The romantic idea of a baby in a clean white gown in a fancy cradle and the more utilitarian reality of a baby with spit up and a dirty diaper, crying to feed for the 14th time today who absolutely needs you are very different pictures for parents and society.
So, as I slept the other night in my bed with S (now 7) whose room had been freshly painted and Z (now 3) whose sheets I hadn’t put in the dryer on time, I thought about my expectations and changing realities as a mother. As I look back to the pregnant days with A (now 10), I remember those early weeks when I got less than a few hours of sleep and wished for some routine or crystal ball into the days when I would be able to go out without circles under my eyes…
I write as a mom of three children who mostly sleep in their own beds… who has the hindsight to tell my “new mom” self some of the down-to-earth truth. It is hard and you will be tired but it will end and you will look back and think that you wished those early days away too quickly. Everyone will give advice and ask about how your baby is sleeping. Everyone does this because they remember not sleeping too!
A great book that I fell in love with as soon as I read it is What Mother’s Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen. A wonderful point she makes in a chapter entitled “”So Tired I Could Die” is that many other professions take this on as a badge of honor and dedication which moms and dads should also feel they earned. Parents should feel competent that this exhaustion is actually proof of proper care and attention to our little ones. Easier said than done when it feels like everyone around them is telling them of tips and tricks to get their children to sleep “through the night” far earlier than they are meant to be doing.
There are now countless websites and books on infant and child sleep. Some tell you of the glories of co-sleeping, some warn parents they must start schedules and never once let their child sleep with them. The reality is that for both ease and safety, a baby should sleep near their parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep near their parents, (meaning in the same room) especially for the first 6 months. When planning for a new baby, parents may consider a a side-sleeper, bassinet, crib or in the same bed with them. There is a saying in La Leche League which basically goes: “everyone should sleep where everyone sleeps best” and I happen to agree with this.
I remember watching my sister plan for her baby and NOT buying a crib. I can laugh now about how I asked her if she thought the baby would want her own space! What baby do you know who doesn’t prefer to be in arms of mom or dad…to hear their heart beat and feel warmth? When our turn came with A, we bought a used crib and had a little basinet next to our bed. Within two weeks, that basinet became a little clothing holder and A moved in with us. This was not “the plan. She had severe GERD and the doctor had suggested I sit up for 20 minutes after each feeding. I wondered if he had children or not at this point, but I tried it a few nights and soon enough I felt it safer to bring her to our bed than to end up dropping her or falling asleep holding her upright. It haunts me to remember a night when she soundlessly woke me by kicking… she had spit-up and couldn’t roll over to clear her mouth. I was so grateful she was close that night.
Around 6 months, she was just such a wiggle worm that we moved her to a crib for part of the night. That part slowly became whole as she grew… sometimes waking at midnight or 2 am, until from time to time (and not consecutively) she would sleep until 5 or even 7 am. I still remember that first time I woke to sun and she was still in her crib. I made my husband go check on her because I was so frightened something had happened! And then there were nights when I couldn’t sleep and needed a “fix” of baby hormones to help me. On those nights, I went and brought her to bed with us to nurse ME back to sleep too.
When S was born (A was 3 at the time), he just came to bed with us from the start. He was the type of baby I always say would have crawled back in me if he could…he was and still is a snuggler. He had terrible sleep apnea and I still remember counting seconds and then gently rubbing him and whispering to him “take a breath” multiple times a night. This is not to say that if a family chooses not to co-sleep they would be wrong but this ended up again being the healthier option for us and literally the way my son made it through his first year. He moved to a crib sometime after a year but it became more of a natural progression than an active approach the second time around.
When Z was born, we spent many of our first days and nights cuddling and nursing together. He is often in our bed and often in his but it ebbs and flows with illnesses, teething, or simply which seems easier. He may fall asleep reading with Daddy in his bed or he may fall asleep nursing with Mommy in our bed or in one of his siblings beds as they are read their bedtime stories. And it is what works for us.
And some nights I spread out and feel like I am in a huge space and other nights I have a knee in the back or a leg in the stomach… and I think how lucky I am that I got to rub their back through a nightmare or hear a secret about the day as they drift down to sleep.
Safe Crib Sleep Tips:
If you put your baby in a crib, they should be in the same room with you. Remember to place babies on their backs when they are at an age where they can’t turn over on their own. Make sure that there are no blind cords nearby and nothing is in the crib with the baby. If a light blanket is needed, tuck all sides along the bottom half of the crib, below baby’s arms. Make sure that no one smokes in or near your little one or their bedroom. Check to be sure the room is not too cold or too hot. Be sure the crib mattress is tight fitting and the bars are within safety standards (older crib bars may be too wide apart) and that the crib sheets can’t be pulled loose or around the baby’s head.
Dress your baby in safe sleepwear with no strings or ties to twist around on them at night.
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Crib Information Center
No Cry Sleep Solution and other books by Elizabeth Pantley
Safe Co-Sleeping Tips:
If you are co-sleeping or “sharing sleep”, there are ways to do it safely. NEVER sleep with your baby if you are a smoker, if you have taken any medications or if you have consumed any alcohol. Remember it is much safer to be in a firm bed than in a recliner or on a couch where baby can roll into a soft cushion. Exceptionally obese parents should use a sidecar arrangement (crib attached to the side of the bed) rather than having a young infant in the bed with them. Make sure that the headboard and foot-board are tight fitting with the mattress and that there are no spaces a baby can get caught in near the wall or other furniture. As with crib sleep, make sure baby sleeps on his or her back and away from any pillows, loose bedding or heavy blankets. Don’t dress your baby too warmly because body heat will keep them warm and you don’t want them to overheat. Do not stuff too many bodies into a bed with a small baby; a toddler or sibling (or pet) may not be as aware of their surroundings in their sleep. As with crib sleeping, dress your baby in safe sleepwear with no strings or ties to twist around on them at night. If you are also supplementing with formula, consider if co-sleeping is the safest thing for your family.