The hazy magic of night nursing

March 22 2011 | Guest post by Andrea LeVasseur
Samuel
Photo by Raphael Goetter, used with Creative Commons license.

Some small thing — maybe a gentle rustling, or an ESP-like wave of energy, or a swift punch with a little fist — awakens me. However she did it, the baby woke me up. I open one eye only — two would be a commitment to waking up — a commitment I'm not willing to make.

In the eerie green light from the LED desk lamp on the dresser that acts as a nightlight, I am able to see her. Is she on her stomach? This is the first thought. But, no, she is not. Lying on her back, she is, as always, with arms outstretched and starting to flap. Her legs under our blanket are starting to kick. The window of opportunity is closing. If I don't act soon she'll wake up and it'll all be over.

A cry will lead to standing, which will lead to waking, and this must be avoided. Pull baby belly-to-belly, maybe just a cuddle will lull her back asleep. No, her mouth is open and rooting like when she was a newborn. I am wearing a nursing tank so it's easy to take a side down. I feel both breasts and prepare to offer her the fullest one.

Oh, no, the fullest is on the side furthest from her. She already drank from the side closest to her. Will this require me to wake the sleeping man and switch sides? No, I think. Must angle my body so I'm more on my stomach. Now pull baby close.

Her eyes are still closed. My eyes are starting to strain because I've only allowed one to open this whole time. Mustn't cross over to the waking world. Must return to slumber. This is only a brief moment in between. Resist the urge to look at the clock. Resist!

Pull baby closer. I offer her a breast and she takes it. Relief. At this point I am noticing how uncomfortable I am. With one eye and one free arm I grab the Total Pillow, a flower-shaped drugstore novelty item I received as a white elephant Christmas gift. I stuff it under my head and sink into those miniature chemical BBs that if swallowed would cause harm to children and household pets.

Andrea's daughter, rocking back to sleep. Photo by Todd Tue.
As I sink in, I allow both eyes to close for a brief rest. The milk has let down and I both hear and feel baby's drinking get stronger, heavier, then lighter, slower. I stop hearing the rhythmic music of swallowing. Slower still until she's just pacifying. One eyeball is again needed.

I pull away gently but she holds on, fighting to keep the comfort in her mouth. A couple more tries and I get the breast back, covering my nipple with the nursing pad and tank top, but not bothering to re-hook it. This must be done with precision and care so as not to touch the sleeping baby.

Finally, I close both eyes and bask in the symmetrical comfort it brings. Thanks to the magic cocktail of hormones just released, I fall back asleep.

  1. Lovely! It's certainly a lot nicer when you don't have to pee, weighing the risks of a quick trip to the bathroom (will he wake up and start screaming while I'm gone?) or waiting until he's finished to sneak away (hurry up! AHHH!!!).

  2. this is exactly why i can't imaging ever not breastfeeding and co-sleeping. this story illustrates perfectly how easy it is to get more (much needed) sleep.

    having to get up and go to another room? grab a bottle? get out of bed? sounds all bad to me! i am lazy lazy lazy.

    • I think it probably just depends..we co-slept and breastfed, and I was still exhausted, especially the first few months, every time Jasper nursed at night. I never slept all the way through it, and I definitely pitched a fit or two about waking up every few hours. Those aren't my proudest moments, but…interrupted sleep can be a bitch, even if you're only scooting over two inches.

      • oh yeah, well new babies are exhausting, constantly. i'm convinced that i would have gone MORE insane with newmommydom if i had to wander around the house in my sleep-deprived state. and probably broken something – furniture or ankles.

        also, breastfeeding was like the best sleeping pill ever for me. i could hardly stay awake while feeding even while completely rested!

  3. I agree with all of this! I I had to get up in the middle of the night and be fully awake I would have never made it. I do hav some difficulties now becasue my little one is 5 and still wants to co sleep. Not a huge deal, but she snores and kicks like a mule lol. My fella can't take it and ends up on the couch 🙂

  4. i co-slept and loved it! i would keep water, diaper, wipes, and spare outfit within arms reach so unless i had to pee, i didn't even have to get out of bed… and if i had to change a diaper, i would be up for ten minutes max! it was great… especially when you have others that you have to get up really early in the morning for! it was a life saver! when a baby sleeps with you, your sleep cycles start to match theirs, so when they are waking up, you start to wake up too, which means less crying. it also lowers their risk for SIDS… almost like it was meant to be.

    • Odd, everything I've heard says that cosleeping raises the chances of SIDS. That's why doctor's and hospitals advise against it …

      • There is a *lot* of debate on this issue, both in the US and internationally. I suggest all readers do their own research and come to their own conclusions. I have my own beliefs on the issue, but I'm not going to try to force my conclusions on anyone else.

  5. the youngest of my 5 kiddos is 6 1/2…i do so miss those precious moments at night with each of them! this post brought tears to my eyes and wonderful memories back to my heart…ty

  6. I think I need a king size bed. I love co-sleeping and being able to nurse without getting up, but my man has been out on the couch for the last 4 months and I miss him.

    • Or add a twin bed next to yours! It's cheaper, and the kiddo can take it to his/her own room when it's time 🙂

      • We bought a king when our son was 18 months old (he's 22 months now and still sleeping with us) and it was the best $$ we've spent as parents so far.

  7. Lovely post! This is the story of my nights right now too except for small details. I usually have to roll over to change sides (nobody seems to mind) and I rarely stay awake long enough to get my breast back. It's the set system imaginable!

  8. Love this, so much. This is still my night, every night, 15 months in. Although now, the baby is the one yanking my shirt down, and I'm the one mostly sleeping through the whole thing.

  9. Love it! My youngest is 10, and yeah, I miss those moments. My first two were twins, and none of us would've slept if we hadn't co-slept and nursed through the night. (I put a futon mattress on the floor, then I slept between babies and rolled to whichever side needed food). Thanks for sharing such a snuggly story 🙂

  10. What a beautiful narrative, thanks for sharing! Sometimes I forget how intense yet surreal and suspended those nights of nursing were.

  11. This was my son's first year, except that I often fell back to sleep before he finished. Even though I was more tired then from his frequent night nursing, I wouldn't trade that year of snuggling and symbiosis for anything. He still sleeps with us and we're about to have another. To make room for #2, we're side-carring the crib we never used and planning to keep the baby in there so he's safe from our toddler's night kicks and rolls. Should be interesting!

  12. Thanks for the great feedback everyone! We still struggle sometimes but those nights where we are in mama/baby sync are worth cherishing.

  13. Beautifully written. You have really captured the essence of co-sleeping and night nursing. It is often a struggle, but the bonding and oxytocin-induced snoozing make it so worthwhile!

  14. My hubster and I slept on seperate sections of our super comfy sectional couch in the living room for the first three months, because we only have a full size bed, therefore there wasn't. enough room to co-sleep… My bambino, Xa, started out on the chaise section nursing with me and then when he was asleep I would transfer him to his car seat, which was kept waiting by the couch (with his JJ Cole Arctic Bundle Me, which was super convenient for bedtime 'cause he couldn't kick it off) and thenwhen he'd wake up he'd sleep the rest of the night with me on the couch. We had to lay down to nurse and since I was so tired anyway we slept and nursedall day on and off 'til it was time for Daddy to come home from work. It was such a great bonding experience and I recommend every Mommy co-sleep! I think that those days are probably the thing I will miss most about him being brand new!

  15. Lovely. Wish this could have been my experience. Screaming baby every 2 hours for the first 6 months didn't feel as euphoric as this. Happy someone out there has an experience as positive with night feedings as this 🙂

  16. This is lovely.

    Alas, I had issues that made it necessary for me to nurse sitting up with lots of support, and so the blissful side-lying nursing was never an option for us. So, every few hours at first, and then twice a night for long after that, I had to sit in our glider and nurse. But he went right back to sleep right after, and I often did, too, though sometimes I did get too awake and my mind starting racing and I had to learn to practice techniques to help me shut down. But the hormones did definitely help calm me.

    I actually have very fond memories of those nights in the glider with just the two of us alone in the world. That said, the sleep deprivation over time began to make me kind of crazy. 6.5 to 7 cobbled together hours is nowhere near a 6.5 to 7 hour stretch of sleep.

    Anyway, yay nursing, yay nursing hormones, yay sweet memories, but the side lying co-sleeping nursing thing doesn't always work for everybody. I'm just glad we were able to nurse, period, even if it didn't work out in this ideal way!

    Oh yeah, I also had to drink a lot of water to keep up my milk supply and always followed these night nursing with a trip to the bathroom. So, I think even if side lying nursing had worked, I would still have had to get up at least once a night!

  17. I'm just the opposite. I've learned that my baby will make lots of noises during the night (like his brothers), but that if I just wait a few minutes, he'll usually go back to sleep on his own. So now (his's 2 months), he only gets up 1-2 times a night and goes right back down. He has a bassinet in our room. This works well for us. I've tried having him in my bed, but it never works because I'm constantly waking up at his every little noise and I just don't sleep well. So he's used to his bed and naps there well during the day too.

    I just hope that everyone finds something that works for them.

  18. I cosleep with my son (his crib is sidecarred though he's often on me) and I never stop and think of just how nice it is until I wake up to his chubby face and squishy body right at arms length.

    The nights are tiring (he's 7 weeks and hungry) but its nice to be able to pull him next to me and kiss the little bit of his head that I can see with the night light while he nurses. Can you tell its nearly night time?

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