Friday, January 10, 2014

What Two Kids and Countless Books Have Taught Me About Sleep

Parenting Without Borders by Christine Gross-Loh was on my list of nonfiction books I recommend from my readings last year. Though seriously, I wish I had just come across this article by the author that people I know have been posting on Facebook lately: "Have American Parents Got It All Backwards?" It's a lot of the same ideas, just shorter.

I am glad I read the chapter on sleeping. And wish I'd read it before my first child. Or even read or heard anything that let me give myself permission to do things differently--to figure out what worked for us and not worry about what the experts said I should be doing. Here's a summary of what Gross-Loh says and what I'm learned with my two children and my plans for #3.

Gross-Loh on sleeping:

Co-sleeping is common throughout the world. The idea is (and has been confirmed in studies) that a child who feels secure and cared for at night will be more independent during the day. This is opposite of the American idea that a child who co-sleeps will be dependent on their parents forever. Even in cultures where children do have their own room after a while, it is accepted that a child can come and sleep with the parents part of the night if they need comfort until much older than I would have thought is “normal” (based on my American ideas).

 The American idea that children and even small babies should have their own sleeping spaces came out of the emergence of a middle class—it showed affluence to have a separate sleeping space, a nursery, for your baby. It also created a need for sleep training methods and comfort objects. It also creates stress in the parents (I can attest to this one!) when a child does not go to sleep alone at the age other parents and their pediatrician deems normal.

 In co-sleeping cultures, they normally have large futons on the floor for sleeping with their babies and children. American beds, high up off the ground, make co-sleeping more difficult. A couple of years ago (I remember this one) an ad in Wisconsin compared co-sleeping to a baby sleeping with a large butcher knife. Children can be smothered during co-sleeping, but it always has a risk factor involved. Usually alcohol or drugs. From the book: “To blame an infant smothering by an intoxicated parent on co-sleeping is like blaming the act of driving for a drunk-driving accident: It’s not the driving that caused the crash, it’s that he was driving under the influence.”

What I’ve Done: Child #1

I read lots of books, but none of the right ones. And I probably didn’t talk to enough moms with real babies instead of just the American ideal. My baby slept in a bassinet in our room at first, which still required me getting up to nurse her at night. (I believe I even went to the other room where the rocking chair was to nurse her at night.) She moved to a crib in her own room at 2 months (but 2 weeks later than was recommended, ack!). I spent the next six months a zombie as I spent most my night rocking a screaming baby who wouldn’t sleep if I tried to put her down. When she was 8 months, I was so exhausted that my husband made me go to bed and tried a modified cry it out (checking in at 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, etc. rather than letting the child cry until she fell asleep no matter how long it was). She eventually “slept through the night” and I was more rested, but I never have felt good about doing that. Maybe just in the sense that it’s the best I knew how to do at the time. At four she sleeps through the night unless she has a bad dream. Then Dad or Mom (usually Dad) goes and cuddles with her on her bed until she feels safe and falls back to sleep.

What I've Done: Child #2

I prayed and prayed for a better sleeper. I got a better coping method. This child slept with me most the night. It didn’t start out on purpose, but simply out of necessity. If she woke to feed, I could just roll her over to the other boob and fall asleep while she fed and then fell asleep. Without having the right kind of bed set up for it, it did involve pillows wedged next to her so she wouldn’t roll out, and my husband learned to sleep on a very narrow wedge on his side of the bed. I don’t remember when we transitioned her to a pack and play to sleep (the crib was being used as a toddler bed for the toddler). But I believe I got less sleep and got more frustrated with her frequent waking. We moved when she was not quite 18 months and instead of a pack and play, she started sleeping on a small mattress on the floor. This made it easier to lay next to her and comfort her back to sleep at night. She’s almost 2 now. She now sleeps on a twin mattress on the floor and seems to sleep better. I think she has more room to roll around without rolling to the floor, and it’s significantly more comfortable for us to sleep with her if she wakes up at night. 

With Child #3 I Plan To:

Co-sleep. We’re not going to change our Americanized bed set up, but we are going to use a co-sleeper to give us more room in the bed and still have easy access to the baby for night time feedings. After what I’ve read, I’m going to try to relax about night time wakings (stop counting them!). I don’t know at what age baby will move out of the co-sleeper. I’ll let baby lead the way on this. We have a pack and play we could put in our room to still be close by, but after our experience with #2, a simple mattress on the floor might be easier. When it’s time to transition out of Mom and Dad’s room, I think I will move baby #3 to sleeping in the same room as big sisters (and definitely to a twin mattress on the floor). Even if it’s a boy and we have enough bedrooms for a separate room, I think I will let baby (who will likely be a toddler by then) sleep with older siblings for a while (in co-sleeping cultures, siblings sleep in the same room and find comfort in not being alone). Until my oldest needs more privacy, there is nothing wrong with them all sleeping in the same room. (For a while, my three sisters and I had all our beds in one room and our dressers, etc. in another.)

The Ultimate Take Away:

When co-sleeping is accepted and planned on, it works great. When it’s used as a last resort for a child who will not stay asleep on her own (as it was with my #2), it is a source of frustration. The best way for a child to sleep is the way that works best for parents and baby. My girls wouldn’t sleep unless held. (It’s only in the last few months that #2 naps in her bed instead of in my arms. But now she prefers her bed.) My sister had a child that wouldn’t fall asleep if he was being held. 

“Where should your child sleep? Wherever he sleeps best.”

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