Permanently attached …

Carrie writes:

My 10 1/2 month old son has decided to ONLY sleep when being held. We practice attachment parenting to the best of our abilities (co-sleeping included) and strongly feel that CIO is not for us. I am however, at a loss. He has a pretty consistent nap schedule (2/day) but for months I have nursed him to sleep. During his naps his preference is to stay attached to my breast, nipple in mouth. There are times when I am able to detach him from my breast and as long as I hold him, he stays asleep. If I even attempt to lie him down (in his crib, in our bed, etc) he immediately wakes up and starts screaming in protest/terror. His nap is over at that point, which one of the main reasons I have found it easier to keep him in my arms in order to ensure he sleeps, thus continuing this terribly inconvenient pattern. In the early months, when I needed to catch up on my sleep I would just nap with him/nurse him in our bed and sometimes he would nap for 2 1/2, 3 hours long, which was great at the time, but now it’s not so great. It’s about time that I do the dishes and answer emails and clean the bathroom, all the stuff that I imagine most moms being able to do by the time their baby is almost a year old…
So that’s the napping part. Now there is the bedtime part. I nurse him to sleep around 8pm and he usually falls asleep pretty quickly. I’m able to detach him from my breast with out him crying and waking up (sometimes he even lets go himself once he’s in a deep sleep) but there’s still no way he’s letting me put him down. I have tried waiting for 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour and a half, 3 hours, it doesn’t matter in how deep of a sleep he’s in. The second I try to put him down – actually the second I adjust my arms/hands to maneuver him away from my body – he wakes up, clutches at me like a little wild animal and screams in terror. Thankfully, my husband is able to take him and hold him as well, so I do get some breaks on the evenings he’s home (sometimes he works the night shift). But the same thing happens for him when he tries to put him down. This has been happening for the last few weeks. Before that when we would put him in his crib 50% of the time when we would lay him down he would stay asleep and 50% of the time he would wake up. When he would stay asleep, on average he would wake up crying every 30 minutes. We would go in, pick him up, and sooth him back to sleep (sometimes he would fall asleep without nursing, sometimes he would need the boob). This waking every 30 minutes cycle would continue until I brought him to bed with me, where he could nurse all night long and we were all finally able to get some rest. Well, I would get as much rest as one can get with a babe attached to one’s boob all night. I felt, and still feel, that it’s better than hopping in and out of bed every 30 minutes all night long… Also, to add to the problem, lately he’s been so active at night, kicking me and flopping all over the place (sometimes with my nipple still in his mouth – not pleasant) and at about 3am he starts to cry out in his sleep like he’s having nightmares. This continues until 6am when he wakes up and is all bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to start the day. Ugh.
A few months ago I tried nursing him to sleep laying next to him and trying to sneak away once he’s asleep. This would work sometimes but he would still wake up anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes after I left his side. It’s out of the question now because he’s so mobile he would wake up and crawl right off the bed in a matter of seconds (which he’s done once before).
So I’m at a loss for a few reasons. I need some time to myself and my husband and I need some time together which is not happening AT ALL right now. I am scared that I am perpetuating the problem by continuing to hold him like this, but in my heart I see no other alternative. If I put him down he cries. Hysterically, as if he is dying. I am worried that this is going to last forever. And I need some good rest, which I haven’t had since he was born. I refuse to let him CIO but I cannot bear to continue on like this for much longer…
ANY advice/help/suggestions would be SO GREATLY appreciated. I am sorry this is so foggy and disjointed. It’s late, I am exhausted and I need to go relieve my husband from munchkin duty.

I hear you. By about 10 months you’re yelling from the depths of parenthood “hey, could I just have a little bit of life back?????” I don’t know what to say, but it sounds like you are doing it quite tough. Some kids are just like this and the parents of super compliant sleep anywhere kids will just never, never ever understand what you go through on a daily (and nightly) basis.

You say from the outset that CIO is not your style. So let’s stay completely away from that. But it sounds like something has to give doesn’t it. I think the key is to work out what is the minimum change that you would need to feel a little better in yourself. Do you need more sleep? More time to yourself? More time with your husband? Of course, I know you need ALL of these, but which is most pressing at the moment? Once you figure that out, work towards that. It might be that you can live with lying down for naptimes, but you really need your evenings back. Or maybe you’d like to get some stuff done at home in the day. Or get your hair cut. Or whatever.

In terms of getting your son to sleep a bit more on his own, so at least you are not bound to be in bed for 13 hours a day or whatever, I’m thinking a gradual retreat method might be the best option if you feel you need to work towards a bit more independence in sleeping. Actually let me rephrase it, it’s probably a gradual gradual gradual retreat. The key is to take it slow. Each time your kid is comfortable with the next step of getting to sleep, you can retreat one tiny bit further.

So for you the first step might be to try to get him to fall asleep ‘off the breast’. So maybe you would try cuddle him to sleep. Then when that is okay, you might try stroking to sleep, then singing to sleep, then sitting next to him.

Sounds easy? It’s not so easy, it’s going to take a lot of patience and reassurance. But you’ll feel a lot better with it than CIO as you are never leaving them to scream themselves to exhaustion. There may be some crying, but you’ll be there to help them through it.

But I really recommend having a look if there are any small changes you can make to help you feel a bit more human. Sometimes getting a cleaner or someone to help put on a load of laundry can make a world of difference. Or I’m quite keen on begging friends to bring home cooked dinners around!


19 Responses to Permanently attached …

  1. Amy says:

    yes,yes,my daughter is/was exactly like this. Things do get better (at 16 months now). I just decided one night that I wasn’t going to hold her all night long anymore. I couldn’t. I work full time and I could not. But I was also against CIO and wanted to continue co-sleeping.

    So I started nursing her to sleep lying on my side. She would crawl on top of me, cry, try to pick me up. I would get up, walk with her until she was sleepy and then lay down and nurse. Over and Over again. It sucked. But it worked. Finally she got it. She can fall asleep in my arms while we walk and then we lie down and nurse. Or she can fall asleep nursing in bed next to me and sleep next to me.

    Hang in there and try gradual steps! It will get better. I like to think of my girl as an immature sleeper. She needs me more than most babies to help her with sleep. But I truly believe being there for her now will make her a confident sleeper in the long run. Think 5 years from now. Try to get some rest in the meantime and know that you are not the only one.

    Oh, and if it makes you feel better/worse she STILL only naps for my husband in his arms. But for me, she will sleep next to me. The power of the boob, I guess.

  2. adiemusfree says:

    If you’re screaming for sleep yourself, you can try the ‘controlled crying’ approach.
    In this you put the baby to bed, then say good night, go out and let him/her cry.
    After about 5 minutes of howling, you go back in, don’t give eye contact, just cuddle, keep lights down low, then without saying anything, put baby back to bed.
    Then if baby is still crying after five minutes, do the same.
    Keep on doing it, without making eye contact or talking or putting lights on. It’s soooo hard to do, but believe me, baby needs sleep too, and needs to learn how to put him/herself to sleep ON her/his OWN.
    Go to google and look up ‘Super Nanny’ and you’ll find a better explanation of this process.

  3. Brenda says:

    I agree with what was suggested here. We have sleep issues too, partially from attachment, but also because my son has Infant Reflux. But that’s a whole other topic. Gradual is good and that brought something to my mind. My son has a OT who comes out to our house once a week and works on stuff. We mentioned our sleep issues and one thing he recommended was to set the baby in their bed in a rocking motion, just like a leaf falling from a tree.

    He said that babies have a very different idea of space and most hate the sensation of going backwards because to them, they think they’ll fall forever. Or something like that. Anyway, he would explain far better than I am doing now. The point is, try gradually rocking him down in his bed (or your bed) and leave your hands there for a few minutes until he settles.

    It works for us sometimes but like with all things that involve babies, there is no one magic cure. Keep trying everything and hopefully something will work soon.

    Wishing you sweet dreams and blissful rest!

  4. CSB says:

    You poor thing!

    Your post strikes so many chords for me. Our son was very similar in that he insisted on sleeping with the breast in his mouth and/or being rocked. Which meant putting him down and getting away was hard going. Although to be fair, it took until 5 months of age before I ^could^ feed him to sleep. Before then he screamed to sleep with or without my interference. [shudder] I digress.

    We found something which we are convinced helped us to persuade him that being put down was OK – we started to pat him whenever he was falling asleep. Firm rhythmic patting, while he was being breastfed, while he was in the sling or while he was being rocked. Over a few weeks the patting became a bridge between him being held and him being put down, and this meant we could lay him down and soothe him with the patting. Once he was deeply asleep we could slow the pats down and then withdraw.

    It did take weeks and weeks but I have found that as he gets older he learns new sleep stuff much quicker so it might be easier for you guys. You could pat him as he’s being breastfed and then continue the patting while you try to unlatch him. A good book is Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution, which gives loads of tips on babies who want to stay latched all night.

    One thing I can tell you for sure – it won’t be like this forver. He will grow out of it, and one day you will look back and remember that it was bad, but not remember how bad it actually felt, if that makes sense. Hang on in there.

  5. liz calderin says:

    my son is 5 months old and has just begun a very similar nightime routine. he is waking up all night long to nurse. he would rather keep the nipple in his mouth throughout the night, but sometimes it falls out or i pull it out, which generally takes about 20 tries, so that i can attempt to roll over and have my back to him, which i figure will maybe keep him asleep longer. i imagine being him, waking up to my favorite food all night long and i guess i understand why he wants to snack constantly.
    but, the reality is that he thinks he needs my nipple to be asleep. and that is the problem. i see you wrote this post recently (i’ve never been to this site before, just googled “breastfeeding co sleeping and night waking” this popped up). please email me if you have time and would be interested in a pen pal relationship where we can share ideas to attempt to get some sleep.
    tonight i’m going to try getting him to sleep in our bed (with boob if necessary), leaving my husband and baby to sleep together and going downstairs to our extra bed room that has a twin bed and sleeping there until he wakes up to nurse. (with a monitor on so i can hear him). i hope that not having me next to him will permit him to sleep for longer lengths of time.
    a side note, i read that lactating women’s bodies don’t ever go into the 4th and deepest stage of sleep, regardless of how often their baby wakes up. so, in some ways we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t….

  6. What a lovely supportive blog! I will definitely be coming back when our baby is born.

    The Broken man

  7. Sanuk says:

    Same story for me, my baby girl is now 13 months old, and her sleep is not quite what I could wish however it improved a lot for me and for all, when I let dad walked her to nap in a sling and placed her right after in a hammock while I went out to catch some fresh air! I had a moment to recharge and with time her night nursing decreased to a healthier intensity … maybe cause she learned that she could sleep safely without my nipple in her mouth.

  8. JoAnna says:

    There’s no difference between “Controlled Crying” and CIO except that for most kids like ours, going into the room will just make them even more hysterical and freaked out. I don’t imagine that would work for this mama.

    But what MIGHT work is some type of weaning from sleeping attached to you; by this I mean trying to help your child learn to sleep while you are a few inches away (in the bed, lying down with him) so that once he is asleep you can sneak away. This would definitely involve some crying, but not the same terror or abandonment issues IMO. I had to do something similar when my daughter could/would only “twiddle” my nipples to sleep. It hurt, and finally I had to say no; and the first night she cried (with me there, talking to her) for 45 minutes before she fell asleep; the next night, 20 minutes… and that was it. For me the difference was that I was there with her, telling her I love her, I wouldn’t leave her, but she couldn’t hurt mommy anymore.

    It still sucked. 😦

    Maybe you could try to do something like that, where you just nurse the baby for x amount of time and then gently pull away and lie next to him. Have you read about the Pantley Pull Off from No Cry Sleep Solution? Same basic idea. Gently remove nipple from baby’s mouth, baby wakes and cries, put nipple back in, repeat repeat repeat until baby gives up already.

    That’s the idea anyways! Something to try!

    I hope your lil’ guy gives you a break already!

  9. Melissa says:

    Hi…whatever happened with this poor women’s story? I am just logging in now for the first time.

  10. elewinnek says:

    Oh my goodness, you are martyring yourself. My baby was similar, and what helped for me was reading _The No-Cry Sleep Solution_, partly because that book offers lots of different tips that you can pick and choose one. One of the tips that helped me was to give your child as many routes to sleepiness as possible. Does your baby ever go to sleep in the stroller, or sling, or car? Encourage your child to find alternate routes to sleep, other than holding you constantly. You need a break.

  11. K says:

    Sorry< one handed typing but the no cry sleep solution worked very well for us< but it took 10 months for her to sleep without nursing and she still needs hugs at night to help her rest….best wishes….I am on numbetr 2 but he is only 7 weeks and sleeps fopr 3 hours in a row at night time so it is such a relief!!!

  12. Rachel says:

    I totally feel where you’re coming from. My son is now 12 months old and is the same! Now I personally have learnt to just take things as they come and work my life around it. So he will only sleep if he’s sleeping right next to me with easy breast access. Fine. I can live with that – actually I wasn’t able to live with that before he was born or in the first like 4 months of his life, but I soon learnt that there’s just no changing this little guy. We’ve tried CIO (which took a toll on his poor little voice and lungs as he just wouldn’t adapt to it, he’d rather scream and cry his heart out for however long we left him to it, bearing in mind we did go in every 5, 10, 15 minutes to comfort him and didn’t just shut the door to his room and try to forget about him for an hour!) CIO just feels wrong for us and for him. I’ve been told that perhaps my breastmilk isn’t filling enough for him by ignorant people, and that I should switch to formula. So I did try introducing one bottle of formula into his daily routine, letting him drink about 5 oz of formula just before he falls asleep for the night. Nope it didn’t work and he was still waking up for a feed 2 hours later. I tried stuffing him up on solids prior to the formula as well, and STILL! – he’d wake up 2 hours later for a feed. Then you know, he’d only suckle for about 2 minutes and then drift off to sleep. If I tried giving him formula again, he’d only take about 2 oz at most before drifting off to sleep and refusing any more formula! From all this that I’ve tried, I truly believe that for him, all this constant night-waking for feeds at 2 or 3 hourly intervals isn’t about hunger. It might be a comfort thing. I’ve tried dummies, but nope he doesn’t take well to dummies. I’ve tried all these things for months and if he doesn’t like it, I’d leave it a few weeks and try re-introducing them again. Nope. He won’t be converted that easily. Still he’d wake up every 2 or 3 hours for a feed. For a really small feed that is.

    I know he’s never been an easy baby since birth – this kind of sleeping routine he has had since birth! And I had 2 daughters prior to him (one’s aged 7 and one’s aged 3) and none of them were anything like this, they’d sleep through the night by 3 months! My son was even born with the smoothest, textbook waterbirth without any use of painkillers or drugs – I even chose to deliver his placenta naturally without the injection. And I breastfed him exclusively since birth, basically did everything right. So I’ve just come to the conclusion that he is just gonna be this way, no matter what. And I have learnt to live with him. These days, I have to get a minimum of 9 hours sleep (prior to his birth I needed about 7). This is to ensure I get all the rest I need otherwise I’ll start dozing off during the day. Its fairly easy actually, since as long as he’s sleeping right next to me on my bed with easy access to my breast throughout the night, he’ll let me get those number of hours sleep I need for me to function decently during the day – but yes, I never got a single night’s uninterrupted sleep no more since he was born. I’d be woken up roughly once every 2 or 3 hours for a feed but its really easier if I’m breastfeeding because I can just turn to face him and let him suckle and I’d drift off back to sleep almost immediately (though its probably never really deep sleep when that happens).

    Well he’s developing normally and everything. Reached all his developmental milestones either ahead of other kids his age, or around the same time as what’d be expected from a child his age. There is nothing wrong with him physically, he doesn’t suffer from medical conditions like the reflux problems which some say can cause babies to awaken often during the night.

    So I’ve just really learnt to accept what I’ve got in life and perhaps that acceptance had actually made life with my new baby son more live-able and helped me cope better emotionally and mentally with it. I’ll say that if it really bothers you and is getting you upset on a daily basis, then you really need to get help and/or change things a little around the house. You might have to learn to accept that your son is probably not gonna change into the kind of baby you wished you had. You might have to then get people to relieve you of some of the feeding duties so as to give you a chance to catch up on your sleep or life. Try pumping your milk and storing it in the fridge and getting your hubby or a family member or friend to help you out with some of his feeds so you can get some proper sleep. I could never work with any breast pumps, not even the hospital grade ones, I just don’t know why, I’d only be able to produce like 1 oz of milk at most on those machinery. So I’ve never been able to pump milk to store for my baby’s feeds. That’s why I resorted to formula if I needed other people to help me with some of his feeds.
    Its never really affected our breastfeeding routines that much even though he gets formula-fed sometimes by babysitters or my hubby (if I need to go out for the evening, or if I just need to catch up on some sleep). He is still a champion breastfeeder to this day. Also I think you might have to try and put things into perspective a little – your son will grow up eventually. He won’t be relying on the breast to sleep through the night when he’s an adult, let’s put it this way. So he may be difficult in his first few years of life even, if it does take him that long to learn to sleep on his own through the night… but a few years of life is nothing compared to the many more years he’ll live on as he grows up and becomes a man. You may even look back in 10 years’ time at those good old days when your son was still so attached to you (or your breast!) and relied on you and just you to feel happy and secure.

    Good luck and I hope you will find a solution to your problems.

  13. Dana says:

    We have a 7.5 month old sounding very similar to this and also are not going to do CIO. Admittedly, we can put him down for some time but it’s starting to get more frequent that he’ll only sleep in my arms in the bed (he prefers i’m sitting or standing). I know your post is over a year old and don’t know if you’ll receive this, but wondering what worked for you in then end?
    Hope you’re well rested.

  14. ana says:

    If he cries let him cry. He sleeps only with you because you made him grow accustomed to it.

  15. Anna says:

    Your sleeping situation is almost exactly Luke mine. Our son is 8 months old and we cosleep. We love it. But it has created a baby who only knows how to sleep cuddled next to me or my husband. He falls asleep either by nursing or being rocked and then will not let either of us put him down by himself. There was a time (when he was 4-5 mos) when he napped in his crib after we rocked him to sleep, but that is NOT happening now. He screams in violent protest the instant I detach him from my body. Just now I had him sound asleep in my arms and tried to lower him into his crib. Each time I tried he woke up screaming so now I’m doing what we always end up doing and he’s sleeping on my chest.
    At one point (6.5 mo old) we decided against our hearts desire to let him CIO. We started with naps and he cried for 4 days for an hour for each nap and never fell asleep. He was exhausted and we were all miserable. So we quit and are back to square one.
    I’m curious, since this was posted a few years ago, how did your sleeping situations end up?? Any advice??

  16. Libby says:

    My son was exactly the same from 4 months on. He also had relfux which is an important point- sometimes babies have it and you don’t even know (there can be silent relux)but two symptoms stand out: wanting to feed all the time (night and day!) and not sleeping well. The not sleeping well can be because when they lie down the acid rises up into their windpipe and burns it. This can happen early in their life but actually leave them with negative associations with lying on their back or in their cot.

    Needless to say, my son wouldn’t go to sleep without the breast in his mouth or being rocked or both at the same time. He was being rocked on a fit ball and everytime I stopped or removed the breast or, heaven forbid, try to put him in his cot, he would freak out- so , I was getting no sleep. At six months, we didn’t want to CIO either but it got to the point where I was going nuts as my partner couldn’t help with the nights either.

    In the end, in the evening, I would feed him and then putting him to bed while still drowsy (but awake) and pat him on the bum like mentioned above. It worked for us- there were tears initially but it was never a case of us just leaving him in a room alone to CIO. It wasn’t long before he was used to it and then started having longer day sleeps as well (from little cat naps to 2 X 1.5 hour sleeps).

    I won’t lie and say that he’s a great sleeper now- when he’s teething he will wake up every hour or more and other times for no reason but it has definately improved. It is more difficult now he can move around his cot. When he wakes up I will gently try to get him to lie down and then gently jiggle him to sleep but at least I get SOME sleep now and my sanity back.

    But try and give the patting a try.

    Good luck!

  17. diana says:

    Happy that I ran across this site. My son is 9months old and will not fall asleep unless he is nursed to sleep. I feel and I know that he thinks he cannot fall asleep without me. I guess I’m to blame because it started when he was only a few weeks old. He would not stay asleep in his bassinet and I wasn’t getting any sleep so I decided to nurse him in bed lying on my side so I can finally get some rest and what do you know it has worked. Worked so well I co-sleep every night, my husband is not very fond of that, but hey it gets me the rest I need. Now my son will not stay asleep when I put him down, I always have to sneak away and take my breast out of his mouth real fast. When it works I do a little dance, make a sandwich and he’s up smiling at me before I take a bite of my sandwich. He’s a sweetheart though, I’m glad there are other mothers experiencing the joys (kidding) of this attachment. I can’t imagine weaning him off the breast when he turns one.. Wanted to wean at 6 months, didn’t happen (lol). Won’t be so surprised if weaning at one doesn’t work out too well. 😉

  18. Lori says:

    I could’ve written this. This IS my child. Can I ask how things worked out??

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