Today, I must start by wishing my beautiful “baby” girl a happy second birthday. On April 27, 2012, my husband and I welcomed the sweetest, most amazing little person into our lives, and nothing has been the same since. It’s been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, laughs, tears, adventures and lessons.
While I wouldn’t change one single second of our wonderful journey, I will admit it was a lot of trial and error, and I didn’t always make the right choices. Let’s take sleeping, for example. What I thought was a sound parenting decision ended up coming back to haunt me.
Before Reese’s arrival, I did plenty of research on a variety of topics, but I took a special interest in feeding options. After checking out websites, reading articles and talking to other mothers, I chose nursing over infant formula. (I did later supplement with formula when I was at work but, originally, nursing was my preference.) According to pretty much every tidbit of information I came across, nursed babies should be allowed to “eat on demand.” Under no circumstances should a nursing mother try to stick to a specific feeding schedule. When the little munchkin is hungry, you drop everything to deliver the goods. And I did.
No matter what time of the day or night it was, I fed on demand. My daughter, Reese, got very used to “snacks” at midnight, 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m., etc. And I did nothing to discourage her “requests.” After all, I wasn’t supposed to. From what I understood, the constant nighttime feedings naturally would taper off with time. And, eventually, they did. However, they never fully disappeared.
Even though we stopped nursing shortly after Reese turned 1, by that time, she was too attached to her predawn “munchies” to give them up. I switched Reese to organic whole milk and, most of the time, she woke up asking for it once a night. I thought, “OK, I can deal with this. Getting up once a night is a lot better than three times a night.” Plus, my husband could easily help by preparing a bottle.
For the next 12 months, we waited for Reese to give up her lone nighttime feeding. All around us, our friends’ and relatives’ children — who were roughly the same age — were sleeping through the night. Not ours.
My husband and I weaned Reese from her bottle in favor of exclusive sippy-cup use, figuring that would be the game changer. No more bottles, no more 2 a.m. milk requests, right? Wrong. Our toddler was happy to slurp her beverage from a straw all night long.
I returned to my research and found that nursed babies often take longer to sleep through the night because they’re so accustomed to frequently waking up for feedings. Apparently, formula is heavier than breast milk, which is digested easier and faster, leaving babies “asking for more” with serious urgency and frequency. They begin to associate those nighttime nursing sessions with comfort and closeness. It becomes less about nutrition and more about cuddling with mama when all involved parties should be sleeping peacefully.
As Reese neared 2, my husband and I thought, surely, she’d give up the nighttime milk demands. We tried different forms of discouragement — bribery, reasoning and even flat-out denial. That wasn’t pretty, and we changed our tunes pretty quickly when we realized we could spend 15 minutes giving Reese milk before everyone went back to sleep, or we could spend an hour listening to her scream. The noise and guilt associated with option No. 2 were too much to bear.
Now, here we are with a 2-year-old whose sleep habits nearly mirror those of an infant. If there’s an end in sight, I’d be surprised. Honestly, though, I’m actually starting to be more OK with it. I’ve begun to realize this is the only baby I’ll have. I won’t get to do this over again. So, if my perfect, sweet little girl wants me to rock her all night long while she sips milk, well, I guess that’s what we’ll do. When Reese is a teenager who wants to sleep 14 straight hours and prefers soda to milk, I’ll have these precious memories.