Because "breast is best," it’s not popular to point out ways that breastfeeding makes life more difficult for mothers. But let me let you in on a little secret—it definitely can.
I'm a mom who's fed both my kids in different ways. My first exclusively breastfed for the first month or so and spent the bulk of his first year growing, quite nicely, on formula. I was sad that I couldn’t breastfeed as long as I wanted with my first, so I was thrilled when I had a successful experience with my second.
While my second was a champion breastfeeder, he seriously lacked a skill his big brother mastered early on: the ability to sleep through the night. The entire time 12 months he was breastfed, he never slept longer than a three-hour stretch. He pretty much nursed at least every two hours, every night, for a year. That's right: A YEAR.
We tried everything. And I mean everything. Apparently, he was immune to every single gadget and swaddle technique. We failed at sleep training not once, but three times. I even begged online friends for any and all advice. I received more than one clandestine private message confessing formula was their answer. So, we tried formula, but he refused bottles of any sort. Another fail.
I don’t regret breastfeeding at all, but the lack of sleep was undeniably difficult. Of course, every baby is different, and I’m sure there are breastfed babies out there who sleep ... at least sometimes. But, I swear, as soon as my little night-owl breastfeeder weaned, he started sleeping through the night.
When we don’t discuss the difficult aspects of breastfeeding, we leave nursing mothers feeling as though they're doing something wrong.
The sleep expert books and breastfeeding guides all assured me that breastfed babies could sleep through the night, but that was far from my experience. Yes, breastfeeding has many undeniable benefits, but I think we're being dishonest if we propose that aiding sound sleep is one of them.
When we don’t discuss the difficult aspects of breastfeeding, we leave nursing mothers feeling as though they're doing something wrong. I was producing plenty of milk and my chubby baby was gaining plenty of weight, but I couldn’t help but worry when I was up for the sixth time in a night that I was somehow screwing it all up. I feared he’d never learn to self-soothe. I agonized over whether I was nursing him enough during the day.
If I had known that some breastfed babies just need to eat more often, and therefore sleep less, I could have saved myself some heartache. After all, the exhaustion was hard enough on its own. If someone had told me, “Once he weans, you'll both get some sleep,” I would have rested easy—even if it was only two hours at a time.