Wednesday, November 17, 2010

breaking all the rules: Bed Sharing

This morning Ollie and I were listening to The Current over breakfast and the lead discussion caught my ear, as two experts were on to discuss bed sharing and co-sleeping. (The difference? Bed sharing is sharing a bed with baby, co-sleeping is just sleeping within reach, but not the same bed). This subject can be one of those hot-button subjects, along the lines of breastfeeding or discipline or basically anything else baby-rearing related, and it is also one of those subjects that is always discussed under the banner of safety. 
When you’ve got a new baby on the way or in your arms, you can’t avoid a barrage of information about SIDs. It is scary, and tragic and real, of course, but it can also seem to make some decisions that should come from your gut totally impossible to make.
Before Oliver was born my husband and I decided that he would sleep in our room for the first few months, to make breastfeeding easier and to feel comfortable knowing that he was safe. I read all about SIDs and the dangers of smoke, alcohol, pillows, blankets, stomach sleeping, side sleeping and of course, bed sharing. Sharing a bed could result in accidental smothering, or “overlying”, was the logic I think (which doesn’t seem like logic to me, because smothering is smothering, not SIDs, right?).
Oliver spent his first night in the NICU, sleeping alone in an incubator, but on his second night on earth he was allowed to move into our room. After cuddling, snuggling, and nursing him, I wrapped him up nice and tight and placed him lovingly in his plastic basinette. And he started to cry. After trying this a few times, I brought him to my hospital bed, just to nurse a little more before he went down. I thought I’d try the side-lying position. He snuggled in to my breast, I wrapped my arm around him and tucked my knees beneath him, and just relaxed and drifted off.
I woke up in a panic to a nurse coming in the door.. busted! I guiltily stammered an apology for having brought the baby to bed with me, something about knowing that I shouldn’t and blah blah.. and the nurse said “I know you aren’t supposed to, but if I had one I would do the exact same thing, you have to just love him up”. Over the three day stay in the hospital I asked every nurse how they felt about Ollie being in the bed with me (which he never left, except when I took showers), and all of them offered some variation on that answer. Unofficially, of course. 
Once we got home, I quickly accepted that the best way to get a good night’s sleep for Ollie and me was to let him nurse all night while I drifted in and out, and so that is what we did. But not without guilt. I lied about it a little bit to certain friends and family, and I denied it a bit myself, usually putting Ollie down in his crib to start and then acting surprised that he ended up in bed. But by day I was researching the best ways to make bed sharing safe. 
What I found was a lot of support for safe bed sharing that made a lot more sense than any of what I read about the dangers. Of course, there are terrible tragedies that occur, but for the most part, bed sharing seemed to me to be the most logical, natural and wonderful way to make night time parenting work for me. James McKenna, the Director of the University of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, who was interviewed this morning mentioned the anthropological support for it, as well as the beautiful and fascinating way that breastfeeding mothers protect their babies with their sleep posture, and help to regulate their breathing.  I read this over and over in my frantic sleep researching phase, and it gave me so much peace of mind about bringing Oliver into my bed. 
Or course, that doesn’t work for everyone, and it didn’t work for us forever. After a few months I started to get a little tired of the half-sleep I was getting, and the permanent cramp in my left shoulder was becoming a little debilitating, and I started to suspect that Ollie was capable of sleeping on his own. So he moved into his own crib for the most part. At first he’d come to sleep with us if he was having a bad night, or first thing in the morning. But the older he gets the more being in bed with us is an exciting distraction, rather than a snuggly comfort. So now he occasionally comes in to snuggle when he wakes up at 5 a.m., and he always comes in to bed for his first feed of the day, and that is a special time. 
Last night the wind was howling and it was pouring rain, and I woke up in the night and thought how I would love to be cradling Oliver against the storm, and that I’m so grateful that I listened to my instincts instead of experts, so that I have those sweet memories to hold in the middle of the night. 

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