Friday, May 6, 2011

The benefits, and bliss or Bedsharing

It’s the middle of the night and the house is dark and quiet. A warm little body starts stirring next to me. Instinctively I latch him before he even fully awakes. He nurses himself back into blissful sleep, and I myself fall back asleep.  Daddy is unaware and doesn’t even wake up. All of us are happy – everything we need is in that bed.

Sounds too good to be true? That’s been my reality Ethan’s whole life. And it’s better than good – it’s blissful! And we don’t plan on changing a thing for a while yet.

But let’s start with some facts and personal notes on bed-sharing/ Co-sleeping:
·         Its not as unusual as you think. Most of the non-western world and a lot of European cultures have been sharing a bed with their children for centuries. I’ve actually heard somewhere that they think that we are strange to want to keep our kids in a cot down the hall!
·         It makes nursing at night incredibly easy. One of the discoveries that changed my life was figuring out how to nurse lying down. If you can get that right the whole family will get a lot more sleep. And dad, who has to work the next day, doesn’t even need to wake up.
·         Your sleeping synchronises. After a while I would actually start waking up a minute or so before Ethan started stirring. It’s amazing that he never even had to make a sound to let me know he was hungry. We would instinctively just turn toward each other and reach out.
·         If he would start stirring for anything other than hunger, or just to know I was there he would often just reach out and touch me, and then settle happily back to sleep.
·         Studies have shown that all the members who shared a bed often reached the same sleep stages at the same time, for longer periods. It is stated that we were essentially teaching the baby how to sleep.
·         Co-sleeping babies spent less time in each cycle of deep sleep. However, preliminary studies showed that sleep-sharing mothers didn't get less total deep sleep.
·         Sleep-sharing infants tended to sleep more often on their backs or sides and less often on their tummies, a factor that could itself lower the SIDS risk. If you want more information on that click here and here.
·         It’s actually been found that bed sharing mothers and infants breathe in synchrony!
·         Bed sharing prevents a baby from going into too deep a sleep (as they will if left along in the silence of their own room) which is suspected to be a cause of SIDS.
·         We all get a lot more sleep. I can only imagine what happens when a baby is in another room. Mother is in deep sleep, all of a sudden the baby starts crying in the other room. Mom is groggy but gets up into the cold, turns two sets of lights on, picks up the baby and nurses her. By that stage they’re both wide awake and still need to get to sleep after this. Mom is exhausted and tries to stay awake during the feed. Don’t even get me started on if she has to warm up a bottle of milk still before a feed!
·         It’s a way for the family to reconnect especially if dad worked long hours that day. Baby feels safe and secure as both mom and dad are there.
·         They’ve found that babies thrive better if they co-sleep. (Probably also because of the extra feedings)
·         You’ll find that you breastfeed for longer. I only night weaned at 18 months. I don’t think I would have lasted that long with night feedings if Ethan hadn’t slept with me.
·         It’s been found that there is a dramatic decrease in sleep startles with bed sharing babies.

Can I just add a note on sleeping through the night. It’s a controversial topic and one that I’m not a believer in. The expectation that babies sleep through the night is based on research done in the 1950s in the US, when less than 9% of babies were breastfed. The starting point for the research was solitary sleeping, formula fed babies. Similarly the 3-4 hour feed schedule is based on formula-fed and not breast-fed babies.  New research by Prof James McKenna, looks at the sleep patterns of breastfed babies from an anthropological perspective (across all time and all cultures), shows that healthy functioning includes multiple wakings, light REM sleep, regular night feeding and proximity of the mother. As James McKenna says "Ideas on infant sleep are based on who we want our babies to become, not on who they are".  200 year old cultural changes are trying to override the biology of infants, which has taken 200,000 years to evolve. They say as well that controlled crying is detrimental to a babies health, and shouldn’t be done at all. A child can’t grasp the concept of you returning until they are 3. I must say that I am very much against controlled crying. I might even write a separate post on self-soothing.

Have a look at this scripture. This is Jesus talking. He was an advocate of co-sleeping J
 “6For a friend of mine who is on a journey has just come, and I have nothing to put before him;
    7And he from within will answer, Do not disturb me; the door is now closed, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and supply you [with anything]?” Luke 11:6-8 (Amplified Bible)
And on a personal note, nothing can replace the feeling of holding your child in your arms at night and know that there can’t be a safer, more loving place that he can be. I don’t know how many other mothers have shared this same feeling but sometimes I wish that I can put him back in my belly where I know he is safe and warm with instant access to food etc. But at least I know that the closest I can probably get to that outside the womb is in the bed.
Not to mention that being greeted with big smiles and giggles, and now that he’s a little bigger often kisses, can’t be beaten!
Carel and I both feel the same way about this. And don’t get me wrong – sex doesn’t get any less. We were never the conventional type who always stuck to the bed every time anyways.
As Ethan has grown up he has an extremely healthy approach to bed time. I have never struggled to get him to bed. He never cries or screams and gets out for fear of separation. Bedtime is nothing to be scared of. It’s not a time where his parents leave him to lie alone in the dark. It’s a time for cuddles and love – a family time. It’s actually gotten so easy now that he often falls asleep on my shoulder.
When it’s time for bed we wave goodbye to dad and say “See you later!”. Sometimes he will go ahead of me and lie in bed if he’s tired, I’ll look around and realise that he’s waiting for me in bed, lol! Now that I don’t nurse him to sleep anymore we read a bedtime prayer book and then lie next to each other on the bed, facing each other. He likes to hold my one hand and I often put my other arm around him. And then he happily nods off to sleep. I then get up and leave the room. He doesn’t cry if he wakes up (which is not often anymore), he will just call me, because he knows I will come straight away – as I always have. I have NEVER left him to cry himself to sleep or self soothe to sleep. I am not a believer in that and I don’t believe that it will hinder him to be there to fall asleep every time. Who doesn’t like to sleep next to someone they love? We do!
I remember the night we brought Ethan home from the hospital. I tried putting him in his bassinet but couldn’t tear myself away from him. And with the frequent nursing and checking if he was still alive (lol) I didn’t get a wink of sleep! Until I put him on my chest and he slept like a dream. And the security of sleeping nose to nose every night, was so soothing to me about his safety. Smelling his sweet and steady breathing soothed me to sleep for sure.
I was NEVER scared for hurting him or rolling on top of him. As long as you take the right safety precautions I believe that it is safer than for the child to sleep on their own. The other thing that co-sleeping teaches a mother is to rely on her motherly instincts which can be extremely strong and sensitive if you fully trust them. Its just you an him. You’re not relying on baby monitors and heart beat monitors etc.
I cant imagine a more simple and natural way to sleep and I would recommend it to ANY new mom! Ethan doesn’t even know what a cot is for, lol. I kept blankets and teddies in mine!

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