Having a baby is an important event in every family. Naturally, parents thoroughly prepare for it: buy cribs, prams and even make separate rooms for a little kid. But when your baby is at home, mothers face the fact that it gets hard to get up to check on the baby several times a night with account for their daily cares. As a result, the baby gradually moves to the parents’ bed. Mothers start having nagging doubts if it is right... There are those who don’t give up and continue persistent night watch.
How to strike the right balance which is comfortable both for the baby and for their mother? Is it so important to sleep with the baby? You will find the answers to these questions, as well as debunking of the myths about baby sleep in this article.
Get up or not to get up?
Please remember the first days after a maternity hospital. How often did you get up at night to nurse your baby?
The experience of many mothers show that during the first 3-10 months of life newborns need to eat every 2–2.5 hours. This period can include sleep and 10–30-minute wake and hygiene. Babies almost do not differentiate day from night. This is especially true for the first 40–50 days after birth. This information is not new.
Chronic fatigue mothers face is also no news. This phenomenon has no territories, boundaries and national identity. And mothers begin to understand that the reason lies exactly in night “routes” from their bed to the nursery.
Look at the day-night rhythm. In the daytime under sunlight, our activity increases. But when the sky is overcast, you want to stay in bed. Most people sleep at night. If the mother wants to have a rest at night, what’s the use of this sacrifice and night “tours”? Why not lay the baby by your side? The answer is easy – mothers start doubting if it is right and if their intuition tells them a good idea. This inner struggle between the voices of the wise nature and the know-all intellect is exhausting.
On the one hand, mothers' lack of confidence in themselves, in their wisdom arises out of the public opinion that sparked numerous myths about co-sleeping. On the other hand, mothers are not sure that they can be experts in respect of their babies. But the nature tells us what to do and many people are able to see and understand it.
I once talked to my colleague who then had a seven-month old baby. We were talking on the phone and discussing what she had liked in my webinar. And she said the following: «Anfisa, I’m so glad that you speak about co-sleeping. It happened that it is very convenient for me when my baby sleeps with me. I’ve started getting more rest. But I was afraid that I did something wrong and could do harm to my son. I calmed down after your webinar». I was glad to hear her words because the new mother started trusting her instinct and, consequently, started feeling better.
It is either safe or not – there is no third option
Now let’s talk about such an important human feeling as the sense of safety. This is a basic feeling for our psyche. We can develop and be absolutely healthy only when we feel safe. And when it is dangerous, we struggle to survive. This mechanism can be observed with regard to other living beings. Harry Harlow found a proof in the 1960s.
The American scientist researched primates’ learning abilities. To have a pristine experiment, Harlow isolated all the test cubs from their mothers and palmed surrogate, inanimate mothers to them. Some cubs got a hard substitute for a mother made of wire but it was nursing (there was a bottle of water). Others got a soft and warm rag mother but is was not nursing.
Harlow found out that the cubs were unable to learn without warmth and care: when a little monkey was put in a cage with toys and the “hard mother’ was there, the monkey did not respond to anything, curled up and screamed with fear. After the wire “mother” was replaced with the soft one, the cub clung to it with all its paws and snuggled up to it. Over time the monkey calmed down, left the “mother”, started exploring a new environment and playing, from time to time hugging the warm “mother”.
What can make our babies feel safe? The answer is simple – mother’s and father’s warmth. It is especially important at night when the baby can wake up to eat even without opening their eyes. If the mother lies beside them, they will hear her, feel her smell, the comforting warmth comes from the mother.
As you can see, co-sleeping with a baby is grounded in biological and psychological terms. It turns out that those babies who sleep with their parents are calmer and healthier and their mothers have time to rest overnight.
Everything seems clear and it may be concluded that co-sleeping with the baby is very important. But we immediately face a number of other questions: «how long to sleep with the baby?», «what to do to break the baby of the habit to sleep with parents?» and «how to do it right?».
To answer them, let’s look at co-sleeping when babies are more than one year old.
Let’s consider the two changes in babies’ life that are anyway linked with a good sleep.
The first change.
When your baby starts walking, speaking and becomes more active, you can face a widespread problem of this age period: exploring the world, children inevitably fall, get frightened, hurt themselves. But all these troubles are soon forgotten. Also in sleep, especially when the baby sleeps with their mother and father. On the one hand, there is the reflex formed in infancy («mother and father mean warmth and safety»). On the other hand, this reflex is also maintained on the conscious level through communication when you speak with the baby with a loving voice, hug and kiss them. It turns out that you are always beside the baby as much as they need.
The second change.
It is linked with the diet. In the second year of their lives, a lot of children wake up to eat at night less frequently. Some even switch to “adult menu”. This period is not always smooth: at first babies can be nervous and have restless sleep. In this case, co-sleeping will again help parents.
Let’s consider the most popular myths about co-sleeping of parents and their babies which are based on ignorance rather than true knowledge of babies’ features and needs.
Myth 1: «The baby will get used to sleep with parents»
This will not happen if you do not deliberately keep the baby by your side due to the fear of losing control over them. Getting older and bigger, the baby will “leave” your bed themselves because it will be inconvenient for them to sleep with you. It usually happens when they are from 2,5 to 3,5 years old. Sometimes the baby will naturally ask you to lie down with them before sleep, listen to them, calm them down like you did before. But they will not want to return to your bed because they will understand that they are grown-up and independent.
Myth 2: «You can squeeze your baby in your sleep»
The mother’s nervous system is organized in such a way that any move by the baby can put the mother on an alert. Sometimes this even prevents her from relaxing and having rest with the baby.
I must admit that there is one way to fall fast asleep and not to hear the baby’s cry. To do so, you need to not have enough sleep and get exhausted for several months and then drink from 200 to 700 ml of wine or another strong drink. But will you do that consciously? Most likely, you won’t. Therefore, this myth has no grounds to be true.
Myth 3: «Co-sleeping with the baby is uncomfortable and unhygienic»
This is due to possible leaking of diapers during sleep and unpleasant odors.
State-of-the-art technologies of baby hygiene product development will help to debunk this myth. Due to them, GOO.N diapers appeared – the diapers that are thought out in details:
In addition to the above mentioned, the diapers of this line:
Myth 4: «The baby does not let the parents have enough sleep»
It is possible if you are afraid to sleep with your baby. The fear and anxiety is the matter. Those mothers who had a difficult delivery or a hard postnatal period often have such state. In this case, you should ask a specialist for help. Otherwise, being on her own with this problem, the mother torments her nervous system and this increases the risk of emotional breakdowns.
If you have read about this myth and understood that this is the description of your situation, muster your courage and find a specialist who will be able to help you
So we have considered a lot of questions arising around the topics of parents’ co-sleeping with babies. Now you have knowledge and a chance to analyze your actions. It’s up to you to decide whether you will sleep with your baby or not. In any case, I hope you have a healthy sleep and a good rest!
Anfisa Kalistratova, child psychologist