Thing's I Wish I Knew


Luka Zigic

My husband and I spent a lot of time preparing for the birth of my child and welcoming her home.

She was our first baby, we wanted everything to be perfect. We wanted the perfect nursery, we wanted to fix up our house. We took classes about birth and hired a doula (probably the best thing we could have done, but definitely could have taken even more classes). We bought all of these fancy clothes for her and tools that promised to comfort and soothe her, help her sleep, and mimic my breasts and my womb. We bought a 400$ pump and every bottle on the market.

Once she finally arrived, we were jarred by the experience that is postpartum and the fourth trimester. I was shocked that my baby didn't want to sleep in her fancy crib in her perfect nursery. I couldn't even get her to sleep in her cot next to my bed, all she wanted was to be against my skin, crying the second we were separated. I remember constantly thinking something was wrong because the doctors and nurses told me that she would eat every three hours and that I should be timing feeds on my breasts and doing so on a schedule, she was nursing way more than every three hours and we were no where near a schedule - our feeds sometimes lasted minutes and sometimes they lasted half an hour or more. It was all so inconsistent and so confusing. Also, nursing was so painful, everyone supporting me would tell me the latch needed to improve but no one had actual knowledge on supporting us to achieve this deep latch that to me seemed impossible. And don't even get me started on naps and night time sleep. Sleep was probably the most triggering thing for me as a new mom. Everything I read told me I needed to stop nursing her to sleep (something we did constantly) and that I needed to teach her to fall asleep on her own, put her down drowsy but awake. Let her self soothe and cry herself to sleep. It all felt wrong and I just couldn't do it. My intuition was screaming at me to do the opposite; to comfort, to nurse, to support, to be responsive, how could something that felt so right be so wrong?

I spent countless hours googling about her nursing habits, was it normal? Was I nursing too much and over feeding her? I joined support groups that would guide me in sleep training her because I was convinced I was doing it all wrong and that by nursing and being responsive to her I was impacting the life long skills that I needed to help her build, the skills that she needed me to help her develop. It wasn't until I embarked on my journey of becoming a lactation consultant that I would learn how misled we were and that we were truly so unprepared for the realities of what it looks like to have an infant.

When babies are born they are born without the ability to self regulate, they require close proximity to their parents to help them co-regulate. By nursing and doing skin to skin with our babies, we help regulate their temperature, breathing, blood sugars, and emotions. Allowing them to sleep on or near us allows for us to quickly respond to their cues for comfort or food. By building up this trust with my baby I realized that I was not damaging her ability to learn valuable skills, that I was actually developing my child's secure attachment to me, helping her be confident that I was there whenever she needed me. I was actually giving her the tools to one day be able to be separate from me. To be able to sleep in her own space and fall asleep on her own when she was ready. This was completely opposite from everything I read on sleep training websites and groups. I quickly learned that sleep and self settling aren't skills that needed to or even could be taught, that sleep is a developmental milestone that comes on its own, and looks different for every child based on where their at developmentally, their secure attachment to their parent, and their temperament .

My child slept so well when we co-slept and nursed to sleep. We would both be well rested and would barely rouse from our sleep during feeding sessions, when I told people we were sleeping well they were completely shocked and expected us to be exhausted from the night wakings. This was going so well for us until I started to consume the mainstream narrative that we needed to stop doing this or that it was somehow damaging or dangerous, to get on a schedule with age appropriate wake windows, having her sleep in her quiet dark crib in her nursery. I would spend over an hour sometimes rocking her trying to get her to sleep on the schedule these "professionals" were saying she needed to be on. The time I spent alone rocking her in the dark for so many hours made me depressed and resentful. I was desperate for a solution.

At the same time as I was navigating these sleep challenges I was navigating our breastfeeding journey. I had bought this expensive pump and thought that pumping was a natural part of the breastfeeding journey, even though I didn't really understand where it came into play or how to use it to support my individual goals. As soon as she was born, even though I had fully intended to offer a bottle, I developed a very strong desire to exclusively breastfeed her, the thought of sharing the experience of feeding her made my blood boil. People would ask me to pump so that they could feed her and help out and I just strongly felt like that was our thing and I was not willing to share that experience. The few times I did try to get her to take a bottle she completely rejected it. We wasted so much money on bottles and this pump that I had zero plan for. I wish I had connected with a lactation consultant before birth or even after to navigate these thoughts and plans. I probably would have saved myself a lot of money and stress and would have had a much more clear idea of how I wanted our journey to look.

I realized as some time passed how closely linked child sleep and breastfeeding truly are. It's a symbiotic relationship, it naturally fits together. There's a reason our babies get tired when they nurse and easily fall asleep and stay asleep with their full tummies, there's a reason they sleep so well during contact naps or co-sleeping, its wired into their very nature, and while it may not be the norm in our modern society - it is the biological norm. I learned that my milk at night time was higher in fat and that it was full of hormones that would allow my baby to sleep better at night. I eventually learned that there is no appropriate time to stop night time nursing, there is no age, or weight, or time that says your baby is done nursing throughout the night. Once I let go of all of these expectations that were set on me by the internet and those around me, and I leaned into my intuition and what felt right and was already working for us, I released myself of so much stress and anxiety. I stopped rocking in the dark for hours and let her sleep wherever she wanted. Sometimes that was in my bed, sometimes on the couch in the day light with everyday noises filling the air. And you know what that did for us? It gave us freedom and it helped her circadian rhythm regulate. My child now will sleep wherever we go, with whoever, because she doesn't require the crutch of pitch black rooms, sleep swaddles/sacks, and noise machines to pass out. She's 2.5 now and I still gladly nurse her to sleep when we are together, but she doesn't NEED need to be nursed to sleep, her grandparents and daycare and my husband all manage to put her to sleep no problem, even though i've been nursing her to sleep since day one. Everything I had read when she was a baby was that I absolutely needed to stop doing this otherwise she'd never fall asleep in any other way. Complete nonsense!

The truth is babies need very little in their first year of life. They'll want to spend all their time on or near you, they'll live in pjs and onesies that are easy to change and are comfy, those fancy cute outfits quickly losing their charm as you navigate daily blowouts and spit up 24/7. They likely wont spend much time in their crib or in their nursery in the first year of their life, they'll need you to help them fall asleep and sometimes stay asleep, and they're going to nurse way more than every three hours, they'll nurse for a variety of reasons other than just to satiate their hunger. If you're a new or expecting parent trying to make sense of the newborn or infant period, my advice to you is to lean into your intuition, stop googling, stop listening to instagram, and look inside yourself for the answer. If something feels right and is working for you, then do that. If something is feeling wrong then don't do it just because some mommy blog says you should. Nothing is permanent, nothing is forever, and just because you're doing something with your baby now that does not mean thats the only way you'll ever be able to do it. If one day you decide something is no longer working for your family, guess what .... you can change it at any time! Do not let anybody scare you into thinking this can not change at any given moment if that's what you want.

If you're a pregnant mama preparing to welcome your baby home, hear me when I say your baby doesn't need any of that shit you're buying !!!! :P Your baby needs you and milk and that pretty much it! Instead of spending thousands of dollars on all of these things you'll never use or use once or twice - think about investing into support and education. Things like lactation and birth classes, invest in postpartum planning, a postpartum and birth doulas. These are the things we truly need, help from specialized professionals & community.

This year we are expecting our second child and I enter this next chapter much less anxious. I know that my intuition will never steer me astray and I will never again spend a second of time doubting myself and my relationship and responsiveness to my children. We'll nurse when my baby wants, we'll go strait to bed sharing - there will be NO fancy nursery, I will not but bottles, pacifiers, or pumps. Our focus will be on nurturing and connection this time and we are so excited for round two!

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