Monday, November 8, 2010

The Bad Habit

This post has been a bitch to write. I write it because I believe wholeheartedly in the science behind it and I think parents simply aren't being given all of the choices when it comes to sleep. Humans have shared sleep for tens of thousands of years. We were designed for it. Our babies are expecting it. And, clearly, Violet rocks (in part) because of it!!

I spent the first Saturday of October at The Safe Sleep Symposium put on by Safe Sleep Indiana. I heard three speakers, all of them doctors, speak about how, where, and with whom, infants sleep the best. A lot of people may have been shocked by what these Notre Dame PhD's and MD's were saying. It likely isn't what you've been hearing from your TV or even your pediatrician.

They said that babies sleep the most soundly, the most safely, the most NORMALLY, with their mothers. The closer the better, as a matter of fact.

So why on earth are all of us terrified to take our tiny people to bed with us? Why are there billboards warning us to "Never Ever Sleep with Your Baby!" Why aren't our pediatricians offering us safe options for sharing a bed with our infants but instead suggesting that we let our babies cry alone in a crib?

I suspect the reasons are very complicated. I know that a lot of it is misinformation. No one in an authority role tells us that there are ways to safely bedshare. Because of that, we (I) fell asleep in a rocking chair at 4am while nursing, waking up scared shitless. Rightly so.

We (I) repeatedly put a newborn in a bassinet next to my bed and wonder what is wrong with her(!) when she wakes after 4 minutes.

We (I) lie to the nurse at the doctor's office when she asks the "Where does the baby sleep" question because when I answered truthfully--"With us" --I got the hairy eyeball.

I more than suspect that the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, a trade organization representing 95% of the prenatal and preschool industry, has a vested interest in seeing that parents are afraid to place their baby down to sleep in anything other than a JPMA sanctioned crib. The fact that the JPMA has co-sponsored the national campaign warning parents about the dangers of sleeping with their babies is reason enough to question the advice. I didn't notice a warning about the safety of cribs when 6 MILLION of them were recalled this year.

The biggest reason, though, that I think we are all frightened to death to sleep as humans have for, well, forEVER, is because no one admits to doing it. Or if they do admit to sleeping with their babies, the admission seems wacky. It is tainted because it comes from somebody fringy--too fringy to relate to. The parents who eat kefir and have chickens and still smoke pot.***

When more mainstream parents admit to bedsharing it is usually in a "We know we shouldn't but it just happened" kind of way. For instance: "We were so tired we all just collapsed into bed and didn't even realize that Janie was still sleeping between us. I hope it doesn't take a month to break her of her BAD HABIT."

I rarely hear parents who acknowledge the closeness and normalcy that bedsharing brings to their family. Discussions about how to make it work in the context of your life--how does everyone sleep? what time do you go to bed? is it every night? what about sex? will he still be in between us when he's 6?--these are the discussions that we need to be having about bedsharing and cosleeping. I usually don't hear parents whose little folk sleep with them who don't think this is some sort of terrible habit to be broken.

Some of the first candid, down-to-earth discussions I heard about sleep were with friends at my breastfeeding support group. When I heard these women relay their experience, it all started to click for me. No one was recommending I stand outside Vi's door while she cried. Shawn and I weren't bad parents for having Violet sleep with us. We were--dare I say, we are--very NORMAL.

Once I got over the vast majority of America (from Parents magazine--don't get me started on my loathing of that rag-- to my peds office), telling me that I should put Baby V down "drowsy, but awake" to establish healthy sleep habits from the start, I became comfortable with normal infant mother sleep routines. Instead of combing Parents for tips on how to traumatize my babe to sleep, I read tips for safely sharing sleep and was a changed mother.

Babies (and by babies, I mean people who are very small, wear diapers, have dimples, and can't cut meat), like to fall asleep close to the adult who can handle all the shit that they cannot. By close, I mean touching, if possible. The AAP now (finally!) recommends a "proximate sleeping environment" for infants. They go on to say, "The risk of SIDS has been shown to be reduced when the baby sleeps in the same room as the mother." And really, isn't SIDS what this whole scare campaign is about? They haven't recommended, and probably won't for quite awhile, bedsharing, but they are starting to see how key it is for littles to sleep close to bigs. How beneficial shared sleep is. How lifesaving.

Sleeping babies use their mother's bodies to help them regulate their temperature, regulate their breathing, and they rouse more frequently and easily than their solo-sleeping counterparts. (Trouble with arousal is a major SIDS risk.) Breastfeeding mothers who bedshare feed their babies more frequently, make more milk, and--hold on to your hats--report feeling LESS TIRED THAN THOSE WHO DO NOT BEDSHARE!!

More sleep for moms, huge benefits for babies, and listening to nature instead of crappy Parents magazine.

Three outstanding reasons to talk about bedsharing!

***I count quite a few kefir-eating, chicken-tending, perhaps even pot-smoking individuals among my favorite people and mean no disrespect. (Sharing a bed with a baby while under the influence of anything is just plain dumb, however!! I don't know people who do that!) I am just pointing out the fact that a lot of parents don't know what kefir is, think chickens still live in happy red barns, and haven't tried pot since that one night in college. We need to let them know that bedsharing is good for their babies, too!


Susan said...

Thank you for this wonderful post! We shared beds until our boys were ready to be on their own. It seemed obvious that they belonged next to me - where else would babies have slept throughout human history? And yes, they were happier there and we all got more sleep.

Babs said...

You were the beneficiary of the sleep experiments that came before you--most especially your brother, Jeff, my oldest, on whom I inflicted every "modern" technique of child-rearing, including bottle feeding and letting him cry it out. I still remember how mean I felt, and that he NEVER "learned" to sleep alone. Your dad and I gave up that arrangement with Andy, who slept in our bed and was breastfed. Still, in those days, I never spoke of my commando parenting ways outside of my La Leche League group. I was always considered a nut, but I didn't care. It is still VERY difficult for mothers to listen to their intuition. Thank you for sharing this. It is a step in the right direction. I love you.

Britt said...

Great post Jill!

Geigerin said...

Thank you for normalizing co-sleeping for those of us who share a bed. I feel like a weird-o, leftist, granola crunching, tree-hugger every time I talk about breastfeeding and co-sleeping. That might be a little true, but I'm also a big-screen-tv watching, pizza eating, pop music loving, football fan. ;)

Anonymous said...

You ROCK!! We coslept with my first DS who is now 2.5 and moved him to a big boy bed when his little sister came 6 months ago. If we had room for all of us to be in one room we would. I am a proud full time working mommy breast feeding mommy of both kidlets (DS until I was about 4 mos preg) and love to snuggle with my kidlets. My little man tells me frequently that he LOVES to snuggle with us! What a bond we have made.