Breastfeeding to sleep: creating bad habits?

P1040506I am feeling really proud of Poppy right now. For the third night in a row she has just fallen asleep all by herself, after her milk, rather than during, and with me just lying next to her. I know people whose babies did this at 12 weeks old, but at 13 months this is a big achievement and significant milestone for us.

Up until now I have breastfed Poppy to sleep every single night, and never considered doing it any other way. At times I might have wondered if I was really doing the best thing, but these thoughts were very fleeting and I didn’t take any notice of them. Breastmilk is designed to make a baby sleepy, in fact it changes during the day so that the night time milk contains a much higher concentration of the sleepy stuff, and our bedtime feed is a lovely, peaceful time where me and Poppy get to reconnect after even the most manic of days. Luckily for me no one has really questioned this decision and told me I was making a rod for my own back, but I know that many mum’s are told exactly that, and perhaps pressured into teaching a baby to ‘self-soothe’. Although I wasn’t worried about our bedtime feed, I did once try to reduce her middle of the night feeds, which I wrote about here and here, so I understand this idea about self-soothing and worrying that your baby will take forever to do so if you don’t actively encourage it. But although Poppy did start going back to sleep on her own, the whole process was far too emotional (despite us taking a ‘gentle’ approach) and more exhausting for us so we gave up after 3 weeks and welcomed our old ‘habits’ with open arms.

I let go of all of any doubts and just went with it. I find that we have ups and downs and sometimes, yes, I wish she slept through the night, but that is usually when we have other stresses in our life and I am emotionally tired rather than physically. The majority of the time, the night time wakings are more than bearable, sometimes I even enjoy them. Sometimes. At 13 months I would say she is waking on average 5 times a night (between 6pm and 6am roughly), a few weeks ago she only woke twice, a few days later she woke every half an hour.

So how is this all relevant to tonight’s events? Because as Poppy lay in the dark chatting to herself and kicking her legs I got a little impatient that she wasn’t falling asleep quick enough. I picked her back up and tried to offer her more milk, in the hope it would relax her some more and speed things up. She arched her back and made such a fuss; she refused milkies! She got herself back onto the bed, snuggled up beside me and was asleep within 10 minutes. It was as if she was saying “I can do this on my own!” And she did just that. I feel hugely proud of this step towards independence, as well as a little emotional (everyone always tells you how you will miss the little things when they are gone!) It honestly feels as significant to me as her first steps, because I know that she has got there on her own, without any expectation from us, and this is her natural progression towards independence so should be celebrated just like all the other big firsts. As well as that it has proved that letting your baby fall asleep on the boob every night does not mean they will never self-soothe. It may have taken 13 months but this feeling is amazing. It has given me hope that her night time feeds might reduce as she learns that she can get herself back to sleep when she wakes, she doesn’t need me, but I am there if she wants me. That light at the end of the tunnel is enough for me to keep feeding her during the night for as long as she wants, as much as she wants. And I know when the day finally comes that I close my eyes at 11pm and open them at 7am (yeah right, more like 5.30am!) I will feel so much pride for my precious girl, it will all be worth it.

So keep feeding mama’s! All the way to dreamland!

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Gluten-free, sugar free, vegan breakfast muffins

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Sometimes I just fancy something new for breakfast, and sometimes that ends in disaster. Especially when it comes to baking as I’m no good at guessing quantities and figuring out how to bind ingredients together or make sure it rises. But much to my surprise my recent experiments with breakfast muffins have turned out very well. I looked at a few recipes online, realised we had none of the ingredients in the cupboard, and made something up myself. I used flax eggs and banana to bind the mixture, although you could also use a vegan egg replacer instead of the flaxseed mix (the banana may even be enough but I felt safer using something I knew would definitely work!) You can add anything you like, such as dried apricots, cacao nibs or nuts, and adjust the sweetness with your choice of natural vegan sweetener. I like the fact that it feels like you are eating a cake but there is nothing naughty in there at all! They are also great for when you need breakfast on the go or something to grab when you first wake up, which is why I have just made a fresh batch for our holiday. I try to be prepared so that we are not tempted to eat out too often which will no doubt be unhealthy and expensive (I have been baking bread and making soup today too!) These muffins are easy, tasty, great for little hands and full of goodness; perfect for baby led weaning as well as lunch boxes!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup chickpea flour

3/4 gluten-free self raising flour (I used doves farm)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons milled flaxseed with 6 tablespoons non-dairy milk

3 bananas, the riper the better!

1/3 cup olive oil or coconut oil (melted)

1 tablespoon molasses

1/2 cup sweetener (agave, maple syrup, honey if non-vegan)

1 apple, grated

Small piece of ginger, grated

Mixed seeds of your choice (I used, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, golden flaxseed)

Handful desiccated coconut

Handful chopped dates

Method:

Mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.

Prepare your flax eggs by combining the milled flaxseed and non-dairy milk and setting aside for a couple of minutes for the seeds to absorb the liquid.

Meanwhile, mash the bananas and add them to the flour mixture.

Add the flax eggs and combine well.

Stir in the oil, sweetener and molasses, followed by the rest of the ingredients.

Spoon into cupcake cases and bake in the oven at 180 degrees for around 20 minutes, or until they start to turn golden brown.

Leave to cool before serving with a cup of tea!

Enjoy!

Poppy is 1!

A few days late, but here are some photo’s from Poppy’s 1st birthday on Monday. I can’t believe how grown up she is looking! I think it is about time I changed the photo at the top of my blog, and I have the perfect one in mind.

We had a lovely day with Poppy on Monday, although she was very grumpy in the afternoon due to being over tired!  We spent the morning opening cards and a couple of presents (including the chair in the photo’s and the gorgeous koala boots from Nana!), but she is having most of them on Sunday. We went to the cafe for some lunch and Poppy got given a birthday gingerbread man which she demolished! Then in the afternoon we went to the park with Poppy’s friend whilst Daddy was at work. Looking forward to Sunday and plenty more pics to follow! Thank you to everyone who wished her a Happy Birthday! Where has the time gone?

One step forward, two steps back

Following on from my last post about our new sleeping arrangement I am calling out to anyone who has tried anything similar. For advice, reassurance, wisdom…As I said before Poppy was settling herself to sleep without feeding fairly often in her new room. During the evenings I simply had to go in and put my hand on her back and give her a little shh and she was back to sleep. Leading up to her middle of the night feed she was a little harder to settle and she always cried more if Tim was settling her, but it was a frustration cry and she went back to sleep without my heart breaking.

The night I published that post everything changed! Tim just couldn’t settle her. She cried but it got more and more intense until I went in and she started to settle again. One time she had got herself too worked up and needed the boob to relax again. I ended up waking up at 3.30am that morning, listening to her cry as Tim attempted to get her back to sleep (I had aimed for no feeds before 4am as she had a late one at 11.30pm) He eventually succeeded only to hear her wake again 15 minutes later. This time she didn’t accept him and I had to step in. She woke up fully and started smiling at me and stroking my face (“Aww how cute!” you say…not at this time in the morning!) There was no convincing her it was the middle of the night so I tried to feed her into drowsiness again. Long story short I got her back to sleep at 5.30am and fed her more than planned, and by the time she was asleep I was too wired myself to go back to bed. So yesterday I was a zombie. Last night I had to decide what to do, seeing as she refused Tim again twice in the evening and I ended up feeding her at 9pm. With Tim away all weekend I needed sleep so I pondered weather sleeping in her room would be enough to give her the comfort each time she woke and stop her getting herself worked up to the point that she needed to comfort feed. After all I knew she could fall asleep without the feeds, but she still needed a little support. I gave it a go, and our night was even worse. I was so tired when she woke up I could hardly be bothered to try (hence why I moved her out of our bed in the first place!), and her cry just didn’t sound like that frustrated cry, it sounded more distressed, and I cannot listen to that for too long without feeling like the worst mum ever. Coupled with the fact that she was putting her hands down my top I felt like I was completely suppressing my natural response and not listening to her. So I gave in, multiple times, and fed her throughout the night. I convinced myself that she must just be hungry, but her fluttery, lazy sucks proved otherwise! She decided it was time to get up at 5am, and as well as that her morning nap is all out of sync for the second day in a row. Back to square one?

Feeling confused, annoyed, disheartened and guilty. Go with the flow and hope she decides to play ball again sometime soon? Or push on through the heartache knowing that at least I am there with her as she cries? But what if she just doesn’t stop?! Is this her way of telling me “Yes I figured out your plan, and I gave it a go, but I don’t like it so you had better stop right now because I’m not having any of it!” I have had enough of thinking about who needs what…I have no idea what I need anymore, apart from a strong coffee.

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(Less Than) Perfect Parenting

When I was pregnant I started reading about attachment parenting and it resembled what we would have done naturally anyway. It opened up a new community to me and got me thinking about other things, such as elimination communication and home ed, which I may not have considered without the Facebook groups, blogs and small collection of AP books on my bookshelf. It made me think about more general aspects of parenting, such as the way in which you speak to your children, and how you choose to deal with specific situations, and I believe the new perspectives I have gained will benefit Poppy for her entire life. For that I am grateful for the books and the groups, but there is an element of this community that needs addressing.

Mother’s who choose to parent this way are often mother’s who have very high expectations of themselves. From socialising with many like-minded Mum’s I have noticed a few things. We over think everything, believing that all of our choices will have a life long impact on our children. We are labelled as ‘alternative’ (or other more amusing names like ‘crunchy’) and so begin to label ourselves. By doing this we inadvertently label others, which is something I never wanted to do. At first I felt like mainstream parents were judgemental of my choices, but I am starting to feel that the alternative community do most of the judging. By believing so strongly in doing everything for the best of the child, it is too easy to believe that any other way is wrong, or worse still, damaging for the child. To make sure you don’t get it wrong you seek information about every aspect of parenting from those very books that made it all sound so blissful and simple (despite the fact that at the very core of natural parenting is trust in your instinct). I have lost count of the amount of times I have read that a baby cry’s because they have an unmet need. So what if your baby just cries and you have done everything you possibly can?

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When Poppy was a newborn and suffering from her dairy intolerance, I did not know at first why she was crying. Yes she had an unmet need of sorts because she needed me to adjust my diet, but it was not something that could be solved instantly. She was fed, changed, warm, well rested, secure and in my arms, but she could not always be soothed. I had to relax and just make it easier for her by holding her, but in that moment I couldn’t make it stop. Similarly when Poppy became over tired she could not shut down, she seemed to fight her sleep to the point that she was so over tired she would scream for 4 hours until she finally gave in and fell asleep from exhaustion. There was nothing else I could have done, that was part of who she is; she was fascinated by the world and didn’t want to miss a thing, and at times even half an hour of being awake was too stimulating for her. In those early days everything that I had read rushed around my head; I didn’t think babies would cry if they had everything they needed? They don’t cry in Africa! What was I doing wrong? I tried everything to stop her from becoming over tired in the first place, abandoning my social life completely, but we still had episodes. All I could do was be there with her through the tears, letting her know she wasn’t on her own and that she was loved. There was nothing in the books that made me feel I was still doing a good job. The way I read it was that AP parenting should mean the baby has no reason to cry at all after you have responded to their needs. Maybe I over exaggerated that expectation, but being the stereotypical alternative mama I am sure I’m not the first.

Poppy settled soon enough, and now at 8 months old she is pretty easy going. She can still be distracted, but the majority of the time getting her to sleep has become easy, and we never have prolonged crying fits anymore for any reason. I am happy with all of our choices; I have completely and utterly devoted myself to her. It has worked very well for us, it has actually made life really easy, and I believe we have a very securely attached, happy little girl. But about two weeks ago I suddenly felt a page was turned. Poppy is no longer a newborn whose wants are the same as her needs, I believe they are starting to blur and she is gaining more and more understanding. There are certain things that she could probably learn not to need anymore, even if she does still want them. With our busy lives my constant devotion to her was starting to feel less natural and more forced. With Tim working longer hours I had no time left for me, and as a result I wasn’t being as good a parent as I can be. I never want to resent my child, so it was time to make some changes.

I need a bit of the old me back, and for those of you who know me well you will know that I need to really let my hair down from time to time. Rather difficult when your baby feeds to sleep, wakes up 3-4 times before you even make it to bed and then feeds throughout the night. And will not, ever, be comforted by Daddy in the night. So am I suddenly a bad mum for considering forcing my baby to change these expectations that we created just so that I can have a night out? I scanned a few forums and was guilt ridden to read that no one else would consider leaving their cosleeping, breastfeeding 8 month old baby for one night and their comments reminded me that her needs had to come before mine. But what if by compromising your own needs your child’s need for a happy and healthy mother is not being met? That was a more important long-term need in my mind.

In my confused state of mind I even typed the following into google: “Sleep training with attachment parenting.” I found blogs written by people in my position. I also found more hating from the AP extremists. I felt like there was no middle ground; you either leave your child to cry it out, which I never wanted to do, or give up your whole life for them. And then I came across something called RIE parenting which encourages listening to the type of crying and not immediately trying to fix it when it could simply be an expression of emotions. You can read more about this here and here. Suddenly something clicked. I have always known it and told Tim numerous times; there is a big difference between leaving a baby to cry on their own and letting them cry in your arms. Just like when Poppy was a newborn and I had no choice. This changed my whole perception of so called sleep training or simply teaching your baby to fall asleep alone, and I became more open minded to the gentle approaches. I will write another post about exactly what we have done and why I am happy with it soon.

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It has been just over a week since Poppy moved into her own room. I would have happily carried on cosleeping but wanted to drop the constant feeding, and I didn’t think that was easily achievable if she was in our bed. I miss the cuddles with her but am thrilled that she is now self-soothing and accepting Tim as a comfort during the night at times. She is still feeding to sleep in the evening, having a feed before I go to bed and one during the early morning, but that is massive progress. And she I not being traumatised, she has never been left on her own to cry, not even for a minute, and if she had protested too much I wouldn’t have continued.

We are still very much following a natural parenting style, but it is what is natural to us right now, not necessarily to every other AP advocate I will meet. Nor have I been converted to RIE or (heaven forbid) to baby training methods! We are simply finding what works and evolving as Poppy grows up. And I am doing my best, whilst realising I can’t be perfect. If you are a confused mama who has a tendency to put yourself under so much pressure to do the right thing, remember that there are no rules. You can, and should, allow yourself to compromise on your beliefs at times for the sake of your own sanity (even if some AP devotee on some forum somewhere has raised 6 kids back to back and tells you otherwise.)

I admit that right now I am more exhausted than I was before because this is requiring some effort! But I know that we are heading in the right direction, and I have booked a celebratory night out later in June, guilt free, knowing that Poppy will be happy in her Daddy’s arms.

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