The accidental attachment parent

Attachment parenting was never something that I intended to do. In fact if somebody had asked me about it when I was pregnant I wouldn’t have had a clue what it involved, and if I had googled what it was, it certainly wouldn’t have been something that appealed to me. But here we are, Rafe has just turned a year old and we are very much following some attachment parenting techniques.

I think the key factor that has made me follow attachment parenting is the fact that I have chosen to breastfeed my son. Being my first child I didn’t really know much about breastfeeding and the characteristics of breastfed babies. I certainly had no idea how hard it can be. For a long time I struggled with the fact my baby is not a ‘good sleeper’. It seemed that everyone elses baby around me, even ones younger than Rafe were sleeping better and in longer stretches than him. I felt completely demoralised. I thought I must be doing something wrong when all I was trying to do was what I felt was the best for him. I would just like to acknowledge here that I know that not all breastfed babies are ‘bad sleepers’ in the same way that not all formula fed babies sleep through the night, but from my experience and research there does seem to be a trend in breastfed babies waking frequently in the night for a variety of reasons from genuine hunger or thirst to just wanting comfort.

Of course I had done what any other sleep deprived mother has resorted to, and frantically searched the internet for answers to my babies nocturnal ways. “Babies need to learn to fall asleep by themselves” was something I read a lot. So apparently the fact I breastfeed my baby to sleep for naptimes and bedtime was the problem?! I’ve created this issue myself?! Of course I asked the ‘professionals’. According to one particularly incompetent health visitor the answer was to leave Rafe to cry for steadily longer periods until he learnt to go to sleep by himself. We tried this. It was awful. We won’t be doing it again. What shocked me the most was that this advice was given when Rafe wasn’t under 6 months old. Apparently he no longer “needed to feed” during the night. What I have since learnt is that it isn’t actually recommended to night wean a breastfed before 12 months of age as it can affect milk supply. But anyway who are we to say that once our babies reach six months they aren’t allowed to wake for whatever reason (thirst, fear, pain from teething/illness) and want to have the comfort of a cuddle and milk from the one person they depend on for everything.

I stopped going to see health visitors after that, I feel that a lot of them (the ones that I saw anyway) were not adequately trained on the science of breastfeeding or the characteristics of a breastfed baby. I know that sleep training works for many, many parents and babies out there but I think it very much depends on the babies individual personality and it isn’t for me or my baby personally. He’s incredibly strong-willed and leaving him to cry for even a short amount of time just results in one very stressed little boy (who is definitely not a quitter) and one very upset mummy. And if this means I won’t get a good nights sleep for many years then so be it I guess, although the jury is still out as to whether we will night wean at some point now he is over 12 months. We also by this point had started co-sleeping/bedsharing, something else that would be frowned upon by some health visitors, but it means I can at least get some sleep. Don’t get me wrong co-sleeping/bedsharing has its downsides. It has definitely affected my relationship with my partner in terms of practicalities. He currently sleeps on the sofa most nights which obviously isn’t ideal at all. But aside from the fact I miss sleeping in the same bed as my fiancé, I actually love co-sleeping and to me breastfeeding and co-sleeping go hand in hand.

It was like a weight was lifted when I joined a Facebook support group. ‘UK Breastfeeding support’ (I sing the praises of this on my blog A LOT, apologies to anyone fed up with hearing about it.) It’s a group I would recommend any mother who is breastfeeding or any pregnant woman who is planning on doing so. The advice it has provided has been absolutely invaluable, you can post questions without feeling judged by people like non clued up health ‘professionals’ for STILL breastfeeding (day or night) when your baby is older than X amount of months ( I promise I don’t have a vendetta against health visitors, I’ve just received bad advice on more that one occasion that has left me feeling demoralised and could have potentially put my breastfeeding journey at risk and resulted in me quitting.) There’s a huge amount of information on the ‘UK breastfeeding support’ group on the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby things you don’t learn from antenatal groups etc, latching, mastitis, milk production, sleep (how to actually get some) and perhaps most importantly it connects you with thousands of other breastfeeding mothers who are likely to be going through the exact same breastfeeding difficulties as you.

I’ve also joined another group called ‘Biologically normal infant sleep’. This is yet another fantastic group with great information on the reasons why babies wake and why it is normal for many. From being a member of these groups I have come to my own conclusion that sleeping longer stretches and ‘through the night’ is a developmental stage like anything else. All babies are different and will reach this when they are good and ready. As mentioned earlier I haven’t ruled out night weaning at some point now Rafe is over a year old but it won’t be in the immediate future.

As much as breastfeeding to sleep, co-sleeping for both naptimes and bedtime can, at times be a little inconvenient (when you are trapped with a dreamfeeding baby on you desperate for a wee!) it feels like the most natural thing in the world for us. Although I know I am very fortunate in the fact I am currently a stay at home mum, I don’t know how we would work this parenting style around me being back at work, the naptime situation especially. It was Rafes 1st Birthday on the 7th December. As much as I have spent I large amount of this year exhausted it really has gone so quickly and every time I look down at him feeding or wake up to his little smile next to me (or occasionally he wakes me with an “affectionate” arm smacking me on the head!) I know that this is right for us. Why are we so keen to get our babies in their own bedrooms out of the way?! Yes it would be nice to have a little more time to myself, to my relationship, but I am only going to be able to hold my little boy in my arms and be his whole world for such a short period of time really and I want to treasure every second. Even if it is bloody hard work and eyebags are a permanent feature on my face these days.

So this is me, the baby wearing (oh yes I love baby wearing too) breastfeeding, co-sleeping mum I never thought I would be. I’ve never been away from my son for longer than six hours and that was for a minor operation as a day patient, I love spending all my time with him and I am lucky enough to be able to, for now and this works for us. In an ideal world baby number two will reach the ‘developmental stage’ of sleeping through by six months…but in reality I will probably be co-sleeping and breastfeeding that one for a good couple of years aswell! And that’s okay! Everyone is different and what works well for one person might not for somebody else. We all have ideas of what sort of parent we will be before we have children, but I think until you actually have a baby you cannot be certain of how things will be. Some babies become more ‘independent’ sooner than others and sleep training can be incredibly effective for some children. But equally it’s not right for everyone. I just believe as a mother you know and understand your baby better than anyone else and it’s important to follow your instincts. Meanwhile if anybody does have any advice or experience on gentle night weaning please let me know. I’d like to make an informed decision on the matter!

Jess xox
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3 thoughts on “The accidental attachment parent

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  1. Good for you! A year is great accomplishment. I nursed my first daughter until she was 31 months old. My milk ran out at that point (following a miscarriage), but I didn’t see any benefit to cutting her off before she was ready. There are many more benefits to breastfeeding than food/nourishment for your baby. It’s a time to bond, reduces your stress (hello oxytocin), allows a child to signal when they are satiated (rather than bottle feeding until they spit-up), breastmilk can be used to treat diaper rash, pink eye, and on and on. I think in today’s culture most women don’t want to be inconveinced for night feedings or having to adjust their wardrobe to accommodate nursing. Though I do understand some woman have lactation issues, generally speaking its far more convenient to let babies cry-it-out than to continue to parent them sleep.

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    1. Thank you so much! We are on 15 months now and no plans to stop any time soon. 31 months is amazing! Yes it’s such a special bond and there are so many benefits that I wasn’t even aware of until I had my son. I find the fact we produce antibodies in our milk to help them get better when they are unwell so incredible.
      I have found it shocking how much incorrect advice I have been given from medical ‘professionals’ regarding breastfeeding. Being told by a health visitor to night wean my son at 5.5 months could have put our breastfeeding journey in jeopardy and I think the lack of guidance for new mums on the benefits and characteristics of breastfed babies needs to change. There are always shocking figures about low rates of breastfeeding but then at the same time women get told their babies should be sleeping through the night by a few months and if they aren’t then the poor mum is made to feel like a failure, there’s hardly ever anywhere clean and private to breastfeed when out and about if you aren’t confident doing it in public, and there needs to be clear guidelines to support women who have to go back to work and need to pump etc. Sorry rant over, I get very passionate about breastfeeding! Xxx

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