Any new mother who chooses to breastfeed has heard it: don’t become a human pacifier. Your baby will never learn how to sleep properly or self-soothe, and you’ll be attached constantly.
I was especially afraid of becoming this because I struggled so much with nursing to begin with. To say I hated breastfeeding would be an understatement. I didn’t like talking about it; I didn’t want to see other mothers doing it; I didn’t want to do it myself. Nursing hurt beyond my wildest nightmares and rage was a meek word compared to the feelings I had. It took months of searching the Internet with phrases like “nursing gives me rage” and “I feel nauseated when I breastfeed,” for me to learn of Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER), “a physiological reaction to letdown believed to be caused by an excessive drop in dopamine.”
Embarrassed by these feelings and stubborn by nature, I soldiered on with breastfeeding my daughter. And soon, it was obvious that I’d become her human pacifier. Nursing was one of two ways I could get her to sleep (that and strapping her into a car seat while listening to Daft Punk or Deadmau5.) And as if nursing her to sleep wasn’t enough, I also nursed her during the night — all. night. long.
This lasted weeks … 104, to be exact. And at this point, I believed I had completely failed as a parent, which was especially terrifying since I was now pregnant again with Baby #2.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried to fix the problem. My daughter and I discussed many times what needed to happen. I explained the whats and the whys. We went to the store and bought a special stuffed animal that she could have at bedtime for comfort. I tried the “Don’t offer, don’t refuse” technique. I bought her a special bedtime sippy cup that was filled with water and offered that to her at night instead of nursing. Despite never using them in the past, I bought her a pacifier. I even tried the lemon juice and vinegar weaning tricks, but my feisty girl didn’t bat an eyelash.
I felt defeated. I knew I had to do something, so finally I decided to take things in baby steps.
Step 1: Get baby to stop sleeping on top of me, still allowing her to nurse.
No, not small enough.
Step 1, version 2: Let baby fall asleep on top of me, nursing, then roll her onto the bed.
Nope, not quite.
Step 1, version 3: Let baby fall asleep on top of me, nursing, then roll her onto my arm where she would sleep for an hour before repeating the process.
Yes, that could work.
I finally began making progress. Baby step by baby step, month by month, I slowly weaned myself from my human pacifier status. I’ll be honest — if I’d have been willing to let her cry it out, it likely wouldn’t have been so drawn out. Once I got into the groove of taking baby steps, I weaned her completely and it was actually a much easier process. This gave me a solid month (woo!) of not nursing before my second daughter was to be born.
Most of that month I glowed with delight over the fact that I was no longer breastfeeding, but there were nights that I cried myself to sleep in fear of my human pacifier status returning with my second child. I wasn’t ready for the rage, the dread, the nausea that accompanied nursing. But I was at least comforted by the fact that I had learned a few things along the way: I now knew the magic of weaning in baby steps and it would likely take less than 104 weeks to sort things out with my new bundle of joy.
My second daughter is now 110 weeks old, and guess what? Magically, I didn’t develop D-MER with her. Breastfeeding is still not my favorite activity in the world, but I do not feel the rage or dread I felt with my first. Am I a human pacifier this time? Well, sort of. But I know the end is nearing and that it’s OK this time.
My eldest daughter is now 4 ½ and she’s slept like a rock for two years now. She’s the type of kid that asks to go to bed when she’s tired and passes out in five minutes flat. She sleeps through anything (perhaps her infant love of Daft Punk has something to do with that) and doesn’t wake up for anything at night.
So although I broke the cardinal rule of breastfeeding and became my daughters’ human pacifier, do I feel like I messed them up? No way.More On