It is 11.49pm and I have just breastfed my 10-month-old daughter to sleep for the third time tonight.
To say I'm dreading the sound of her waking up again would be an understatement. I'm actually fearful of it - I started trying to put her sleep at 7pm.
It’s not just a night-time problem. She won’t sleep during the day either - unless she’s in the car or in bed with me. She literally won’t sleep for more than 10 minutes unless I'm lying down next to her.
She won’t sleep in a cot, my husband and I have given up on self-settling and, six weeks out from her first birthday, the only way to get her to sleep at night is to put her “on the boob”.
It’s exhausting, it’s demanding and it’s frustrating. When other mums I know have their babies fast asleep by 7pm every night and are sitting down to a civilised dinner with their partners, it’s hard not to feel as though somewhere along the line I've gone terribly, terribly wrong.
So, how did we get here? Well, we got sucked in by what I've now coined, “The Quick-Fix Guide to Surviving Those First Few Months With Your Baby”, otherwise known as attachment parenting.
Attachment parenting, it’s a touchy-feely approach which can see parents wearing junior in a sling, spending as little time away from them as possible, responding to every cry, co-sleeping and breastfeeding on demand. Advocates claim it not only leads to happier, more emotionally stable children but makes parenting a more enjoyable experience all round.
Like many first-time parents, we fell into attachment parenting by accident. It started when we put our daughter – who was unsettled - into bed with us one night. Of course it worked a treat and at eight weeks seemed like a fairly harmless, inconsequential thing to do. In fact, it was beautiful. We loved having her close to us, and it was easier. So we kept doing it.
From that night we also became more lax about putting her in the cot during the day. She went to sleep more easily and slept for longer when she was being held or lying next to me on the bed.
I've never enjoyed following convention so while other mums were going through the hard yards of bassinette-to-cot transition, trying every trick in the book to get their babies to self-settle, I airily announced we were putting Leila in with us at night.
“Yes”, I agreed when met with any nay-saying, “It might create problems down the track but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Hmmm. I'm not so much crossing the bridge as dragging myself over it with two broken legs, a blindfold and a 60kg rucksack balanced on my head, all while dodging enemy fire.
When Leila got to six months and started sleeping diagonally between us, alternating between kicking me in the head and waking up for two-hourly comfort feeds, we decided we’d had enough.
It was time for our child to start sleeping in her cot at night. Ha! Because it was always going to be that easy, right? When neither of us could take the screaming any more we started finding excuses to put her back in bed with us “just for tonight and then that’s it.” I don’t think either of us wanted to admit it, but we were well and truly trapped.
Fast forward a few months and Leila’s new-found mobility posed the next problem. It was no longer safe to leave her asleep on the bed alone – even for a few minutes – in case she woke up and tumbled off. We dismantled the cot and replaced it with a single mattress on the floor, complete with sheets and a fluffy pink doona.
Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – the mattress serves another purpose. It enables me to lie down next to her and “shush” her to sleep. However, these days, unless I physically restrain her she simply crawls away. Tizzie Hall would have a fit.
At three weeks old Leila successfully fed from a bottle of expressed breast milk. Unfortunately, we didn't persist. I love breastfeeding, it’s been an incredible experience but now I’d do anything for my child to take a bottle.
She won’t let a plastic teat or formula near her which has limited the amount of time I can spend away from her, seriously impacting on my freedom. Nights out for my husband and I are now virtually impossible.
Don’t get me wrong – my daughter is my very heart and soul. She has enriched my life so much I feel I could burst with love for her. None of this is her fault. She knows what she knows - sleep is something that happens when she’s lying next to mum, or on dad’s chest or in our bed. Milk comes from mum and mum only. It’s the “normal” that we have created for her.
This rut we’re stuck in has left me feeling guilty, icky and, yes, like a bad mother. And that’s my point. Attachment parenting will set you up for - I'm not going to say failure – but for a very difficult time.
In the short term, it works. You will have a content baby. It’s a quick fix but you’re not actually fixing anything. Indeed , you’re creating problems. And one day it dawns on you - you have a 10-month-old who won’t settle in her cot, will hardly sleep during the day and who doesn't look like being weaned until high school.
Such is the insidious nature of the problems caused by attachment parenting. Yet the idea of it is so appealing to many parents.
What new mum wouldn't want to hear that constantly holding her baby, breastfeeding him on demand and by-passing sleep-time dramas by co-sleeping isn't all part of a legitimate, tried and tested parenting strategy that will safeguard his emotional well-being later in life and make him an all-round better person?
Pfffft! Take it from me, when it’s 11pm and your baby is a screaming, over-tired mess who doesn't understand why you won’t just put her on the breast like you usually do, you won’t feel like you’re fostering any kind of emotional stability in your child at all.
Attachment parenting has its place. If you have absolutely nothing else to do but parent – no job, no housework, no social life, no other children to look after and no marriage or relationship to maintain then what are you waiting for – attach away. But the reality is that in this day and age, either by choice or necessity, most mums do have other things to do. The least we can do for ourselves is make it a bit easier to wear our different hats.
My advice - don’t think that by familiarising your baby with a bottle, insisting on cot-sleeping, self-settling and moving them into their own room at six months you’ll be depriving them of love and nurturing. In fact, I think the opposite is true. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of routine, order and discipline. You’ll be sparing yourself a lot of stress, screaming and lost sleep down the track which will ultimately leave you in a better frame of mind to do your best parenting.