Before experiencing something it's very easy to have an opinion on how others do it, and this has never been more true for me than about being a parent.
Before becoming a mum there are things I thought I would do differently than I am in reality - and one of these things is co-sleeping. I never thought I would co-sleep, and part of me still cringes a little inside when I admit that we do co-sleep sometimes.
Sleeping is a big topic as a parent, it can influence so much of your life as a parent and your sense of 'success' as a parent.
As Lachie has gotten older and is more aware of the world around him he can become unsettled when I try to put him to bed. I've always fed him to sleep, and enjoy this time at the end of the day to give him cuddles and kisses and I believe it has deepened our bond. But if he's not dozy enough when I place him in his cot he's immediately alert and crying.
Recently when it's come to bed time I've been taking him into our bed to feed him to sleep, enjoying the snuggles, then once he's asleep I've been moving him into his cot in his room. This works some night, but other nights he wakes and cries as I lower him into his bed, so I quickly lift him back into the warmth and safety of my arms and bring him back into bed with me.
I believe that this bedtime distress is, at least partly, because he now understands that we are two separate people, leading to 'separation anxiety'. I've seen this in his behaviour recently, as he likes to be close to me, like a lot of kids do around his age as they move through these developmental shifts.
And if I'm honest I love having him snuggled up with me, and it makes the night feeds easier. But, is this going to cause issues later on? This is where I struggle with biology vs societal conventions.
Over my life I've developed a belief that co-sleeping is bad - the parents bedroom is for them and babies/children should be sleeping in their own space. This belief has come from my exposure to others - my parents, other family, friends, healthcare professionals such as my plunket nurse, etc, and because of this belief co-sleeping has felt like the inferior option and in a way an indicator that I'm failing in this aspect of parenting.
I feel drawn to share my thoughts, some of what I've been learning and our experiences.
Cosleeping, not sleep training, is what is "biologically appropriate," says James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.
Samantha Gadsden, a birth doula in Caerphilly, Wales said, "discouraging of co-sleeping is "coercion and scare-mongering, and treating women like they are not intelligent...It's biologically normal to co-sleep." https://www.parents.com/baby/s...
Our modern societal conventions teach us that children should not be in the bed with their parents. This is what I was taught growing up. The only time I can remember being allowed in my mum and dads bed was on a Sunday morning to watch cartoons with dad, which was such a treat.
And while I love having Lachie in bed with me, some nights I've got shit to do and I feel like I should be doing these things rather than laying with him, or sometimes I'm touched out and want to have a break from having my mini human attached to my body. Then I remember that he's only 14 months old and it's completely natural that when he wakes in a dark room all alone his survival instinct kicks in and he cries so that I come to him. I am his sense of security. It's an internal tug of war.
Historically we've slept with our babies, and in many non-western cultures they still do co-sleep. "Less than 200 years ago it was the norm for mothers and babies, and indeed for whole families, to sleep in close contact with each other." https://www.basisonline.org.uk...
I've really been pondering this over the last few weeks, and have been doing some reading on the subject. Here's some themes that I kept coming across:
- Crying in babies is not a misbehavior to be modified; it is a physiological signal that something is wrong. Babies who are picked up when they cry learn that their needs will be met and they cry less over the long run. On the other hand, if a baby's crying is consistently ignored, she can learn that her signaling system is ineffective, undermining the developing sense of self-efficacy. Her natural demands, then, can escalate into more anxious ones. The general rule of parenting infants is that you cannot spoil a baby.
- Though many Western societies promote for children to learn to be independent as early as possible, forcing a baby to manage herself alone is not the way to foster independence. Rather, independence arises naturally out of a secure relationship that builds up after many episodes of having her needs adequately met.
- To a helpless baby (and all babies are), crying and being ignored is inherently stressful. Though mild stress can "inoculate" a little one and help her learn to self-regulate her inner states, overwhelming stress--especially in infancy--can be toxic. Toxic stress can interfere with the expression of genes that set a baby's stress regulation levels in the developing brain.
- Each baby is different, with a unique temperament, yet sleep training is a one-size-fits-all approach. Just because one baby sleeps through the night doesn't mean that all babies can and should. A vital part of parenting involves learning your baby's unique needs.
I then started wondering about the effects of independent sleeping vs co-sleeping on our mental health later in life, and whether the high rates of mental health distress we see these days is in any way related to the shift to independent sleeping that has taken place in our western societies? If co-sleeping leads to a deeper sense of safety and security, which then builds independence wouldn't that lead to higher levels of mental resilience?
I know that independent sleeping is done by parents with the best intentions, as this is what we are told is in their best interests. But who created this story and who's interests does this serve?
"Popular myths suggest 'good' babies sleep through the night, sleep alone, and do not require attention in the night. As a result, parents may try to 'help' their baby 'sleep through' as early as possible. But expecting a human baby to sleep alone, and for prolonged periods, is unrealistic and can be harmful. The mismatch in what today's parents might expect or desire regarding infant sleep, and their baby's biological abilities regarding sleep, can lead to some unnecessary conflicts." https://www.basisonline.org.uk...
Independent sleeping, as well as many other parenting techniques, is a new concept. Our prehistoric ancestors kept their babies close to them at night, nursing on demand, as they knew that a crying baby would attract predators. Jump to the 19th century when the western world shifted from the agricultural revolution, where our ancestors worked the land to produce goods to sell, to the industrial revolution, where men and many women left the home to work in factories. This started the move towards making babies 'independent' from their mothers, so that mothers could be away from their children to work - which helped the business owners, who were predominantly upper class males, make more money.
Then in late 19th century and early 20th century physicians (who were also predominantly upper class males) shared their "unproven theories promoting that baby care should be centred on 'logic', and mothers were considered too soft, emotional and irrational to parent effectively, so men needed to layout step by step instructions." https://raisedgood.com/ 🤯😲😩
The way we are shown and told to parent by most of society is based on and driven by masculine energy, but it's the mother who, in most families, is the primary caregiver for the children. No wonder there is friction!
Friction that I felt so intensely last night as the tears rolled down my cheeks as I rocked my baby to sleep after 1.5 hours of trying to support him to sleep in his cot. I cried because I felt like I wasn't living in my truth, I was forcing both of us to do something that didn't feel natural to us. I cried because I was full of self doubt about what is in his best interests.
The passing comments from others that he should be sleeping in his bed at his age, or hearing from other Mamas how their babies sleep for long stretches through the night in their own bed played out in my head and made me question co-sleeping and soothing him to sleep. But then when he stood in his cot and reached his arms up for me while crying, I had to lift him into my arms and give him the comfort he was asking for.
Some may belief that I'm being to soft, spoiling him, pandering to him, he's manipulating me, I'm setting him up to be co-dependent, that he won't learn to self soothe or he'll still be sleeping in my bed at 18. We need to remember that human babies don't have the mental ability or desire to trick or manipulate us - which is often contrary to what we are told. It's not possible because when they are born only the brain stem (focuses on survival like breathing, eating and sleeping) and cerebellum (focuses on movement like crawling, standing, walking), are engaged. They simply want to feel safe.
"That it is normal for a baby to crave constant contact, to nap on her mother and to cry when she leaves the room to bring her back into proximity. This is not a sign that she is “spoilt”, this is a sign that she knows how to ensure her own survival." https://raisedgood.com/sleep-t...
Tonight as I type Lachie is fast asleep in his cot after I feed and rocked him to sleep. Will he stay there all night, probably not, but he might. The tug of war is real, and as he grows I want to foster his independence, but at this stage he still is so little and my baby and I won't cause him distress when I can pull him into bed with me where he feels secure.