Hanging on for dear life

The frequency of blog posts: it's a good measure for the amount of chaos in one's life. So it goes without saying that life has been a roller coaster of emotions full of ups and downs in the past few weeks. And thus, one huge post for you to read is a result of this chaos. Settle in for the ride, folks.

There's nothing major going on over here--nobody is sick or dead or hurt. But the main issue we are enduring is related to sleep, or more specifically, the lack thereof. Truman has never been a great sleeper, but we were fairly adjusted to frequent wakings at night and everyone was functioning at an acceptable level during the day. Then things got a little better and T was only waking about once or twice per night, for very short nursing sessions, as I announced in his eight month post. And then? All hell broke loose and the bottom fell out and we started to drown from sleep deprivation. It all started about two weeks ago but I can honestly say that the days on the calendar are like one giant blur and my brain hasn't worked well in what seems like forever.

He began to wake four times in a night, with at least one of those times including an hour or two full of fighting the return to sleep. He'd nurse each time in the rocker, pass out in my arms, and when I'd go to place him in the crib his eyes would snap open and he'd begin to chat or fuss for what felt like an eternity, until I'd cave and nurse him again to start the process over. So basically, we got about 4 hours of broken sleep if we were lucky. And then to top it off, his normally painless bedtime routine---the one that used to result in him falling asleep the first time pretty easily---became another time of fighting the sleep fairy. All of a sudden he wouldn't fall asleep nor stay asleep and the nights were our worst enemies.

Nate and I were at our wits end. We just couldn't understand what happened to our happy baby. Who took our Truman and replaced him with a grumpy, over-tired, clingy baby who wasn't even himself during the daytime anymore because he was so tired? I took him into the doctor AGAIN last week for another ear check (third time in the past few months if you are counting) because I needed to hear that something wasn't seriously wrong with little man. His ears were fine but the doctor did listen to my concerns that something just wasn't right. He said that if Truman wasn't back to his old self in one week to bring him back in and we'd investigate further.

It could be teething. It could be a growth spurt. It could be separation anxiety. Or a combination of them all in one big ugly ball of sleeplessness. But whatever it was, Truman wasn't sleeping and just wanted to nurse all night long---sleeping with boob in mouth only. It wasn't working, my friends. Something had to give.

And so this past weekend we were supposed to travel to St. Louis for Tilly's one year birthday party. We were so looking forward to this trip and had planned to drive down after full day of work on Friday and drive home on Sunday. Midway through last week we started to wonder if being confined to a car for that many hours with a fussy baby was a good idea; not to mention, having him sleep in an unfamiliar place, to further throw off any sense of normalcy. We decided to see how Wednesday night went before making our decision and Truman made it for us when he woke at 9:15, 11:00 and from 3:00-4:30. Ugh. No St. Louis trip for us and we had to miss Tilly's party in the name of our sanity and potential sleep.

It was a tough pill to swallow and reality smacked us in the face pretty hard with that decision. Times have changed. Gone are the days when a 'quick' getaway to Missouri is possible without consequences in baby-land. All of a sudden the distance between Milwaukee and St. Louis seems a whole lot farther and yet, I know we made the right decision---the responsible, adult-like decision. But it still sucks.

I started to really feel sorry for myself. One giant pity party, complete with wallowing, sadness, and of course when you are so sleep deprived you can barely form a sentence life seems pretty bleak. I could barely function at work because all I could think about was falling into bed at night. I was a grumpy mommy with puffy bags under her eyes and a snarled lip at all times. Twas ugly, my friends.

In case you haven't noticed by now, I am a very Type-A, black and white, control freak who needs ANSWERS people. I needed a straight up reason for Truman's decline in sleeping so that I could come up with a nice little solution, one that fit perfectly in a box with a big stamp on it that said 'guaranteed to work'. As I sat at the doctor's office and informed our doc about this need for point-blank answers he sort of smiled and I knew what he was going to say: 'Parenting is fully of gray-areas. And sometimes there are no definitive answers.' In laymens terms: roll with the punches lady and try to sit back and enjoy the ride.

On Friday I decided we needed a new strategy: we would eliminate the boob variable at night, thus eliminating a mommy-appearance all together. Only daddy and only a bottle would be offered to Truman in order to see if he was actually hungry when he woke, or if he just wanted the comfort of the ta-tas. Truman woke twice that night and took a few ounces the first time and a big fatty 6 ouncer the second time. And that morning when I woke up I had a total light bulb moment that made a lump swell in my throat...

Breastfeeding wasn't working well anymore. Gulp.

You see, Truman has been nursing for about 3-4 minutes max for a few weeks now. He gets totally distracted and fussy like, 'Oh, Mom! There's Henry! There's this awesome pillow I must touch! Did I hear a door close next door? What is that interesting picture frame doing over there? Must.Go.Explore!' Typical nine-monther, right? He doesn't want to sit still and after the initial let down he would pull away and I figured he'd had enough.

But after our 'daddy-only' trial I had a feeling of dread that told me something else was going on. Truman wasn't patient enough to wait for more milk to flow from the boob because he is the typical nine month old. But that didn't mean he was necessarily full after such a short feeding. What if he was totally famished at night after a few sub-par nursing sessions in the evening, which is why he would wake up and want to nurse but fall to sleep during the process? What if my baby was just hungry? I had always been so resistant to upping Truman's intake during the day in order to help him sleep at night because I just thought it was a crock and didn't work that way.

So we decided to do another 'trial' of sorts during the day on Saturday: after every nursing session I would offer him a bottle. And sure enough, he'd take anywhere from 1 ounce all the way up to 6 full ounces (in the evening, when my supply is at it's lowest). Which meant that my son who loved to nurse was basically starting to wean himself from the breast, preferring the bottle, because he just isn't patient enough for my slower flow. Weaning? Ouch.

You can guess that I took this pretty hard. I might have cried a bit and moped around and mourned the loss of our old breastfeeding days---even though he IS still nursing a bit. But I just love nursing Truman so much. It's our sweetest time to bond after being away during the day and watching him look up at me with those big eyes, reaching up for my face makes my heart melt every time. Giving him a bottle of my milk just isn't the same even though I know that is what he needs. And I guess we'll still have our 3 minutes of bonding for now. :)

So all day Saturday T got the boob followed by the bottle, including right before bed. Do you want to place a bet on what happened next?

Truman slept through the night that night.

I will pause and let this sink in. This is my son who has NEVER EVER slept through the night in his nearly nine months of life (well, I think he did one time at 3 months but that might have been a dream).

When Nate and I woke up on Sunday we were seriously delirious with happiness. We had heard T 'talk' for a few minutes at 1:45 and 5:30 but he fell back to sleep before we even knew what was happening. He woke for the day at 6:30 and all three of us were like different people: we were actually happy and well-rested! Life was good again and we were beaming with pride as if T had landed a spacecraft on the moon or something. For reals.

Sunday we continued with our new recipe of boob-then-bottle and sure enough, he slept through the night again that night. There is a God.

I'm not naive enough to think that this will always happen from here on out. But I do think we've paid our dues to the sleeping gods with this child and deserve a few nights of blissful sleep in stretches longer than 2-3 hours. Of course we've gotten all kinds of superstitious about this and have to place him in the same type of jammies now, performing the same exact routine at night, etc etc to ensure more nights of success. It definitely feels like it's too good to be true and might be a short-lived fluke but we are trying to just enjoy this restful time while it lasts.

And so that is what has been going on, my friends. My baby is sleeping at night but it cost me my breastfeeding ego. Once I finally realized that maybe my breastfeeding journey will take a detour before I'm ready to go astray, I think the missing piece of the sleeping puzzle was found. I'm going to miss the days when Truman would nurse until he was totally full and satisfied but I knew it couldn't last forever. And you better believe that I'm crazy enough to continue 'exclusively pumping' my milk for him to have in bottles so that I can avoid formula if possible. I mean, I have about 12 more weeks to go until he's one year old and won't 'require' formula. We could go right to cows milk at that point (and maybe a little before his birthday if needed) and then I can decide what to do from there. And yes, I do still have my 300 ounces of breast milk in our deep freeze. I suppose I will have to release my death grip on those baggies, too, in the name of making it to one year.

Nate sweetly mentioned that he's proud of me for handling this so well. I guess he knows that it's hard for me to admit my boobs just aren't cutting it for T-man anymore. It's hard to move on to the next phase of nursing plus bottles, and even MORE pumping. But I'll live. I know some of you won't understand why I'm making this such a big deal and others of you will totally get it, and that is okay. Bottom line is that I still have a happy, healthy baby boy and life is good. Especially when there is sleep in that life---then things are shiny and happy and glorious again.

No-it's not the end of the world but it's definitely the end of an era---one that I thoroughly enjoyed sharing with my first-born baby boy. I hope he obliges me the short but sweet nursing sessions for a few more months and I already find myself soaking in those times more than I have in the recent weeks. I've loved nursing you, Truman. Be kind to mommy and ease off slowly, okay?

Gained: sleep
Lost: sufficient nursing sessions

A lot can change in a few weeks, huh? And in my nine months of motherhood I have learned that just when you think things are figured out, the babe goes and changes it on you again. So we'll enjoy the lull before the next storm for now.

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19 comments:

  1. I'm not a mom but I am a Type A personality and I have a hard time with change that I didn't plan so I can see why this would be so hard for you. Like you said, he is happy, healthy and sleeping which really, is the best thing for him. And what!? 12 weeks until the first birthday? It seems like I was just reading the blog post about his birth.
    I hope your schedule gets better so you can blog more. I really enjoy reading your posts. Have a great Thanksgiving!

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  2. I totally get it, and I'd do the exact same thing. I'm so sorry about the end of nursing, but you have done an amazing job!

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  3. First, I totally get it. I'm super happy you have the sleep thing worked out for the moment, but I also know that I would be devastated at the loss of nursing. You are handling it way better than I would, lady!

    Second, what Truman is doing is SUPER common. He very well may go back to the breast for longer sessions after a few weeks. And even if he doesn't, I hope you get your wish of making it to a year!

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  4. Julia, in case you don't come back and check, someone just wrote you a long comment about this topic on my blog :)

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  5. I'm so glad you figured out why he couldn't stay asleep! 12 weeks is SO soon--I can't believe his already almost a year. :-)

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  6. I loved that post Julia. Happy for all three of you! A happy ending for sure.

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  7. Found you through Erin's blog and wanted to stop by and give you some encouragement and kudos.

    I get it too... i think that is one thing everything so far I read about weaning is skipping... it all talks about how to get the baby through it... what about mom? I think I may need a 12 step program.

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  8. Julia, I want to just reach through the computer and hug you. First off, I'm so glad you all are getting some sleep. High five to the sleeping gods and yay for a full nights sleep! We've had our sporatic sleepless nights with Eli over here and I know what it means to become a tired, cranky mommy. You've endured much more than me and for that I say you are a strong lady! Second, I can understand your saddness over the breastfeeding dilemma. You know our story. Right now we've eliminated the last boob feeding of the day and replaced it with a big fatty formula bottle. Do I feel sad? Yes. But I'm comforted by the fact that my boy is getting enough food to keep his little tummy happy and instead of worrying and stressing during this time [thus preventing my let down!] I get to enjoy those last few precious minutes of the day with my little man.

    You have SO MUCH to be proud of! And I'm not saying that in a half ass way. Look at how far you've gotten and look at how big and healthy Truman is...all because of YOUR dedication to breastfeeding. Truman is a lucky little dude.

    You're doing great, mama.

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  9. I'm going to email you right after this, I've been meaning to and I feel like a big jerk for not doing so sooner - it sounds like you've had a rough few weeks!

    I'm really glad to hear Truman slept for you finally, but I totally understand your sadness, too. As you know, Henry weaned himself around 8 months - and you're right, he was just too impatient by then when the bottle was so much more efficient! Pumping for four more months sucked, but as you said, it's so worth it - and hopefully T-man will still nurse here and there.

    I really hope he'll keep the sleeping thing going - poor little guy was hungry!!! :) Hang in there, girl - you're doing such an amazing job with him!

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  10. Julia--My daughter is doing the "nurse for 5 minutes then unlatch and scream" thing for me right now, and she's only two months old. :( She generally only does it at her bedtime feeding, when, like you say, supply is at its lowest. She's unsatisfied, and it's sooo frustrating and heartbreaking. Last night, it was so bad that I broke down and gave her a bottle afterwards, just so she would fill up and go to sleep like normal. (The difference in our scenarios is that I am super lucky and do have a good sleeper. If crappy sleep were added into the picture, I would be even more frustrated by it--so I give you major credit for dealing with it as long as you did.)

    Anyway, I've been asking around on some breastfeeding forums and everyone keeps telling me not to do the bottle thing. They say that if her diaper output is still good, she's getting enough and not starving. And by giving the bottle, all I'm doing is teaching her that she doesn't have to 'work' for the food and if she screams she will get the 'easy' way out.

    Our situations are different in that you are in the homestretch of your breastfeeding experience, though... so if you are ready to transition him to a bottle more often because it's what works for you, I say more power to you. For me, I'm still hoping to keep this thing going for another 10 months, so I am freaking out over here.

    I thought it was very interesting to come to your blog this morning and read about essentially the very same problem I'm having!

    Good luck to you and Truman, I hope you guys get a system worked out that works (and continues to work). For sleeping through the night... way to go, Truman!

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  11. Oh Julia, I can imagine how hard this is for you. I had to completely let go of our nursing bond way before I was ready. I totally understand that it's a bit of a mourning period.

    Last night, I wore a nursing tank to bed and I almost cried. I stopped the tears but it was still hard!

    So, you figured out that babies DO sleep better when they have a full tummy :) Tis true.

    I'm so glad you guys have been getting some sleep. It's absolutely terrible when no one is sleeping. Ugh, it's hard to even function.

    But I'm proud of you, girl. You're doing great!

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  12. I totally get it too. Lizzy did the same thing at about 7 months. Everyone told me that it was probably just a phase and that she'd go back to the boob, but she didn't. Once she realized that she could sit up and look around with a bottle, she was done. And I took it pretty hard at first (and still do sometimes), but she is so much happier now that her belly is actually full!

    Trust your gut!

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  13. You have really kicked ass in the breastfeeding department, with going back to work and the countless pumping sessions. I don't know how you do it all and how you have managed to function on so little sleep. I really admire you for being so honest about everything, both the struggles and the triumphs. I'm sure getting a night of uninterrupted sleep was just about the best feeling ever, but I can understand that the idea of Truman weaning is emotional. I hope you get to continue nursing him, even if it's just for short sessions.

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  14. Totally get it. Like I said when I hijacked Erin's comment thread. But yeah, the transition from nursing a baby to nursing a toddler is totally scary.

    If it helps, here's a picture of what the nursing relationship of a fellow breastfeeding mom and her 14 1/2 month old toddler looks like:

    We nurse in the morning, nurse before and after nap time, nurse when he is sad/needs me/is having a meltdown of some sort, nurse at bedtime, nurse at night wakings.

    The rest of the time, he's drinking organic whole milk. Or pear juice because the dude is ridiculously constipated constantly. Ugh. But that's a whole different topic.

    I still pump once a day at work, which is super easy and quick since it involves no cleaning of parts! (The WORST thing about pumping, in my opinion.)

    It was weird at first to give him bottles. And we started whole milk a little after the 11 month mark, because my supply did start to be affected by the fact that my son was becoming so difficult with the whole nursing/distraction thing. (Like seriously, EXACTLY like what you described with Truman.) And I was just becoming really unnecessarily stressed about it. Mostly because...

    Transition is HARD. And that's just what it was, we were transitioning our nursing relationship. Baby to toddler. Doesn't mean I had to give up nursing, and he still loves it when he is sleepy or in need of mommy time. But it's not all the time, and it's so freeing. And I swear, it's awesome. Scary at first, awesome now.

    Hang in there Julia. YAY YAY YAY for sleep!!! We are not there at all, but thankfully haven't had those nights where he was up for an hour at a time in quite some time. But yeah, those were the worst.

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  15. I'm not very Type A, but I will be a working mom and while I know that I need to get used to the lack of sleep, I'm really hoping for some sort of schedule when I go back to work since I'll be useless at work without some sleep. As someone who hopes to avoid using formula and making it through the first year on breast milk, you are definitely an inspiration. You are almost there and have done an amazing job. And at least now you've figured out what's been going on and he's sleeping and you are all more rested and happier. That's really the most important thing - being healthy and happy.

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  16. Oh my goodness dear. What a doozy of a post. I smiled, I laughed and I cried. What a realization to come to.

    I'm so proud of you Julia for continually trying to figure out Truman's needs so that you can best nurture him, well and gain a little sleep for yourself of course. :)

    You're gonna make it mama.

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  17. Hi Julia! Sleep is an awesome thing. Breastfeeding is hard and combine pumping on that it's even harder. If your supply keeps coming then continue to feed and pump if you can.

    Have you tried giving T more solid foods? At 9 months Augustine was on 3 meals and 2 snacks per day. plus nursing on demand or pumped milk at school. It sounds like it wasn't getting enough food in general that is why he is taking the bottle after the nursing sessions. Augustine eats until he starts to play with his food or stops eating all together. He'll tell you when he is ready to be done. BM from the breast is the best because it triggers that the brain that the tummy is full as the milk changes. in the bottle it can't do that. so baby drinks until it is empty.

    Also have you tried sleep training? That has been the best for us. We get more sleep fulled nights than sleepless ones.

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  18. i realize this wasn't the point of your post, but your baby has some serious style. patagonia? yes please.

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  19. Ever since I read your post about grunting babies, and commented, I have been checking back from time to time. My daughter went from sleeping through the night to waking every 2 hours a few weeks ago. I should note, I don't breastfeed. However, at 6 month she loved the swaddle still. Well, now came 7 months and the constant waking. After reading your post I knew I had to change something. No swaddle and now we are back to having a decent night sleep. I am so happy to have found your blog. Sleep makes you see things 100 times clearer!

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