Wednesday, 17 December 2014

How sleeping with my baby saved my sleep

In August 2014, the Yahoo Contributor Network was shut down. All the copyrights to articles thereon were returned to their authors, so I decided to publish certain articles of mine, originally written for Yahoo UK on my own blogs. This is one of them.

It was 2am and I was desperate. It was my first night home with my newborn son, three days after he was born by emergency caesarean section. My milk still had not come in, delayed most likely by the trauma of the surgery and the side effects of the painkillers. He would not stop feeding.
I knew that this was normal, I knew that he was topping up his marble-sized belly with rich colostrum, whilst triggering the production of the milk that eventually came nearly a day later. This was small comfort when I was exhausted. Every time he stirred, rooting around in his Moses basket, looking for me, I woke, rolled myself out of bed, tentatively, flinching at the pain in my fresh scar, picked him up, lay him on my mattress, and nursed him until he fell asleep; whereupon I dutifully, gently returned him to his little bed.
Over and over. Every hour, or even less.
I rang the midwives on duty at the hospital, and I am forever grateful that my call was answered by an individual who was willing to give me advice that many will not. "Let him sleep with you". That's it. That simple.
A few weeks earlier I would never have done it. My husband had joked that the baby would sleep in our bed. I told him no, no way, it's not safe.
When I was discharged from hospital I had been issued with, amongst several trees-worth of leaflets, a copy of the UNICEF safe sleeping guidelines . In reality sharing a bed with your baby is safe as long as certain precautions are taken. A breastfeeding mother, who naturally will sleep lightly, no drink or drugs, no heavy bedding, no way for baby to fall out or get trapped, no other children. With the advice and support of my midwives, I accepted that this was the best choice for us. When I later did more research, I was astounded at how far my preconceptions were from the truth. Evidence suggests that this is a safe choice and in some cases even a preferable one.
So that night I brought my new son into my bed. I fed him lying down, and dozed, when he finished he would roll onto his back to sleep. When he was hungry again he would snuffle around until I helped him latch on in my half sleep. I would not need to leave my bed and painfully lift him out of his moses basket, I would not even need to wake up completely. I found myself, as controlled studies have also demonstrated, checking on his temperature and breathing instinctively, without being fully conscious.

My first child did not sleep through the night until he was 18 months old. This was never a problem, he was right beside me in bed, all I ever had to do was nurse him, or cuddle him and he would settle back to sleep without either of us fully waking. Once he was sleeping through, we introduced him to his own bed, in his own room, which he thought was a great adventure. I missed his little snoring body next to me at night, so did my husband, but not for long, because just a couple of months later, his baby brother was born.
When I was expecting my second child, I did not make up the Moses basket. I did not assemble the cot. I knew that from the outset both of us would sleep better, and be happier if he was in bed with me, so once again, I made the bed baby-safe in readiness.
My second baby slept in my bed from his first day, in the hospital I refused to have him in the plastic tank, ringing the bell for someone to pass him to me every time he needed me. He lay curled up against me, resting peacefully. I discharged myself after one night because it was the hospital staff that were disturbing my sleep.
This time around, the midwife who discharged me made it clear that it was their policy to advise against bed sharing under any circumstances. But I knew baby number two would be sleeping with me.

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