I have three boys, all very different and unique. My oldest (ten years old at the time of writing this) was by far the most “high needs” of them all. I was only twenty two when I had him. Living in a different country to where my family was, no friends around who had kids, completely shell shocked from not only having a new baby but one who did not fit into the typical mainstream books about how a baby “should” sleep and breastfeed. He flat out refused to sleep for longer than thirty minutes at night unless he was in our bed. He breastfed at various times night and day without any sort of a schedule. He wanted to be held most of the time. He was literally attached at my hip (and boob). I did the basic things that “attachment” parents do. I breastfed him when he asked for it and to natural term (beyond babyhood), I held him often, I co-slept, I did not leave him to cry and I followed his lead. Yet I often worried when he was little…
Will he always want to be around me…CONSTANTLY!?
Will he ever get out of my bed?
How long will I have to breastfeed him to sleep for?
Will he ever want to go to school?
What about my life and happiness? What about meeeee?!?!
Overall I just thought…What’s going to happen to this kid?! Am I creating an over dependent, mama’s boy?
Thankfully he has turned into a pretty amazing kid who is incredibly independent! Yes, you read correctly! He is by far my most independent child. So how did we get from there to where we are today? Read on to find out… 🙂
Children who are comforted, cuddled, loved and respected tend to turn into awesome little humans as they grow up. Click here for an article and huge list of references which support attachment parenting and the positive effect it has on children as they grow older. If my son cried I breastfed him. If he would not settle and kept waking and crying in his own little bassinet then I brought him into our bed. If he wanted to be held in a sling and cuddled then I did that. He very rarely cried. Was it happy and awesome all the time for me? No! Sometimes I got sick of carrying him, breastfeeding him non stop, co sleeping and other various “attachment” activities. When this happened I passed him off to my husband, mother or friend and took a bit of a breather…took a nap, went for a walk went to the toilet all by myself, went grocery shopping all by myself (a very exciting activity as a mum) or (gasp!) had a glass of wine. Yup, I did. And it was good.
Most importantly…he is so unattached to me it’s not even funny. He could care less where I am most of the time. He happily goes here or there without me. He happily went off to school at five (when he was ready), he went away on a two night sleep over camp with his Montessori school at the age of six and LOVED it. I cried, he had a grand old time.
1. What will he be like when he is older? My oldest (former “high needs baby”) is bright (yes, every mother thinks their child is smart and brilliant. Well, I guess I’m like the rest of them…), he has an awesome sense of humour, is an amazing older brother and he (as mentioned before) is 100% independent and self-assured! And has not had a breastfeed in over eight years… 😆
2. Will he always be attached to me? The answer to this is…NO. Read above.
3. What about future independence and development? “Some authors claim that babies who are fed when they want will never learn delayed gratification. Schedules are touted as essential for parental survival and are sometimes promoted under the premise that ‘teaching’ babies to self-soothe and be independent is necessary for healthy development. But the opposite is true: studies show that babies whose parents respond to their cues for feeding and comfort cry less and are more confident and secure as they grow up” (West & Marasco, 2009 p. 81).
4. Doesn’t he need to learn to self-settle so he can be independent and learn to not always rely on me? Believe me, when he is fifteen he will not be relying on me for my opinion on smoking weed or dating. The time comes when they are no longer relying on you for every little thing…until they start having kids of their own, then they might have a question or two. 😆
5. But what about meeeeee?!?! When I read “anti” attachment parenting articles there is always the present theme of, “I gave all of myself to my child! I was going insane! I was sleep deprived! I gave everything to my child!” Nowhere in attachment parenting is there the suggestion or requirement that you bring yourself to the brink of insanity just so your little cherub never cries a peep. Breastfeeding on demand, breastfeeding to sleep, carrying your baby around during a nap, delaying when you return to work if possible etc. etc. This is all a part of your relationship which involves TWO people, you and your child. You cannot give all of yourself, all of the time. It is not about sacrificing your own well-being just to put a boob in your child’s mouth 24/7! You must care for yourself if you are feeling sleep deprived and insane! Have a read of this for ideas on how to get more sleep… Believe me, there were times I felt as though my son was a little parasite sucking the life out of me. When I started to feel this way I made some changes. I took the time for peace and quiet by myself. I asked for help. I took a break from boobing. Even just fifteen minutes of closing your eyes, reading a book or being BY YOURSELF can recharge you.
6. Can I still have a life? For some reason it has become common place to think that we cannot have a life unless we are apart from our baby or toddler. Did I do everything with my high needs baby? No! But most things I brought him with me. When we bought summer season tickets to my local theater I would breastfeed him right before I left, put him to bed and then breastfed him when I got home, about two or three hours later. If he woke up my husband would call me and I’d drive home to feed him. He weaned at about two so it was a very short period of time where I had to actually leave places to go and breastfeed him or have him with me. Two years is nothing! Now at the age of ten I’m lucky if I see him for a total of an hour per day! He is at school, comes home eats a snack and is then out playing with his friends on the street until just before dinner. Without me and without my boob!
7. How long will I have to breastfeed him to sleep for? How do I night wean him? These are by far the most common questions I get in relation to breastfeeding on demand and attachment parenting. In short, trying to nap boob wean or night wean is easiest when your child is at least 18 months old. At this age they can fully understand what you are saying and it is easier to negotiate with them. You can gently implement strategies to encourage them to wean from breastfeeding at naps and during the night BUT it is two steps forward, one step back and if you would like to do it gently without tears from your child (or you!) then you must have patience and understand it does not happen overnight. It does happen! But not overnight…I will be writing up a detailed description on how to go about doing this in the near future, for now have a read of this article on tips to gently night wean.
6. How do I get him out of my bed?! Will he ever get out of my bed?! Just as with night weaning this takes time and patience. Yes, it does happen! My two oldest boys have not co-slept with us for YEARS. My oldest boy bed shared with us until he was about two. The stages of moving him out of our bed…
-At the age of two my husband started to rock him to sleep, put him in his own bed (because the transition from arms to cot would wake him up so we would lay down with him in a toddler bed instead-worked brilliantly!) and he would sleep happily for a few hours. When he woke up he would toddle to our room and hop into our bed.
-A few months later I would lay him down in his bed and sit with him until he fell asleep.
-A few months after that we smartened up and put him in the room right off of the living room. Now we could just put him in his own bed, in his own room without having to sit with him! Yay!
-A few months later when I was prego with number two we put a mattress on the floor so when he woke up he would come into our room and get into his own little mattress.
-He would wake up and sleep on his mattress next to our bed until he turned five. One night he started to sleep through in his own bed, in his own room! Just like that!
My son taught me how to be a mum. He taught me how to trust myself and how to trust my babies. Not only that but now after seeing how I parent his youngest brother (who I had when he was eight), he understands how to do the same. The other day when my youngest was upset he said, “Mom, breastfeed him! He wants to breastfeed!” If he ends up having a baby I think he will encourage his partner to breastfeed and meet the needs of their baby through breastfeeding and attachment parenting. And this might be the most important part of all…
If you happen to have a very high needs baby who requires heaps of boob, cuddles and co-sleeping like mine did, enjoy every second of it! This is a short period of time. They start to sleep in their own beds, they wean from the boob, they find friends along the street to play with, they sleep over at school camps, they start putting wax in their hair and stinking like B.O. and you will wonder…what happened to my little parasite?!