – more squirmy and active at the breast. As fertility returns, some moms get antsy or start feeling ‘touched out‘ while nursing, leaving little desire or tolerance for intimacy with her partner. Some women become pregnant, and their choice in the matter is stripped away as their bodies focus on growing a new baby. Some moms, including myself, needed to go on medication, or have medical procedures that preclude nursing, or that would interfere too much with breastfeeding. There are myriad reasons why women need to wean their babies, and yes, sometimes, it may be just because Mom is *done* – and that’s OKAY. Breastfeeding is a relationship, not a task. As nursing mothers, we are in partnership with our babies while they’re breastfeeding. Though babies under one year very seldom wean themselves, if at any time, breastfeeding no longer works for mom, especially once Mom’s goals have been reached, she should be able to wean without feeling guilty for it.
So, child-led weaning didn’t work for me, but that’s okay. I still nursed my boys far longer than the national average. I met most of my nursing goals, and learned to make other milestones and goals as a parent. Though it may seem silly to quibble over something like how/when baby weaned, that was the first time that I truly had to put what I *thought* out of my head and go with what worked for me. And that’s what all moms should feel confident in doing.
I was unbelievably excited when I found out I was pregnant. After being married for only six months I somehow convinced my husband, who was set on waiting at least a year, to try for a baby. “It’s not like we’ll get pregnant right away” Ha! The next month I was staring at three positive tests.
Like many newly pregnant women, I started reading. I researched and read blog after blog about pregnancy and natural birth. But from our first ultrasound, our doctor was predicting a ‘big baby’. This terrified me because, though I had been born a normal eight pounds, my husband entered the world at a whopping eleven pounds. Knowing that my sister ended up having a cesarean with her first baby because of her baby’s size made me realize that this was a real possibility for my birth.
I wish now that I had known what to research in this instance – things that would help alleviate my fears, like: ultrasound can be off on baby’s measurements by up to a pound in either direction, that cephalo-pelvic disproportion (the technical name for ‘too big baby’ is impossible to diagnose until a woman is in labor, that certain positions, like squatting, or on hands and knees, open your pelvis wider to allow baby to come out, and other positions, like the traditional supine with legs in the air, constrict the pelvic opening, making birth more difficult.
But since I didn’t have that information at the time, I tried to make peace with the idea of a c-section. I started looking for stories about moms who’d planned on having a natural birth, but ended up with a c-section, and how they came to terms with the change in plans, but didn’t find many. I tried to adjust. I told myself that I was okay if this happened and figured that because I was mentally prepared at the idea of having one that I would be fine.
Fast forward to two days past my due date and I’m still measuring at just a one. My body had not even begun to prepare for labor and I was absolutely miserable. My doctor came in and told me that she wanted to induce. Without knowing what my options were, and being tired and worried, I agreed because I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to walk on my poor swollen legs by the next week. Looking back, I wish I’d had someone with me who was not emotionally involved in my pregnancy. All I needed at that moment was someone to tell me that I could have made it one more week; that my body knew what it was doing and that this baby would come when it was ready. My poor husband hated seeing me so miserable and was going to go along with whatever decision I made. What I needed was a doula, a professional support person, attending me during my labor. A doula’s job is to support the laboring mother, and to help the mother’s partner and family support her as well.
But hindsight is 20/20, as they say, so what ended up happening was that, as my doctor recommended, we arrived at the hospital as scheduled for my induction. Again, I wish I’d asked more questions. I’d assumed that they’d start the pitocin drip, and then I’d be allowed to let me body labor for a while. But before they started the pitocin drip, my doctor decided to break my water. I was shocked! I knew that once your water breaks that there is a time limit on how long they’ll let you labor before they start talking about bringing you into surgery. Luckily, she was unable to break my amniotic sac, and it eventually ruptured on its own. I loved being able to at least experience that. By mid-day I was maxed out on pitocin, but they put a monitor on babies head and cranked it up again.
Fifteen hours after we started this process, I was still not dilated past a one. After being forced to stay in the hospital bed while enduring very painful contractions, I was told that my doctor ‘felt that I needed a c-section’. What I didn’t know was that there was an option for us to turn off the pitocin, let me rest through the night and start it again in the morning. Again, having a doula would have been invaluable at this stage. But I was exhausted at this point and thought I was out of options, so I agreed to the c-section.
I am so thankful that despite my birth veering dramatically from what I’d planned it resulted in a beautiful healthy baby girl. My biggest regret is, not that I had to have a c-section, but in not educating myself enough. It’s unbelievable how high the cesarean rates are here in SETX, and I believe that if we are taught to listen to our bodies more, educate ourselves during pregnancy in order to know what is normal and what is unnecessary, and not be afraid to ask questions or ask for options or alternatives, then in some situations, like my own, these can be avoided.
I won’t devalue the birth experiences of mothers who ended up with unplanned c-sections by saying that ‘a healthy baby is all that matters’, because it’s not. Though I have come to terms with the unexpected circumstances of my birth now, the first couple weeks after my baby was born, I dealt with a lot of postpartum anxiety. I was put on medicine to help alleviate my symptoms.
Unfortunately, this led to me giving up breastfeeding so my baby wouldn’t be exposed to the medicine. As you can see, one unforseen event has had a domino effect on the things I’d planned to do with and for my baby. There are many mothers whose unplanned c-sections cause this type of cascade of effects that has farther-reaching consequences; even things like PTSD. Unplanned c-sections are a leading cause of post-partum depression and other post-partum mental health issues, and that’s a topic that one of the other WMC Bloggers will be tackling soon. Stay tuned!