When I was pregnant with Debyani, my eldest daughter who will be 5 years old next month, I never imagined how hard the breastfeeding journey and sleepless nights could be. I was kind of prepared for the exhaustion to come but what I wasn’t prepared for was the depression which slowly started building up. At first it came in little bouts here and there where I would wonder what I was doing wrong, when things would change and always hoping that Debyani will just sleep longer. Then the emotions became more frequent and louder in my head until I was constantly depressed and would cry myself to sleep at night.
We shared an intimate, special, tiresome and challenging love – hate relationship for 2 years (yes I counted right up until her second birthday!) The little fucker was a total boob monster. We co slept and fed to sleep for 2 years. Things were generally fine for a year. Ok let’s stop and think about this. FINE as in mummy fine or fine as in yes it was actually really and truly fine…. Ok things were mummy fine. What does ‘’Mummy Fine’’ means? Well, when we feel like we want to collapse in a heap, go in the toilet and cry, bang our head against the wall, or run away and somebody ask’s us how we are. ‘’Yeah I am ok’’…..That’s a mummy fine!! After a year I remember thinking I can’t do this anymore. Every morning I would wake up trying to count the number of feeds Debyani had through the night and I can honestly say I couldn’t because she latched so frequently I would wake through the night and find her stuck to my boob!
My first mistake? Breastfeeding on demand. Ok if that’s your thing that’s ok, really it is, but for me I was going crazy. I had no routine in place, no hourly feeding schedule, no knowledge of when I was supposed to feed. I fed, she latched, she cat napped, I fed, she latched did 5 mins, she cat napped and REPEAT. This went on day in day out, day in day out for a long time. If you have been feeding on demand, are exhausted and don’t know another way, believe me when I say it isn’t your fault. We are so focused on buying practical and material things for baby’s arrival, during pregnancy the focus really isn’t encouraged enough by the medical field to care for your newborn, sleeping patterns, feeding schedule and how it all should look. When our bundle does arrive we are told ‘’just feed when baby is hungry’’.
The second mistake I made. Didn’t express or even try expressing and nor did I hear anybody talking about expressing. When I speak to mum’s I am amazed and in awe of how well they do with expressing. It’s incredible. I lacked the knowledge, the motivation and the energy. I was like a walking zombie! The next mistake I made was not offering a bottle between 4 to 6 weeks. Again, this is a personal choice. But many babies end up refusing a bottle after 2 months. When Debyani started cluster feeding of an evening I was at my wit’s end. She was 4 months old and point blank refused a bottle. I often come across parents who tell me she just won’t take a bottle and that’s around 6 months old. The last and biggest mistake I made was to not sleep train her. If I had sleep trained Debyani, the simple fact is I would have breastfed Deveena. I never knew that it was achievable to sleep train a breastfed baby.
It wasn’t until I fell pregnant with my second daughter Deveena, who is now 27 months old that I realised I had developed a hatred for breastfeeding and could not bring myself to feed another baby again. The thought of being touched, used, sucked on, emptied and bound to a small creature for endless days, nights and months made me feel sick. So I decided to not breastfeed Deveena. My husband was so upset about the decision, it didn’t even occur to me to ask his opinion. In India they are big advocates for self weaning and gosh he was fed until 4 years old! If you know me don’t ever tell him I told you that! He says that’s exactly what has made him into a big strong man!
I came to know of sleep training through a friend of mine just before Deveena was born. So when I gave birth to her, I had her straight in a cot, room shared for 4 months, formula fed and sleep trained her. Doesn’t it sound so straight forward? It wasn’t. She had reflux for 9 months and vomited at every single feed. To say that it was horrific, with a toddler in tow is a under statement. Let me make myself clear Breastfed babies also get reflux. What I had to deal with was the guilt. The guilt that I never breastfed Deveena. When she was 7 months old I came across an article on Kelly’s Mom. Breastfeeding Aversion. There was actually a name for it. All those emotions I felt, the guilt, shame, feeling like a failure, that I had let her down, I never gave her the chance to latch on like Debyani did, wondering how she will feel when she is older knowing I never breastfed her and the dreaded moment she will ask me. I hope one day Deveena will forgive me. All these thoughts going round and round in my head. It came down to one simple fact. I never knew that it was possible to successfully sleep train a breastfed baby. All I kept thinking was about the relentless nights in bed, feeding on demand, the tears streaming down and wondering when is this shit going to be over, that I just cannot take anymore. I still have times I feel guilty. With all my knowledge, expertise and experience I would expect to have this in context but I am a mum, a woman, a daughter, a wife, and above all else human.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with formula feeding but what I am a big believer in is having all the information to make an informed decision. I never had that. I wish I had known more about sleep training when I had Debyani. Maybe my breastfeeding journey would have not been over shadowed by these intense, heavy and burdening feelings. In hindsight I would have breastfed and sleep trained both my girls.
So what stopped me from accessing a Sleep Consultant?
I actually thought it was normal to feel like that so I never spoke to anybody. How many times do we hear people say welcome to the sleepless night gang? I never spoke up about how I felt because I made an assumption; most mums feel this way, this is how breastfeeding is, my daughter is benefiting from my milk and I am creating an amazing foundation for her. Everyday I would wake up and tell my husband how exhausted I was, until one day I realised I wasn’t getting any response, so I stopped. I stopped sharing my feelings because I would hear ‘’She will grow out of it, it’s just a phase, at least you get to sleep with her all night and babies are supposed to wake up’’. So I shut down and carried on. This made me kind of question what my friends would think if I talked about how tired I am, depressed I am and how I just can’t go on anymore. Would they think I was weird? That I was stupid for not knowing how to put my daughter to sleep? I mean surely this was basic common knowledge, everybody does it right? So how can I get it so wrong? I hoped each day would be different. That one day I would put her to sleep and she would just stay asleep all night. I just didn’t know who to turn to and even if somebody could help what could they do for me? Would they come and put Debyani to sleep? Would they really and truly understand how I feel? Would things really change?
When Deveena was born I just couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted more for my girls. I wanted more for me. I wanted to actually put myself first, my sleep, my emotions, my physical well being, my mental clarity, my body, my day to day activities and my energy. I know this all sounds a bit unrealistic, having 2 children but these were my desires, needs and intentions. Debyani had lacked a routine and that meant so did I so when Deveena came along I wanted them to have a positive and healthy routine. So there was at least some sort of calm in the house! By sharing my feelings, asking for help, listening to some of my needs I became a positive role model for my girls. At home we talk about how important it is to look after yourself, how incredibly important it is to rest when you feel tired, and how an early night will make you feel so energetic and fresh in the morning. I often tell Debyani going to bed early means when you wake up you will feel happy.
To do things differently I knew I had to quieten the demon’s in my mind. I realised I didn’t need my husband’s permission, it was mine that counted more. I knew that hoping something would change just wasn’t enough. That I had to make the decision to ask for help and reach out to my village and say hey I am broken and I don’t want to break again. Somebody please help me!! My mental health was a priority for me to be present with my two girls and to actually enjoy being a mother. For me that meant more sleep.
So what changed for us as a family after Deveena was born?
Having sleep trained her at 4 months old, when her reflux symptoms were at bay within a week I was able to put her in her cot and walk out. She stopped waking every hour after bed and slept longer stretches. I knew what time to feed her over night and I knew how many feeds she needed according to her age. The decision not to breastfeed and the reflux, that aside I can honestly say sleep training saved my sanity. I was able to put her down for naps and have some me time. That gave me the strength to manage when things were hard for us.
I remember thinking at the time I feel so good, so good that I was actually scared. Scared i was missing something, making it up in my head or that any moment somebody was going to come and take it all away. Like I was hoping that things stayed this way, not quite trusting the goodness and yet terrified of losing it. 27 months on and I still get that buzz when I put her down for bed and walk out without having to spend an hour rocking her to sleep. She even says good night mummy I love you!! And I walk out thinking thank goodness!!!
I spent quality time with Debyani and she always helped me put Deveena to bed because there was no stress about how she was going to fall asleep, or if she would wake again soon and if she was hungry. By 6 months Deveena was sleeping through the night. The impact of sleep training on her reflux was incredible. I truly believe sleep training was one of the things that helped cure it because she was no longer cat napping. When you are stuck in that feed to sleep cycle, catnapping and then snacking babies can suffer digestive overloaded. When she started sleeping longer, she had longer to digest her milk, longer gaps. So she took longer feeds, stayed fuller and fed less.
By 7 months I was seeing clients again working from home. She was going down for naps and I knew what time she would sleep, how long for and when she would get up. I had a routine. I felt energetic, free and my mind was clear. I was able to give my girls my time without feeling emotional, crazy, sluggish and exhausted.
We are now expecting our third little bub. The thing that’s made having a 3rd possible? Sleep Training. I hope to breastfeed, with an opportunity to latch on Deveena if she wants to and this time make some breastfeeding jewellery for all 3 to mark these wonderful life changing journeys
In hindsight it doesn’t matter if I breastfed Deveena or not. She is a wild, healthy, bubbly, care free, energetic and fun little girl. I have successfully fed both my daughters full stop. I have raised two beautiful little human being’s that are absolute bundles of joy to be around. I showed up, and still do, each day no matter how I feel and that totally rocks!
If you want to talk things through with me about how you are feeling and to know more about how I can help you transform your life give me a call on;
07581 410 015
Or come on over to my space on the web to find out more. www.seemabarua.com