Sunday, January 23, 2011

My solution to a common problem


Sleep deprived? Co-sleeping with your little one might be the answer to a good nights’ rest
In the past week, all previous ideas that I held about the best way to get a baby to sleep were thrown out the window.
When my second child was born I slept in the same room as her, but not in the same bed (although this was encouraged by my midwife while I was still in hospital).
I felt it was easier for everyone in the family if I could get to her quickly when she waked for a feed, and not disturb anyone else.
After a month or so, I gradually retreated back to my own bed, leaving the baby in her own room.
But seven months have now passed and she is still not sleeping through the night.
I can’t complain too much because she does sleep well, but she still wakes at 2am for a feed and sometimes also at midnight.
My first child would wake up at 2am and then stay awake for hours, so I know what it’s like to have a child who doesn’t sleep.
I’m incredibly reluctant to try and enforce a strict routine on her to make her sleep through because right now she is so happy and content, that I’m worried I might stuff up the wonderful bond that we have.
Nearly all babies wake at least once a night so I think it is unreasonable to expect a baby to sleep 12 hours straight.
The trouble is that because she is still crying at 2am, everyone in the house wakes up, which makes for a cranky husband and cranky big sister.
So we have started co-sleeping and I haven’t slept this well for ages.

My husband and four-year-old are sleeping better too, and so is the baby. She no longer cries at night, because I’m right next to her.
The problem is that I have this voice in my head criticising my decision, saying “you’re enabling bad habits, and you’ll never be able to get her out of your bed”.
In Australia, sleep struggles are among the most frequent reasons why new parents seek professional help, but in most other countries around the world, sleeping with your baby is the norm.
Co-sleeping can be very beneficial for both mother and baby, and statistics show that 80 per cent of infants will share their parents’ bed at some time in the first six months of life.
Dr James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, is the world’s leading expert on baby sleep. 
His research has found that babies who sleep away from their parents tend to wake more often and show more signs of stress.
Decades of research have led Dr McKenna to conclude that babies must be biologically designed to sleep next to their parents.
There are, however, many people against sharing a bed with their baby for fear of smothering them, which is why the term co-sleeping also refers to having your baby in a separate bed but in the same room as you.
Sleeping next to you, or near you, has a number of advantages, says Heart to Heart Parenting author Robin Grille.
“Babies’ breathing is very irregular for the first few weeks, by having you near them their breathing is measurably improved,” he says.
“It makes a huge difference to babies’ and toddlers’ emotional security to hear your breathing at night and this has long-term psychological benefits.
“Babies can only feel connected to you if they can detect your presence directly through their senses.”
In the dark, the baby’s predominant sense of sight is at rest, so instead the baby needs to use its sense of touch and smell.
Grille says babies who feel secure tend to be far more placid through the day and night, which makes life a whole lot easier.
“Babies body temperatures are better regulated when they co-sleep, and if safety guidelines are observed, co-sleeping can protect your baby from SIDS,” he says.
Author Pinky McKay says touch and proximity between mother and baby are essential elements of bonding.
“The hormonal status that enhances bonding is at its most effective during night-time breastfeeding; continued breastfeeding maintains the release of hormones essential for mother-infant bonding, and breastfeeding is more likely to be successful for a longer duration when mothers and infants share sleep,” she says.
I can certainly relate to this as breastfeeding my daughter at night has become a lot easier, and my bond with her grows deeper and stronger every day.
For now, our family is going with the flow, because as most parents know, you just have to do what works for you.
Co-sleeping is definitely working for us, and I’m glad I ignored the naysayers.
If you choose to co-sleep, be sure to follow these guidelines:

* Your bed must be safe for your baby; firm, flat, smooth with no crevices that your baby can become wedged in; large mattress so there is plenty of room for movement; avoid sofas, waterbeds or futons.
* Make sure the sheets are secure and fitted and do not use anything soft underneath your baby such as a lamb’s wool underlay.
Consider using a bed rail to prevent your baby from rolling off the bed.
Put baby to sleep on their backs.
* Mothers should pay attention to their sensitivity with their baby. That is, the baby should be able to wake you with minimum movement or noise. If you are a deep sleeper and only wake when baby lets out a loud cry, you should consider putting your baby in a cot beside the bed.
* Do not co-sleep if you have been drinking alcohol, smoking or used any drugs or medications that cause drowsiness.
* Do not co-sleep if you are overweight as a parent’s excess weight has been found to pose a risk to a baby in a co-sleeping situation. This will become obvious if your baby rolls into you and there is a large dip in the mattress where baby might get stuck and suffocate.
* Remove all pillows and blankets during the early months and just dress warmly instead if the weather is cold. Keep in mind that your body will provide warmth, so make sure you baby doesn’t overheat.
* Don’t wear any night clothes with strings or ribbons; don’t wear jewellery, perfumes, strong smelling lotions and if you have long hair, tie it up.
* Don’t allow pets in the room.

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