Permanently attached …

August 14, 2008

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!

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