Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Co-sleeping = Co-ntroversial

So I'm not ashamed to admit it...we're a bed sharing family.  That's right, my name is Kelly and my baby sleeps in our bed with me.  I feel the need to confess because whenever I share that tidbit of info with folks I receive a plethora of facial expressions, opinions, scolding and advice.  I can hardly blame people, before we had Nicolette I totally didn't think that we would bed share or co-sleep...I thought that was for hippy-ish families, that it might set up  a childhood of bad habits, that it would increase her risk of SIDS or that my husband (or I) would roll over and crush her.  I know now that that could not be further from the truth.  

I tiptoed into this territory...at the hospital when Nicolette was in the bassinet next to me.  I would hear her fidget and fuss at night so I would pick her up and go through all the checks to make sure that her needs were met i.e. check her diaper, try to nurse her, etc.  If those were ok I would hold her until she quieted down and then lay her back in the bassinet.  It normally took all of 5-10 minutes before I would hear her rustling again.  Repeat check sequence, calm her down and lay her back in the bassinet.  After 4 or 5 go rounds of this I would hold her on my chest and we would inevitably fall asleep together.  She wouldn't budge until it was time for me to wake her up and feed her.  It was instinctual for me to want to have her with me, not in her little plastic bin beside my bed.  If you look at most of the animal kingdom nearly all animals co-sleep with their young.  It's really just us humans in our highly evolved "civilized" society who have chosen to forego this practice.    

Still, when we got home I would carefully place her in her bassinet by our bed to sleep each night and without fail she would wake up fidgety and restless several times but I was too scared to put her in bed with us so I just had many nights of little to no sleep which I thought was just typical of parents of newborns.  

During this time I had started reading one of Dr. Sears's books (yes, he is the Attachment Parenting guru that was featured in "THE" infamous Time Magazine article - the one that was totally overshadowed by the photo of the gorgeous mother breastfeeding her 4 year old on the cover).  He had a chapter that covered co-sleeping, sleepsharing, bed sharing or the family bed (whatever you want to call it).  I mentioned it to the Italian figuring that he would think that it's just another one of my kooky, hippy-granola ideas.  (I may not look "crunchy" but I'm definitely a stiletto hippy...I'm into as much holistic all natural stuff as I can get, but still wear makeup (organic kind), designer clothes and heels :))  He immediately was all for it.  I asked him if he was afraid that either he or I might squish her and he said absolutely not.  He knew that she would sleep closer to me than him and he pointed out that although it is different our cat-child, Sasha has slept in our bed at my feet for the past 3 years.  He's noted over and over again that he would be awake and watch me in my sleep ever so gently move my feet around Sasha so as not to disrupt her in any way.  He said he knew that it would be even more heightened with Nicolette and he was right.  Nicolette sleeps nestled right beside me in the crook of my arm and I literally do not move at all throughout the night and she doesn't really move much either.  

I've included the 7 Benefits of co-sleeping from Dr. Sears's book below (my comments are noted in italics and highlighted):    

There is no right or wrong place for baby to sleep. Wherever all family members sleep the best is the right arrangement for you. Remember, over half the world's population sleeps with their baby, and more and more parents in the U.S. are sharing sleep with their little one. Here's why:
1. Babies sleep better
Sleepsharing babies usually go to sleep and stay asleep better. Being parented to sleep at the breast of mother or in the arms of father creates a healthy go-to-sleep attitude. Baby learns that going to sleep is a pleasant state to enter (one of our goals of nighttime parenting).
Babies stay asleep better. Put yourself in the sleep pattern of baby. As baby passes from deep sleep into light sleep, he enters a vulnerable period for nightwaking, a transition state that may occur as often as every hour and from which it is difficult for baby to resettle on his own into a deep sleep. You are a familiar attachment person whom baby can touch, smell, and hear. Your presence conveys an "It's OK to go back to sleep" message. Feeling no worry, baby peacefully drifts through this vulnerable period of nightwaking and reenters deep sleep. If baby does awaken, she is sometimes able to resettle herself because you are right there. A familiar touch, perhaps a few minutes' feed, and you comfort baby back into deep sleep without either member of the sleep-sharing pair fully awakening.
I can fully attest to this!  Since Nicolette and I have been sleepsharing we've both been sleeping MUCH better.  Nicolette almost NEVER wakes up during the night.  I actually have to wake her up to feed her throughout the night so she is sleeping much more soundly than when I had her in her bassinet alone...this obviously translates to better sleep for mommy too!!!!
Many babies need help going back to sleep because of a developmental quirk called object or person permanence. When something or someone is out of sight, it is out of mind. Most babies less than a year old do not have the ability to think of mother as existing somewhere else. When babies awaken alone in a crib, they become frightened and often unable to resettle back into deep sleep. Because of this separation anxiety, they learn that sleep is a fearful state to remain in (not one of our goals of nighttime parenting).
This alone made me so sad...after this I remember looking into the bassinet and seeing Nicolette's WIDE eyes with that fearful look in them.  Now I never see that look on her sweet little face anymore.  Just a sleepy little smirk every now and then (she smiles in her sleep).  
2. Mothers sleep better
Many mothers and infants are able to achieve nighttime harmony: babies and mothers get their sleep cycles in sync with one another.
 Martha (Dr. Sears' wife) notes: "I would automatically awaken seconds before my baby would. When the baby started to squirm, I would lay on a comforting hand and she would drift back to sleep. Sometimes I did this automatically and I didn't even wake up."
Contrast sleepsharing with the crib and nursery scene. The separate sleeper awakens – alone and behind bars. He is out of touch. He first squirms and whimpers. Still out of touch. Separation anxiety sets in, baby becomes scared, and the cry escalates into an all-out wail or plea for help. This piercing cry awakens even the most long distance mother, who jumps up (sometimes out of the state of deep sleep, which is what leads to most nighttime exhaustion), and staggers reluctantly down the hall. By the time mother reaches the baby, baby is wide awake and upset, mother is wide awake and upset, and the comforting that follows becomes a reluctant duty rather than an automatic nurturant response. It takes longer to resettle an upset solo sleeper than it does a half-asleep baby who is sleeping within arm's reach of mother. Once baby does fall asleep, mother is still wide-awake and too upset to resettle easily. If, however, the baby is sleeping next to mother and they have their sleep cycles in sync, most mothers and babies can quickly resettle without either member of the sleepsharing pair fully awakening. Being awakened suddenly and completely from a state of deep sleep to attend to a hungry or frightened baby is what leads to sleep-deprived parents and fearful babies.
True - since we started sleepsharing we have not had one single cry our outburst at night.  So no traumatic awakenings here.  
3. Breastfeeding is easier
Most veteran breastfeeding mothers have, for survival, learned that sharing sleep makes breastfeeding easier. Breastfeeding mothers find it easier than bottlefeeding mothers to get their sleep cycles in sync with their babies. They often wake up just before the babies awaken for a feeding. By being there and anticipating the feeding, mother can breastfeed baby back to a deep sleep before baby (and often mother) fully awakens.
A mother who had achieved nighttime-nursing harmony with her baby shared the following story with us:
"About thirty seconds before my baby wakes up for a feeding, my sleep seems to lighten and I almost wake up. By being able to anticipate his feeding, I usually can start breastfeeding him just as he begins to squirm and reach for the nipple. Getting him to suck immediately keeps him from fully waking up, and then we both drift back into a deep sleep right after feeding."
Mothers who experience daytime breastfeeding difficulties report that breastfeeding becomes easier when they sleep next to their babies at night and lie down with baby and nap nurse during the day. We believe baby senses that mother is more relaxed, and her milk-producing hormones work better when she is relaxed or sleeping.
True - sometimes we practice the sidelying nursing position but most of the time I still get up and feed her in the glider.  
Sleepsharing is even more relevant in today's busy lifestyles. As more and more mothers, out of necessity, are separated from their baby during the day, sleeping with their baby at night allows them to reconnect and make up for missed touch time during the day. As a nighttime perk, the relaxing hormones that are produced in response to baby nursing relax a mother and help her wind down from the tension of a busy day's work. 
5. Babies thrive better
Over the past thirty years of observing sleepsharing families in our pediatric practice, we have noticed one medical benefit that stands out; these babies thrive . "Thriving" means not only getting bigger, but also growing to your full potential, emotionally, physically, and intellectually. Perhaps it's the extra touch that stimulates development, or perhaps the extra feedings (yes, sleepsharing infants breastfeed more often than solo sleepers).
We'll see about this...Nicolette has her 2 month check up tomorrow.  
6. Parents and infants become more connected
Remember that becoming connected is the basis of parenting, and one of your early goals of parenting. In our office, we keep a file entitled "Kids Who Turned Out Well, What Their Parents Did." We have noticed that infants who sleep with their parents (some or all of the time during those early formative years) not only thrive better, but infants and parents are more connected.
Time will tell, but I do feel very "in tune" with little Nicolette now.  
7. Reduces the risk of SIDS
New research is showing what parents the world over have long suspected: infants who sleep safely nestled next to parents are less likely to succumb to the tragedy of SIDS. Yet, because SIDS is so rare (.5 to 1 case per 1,000 infants), this worry should not be a reason to sleep with your baby. (For in depth information on the science of sleepsharing and the experiments showing how sleep benefits a baby's nighttime physiology. (See SIDS)
Co-sleeping does not always work and some parents simply do not want to sleep with their baby. Sleepsharing is an optional attachment tool. You are not bad parents if you don't sleep with your baby. Try it. If it's working and you enjoy it, continue. If not, try other sleeping arrangements (an alternative is the sidecar arrangement: place a crib or co-sleeper adjacent to your bed).
New parents often worry that their child will get so used to sleeping with them that he may never want to leave their bed. Yes, if you're used to sleeping first-class, you are reluctant to be downgraded. Like weaning from the breast, infants do wean from your bed (usually sometime around two years of age). Keep in mind that sleepsharing may be the arrangement that is designed for the safety and security of babies. The time in your arms, at your breast, and in your bed is a very short time in the total life of your child, yet the memories of love and availability last a lifetime.
So I understand that this is not the perfect arrangement for every family but I will say that it is working perfectly for us and it just feels "right" to me.  Mommy, Daddy and Baby are all sleeping MUCH better and we feel so much closer as a family.  Daddy loves to wake up in the morning and kiss Nicolette's little forehead.  There's something so sweet and special about all falling asleep and waking up together .  This is a precious time that I know won't last forever so I want to take advantage of it as long as we both feel comfortable.  We joke around that she's never going to sleep in that beautiful nursery we created for her...we're too selfish and like having her with us!   Good night everyone!  Sweet dreams, I'm off to cuddle with my little one!   

1 comment:

  1. I feel obligated to tell you that apparently current studies show that parents do roll over on thier sleeping infants and sometimes smother them. I feel compelled to tell you that because I work for a program that teaches parenting to at risk families and it's what our families are told. HOWEVER, that being said, I also did the family bed with my daughter. She lived through it and is now almost 15 (years, sadly, not months). LOL You should know that she slept with her father and I until he died when she was 7 (he had cancer) and then with me until she was 11, and still even creeps into my bed on occasion. So, what I'm saying is, she didn't wean herself off the family bed at 2, and not completely even now. So there's that. But I loved sleeping with her, and still do when she comes in - except that she's always been like sleeping with an octopus since she was about 3. What really made me want to comment on your post though, was #2 from Dr. Sears article. Going to sleep thinking your safe, and waking up, alone, in the dark, sounds an awful lot like my perception of hell - eternal separation from our Father. So yeah, I'm all for the family bed!