This morning as my five year old (youngest of three boys) stumbled out of bed into the kitchen, he gave me a sideways glance and as I walked up saying, “Good morning!” with my arms outstretched to hug him, he turned the other way and walked into the living room. “Where is Tim Tam” he asked, looking for his teddy bear. I looked at him. “Don’t you want to hug me good morning?!” I asked. “I want Tim Tam, where is he?” was his reply. The little boy who spent almost 5 years breastfeeding. The little boy who fell asleep while breastfeeding for years…he just wanted his Tim Tam.
As a International Board Certified Lactation Consultant I of course receive a lot of questions about breastfeeding, yet I also receive just as many questions around sleep and “spoiling babies”. Women are constantly being told:
“You hold him too much. He needs to learn how to sleep on his own.”
“You are spoiling him.”
“He’ll never learn to self-settle if you breastfeed him to sleep.”
“You are creating bad habits. You shouldn’t let him fall asleep in your arms.”
“Don’t let him manipulate you like that, he’s doesn’t need you to comfort him all the time.”
As if cuddling them too often is a negative thing. How have we come to this conclusion in the Western world (as it’s very much a societal “issue”).
Do these people criticizing our frequent cuddles and non-stop cluster breastfeeds realize how little time we actually have to spend with our small children before they get distracted by looking for “Tim Tam” and refusing a hug because they are too busy? Or how they will turn 14 (the age of my oldest) and decide hugging their mother is basically a form a TORTURE and must be avoided at all cost? Do these people realize how with a blink of eye, it’s all gone?
These lazy mornings spent breastfeeding while the sun comes up. The quiet nights spent cuddling up next to each other, watching your baby’s eyes slowly close and feeling their whole body relax into your arms. The comfort breastfeeding and cuddles bring the most unsettled, upset child. The two year old having a tantrum that will only be calmed with a breastfeed while sitting on the floor. The baby who will not settle with anyone besides their mother and her breasts. These moments are fleeting.
While we’re in the trenches of those early years of motherhood we are exhausted. We’re so tired. We often cannot appreciate the frequent moments that we need to spend slowing down so we can breastfeed. We think about how nice it will be when we can go out for dinner without a baby attached to our boob or a toddler twiddling our nipple. Yet what we can’t understand yet is the other side. The moments where all we want is a cuddle with our five year old but it’s the last thing on their minds. They are busy with their toys, busy outside, busy doing sports, going to school, hanging out with friends. And we’re left remembering those early years filled with frequent breastfeeds and frequent cuddles.
Yes, your breastfed child probably only wants you. They will not settle with anyone else. They will not allow anyone to comfort them except for you. They will only transition to sleep while breastfeeding and with physical contact. These moments take up a small fraction of our lives. I will never look back and feel bad for cuddling my children too often or breastfeeding them too much. They did not spoil. They all fall asleep on their own now and sleep in their own beds. Amazingly, they didn’t need to be “taught” how to self settle. They were comforted and felt secure enough within themselves to fall asleep on their own when they were developmentally ready to do so. No training necessary. Just love.
-The Milk Meg. Meg Nagle, IBCLC