Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Joy of Co-Sleeping

There are a lot of different paths that you get to choose from as decide how to parent your children.  It starts at conception, then birth, breastfeeding or bottle, prams, slings, sleep and many more.

Sleep seems to be the holy grail of parenting, the how, where and when can be one of the most confronting decisions because everyone has an opinion.  Well seeing that this is my blog I'm going to share mine, I don't for a minute think that I can write a balanced discussion on the topic, I'm too passionate, and there is to much written about the mainstream 'right' way to sleep with your babies for me to think that I could honestly balance it out.

(For the record, all of the directions we have taken with our kids has been a joint decision but again seeing that this is my blog I am only going to speak for myself)

When I was pregnant I thought that, like the vast majority of western families, our kids would sleep in there own beds, first a cradle in our room and then all going well by 6 months in the cot in their room.  We got given the most beautiful hanging cradle and hung it by my side of the bed, we painted the nursery and the cot in preparation for our little boy to come home.

Why we thought we could ever put our child in the other room is beyond me now, we always had the dogs sleeping at the end of the bed, never occurring to us that they shouldn't sleep in the same room.  We are biologically programed to sleep in groups, in the past its been for safety from predators or for warmth and nothing much has changed, why do couples sleep together? is it only for sex? more likely it is that we enjoy sleeping next to the people we love.

When Jack was born he had a fever, and seeing that he wasn't wrapped in the tight little bundle like most newborns, he was very unsettled in the plastic crib.  That first night I brought him into bed with me and put my forehead to his and he fell asleep.  From that day on it felt right to sleep with him next to us, he slept better and so did I.

There are a lot of great reasons to co-sleep, studies at the sleep institute have shown that;

  • Mothers and babies sleep more lightly, but their sleep patterns are similar and because they are next to each other the mother wakes less fully to feed and falls asleep again more quickly as does the baby.
  • Mothers and babies will often move at the same time, mothers are very aware of where their babies are in relation to themselves even as they sleep
  • Co-sleeping might also turn out to give some babies protection from SIDS, co-sleeping babies breastfeed more often, sleep more lightly, and have practice responding to maternal arousals. Arousal deficiencies are suspected in some SIDS deaths, and long periods in deep sleep may exacerbate this problem.
  • From a personal perspective, my children have sleep well through noise, and being transferred from one spot to another (ie out of car and into bed) they go to bed easily, when they are sick I can sleep soundly knowing that I will hear them as soon as they need me, I can pull the covers up as the temperature changes during the night, if they are unsettled I can easily put my hand on them or bring them into my arms and they quickly go back to sleep
Of course there are some times when you shouldn't bed share, if you are drunk, smoke or under the influence of drugs.  And you need to make sure that the bed is safe, that there are no gaps in the mattress that bubs can fall into, that you don't use heavy blankets or sleep on a lounge or waterbed.

My boys have been windy, colicky babies who woke frequently with upset stomaches but from that first day I have slept better than a lot of mothers I know, I have never had to get out of bed to settle my children or to feed them through the night, we really do get more sleep than we would have if they were not with us.

To make it work for us, we have had a lot of different bed set ups;
  • Baby in the middle
  • Baby on my side
  • Baby in a cot pushed up against my side of the bed
  • Andrew with one babe and me with the other
  • 2 queen beds together
  • Andrew in one bed, me and the boys in another
  • Jack in his bed, Andrew and I in another and Hamish on a mattress next to us etc. etc.
Sometimes Andrew and I start the night in one bed and then when one of the kids wake up, I move in to be with them, and sometimes the boys want to sleep with Andrew.  All in all beds are flexible in our house, and mostly everyone gets as much space as they need, there are some nights when I feel a little crowded by the boys but I guess that's part of nighttime parenting whether you choose to co sleep or not.  The good part is that we have chosen to set our beds up for co-sleeping and so we are not trying to fit 4 people into a bed made for two.

In the end and most importantly, there is nothing more amazing that falling asleep next to your child and then waking with them in your arms, it is truly one of the most pleasurable parts of my mothering experience.

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