Nursing my daughter to sleep is sacred time for me for many reasons. The biggest reason is because it’s about the only time I ever get to nurse my daughter. We had extreme nursing difficulties due to physical problems, and it took 5 months for her to be able to nurse at all (check out the current Mothering Magazine, Your Letters, for some a snippet of our story). I have only been able to get her to comfort nurse, because even though she finally learned how to latch on, she still cannot transfer milk well enough for a full feeding. I have pumped for her this entire time, and she has never gotten a drop of formula. I am still heartbroken that I can not nurse anytime, anywhere, like I always dreamed of. So the moments we share nursing to sleep are like pure gold.
There is also a convenience factor. I would never, ever let her cry it out to go to sleep, but when you can’t nurse a baby to sleep, it is much more difficult to go this route. To get her to sleep, I had to rock her or walk her around in a wrap to get her sleep. She has always been a “bad” sleeper, getting up every hour or two, so to have to rock or walk for 20 minutes every hour or two was absolute torture. I did not enjoy that time. In fact, most of the time I was mad as hell, and I was so jealous of other moms who could just whip their boob out in the middle of night and their baby would instantly go back to sleep. Babies pick up on this feeling. I tried so hard to hide it from my daughter, never wanting her to think I was mad at her or that I loved her any less because she couldn’t nurse. But it was difficult to actually enjoy the time spent getting her to sleep. Especially since I was already exhausted and frustrated from all the time I already spent pumping just to keep her fed.
When she finally latched on and nursed to sleep, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It took a few weeks for me to be able to nurse her to sleep every time. She, understandably, was still so used to falling asleep by rocking or walking that there was a transition time before nursing her to sleep was enough on its own. Now it is routine, and I am one of those moms I used to be jealous of. My daughter still gets up several times a night, but I can lay in bed with her, whip out my boob, and drift back to sleep with her. I get so much more sleep and rest now.
I love watching her as she falls to sleep while nursing. At first she still wants to play: she will do her Rocket dance routine and practice some baby yoga moves by grabbing her toes and stretching her leg up. Sometimes she latches on an off and practices whatever new word or sound she is focusing on. Then she starts to wind down and plays with my other nipple or part of my shirt. As she winds down even more, I stroke her hair or massage her fat things. Then she starts to pet me, she likes to stroke my boob or my arm and even the pillow behind her. As her eyes close, she rests her hand on my boob and gives it a possessive little hug (my boobie, all mine!), and kicks her leg up onto my belly. As if my body were the perfect body pillow, made just for her. As if my whole body, its shape and every curve were made just for her, just for this purpose.
I think it must be the most perfect way for a baby to fall asleep. I imagine that it must feel so good to her to be getting warm milk and cuddles and to be rocked by the rhythmic up and down movement of my belly and chest as I breathe. What a lucky baby she is to drift to sleep like this. If I feel this wonderful feeling – my belly pressed into her belly as I breathe, and the feeling of her skin touching mine as I fall asleep – how perfectly safe and wonderful she must feel.