Friday, January 22, 2010

On Cosleeping and Bedsharing (and why I think it's a-ok)

I've been really frustrated lately. And no, it's not because of cosleeping. Rather, it's the misunderstanding that exists on cosleeping. So I'm here to clear up a few things. I'm a little tired of people giving me empathetic pats on the shoulder when I say Ender sleeps in bed with us. No, it's no bed of roses. Yes, sometimes Mike and I find ourselves squished on one side with Ender gloriously sprawled on the other. But it was a choice, and one that I am very happy with and am willing to defend. I'm going to give you my take on it, which because this is a blog, I refuse to qualify with sources. You'll just have to believe me that I've read a lot on the subject.

First of all, the idea of training our babies to sleep independently is a relatively new one. Cribs as we know them today started appearing en masse in the victorian era. This was in response to the belief that it was genteel not to know anything about the going ons of your children. Some women would fake it, others would actually avoid their kids. Some believe this is due to Queen Victoria, who was quite publicly disinterested in children generally, and her own children specifically. Before this, bed sharing, aka 'family bed' was the norm. If there was no space in mom and dad's bed, then the kids would go into bed with siblings. Protestants, with their sexual moralizing and beliefs about corporeal punishment, saw a separate bed for a baby as a good idea. It would foster the strength and independence that they valued. It should be noted during this period of time that toddlers were having their gums excised (sliced open) and many died of sepsis, and people suffering from depression were locked into lunatic asylums and hosed down with water on a regular basis as part of treatment. It wasn't the forerunning times for medicine, let alone child psychology.

So, with the seperate accomodations came long nights of crying and clingy children. This was alright though, because most Victorian homes had at least one servant, who could stay up with the kid and be exhausted in the morning. I'm sure if it was the servant's choice, the child would be in bed with them and there are accounts of this occuring. As was common with the time, the moralized practice was bolstered with pseudo science, Ms. Beeton, in her tome on household management was quite authorative on the subject, claiming it was unhealthful for a mother to sleep with her babe, who would suck her dry like a "little vampire".

While crib sleeping has dragged on as a cultural norm, medical research has been unclear on whether crib sleeping is safer than bed sharing. While the APA says cosleeping is a good idea, this is technically only having the crib in the same room as you (ie. not in a nursery). For those who oppose bed sharing, the data is quite clear: cases of SIDS are frequently caused by bedsharing. People in beds that are too small, who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, who smoke, who formula feed, or who are obese are at particular risk. Proponents of bed sharing however, have astoundingly more evidence.

First of all SIDS is not the same as rolling on your baby. This is suffocation. SIDS is unexplained infant death, and also happens when babies are put in cribs by themselves. Secondly, babies who sleep with their mothers rarely roll on their tummies (because this would move them away from the breast) which has been established as a contravening variable in SIDS. Synchronous breathing has been associated with bed sharing. The part of babies' brains that reminds them to breathe regularly is not fully established, and when close to their mother they are 'reminded' to breathe. Also, infants who cosleep do not go as long without nursing, which can be very helpful to working mothers whose babes refuse the bottle, and whose supply is threatened by exclusive pumping.  The 'distractable baby' also will eat better when in a state of half-sleep, which means distracted feedings during the day are less of an issue.

Now I state all of this as though I am against the crib, which I'm not. Some children will happily sleep in their crib from sunset to sunrise with nary a complaint. However, the environment which we have created where images of sleep-deprived parents walk like zombies around the house, trying to rock their seven, eight, twelve month old babes to sleep need not be the only reality.  My troubles with sleep started with trying to obey the norms that were enforced by my peers, and ended with my acceptance that my life is now baby-led. There is a certain amount of peace in that.

So, understandably it is frustrating when I am asked repeatedly 'How is the baby sleeping?'. 'Great!" I respond, truly meaning it. I don't get to sleep in, but I almost always get a minimum of 8 hours. If not, it's my own fault. 'Has he started sleeping in the crib yet?" They ask me sadly, as though I've failed in some way. I wish their was some succinct way of explaining that I haven't tried in months, that even if he would sleep in his crib, I'm not sure that I'd want him to.  I remember when he was a very young baby, and would sleep perfectly fine on his own for hours at a time, how poor my sleep was. I'd wake every hour, checking that his little hands hadn't covered his face, that he hadn't been crying and I hadn't heard. I wish I could express the reassurance that is felt when I reach out and feel his little chest rising and falling in perfect tempo.

I never intended to have a family bed. The idea seemed strange and foreign and dangerous. But then again, so did breastfeeding, and now I can't imagine being without it as the greatest parenting tool I have at my disposal.

But there is no way to explain it, no more than I could convince someone that there's not a God, or that someone could convince me that what I'm doing is wrong. It's just the way things are. So ends my rant, and my explanation.

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