Failing at Natural Parenting: When plans go awry

Failing at Natural Parenting:  When your plans to breastfeed, cosleep, babywear, or cloth diaper go awry

When I first found out I was going to be a parent, I read a lot about “natural parenting” that resonated with me. I liked that they used words like “gentle” and talked a lot about bonding with your child. I studied it all while pregnant and already had a plan for what I would do when my baby was in my arms. I knew I would breastfeed, cosleep, babywear and cloth diaper.

But “natural” doesn’t mean easy. It definitely was not what I expected.

With breastfeeding, I expected to be nursing a lot. Everyone says newborns eat frequently. However, I wasn’t prepared for my son to be constantly attached to me. I could barely get a fifteen minute break to shower. At his two week doctor’s appointment I learned that he wasn’t gaining enough weight. A lactation consultant diagnosed him with a tongue tie, meaning he wasn’t able to draw enough milk from the breast. She told me to pump after every feeding to make sure my milk supply didn’t drop. After we fixed my son’s tongue tie, he was finally able to feel satiated after feeding, but it was like he was making up for lost time. He was suddenly gaining weight like a champ but he still didn’t like to go very long between feedings.

Although I worked to keep my milk supply up with supplements and pumping so I could continue breastfeeding him, there were many times when I felt exhausted and “touched out” and I wished I could just get a break. And I felt guilty for that. I knew there were women out there who were probably doing the same things as me but it wasn’t working for them.

How could I be a “natural parent” and wish my son would take a bottle?

Then there was the sleep situation. Or, I should say, the lack of sleep situation. With breastfeeding happening so frequently, it made sense to have our son in our room with us, and often my son wound up falling asleep while nursing in our bed. But as he got older, he started becoming more restless at night and more demanding of me. I had to sleep in a particular position: on my side with my legs extended straight so his little feet didn’t touch them, or he would kick me until I moved them. If I rolled away from him he would pull my hair to get me back. I woke frequently, had incredible back pain, and desperately wished he would sleep in his own bed. But my husband and I would spend hours trying to get him to sleep on his own, only to have him wake an hour later and repeat the cycle.

After nine months of poor sleep, I wished we had never started cosleeping with him and feared I would never get a full night’s sleep. I felt like my husband and I were prisoners to our child. He couldn’t sleep without us. I knew he didn’t know how to self soothe because every time he awoke he needed one of us to hold him until he fell back asleep. We tried to use gentle methods to sleep train him, but if we were nearby and he was awake and we were not holding him, he only got more angry at us and became so worked up that sleep was not going to happen. After trying all the gentle methods I realized that the only way he was going to sleep on his own was to let him cry it out.

How could I be a “natural parent” and let my baby cry it out?

Even though I knew that this was what my son needed, I felt awful about myself because of the attachment parenting advocates that say such scary things about what “cry it out” does to children. Even though I knew I had exhausted all my other options and my gut was telling me my son needed some self-soothing skills, I still felt like a failure. I worried that my son would distrust me and have attachment issues. I worried that our bond would suffer.

Today, however, I can tell you that sleep training worked and it was absolutely the best thing for my son and my family. As soon as he started being able to put himself back to sleep, he was a much happier baby during the day. Even happier than when he was cosleeping. It was clear he was getting better quality sleep. My back pain improved and it became easier to make it through the day.

Even though I tend to lean toward natural parenting methods, I want to encourage moms  to do what’s best for THEIR unique children and family. I believe it’s a relatively new trend for moms to feel like they have to pick a label and ascribe to a certain kind of parenting. To do that puts a lot of pressure on yourself to live up to someone else’s standard.

Part of growing as a mother is learning to trust your own intuition and knowledge of your baby. (Click to tweet this.) The Internet has given mothers an endless supply of opinions on parenting and it’s easy to fall into the trap of listening to everyone else’s voices but  your own.

Trust yourself, mama. Take a breath. Silence the noise of everyone else’s opinions and ask yourself what’s right for your family. (Click to tweet this.)

Peace and love,

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