Category Archives: extended nursing


There has been some backsliding on the night-weaning issue.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, becuase it was going so well. She hadn’t had a boob in the middle of the night for so long that I was sure she’d forgotten it was even a possibility. But hey, I was wrong. How ’bout that?

When we were in Chicago, Dash was just getting over his almost-croup, and I was convinced Mabel was about to come down with it. One night she seemed warm, to the kiss test, and I suspected she was running a low-grade fever. She definitely had a cold. She woke up in the night, and I decided to hell with my principles (such as they were, the no-boob principle is always fighting against the why-shouldn’t-I principle) and gave her the boob. It sent her back to sleep quickly, it gave her antibodies, it kept her hydrated, it was just the ticket. In the morning her fever was gone and she only coughed a few times.

So I said, “It’s only because we’re away, and you’re sick.” “Once we go home, there will be no booboo at night, you know?” I said. “Only in Chicago,” I said.

Yeah, right. She’d broken the streak, and she knew it. Also, she’s still sick with a very runny nose and a crackly cough that doesn’t worry me because it sounds productive, as the pharmacist would say. I have not had a lot of luck denying the midnight boob since we’ve been back. And I can’t tell whether it’s because she’s found my weakness (you know, liking sleep) or because she really does need it because she’s sick. But I’m teetering on the edge of sick myself, with a runny nose and an incipient sore throat that never gets quite bad enough to bother about, and telling the long version of Cinderella at 3am is really not something that appeals to me when I know there’s another option.

I do try, though. Last night. Ugh. Last night she woke at some horrible hour and I recounted all of Cinderella (slightly abridged, with breaks whenever I dropped out of consciousness). Then she wailed at me for 20 minutes until I gave her one boob. Repeat for other side, even though she’d promised she’d go to sleep after just the one. (She’s like an alcoholic. I wonder has she an addictive personality, perhaps.) Then the other side, or a Mabel story, or I don’t remember what. Finally, two hours later, she said she was hungry.

One waffle and one more bloody Mabel story later, she was asleep. For, I dunno, an hour, until it was morning.

I’m a bit tired today. I’ll night-wean her again when I have the energy. Don’t hassle me, man.

Don’t even read this out loud in your head

I’m really tempting all kinds of fate even just writing this down, so I’ll have to say it in code, but Abelmay is eepingslay etterbay. I’m sorry if your pig Latin isn’t up to snuff, but that’s as far as I’m prepared to go. I said it out loud for real – in a whisper – to a friend the other day, and that very night the child woke up four times.

To recap, briefly, for anyone who’s new: Mabel will be four in November, and she has been sleeping like a four-month-old for her entire life. By which I mean that she would wake every two or three hours to be nursed back to sleep. So if she went to bed at 8 she’d wake at 10, 12, 2 or 3, and 5 or so, and finally get up around 7. If she skipped her nap and went to bed at 7, she’d wake at 9, and so on. Every now and then, just so I didn’t think I could even do something between 8 and 10, she’d wake up after just one hour. So, rather than lose my sanity completely, I was mostly sleeping in Mabel’s bed from 2am onwards every night.

It was okay, but it was getting old. She was getting old, and something had to change. Finally, this February, I got to the point where I was ready to try again, and so for the first waking we sent in Daddy. She didn’t like it much the first time, (think heaving, gulping, sobs) and I stepped in, but after a few nights she started to accept him and fall asleep with just a story.

In March I started trying to do that with her pre-3am wakings as well. She was still waking up, but often would go back to sleep with just a story from either me or her father. By 3am I would be too exhausted to hold out any longer, and she’d get what she wanted.

Last month, after babysittergate, I decided it was time to stand firm. She’d shown me she was able to put herself back to sleep, so I could finally deny her without guilt. The first night, she was awake for three hours in the middle of the night, trying to figure out how to do it. But in the next few nights things improved. Nowadays, she often wakes once, some time between 11 and 1, and that’s it until daylight. Daylight is when I have decreed she can have boobie, but not before.

So we finally really are nursing just twice in 24 hours: once at bedtime and once in the morning. And in between, Mabel mostly sleeps, in her own bed, and I sleep in mine. It’s taken a long time to get here – longer than I’d ever have let you tell me I’d wait, really – but it’s a good place to be.

Now I have to go and sacrifice some rubber chickens to the pig-Latin gods so that Fate doesn’t read what I just said.

Midnight Mabel

The time has come. I’m night-weaning the baby.

Yes. The three-and-a-half-year-old baby.

See, I feel sheepish and ridiculous admitting that. Admitting that I have been getting up multiple times a night and breastfeeding a perfectly large and able preschooler for so bloody long now, just because she wanted to more than I wanted to not.

And then I feel bad for feeling bad, because there’s a whole phalanx of crunchy moms out there who do this, and who perhaps (but probably not, because crunchy moms worth their salt are all about not judging) would even think that if she still wants it, I should still do it.

But it’s time. Tuesday night with the babysitter showed me that it’s just habit that leads her to demand me and the boobs around 3am every night. (We are at the point that she can often, if not usually, make do with just a story, sometimes even from Daddy, at the midnight waking, if she wakes then. Which she mostly still does.) She can put herself back to sleep, if she cares to try. But when she knows I’m around, her thought process goes like this:

Oh, I’m awake. 

Instead of

Oh, I’m awake.
Better roll over and go back to sleep.

It’s time to change that, and there’s only one way to do it. I’ve tried waiting it out, but that’s obviously not working. So first I send B in (who sleeps deeply and is getting up early every day to go for a run because he’s training seriously for this fall’s marathon; which is one reason why I was reluctant to do this), and then when she kicks him out I go in and reiterate that there will be no boobie.

And then there are demands for cold water from the fridge, and a hot waffle from the toaster with nothing on it, and more cold water because the first cold water isn’t cold enough any more, and a Mabel story*, and the Cinderella story, and another story, and to have the library books read to her, and to get her pillow pet from downstairs where she left it; and some of these demands are acceded to and some are roundly denied because it’s the middle of the damn night and that’s when people sleep.

And eventually, so far, she has turned on her light and turned over in a big grump, and finally gone back to sleep beside me, or even without me. But it takes a long, long time. Last night she woke at 2.15 and finally fell asleep some time before 5am. That’s a big chunk of night to be wide awake for. I think she’s part raccoon.

We have guests coming next week, so I really hope she’s got used to it a bit by then, because the walls in this house are paper thin, so that I can literally hear a child yawn in their bed while I repose in my own, and I don’t think I would feel like a very good hostess if my guests were treated to the upset-Mabel show for three hours in the middle of the night.

* Mabel doesn’t know her name is sometimes Mabel, of course, because Mabel is not really her name. But when telling her midnight stories about a little girl who has adventures, I often find that the little girl’s name is Mabel.


Last night B and I went out to dinner, because we have now been married for eight years. This time, since the babysitter had had such success putting Mabel to sleep the last time, I let her do it again from the start – Mabel hadn’t napped at all, so she was ready for bed as soon as the sitter got here.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t bargained on the fact that removing all her time to impress her most-loved fourteen-year-old would make her unwilling to stay asleep. I thought that once she was out, she’d stay that way at least until 10.30 or so, by which time we’d be back. Instead, she went to sleep pretty soon but woke up (or at least revived herself from an almost-sleeping state) several times to tell Emma important things about tiaras and birthday parties, and to eat a waffle in spite of the good dinner I’d fed her before we left.

But then! At 1.30 am or so, I found myself awake, awaiting the inevitable. I heard Mabel moving around in her room. Here we go, I thought, wondering whether to wake my deeply sleeping husband and send him in first (our new strategy, still in its infancy so I can’t say how it’s going yet) or just cut to the chase and go myself. But the call didn’t come, so I waited. Then I heard her bedside light click on. Hmm, I thought. A few minutes later I heard “…T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z, now I know my ABC, next time won’t you sing with me.” But still, no call – for me, for Daddy, or even for the babysitter.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of me. I got up, snuck along to her room, and peered in. She was lying with her back to me, still under the bright light, hand twitching a little, but certainly trying to be asleep if not quite there yet. I didn’t dare go further in and turn off the light, even though I hate the thought of her sleeping under the glare of a spotlight. Clearly, she doesn’t care, so why should I?

I went back to bed, and, after a while, to sleep.

That was it until 7am, when she appeared beside me and crawled into my bed to partake of what was rightfully hers. I happily gave it.

Over breakfast, I congratulated her on putting herself back to sleep.

“Well, Emma said I wasn’t to wake up again.”
“So you didn’t call for her?”
“I see. What if I told you not to wake up again?”
“I’d call for you.” Impish grin.

So. I have less authority than a fourteen-year-old. This is not even a surprise.


This week I’ve been letting Mabel nap, since Dash is at camp and it’s the first time I’ve had an hour to myself since the summer break began. It’s hard to resist the temptation to bring her upstairs at 12.30 and just see if she falls asleep. She’s been waking early, so she does; and then I have a lovely time blogging or baking or sorting things in peace.

But of course, there’s a downside. It’s called bedtime. Bedtime for the past few nights has gone like this:

Step 1: Get the kids ready for bed. Teeth brushed, stories read.
Step 2: Dash lies down, possibly drawing in his notebook for a while until he falls asleep.
Step 3: Meanwhile, I take Mabel into her room and nurse her down.
Step 4: Down on that side, down on the other side, first side again… and she’s hungry. Or thirsty for cold water from the fridge, Mummy. Please, Mummy.
Step 5: I bring her water and/or a frozen waffle. So much for the teeth.
Step 6: All done. I lie down with her again. “This is the last side, Mabel. No more sides after this.”
Step 7: Mabel leaps up and makes a break for the door.
Step 8: Mabel gets to come downstairs and play for an extra twenty minutes, so long as she’s quiet and leaves me alone to drink my belated cup of coffee.
Step 9: Mabel wants to watch something on my computer. Mabel wants to write her name on my computer. Mabel wants one of those things I’m eating with my coffee. Time for Mabel to go back upstairs.
Step 10: (Optional) Daddy is inveigled into going upstairs and telling Mabel some stories. Daddy is summarily dismissed.
Step 11: I go up one last (I swear, this is it) time.
Step 12: Some time about an hour and a half after her initial bedtime, Mabel finally nurses to sleep.

Hooray! Time to relax. Oh, wait. I had that in the afternoon. Fold some laundry, put away the dishes, and go to bed.

Labels, schmabels

When Dash was born, before we left the hospital they brought us one last paper to sign. It went something like this:


Please accept or decline the following.

We hereby declare that we will raise this child entirely according to the principles of Attachment Parenting, never deviating from the laws set out by Dr Bill Sears in his canonical volumes, including but not limited to the following basic tenets:

  • always wearing the baby and/or child, never pushing them in any type of wheeled conveyance 
  • breastfeeding on demand, at every peep, day and night, for the entirety of the first two years and thereafter as long as you possibly can
  • sleeping like a big happy pile of puppies in a family bed until the day the child decides they want to sleep alone
  • never, ever, allowing the baby to cry. At all.

On receipt of this signed declaration, you will be issued with an Attachment Parenting card. The Attachment Parenting Police may stop by your house unannounced at any point and your card may be revoked if such things as a stroller, a crib, or an open tin of formula are found in your possession.

Sign here: ____________________

Then there was a note:

Alternatively, you may wish to join the Evil Parenting movement. In this case, you will need form 666B, wherein you will avow to eschew slings, wraps, and carriers of all types; to wean the day your baby turns six months old or starts solids, whichever happens first – or to use formula from the get-go; to leave your baby in a crib in a dark room down the hall from your bedroom from day one and never ever nurse him/her to sleep; and to generally follow faithfully the principles laid out by either Ezzo or Gina Ford to the letter.

In big letters along the bottom, it said: THERE IS NO MIDDLE WAY.

Oh, wait. No, they didn’t.

We left the hospital with a new baby and a few ideas about how we wanted to look after him. When one thing didn’t work, we tried another. We ended up doing what worked, until it stopped, and then we looked at our options, read a variety of books, and tried again. After a while, the baby got bigger and those things were easier and different things were important. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Parenting is a journey, not a label.

Now can everyone please just go back to whatever they were doing last week?

Being weird

A friend sent me a link to this Irish Times article about extended breastfeeding in Ireland. (I would probably have happened across it myself anyway, but she has far-reaching connections in the breastfeeding world and knew my interest in both the country and the subject.) It led me to a great Irish blog called andmybaby, and from there it was as if I could suddenly survey a whole country – mine – where people actually do the same sort of things I ended up doing.

I mean, I know in theory that many Irish mothers must breastfeed, co-sleep, baby-wear, and even continue nursing past the first year, but none I knew had done all that. Or none who talked about it, at least. Which is not surprising in a country like Ireland where things are swept under rugs all the time – and we are way more prudish than the stereotypical No Sex Please, We’re British.

It makes perfect sense that blogland is the place to find all this hidden information, because the Irish do love to talk, and love to write, and love their kids, and just need an acceptable outlet for all this stuff so that it doesn’t turn out you mortally offended your next-door-neighbour’s mother who told her cousin who told your mother who was mortified to hear that you’re telling all and sundry your private business.

Being an ex-pat was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to me from a parenting point of view. It gave me the freedom to work things out for myself. I lacked an on-the-spot support system, but I had friends inside the computer and I could let instinct, informed by what I read, tell me how I should parent. Peer pressure was not an issue. I knew what I’d heard about friends and friends of friends who had babies back home – they were almost always stories of past-dates, inductions, emergency c-sections, then bleeding nipples, failed breastfeeding, thriving on formula. All these things happen, of course, but the fact that I didn’t seem to know anyone at home they hadn’t happened to (from my admittedly small sample circle) was a bit disturbing. I was sure that wasn’t how it was meant to go.

When it came to breastfeeding, and once things were going well, I saw no reason to stop. Around twelve months I assumed the baby would helpfully “wean himself,” but that didn’t seem to be what the baby intended. So we went on. If I was weird to the Americans I encountered, they could comfort themselves that I was, after all, European. If the folks at home wondered where I got my strange notions, they could of course blame those crazy hippie Americans for influencing me.

In truth, I learned to trust my own judgement and followed my heart. I decided that what had worked for the cavewoman – co-sleeping, babywearing, extended nursing – would probably be pretty good for my babies too.


I came home from a meeting at ten past nine last night and – surprise! – not! – Mabel was still awake. Wide awake, downstairs, with Daddy. She had drawn me a picture of a machine that would say I love you. Or churn out teddy bears. Or something. I picked her up and she snuggled happily into my arms, head on my shoulder, clearly more than ready for bed.

“Say night night to Daddy.”
“Say I love you to Daddy.”
“I love you.”

Daddy wasn’t too offended. Because we all know it’s not really me she loves.

“Do you know why I love you?”
“I can hazard a guess, yes.”
“Because of your booboos!”

If Daddy had the booboos, he’d be the one in favour, no mistake about it.

Last night she only (yes, insert eyeroll here) woke three times, and for two of those she went back to sleep without nursing. Instead, whoever goes to her – it’s me, unless she wakes when B is still up, in which case he gives it a go and sometimes it works for him – tells her a story. When it’s 2am my stories are not very interesting and tend to tail off after a few sentences. I have a sort of a formula at this point. It goes something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called [Mabel/Violet/Bonnie/whatever name is in favour with her just now, or some totally random name that pops into my head, maybe Ermingarde or Apple]

and she had [no friends at all/a puppy/a pet alligator/a dragon called Billy/you get the picture]

and every afternoon, [girl] and [pet/friend/all by herself] used to walk [down by the river/into the deep dark forest/along the beach] [throwing stones into the water/talking about their day/discussing quadratic equations] until it was time to go home for dinner.

One day while they were [doing whatever], they came upon [an amazing thing] and they said [blah blah by now I’m mostly asleep and I start … speaking more slowly… and realising that I just had a very short dream there instead of continuing… and maybe I can get out of bed now…   …    ….     ]

And if I’m very lucky, then I get to go back to my own bed for another couple of hours till I’m called on for the next installment and I have to take up where I left off.

If I’m not lucky, she’s far more awake than I, and she announces, “That’s the end of the story” and claims the booboos for her own. I’m too sleepy to stop her.

Uncharitable thoughts

My underwire is inconveniencing you? I’m so sorry. But hey, you know what, your entire self insisting on being attached to my breast for as long as it might take you to fall asleep tonight, which is evidently going to be a long, long, time, is inconveniencing me too. My last respectable nursing bra is biting the dust and I really really don’t want to spend good money on another one when their days are so (so, so) numbered, but lying down to get you to sleep in a regular bra, with its underwires all up in my face and poking me under the chin, is not much fun for me either.

Oh dear, my arm is not positioned just so to cushion your head while you nurse to sleep? Well it’s not made of rubber, so it doesn’t bend that way, and also I have other things to do than just lie here being your plaything for half the night, I have foam pool noodles to turn into lightsabres for your brother’s birthday party tomorrow.

You are disappointed to wake and not find me exactly where you left me? Well, I’m disappointed to hear you wake, because I have the stomach flu and it’s really rather gross and I haven’t eaten a thing that’s not banana for two days so I may be a tiny bit grumpy, but excuse me if you find me less than sympathetic when you bounce up in bed at 3.30 am and tell me you’re hungry, because you were offered a full and nutritious dinner, while all I had was a bowl of cereal, gingerly, afraid of repercussions.

You want to sit up and have the big side? Again? And I seem less than forthcoming? I roll onto my front and tell you to go and find Daddy?

Must be morning.

Tiny increments of betterment

Is it time for an update on the sleep situation? I suppose it is.

Let’s start with the good news. Mabel is definitely toilet trained. Pull-ups are strictly for night time, not even for naps. (I put a waterproof crib mattress pad under her at naptime just in case, but mostly she doesn’t need it.) My diaper-totin’ days are over. I am in no way tempting fate by saying this.

Okay, okay, that’s not sleep.

Last time I took you down this fascinating road of good intentions, I was trying to night-wean the three-year-old; something many people do when their babies are six months old, or maybe twelve, or perhaps two years. But I’m a slow starter, and I dislike confrontation.

The first few days went startlingly well: Mabel would go back to sleep without nursing at her first wake (10pm or so) and skip her second wake (midnight-ish) entirely. By the time the formerly third wake happened (3am) I was so impressed, and she so frantic, that I would happily give her what she wanted, and we’d all go back to sleep.

But then she started not eating dinner. Which made her wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Which was not conducive to staying asleep or being content with an inane story about Dora and some butterflies instead of the much-desired boobie.

(She has started to say “boobie” instead of “mumeet”. I am not happy about this development. When I’m on the phone to my mother and Mabel starts to shout “Give me your boobies!”, there’s little I can do to dissemble about what’s going on.)

So we had some frustrating evenings while B was away, and we’re just getting back into the swing of things now, remembering to send him in when she wakes the first time, even though she’s not yet back to ever going back to sleep without me. But still, some times, more often than not – almost always, I’d say optimistically – she will go back to sleep without nursing at the first wake. The night before last she went back to sleep the first two wakes without nursing. Even. But she’s still waking – that is, enough to start calling for me and escalate if ignored – as much as ever.

Still. I’ll take what I can get, for now. It’s a start.