Sleeping Like a Baby

Sleeping Like a Baby

To my flower, Lily Rose.

After you were born, I felt no pressure to ‘force’ you into your own bed like I did with your sister, Lola. I really regretted the first night at home with Lola, the hours of trying to settle her in the carrycot, the stress for all of us as she wouldn’t stop crying, the confusion as to why, and the guilt. Oh the relentless, endless guilt that I felt when I realised how much she had needed to be with me those first few nights and the anger at myself for listening to the ‘experts’ and the well-meaning relatives and not listening to my instincts, and to the distress of my baby.

When I was pregnant with you, I was determined that I wouldn’t make that mistake again. After you’d been born, I had to go to the hospital to have an operation and you stayed with me. In many ways, this was lovely as it gave us bonding time – just you and me. We only stayed in hospital one night, and throughout that night, I held you. The nurse kept taking you from me and placing you back in the bassinet because I kept falling asleep holding you. But each time she took you from me, I would pick you back up and hold you again. In the end, she put the sides of the bed up so that you could stay in my arms.

When we got you home the next day, I felt no pressure to start to settle you away from me – after all, I was all you’d known for your entire existence so far, how could I expect you to be happy to be placed away from me, entirely separate and alone for the first ever time?

I’d made the decision to rent a ‘Bednest’ – this was basically an extension to our bed, a small bed that attaches to mine. It was so lovely because you were right next to me but I didn’t have to worry about rolling on you or whacking you with an arm during the night. But when you stirred or cried, I could touch you and reassure you, and we could see each other. I could easily pick you up for feeding too, so it was perfect.

For those first few weeks, we would fall asleep looking into one another’s eyes and holding hands. It was truly wonderful and the perfect bonding experience for us both.

When you reached about 7 months, you got too big for the Bednest and because you were still waking every 1.5-2 hours, we didn’t feel it was right to put you in the cot yet as it was in Lola’s room, and also because I’d be up and down so much in the night.

So we ended up co-sleeping. It just seemed the natural thing to do. Mummy and Lily together in bed each night.

I loved it. It was so special to be cuddled up with your warm little body next to me. I even got used to your snoring and snuffling sounds and they didn’t keep me, a very light sleeper, awake. And yet I was highly attuned to your every movement and aware the moment you awoke or moved around.

It made feeding very easy as I could just pop you on my breast whenever you needed.

We got to around 10 months and then I became very tired because you were still waking frequently and were unable to settle yourself. Your day-time naps were difficult as you took ages to settle and sometimes I was just giving up and you were downstairs with me playing until 10pm on a few occasions!

I then had to go to a meeting and while I was away for the day, your Daddy decided to try ‘sleep training’ you. I was pretty upset when he told me this upon my return home, as I really hated the thought of you being left alone crying and wondering whether we’d ever come to you. However, your Daddy assured me that you’d only cried a few minutes and you’d slept for an hour and a half. This was far longer than I’d managed to get you to sleep for in a long time so I accepted that perhaps we did need to do this for your sake and to get you some decent sleep and so that weekend, with your father away, I continued to try the sleep training.

But I struggled with leaving you to cry, I really hated it. It was clear very quickly that you were not going to settle down and go to sleep, you just got more and more upset. And so your Daddy and I agreed that this was not working.

We decided to move the cot into the bedroom and start to settle you in there. But oh, how I missed you in the bed. I missed your little snuggles and your smiley face in the morning. I even missed your head butts and smacks in the mouth (well OK maybe I didn’t miss those) but I felt so sad to not have you next to me… even though you were in the cot right next to the bed, you felt a million miles away.

So we found a happy balance, where I’d settle you down in your cot after your bath, book and boob, settle you again around 10pm in the cot and then around 1am when you’d wake for a feed, I would bring you into bed with me for the rest of the night.

This was all going really well until your Daddy’s birthday this year. You were having a week of really early wake ups and on one morning, at around 5.45am, I gave you a couple of books to look at whilst I snoozed next to you. I’m not entirely sure what happened but somehow you managed to launch one of the (hard-backed) books at my face, and it caught me right in the eye, giving me a real shiner! Not only did I have a black-eye for your Daddy’s birthday but for almost 2 weeks after, too!

Now, you’re 13.5 months and my favourite things in the world that we do together are at bedtime. After you’ve had some milk, you love to roll around on the bed with me, you do a kind of half head-stand where you look between your legs for my face and when you see me, you crack up laughing. It’s so wonderful. And you love to stand up against the cot while i tickle your armpits. And then, when you’re all done giggling, I wrap you up in your blanket, rock you gently and hold you close to my chest while singing Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds quietly to you  ‘Baby don’t worry, about a thing, ‘cos every little thing, gonna be alright’ while you gaze up at me until your eyes grow heavy and you fall asleep. This is indeed a moment I treasure every day, for I know that one day you’ll be too old to hold like this, too old to rock, to sing to, and indeed too old to even want me to. So for now, I make the most of each precious evening that we can do this.

There are many ‘sleep experts’ who would say that I’m doing it all wrong (and I’m intending to write a blog about this too), that you’ll never learn to ‘self-settle’, and that I’m making a rod for my own back. I should let you cry and leave you for periods of time until you cry yourself to sleep, or get used to me not coming to you. But I don’t care what anyone says. To me it couldn’t feel more right. It’s perfect for us. Perfect, just like you.

Why is Co-sleeping beneficial to Mother and Baby?

Human babies are born with brains that measure a quarter of their adult size. This compares to gorillas and chimpanzees who are born with a brain that’s 50% of its adult size. It is widely thought that humans are born this way due to the size of the birth canal which restricts their heads from growing any larger. Why does this matter? Well, it means that human babies are born dependant. They require close physical contact from birth, in order to establish the regulation of functions like breathing and temperature control for their first few months of life [1] [2].

Human breast milk is low in fat and protein, but high in sugar, in the form of lactose [3]. It is designed for infants who feed often and of their own accord both day and night. Due to their inability to cling, as apes can, human babies depend on their mothers to maintain the necessary close contact. Around the world, where traditional cultures still exist, mothers are in constant contact with their babies, carrying them strapped to their bodies by day, sleeping beside them at night [4], and feeding at will. This is in stark contrast to our culture today.

The modern Western custom of an independent childhood sleeping pattern is unique and exceedingly rare among contemporary and past world cultures’ [5].

When did things change?

Since the mid 1930’s, a view of a ‘good baby’ has come to be seen as one who sleeps on their own and through the night. By the way, all babies are good babies. No baby has the brain capacity to ‘manipulate’ by crying to get what they want – they cry because they have an instinctive need for survival. Yet still, we are plagued with the questions, ‘Is he a good baby’?  ‘How is he sleeping’? and the one all parents dread to be asked, ‘Is she sleeping through the night yet’? Even worse is the ‘Mine slept through the night at 6 weeks’ comment. I’m pretty sure that’s not true, and perhaps their idea of sleeping through the night is not the same as mine (e.g. 7pm until 7am) and even if it were true, we now know that human infants are not meant to sleep through the night at this age and it in fact increases the risk of SIDs if they sleep for too long. More information can be found here:

Newborn babies are not designed to sleep through the night. Their small stomachs can only take small amounts of milk and therefore they need to feed regularly. They don’t have an established body clock, don’t understand the difference between night and day and certainly don’t have any kind of routine. Neither are they born understanding that they need to confirm to some kind of modern schedule.

For most cultures across the globe, separating a baby and mother for sleep is considered abusive or neglectful treatment and  is something for which Westerners are criticised [6][7].  Separate sleep locations for parents and babies are historically recent in the UK and the US– just two centuries ago, mother-baby sleep contact was the norm with entire families sleeping together [8] as indeed do many people across many different cultures around the world to this day.

Important Information about Co-sleeping

Co-cleeping can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), although breastfeeding reduces the risk.  For me, co-sleeping has made it far easier to do the night feeds than when my previous baby slept in a moses basket and indeed, mothers who bed share continue to breastfeed for longer than those that sleep separately. Co-sleeping is not recommended for babies under 6 months old, or for small or premature babies. It’s also advised against if you’re really tired, if you’ve consumed alcohol, taken drugs or smoked (this includes your partner too).  Never fall asleep with your baby on the sofa.

There’s lot of information available online about co-sleeping best practice.

I love this from Le Leche League, it’s the ‘Safe Sleep 7’ guide, it even has a little poem to help remind you of the safest way to co-sleep:

Advice includes removing bedding and pillows that your baby could become entangled in or that could interfere with your baby’s ability to breathe. It’s also worth considering what you’ll do when your baby becomes mobile (which always happens out of the blue incidentally!). I have my bed pushed against the wall on one side and I sleep on the other side so that she can’t roll out of bed, and as I’ve said, she’s only in my bed when I’m there too.

Some links for useful co-sleeping information:

  1. Small MF. Our babies, ourselves: how biology and culture shape the way we parent. New York: Anchor Books; 1999.
  2. Hardy SB. Mother nature: a history of mothers, infants and natural selection. New York: Ballantine; 1999.
  3. Jelliffe DB, Jelliffe EF. Human milk in the modern world: psychosocial, nutritional and economic significance. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1978.
  4. Ball HL. Night-time infant care: cultural practice, evolution, and infant development. In: Liamputtong P, editor. Childrearing and infant care issues: a cross-cultural perspective. Melbourne, Australia: Nova Science; 2006.
  5. Crawford M. Parenting practices in the Basque country: implications of infant and childhood sleeping location for personality development. Ethos 1994;22(1):42-82.
  6. Morelli GA, Rogoff B, Oppenheim D, et al. Cultural variation in infants’ sleeping arrangements: questions of independence. Developmental Psychology 1992;28(4):604-13.
  7. Jenni OG, O’Connor BB. Children’s sleep: an interplay between culture and biology. Pediatrics 2005;115(1 Suppl):204-16.
  8. Hardyment C. Dream babies: child care from Locke to Spock. London: Jonathan Cape; 1983.

References taken from a Research overview into bed sharing and co-sleeping by Helen Ball, BSc, MA, PhD, Professor of Anthropology, Durham University.




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