Thursday, 11 March 2010

Separate beds for babies

Sleeping with a warm baby next to you in bed is divine. When my second son was very small I remember curling up on my side to feed him. When he’d finished he drifted off to sleep with his head nestled between my breasts. As my husband said, that’s every boy’s fantasy. We both slept much better than had he been in a cot.

And yet the only times we shared a bed this way were when I was too shattered to sit up and feed. So why, when we both slept so well, did I decide not to make it a habit?

Firstly, there were downsides to the sleeping arrangements. My baby possetted a lot and it spoils the moment a little if you have to sit up and burp the baby after a feed. It spoils things even more if, when you lie back you get vomit down your cleavage and have to change your clothes and even the bedding. For me, feeding in a chair meant that the sick was much easier to deal with.

I also had experience of a firstborn baby sleeping happily on their own in a cot. And when I say I slept well when my newborn baby was in bed with me, it was only well in comparison to the alternative of an unhappy boy in the cot. It was not well when compared to a full night’s sleep in a bed on my own.

Sleep tends to be better if you are able fall asleep and settle yourself when you come into a light sleep. I decided I’d rather put in the leg work at the beginning to help my baby feel comfortable and safe in his own cot, in order to get better sleep for both of us longer term.

Some people feel it is unfair to expect babies to sleep on their own as we are social animals. I suppose it depends on the way you help your baby to sleep. I’m not in favour of just leaving a baby to cry (although I try not to rush in as they often stop of their own accord). I used the approach in the Baby Whisperer books by Tracey Hogg, who puts a high value on patience, saying we get into ‘accidental parenting’ when we need a quick fix. She suggests staying with the baby initially in order to help them fall asleep on their own eventually.

In the early days (from about one month onwards) I spent hours cuddling, putting in the cot, then taking out and cuddling again. I would intersperse hourly feeds with rocking and holding until he finally dropped off in the cot for long enough for me to leave. With time, I found I could soothe him without picking up - stroking, patting and comforting with my voice.

I normally started after bath time at 6.30pm, and to begin with it would take about three hours. Sometimes I’d give up completely, give baby to my husband and crawl into bed myself. But what kept me going was that each week the time it took got shorter, until we were approaching the magic 7pm bedtime. It took weeks and weeks with child two (and no time at all with the firstborn). I’d like to think neither woke up and felt alone.

Neither am I a fan of having older children sleep regularly in their parents’ bed. I’m too possessive of my sleep, and of the time with my husband. I have tried to approach this in a similar fashion – it may be harder work, but it pays dividends longer term. Instead of having the child in your bed, you go to them. If they are in a cot you sit or lie next to them, if they are in a bed you can get in too. When they are comforted you return to your bed.

But just as I’ve occasionally co-slept with the baby, of course there have been circumstances when we’ve had our older boy in the bed. And as long as I’m not getting jumped on or kicked, I’ve cherished the shared time.

So although I have wonderful memories of sleeping together, I find the nights are longer and the days are easier if we are all refreshed from sleeping in separate beds.

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