Things I learned #5: the secret world of co-sleeping

Oh, the before and afters of being a parent! It is truly amazing to me how my opinion on certain topics can do complete 180 degree turns depending on what side of the fence I’m sitting on. I’ve lost count of how often this has happened to me since I became a mother. It’s totally dependent on experience, isn’t it? But that applies to everything I suppose. Random example – I always thought I wanted a small winter wedding in the middle of the city centre incorporating cobblestones, velvet capes, mulled wine and foggy breathe. In reality I had a big wedding in the country hills on a beautiful summer’s day. The theory and the practice can be oh so very different.

I’m dying to have a chat with you about the before and afters of breastfeeding but today I’ve been thinking about the before and afters of co-sleeping.

photo credit: Puzzler4879 via photopin cc

My mother tells me that in our house all four of her children were fantastic sleepers who slept peacefully, uninterrupted in their cots all night. No little shadows darkened their door or entered their bed. We were all bottlefed but that may or may not be relevant.

All the public health information in the mainstream media highlights the danger of sleeping with your baby and the current official recommendations say that “the safest place for your baby to sleep at night is in a cot in your room”. They also actively discourage you from having your baby sleep in your bed with you.

For as long as I can remember, I have heard people tut-tut and sneer when discussing other people allowing children sleep in their beds. “They can’t let them away with that kind of thing…”, “You’ll never get them out of the bed”, “Sure nobody can get any kind of sleep”, “They’re spoilt rotten those children, no discipline…”, “Too soft…”, “Nobody’s getting any action in that bed…” etc etc. I admit I joined in on occasion. For those not in the know, you would easily believe that only irresponsible or indulgent people shared their bed with their babies.

The first time I ever heard of the term “co-sleeping”, I was reading the weekly column of clinical psychologist and broadcaster David Coleman in the health supplement of the Irish Times. In response to a letter from a distressed parent who was having sleep problems with their small child, he was extolling the benefits of co-sleeping as a solution and I remember thinking, “oh, should he really be doing that?, isn’t that dangerous?”. I believed it was, because I’d never had first hand experience of it and everything I’d heard about it was linked to a negative connotation.

When myself and my husband went to our antenatal classes, one of the midwives mentioned off the cuff that it was okay to tuck the baby in beside you in the bed. In fairness, she whispered it. I raised an eyebrow. Why would you do that?, I wondered.

That was the “before”.

Then came the “after”.

As I mentioned before, I found the second night after baby S was born really hard. After a good recuperating sleep following the adventure of being born, he just wanted to be held. There was absolutely no way he wanted to be anywhere else except in my arms. I was awake all night. When I told the visiting midwife about it the next morning, she told me not to be afraid to put him in the bed beside me, that he would be comforted by my presence and we would both rest. She whispered it too. Like some secret we couldn’t have overheard.

She used the phrase “it’s okay”. And I believed her. So I did it. Not all night, every night but sometimes. I moved him between the cosleeper and our bed. Sometimes my husband cradled him on his chest. But we did it quietly because it felt like a guilty secret. When baby S was two weeks old, we went to our first breastfeeding support group in the local HSE centre. I have to say, it was just fantastic. Here I was surrounded by other women at exactly the same stage as me and my baby, going through nearly the same experiences. In the following few weeks I discovered through quiet conversations and hushed tones – so the public health nurse couldn’t hear – that I wasn’t the only one who was sneaking the baby into the bed.

In fact, here’s Things I learned #5: the secret world of co-sleeping – EVERYONE IS DOING IT!

Okay, not EVERYONE but many, many, many of the women I met – and we’re easily talking nearly 100 over a three month span (the birth rate appears to be through the roof where I live 🙂 ) – had their babies in their bed at some stage or another. We not just talking about the hardcore attachment parents here, we’re talking some Gina Ford fans too and everyone in between. As far as I could gather, when you have a small baby the general rule of thumb is “do whatever it is you need to do to have a happy baby and a happy mama.” I like this rule, this is how I live my life now and it’s working really well for us.

Co-sleeping may not be for you because it’s definitely not for everyone – and it actually wasn’t really for us for a long time – but don’t be afraid of the idea of it. There is literally acres of advice online and in many books with details on how to do it safely. If you’re breastfeeding in particular, you might get yourself some serious extra zzzzs. Now that I’m out the other side of it, it’s definitely something I’ll be embracing more readily next time round.

Related links:

Things I learned: a casual miniseries – giant maternity pads

Things I learned #2: breast pads

Things I learned #3: night sweats – sexy!

Things I learned #4: there go my waters!

A date with dates

This business of having babies is bookended by two very different time warps. If you’re planning a baby, you start off with the excruciating two week wait from when you might have ovulated until it’s time for you to pee on a stick. Time seems to stand still, particularly when you have that groundhog day experience of doing it again, and again, and maybe again. I know I found it very difficult to focus on other aspects of my life once months turned slowly into a year and then two years…

The second time warp began as I approached my due date, when time fluctuated between snail’s pace and break neck speed. Even though I knew I was unlikely to go on my estimated due date a little piece of me believed I’d be in that small percentage of women who give birth exactly at forty weeks. But once that milestone passed, the days felt both painfully long as phonecall after text message reminded me “I was still here”, but also a little too quick as I hurtled towards 40 weeks +14 days, the time allotted by the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin to spontaneously go into labour before they induce it. 14 days is actually the most generous policy in Ireland with other hospitals offering 12 or 10 days depending on where you are.

As day 14 appeared on the horizon, I turned to every trick in the book to encourage spontaneous labour. Every trick except sex, that is. I understand that it is extremely effective in ripening the cervix but I just couldn’t face into it, sorry! Daily perineal massage doesn’t awaken the sexy in me. Our home smelt like a Balti house though. Luckily, labour kicked off by itself a 40 weeks +9 days, thus saving me from the deadline and affording me with the natural birth I had hoped for.

Dates from Algeria (Biskra) called Deglet
Dates: 6 a day keeps the induction away                          (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it was with great interest that I read this article about the effect of eating date fruit on labour and delivery outcomes. The research concluded that consuming six dates a day in the last four weeks before labour “significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced a more favourable, but non-significant, delivery outcome.” So all brilliant things then really! It does end by saying that a controlled randomised trial is the next step but those initial results are very promising. Given my tardiness the last time, this is something I will definitely be trying in the future. I have two friends who are right at this stage of their second pregnancy. Both were overdue with their first babies and are keen to have a natural, spontaneous labour. They’re both eating the dates at the moment and I’m really hopeful it will do the deed for them. I’ll keep you posted on developments for your own information of course!

Any ladies out there who have tried this already? I’d love to hear about your experience.

I came across the research via the perennially informative Tracy Donegan from Gentlebirth. Check out her Facebook page for a wealth of pregnancy and birth related information

…and the little one said “roll over”

Having given it my careful consideration, I have decided that the modern cot is a total crock. Of the five sleeping locations available to baby S in the last 12 months – a Moses basket, a co-sleeper, a Doomoo seat, our bed and said cot – it has proven itself to be the least effective and in some ways most disruptive sleep solution in our house. Let me put my case to you…

The Moses basket served its short purpose perfectly well. S took naps in it downstairs during the day when he was teeny tiny. It was portable and comfy but he wasn’t eight weeks in it when he started to look like a giant. I was delighted to have borrowed one rather than invested.

Copyright Mind The Baby

At night he slept in our co-sleeper attached to my side of the bed. I absolutely loved this because he was right there beside me and I could reach out and pull him in to bed for a feed. It also meant that I slept better because in those early few months on the occasions when I had him in the bed with me I slept fitfully for fear of hurting him. Oh, and the fact that he punched and kicked me and I often found myself teetering on the edge of the mattress while he sprawled out starfish-like and hogged as much space as possible. He stayed in the co-sleeper until he was seven months. Emotionally, I found it hard to move him out of it and out of our room but he had outgrown it and we were disturbing him at night coming in and out. Once he moved into his own room next door though, boy did I love my new found freedom! I could undress with the lights on, I rediscovered reading, I got my bedside locker back AND I could easily get in and out of the bed without having to climb in from the bottom or mooch in my husband’s side.

But the feckin cot brought it’s own problems.

For naps during the day there is absolutely no way he’ll fall asleep in it. Never has. This was learned the very hard way with months of experimentation. If he falls asleep in my arms, it is a military operation to lower him in without waking him and there’s a less than 50% success rate. Then you have up and down and up and down to try and get him to stay asleep in it.Which brings us to the problem of short people. Neither of his grannies are tall enough to lean into the cot and gently lay him down – a big problem for babysitting.

At night, I feed him to sleep and the same problem arises. I’ve a lovely content deeply sleeping baby who has to be deftly maneouvered into the cot without waking him. What a fantastic waste of time. It’s just not conducive to settling a baby to sleep at all. It’s primary function really seems to be keeping the baby in rather than an appropriate and comfortable place to catch some zzzzzzs.

When we were away for a mini-break at Easter, I took to feeding S to sleep, for both naps and night time, lying on a comfy double bed and hemming him in with pillows for safety. This worked like a dream – he fed, dozed, rolled onto back and fast asleep for hours he was. He went from taking maybe 45 minute naps to two to three hours. It was amazing. I’ve embraced this wholeheartedly when we’re at home during the day now. He’s never napped so well. We’re still persevering away with the cot at night but as I mentioned in an earlier post, now that I’m back at work, tucking him in with us when he wakes is the only way to get rest.

I remember reading about breastfeeding and co-sleeping when I was pregnant and in those first early days and often seeing the recommendation that the “family bed” should be a huge mattress on the floor for everyone’s comfort and safety. I also remember dismissing it as some seriously hippie ideology – what do you do with the bed that you have already?? – but I see the absolute sense in it now. In fact, I’m so convinced by it I think that next time ’round, we’ll probably pass the cot on to someone who’ll get the benefit from it and instead replace it with a good double mattress on the nursery floor.

I say probably because I’m unsure if when push comes to shove I’ll be able to cast aside my Westernised conditioning – like so many other things about pregnancy, birth and raising children – and actually take the plunge. But the cot is a terribly Westernised concept when you think about it though. It’s not a friend of the breastfeeder. It’s not a friend of the baby who is soothed to sleep. It’s clunky and awkward and hard to access.

I don’t like it!

Only Western societies use them. We’re our own worst enemies sometimes, trying to fit square pegs into round holes just because “that’s how it’s done – and always has been done”.

I think I might be ready to go native on this one though…

Things I learned #4: there go my waters!

I feel a bit silly telling you this one but if only one person stumbles across this post in ten years time and it helps them out in some kind of way, then my embarrassment was worth it…

…When I was about six centimetres dilated in the throes of labour, the midwife asked me if I would mind if she examined me to see how I was getting along.  She asked me to stand up after my next contraction so that she could check the baby’s heart rate and then I could get out of the birth pool just for a couple of minutes for the examination.  My husband maintains that I stood up suddenly out of the water, put my hands on my hips and exclaimed “this is BULLSHIT”, but I have no memory of this. 🙂

I sat on the ground reclining backwards for the exam, which was interrupted by a contraction.  This was the one and only contraction I had technically on my back.

It was not cool at all.

I would not be recommending it as a positive position for pain management.

Suddenly, and I mean suddenly with all the drama of a ten year old’s English essay, my waters broke, as if out of nowhere.  How this came as a shock to me I still don’t know.  But I was SHOCKED. And terrified.

Because the waters were…HOT.

Seriously, what was I expecting?  My tiny naked baba had been living in there for nine months, of course they weren’t going to be tepid but for some reason it was the last thing I was expecting.  The midwife had to explain it to me. What a muppet…

Ladies (and gentlemen), waters are hot. Obvs.

PS. Is “waters” an Irish thing? I notice a lot of American and UK sites say “water” singular.

Related posts

Things I learned: A casual miniseries – Giant Maternity Pads

Things I learned #2: breast pads

Things I learned #3: night sweats – sexy!