Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sleep...precious sleep

"People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one" - Leo J. Burke

If I were to have another baby, I wouldn't stress about sleep. I wouldn't worry that they would cry each time I tried to put them down in their cot. I wouldn't frustrate myself or my baby by spending an hour at a time trying to teach them to go to sleep on their own. It was all a waste of time and energy.

I wouldn't worry, because I wouldn't expect them to go to sleep all by themselves, I wouldn't spend ages trying to teach them to lie in a cot and go to sleep. I remember what those early days are like: an hour spent feeding, followed by trying to transfer a sleepy/asleep baby from my warm arms, into a cold cot, then leave them alone, only to feel the despair when, just as I sit down to eat my dinner (which has gone cold), the baby wakes and the whole process is started all over again. This was a common theme with both of our children, to the point where we wondered whether they had an inbuilt mealtime detector that alarmed just as the first mouthful was about to be devoured. 

The reason I wouldn't worry, is because I would do things differently. When my daughter was born, she slept in a cot in her room. In the middle of the night, when she woke for a feed, I would go into her room, feed her (feeling cold and shivery), then spend ages putting her in her cot and trying to get her to go back to sleep. We would take turns at the 3am baby-calming routine. Sometimes, I would bring her to our bed, feed her, fall asleep, then wake up and put her back into her cot, at which point she would wake up for a feed or cry for a cuddle and the reassurance that we were there for her. It was stressful, hard work for all of us, and I look back on those nights with a sense of guilt that I didn't take her cues, choosing instead to "fit" her into our way of doing things. 
With my son, I started off in a similar way. The problem with him, though is that he had oesophageal reflux, so whenever I laid him down, he would scream. I would pick him up again to soothe him. I tried to find ways of propping up his cot to tilt the head end, but it didn't make any difference. In the end, all I could do was to feed him, then keep him upright on his front on my chest, and wait for him to settle. He would cry, throw up, have more milk, doze, then wake up for more milk. The night time feeds became a routine of sitting upright in bed, which ended up being nearly all night, because that was the only way I could keep him comfortable. It took its toll on my spine, though, and I was having a terrible night's sleep. Putting him in his cot was impossible to do for a night: he would spend only a couple of hours each evening in it.  

Then I heard about co-sleeping at my breastfeeding support group. At first I was worried about it. I didn't trust myself to roll onto him in the night, or that it would risk him being suffocated. However, I soon realised that we got more sleep throughout the nights, because he was in our bed, and could be easily breastfed without the rigmarole of getting up, feeding, settling, and going back to bed, again. 

There are benefits to co-sleeping with breastfed babies. Please click here to find out about safety guidelines and considerations if you are thinking about co-sleeping. Co-sleeping is used to describe your baby sleeping in the same room as you, as well as in the same bed. Co-sleeping is different to bed-sharing, where the baby sleeps with the mother in the same bed.

It is easier to breastfeed if your baby is next to you. Crucially, the hormone prolactin, which stimulates milk cells to produce milk, is released in higher levels at night. This means your baby is getting more milk if it feeds overnight, and it helps to establish and maintain milk supply. This is why it is important to feed your baby at night, rather than try to leave them to sleep. Breastfeeding at night is easier if the mother and baby are bed-sharing.

Frequent feeding at night also helps to ease and treat engorgement, which can lead to blocked ducts and mastitis. Our bodies are designed to feed our babies around the clock, not just during the daytime, and the fact that prolactin is higher at night is evidence of our biological need to feed during nocturnal hours.

Babies who bed-share have a lighter sleep pattern, meaning they are less likely to go into a deeper sleep where they may have pauses in their breathing (apnoea). This is thought to be one reason why SIDS is lower in breastfed babies who co-sleep with their parents. Also, mums who bed-share and breastfeed have a lighter sleeping pattern, too, so are more aware of what their baby is doing, even if they're not consciously aware of it. Interestingly, there is no such lighter variation in sleeping patterns for mums who do not breastfeed but do bed-share with their baby.

The baby will have the benefit of skin-to-skin contact, which has many benefits. One such benefit is the way in which the baby's temperature is regulated. The body temperature of the mum will vary to ensure that her baby's temperature remains safe and within normal limits - so if a baby is too warm, its mum's body temperature will cool until the baby's temperature comes down. Conversely, if the baby is too cold, its mum's body temperature will rise. Babies also regulate their breathing with their mum's. Isn't this amazing?!

Bed-sharing allows the baby to feel safe and protected, which has a positive effect on their psychological well-being, bonding, and physical needs.

There are safety factors to take into account if you decide to bed-share with your baby.

Mums who are bottle feeding should not share a bed with their child. Partners, siblings and other care-givers are not as sensitive to the sleeping patterns of the baby, so should not sleep with the baby in the middle of the bed, but at the mother's side.

Don't over-dress your baby - dress them in the same number of layers that you're wearing - to prevent them overheating. Keep their head uncovered, and make sure that pillows are kept away from the baby.

Make sure your mattress is firm and flat. If you can, get a queen or king-sized bed. 

Sleep with the bed against a wall so that the baby cannot fall out or get stuck.

Don't bed-share if you or your partner smokes, or if either of you have been drinking alcohol, taking any drugs or medication that can make you drowsy.

Here is some reassurance if you think your baby should be sleeping through the night.

We still have nocturnal visits from our 3 year-old. He climbs in, settles down, and goes back to sleep. We are often joined by our daughter in the early hours of the morning, too. It's all fine until the bickering starts, or worse, if one of them decides they'd like us to read to them, at which point it's common to get jabbed in the eye by a tumbling picture book at 6.30. But at least we're all warm, and it's actually lovely to have cuddles with them - we know it won't last much longer before they'll grow out of it!


@WomenNaturally said...

We started co-sleeping gradually due do wanting to get some sleep and just love it-all 3 of us. Really interesting about the prolactin. Thanks again for this beautiful blog.

dorsetali said...

Hi,I have always co-slept with my son.It works out just fine for both of us.He is nearly four years now but i feel the bond and still BF is a feeling you can't really explain to someone who hasn't had that Prolactin/Oxytocin rush!! A cocktail for two! Loving this Blog, fantastic.xxx

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I am a mum to two children, a registered nurse, a trainee breastfeeding counsellor, reiki practitioner, photographer, and generally into keeping things natural. Going back to the basics in life, respecting nature, the planet, and each other. Teaching this to my children and others who are interested. This blog comes from a good place, and is intended to give the reader an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, and make an informed choice. I welcome constructive comments and would like it if you could share (acknowledging me as the source) and follow the blog. Many thanks!