17 April 2008

Conspiracy Theories and Sleeping Arrangements

(Warning: Long rant follows)

Sleep: the default idol of households with newborns.

We covet it. We scheme to get it. We feel that our happiness, perhaps even our very survival, hinges on whether we are able to obtain it in sufficient quantity (well…?).

But there’s a conspiracy afoot that’s determined to make new parents’ lives even more sleepless. Ironically, this campaign masquerades its malevolence under the innocuous slogan of “Back to Sleep.” In the hospital, even if it’s your third baby, you’re told by at least four officious people and/or frightening informational pamphlets that you MUST put Baby to sleep on his back, by himself, in his bare crib.

This sounded just fine to us when we took our firstborn home (except that we couldn’t afford/didn’t have room for a crib, so it was a pack n play). Back, belly—what’s the difference to us, anyway?

The difference—what they don’t tell you—is that babies do not like to sleep on their backs. (At least, none of ours do, nor do most of the babies of our acquaintance. Maybe some of you out there have babies that actually do?)

So you take that first baby home, nurse or shush him to a restful state, lay him gently in bed on his back, and step back to beam tenderly on the angelic sleep of the incarnation of your love.

Which lasts for maybe a minute before he starts screaming.

At first you think it’s a fluke. Maybe it’s just a gas bubble. But with increasing desperation over the next few nights, you realize that the little darling Just. Won’t. Sleep like that. He may weigh less than ten pounds, but you will lose this battle.

And then you realize, who can blame the poor little things, really? After nine months in Mom’s continuous company, in the coziest, snuggest environment possible, we expect them to sleep alone and like helpless upside-down turtles? Is that how it’s supposed to be?

Many people, including but certainly not limited to the inevitable Dr. Sears, recommend “sleep-sharing”—just letting the kid move into your bed. I will admit that much about this approach, including his argument that it might even reduce SIDS risk, is appealing. And it’s kind of our default setting, at least for chunks of the night, when I fall asleep while nursing Baby in bed and everyone settles cozily in together, finally piecing some sleep together.

But then there’s the American Academy of Pediatrics with its insistence on the “supine position” and “the hazards of adults sleeping with an infant in the same bed.” Sigh.

I must also confess here that with Babies 1 and 2, we finally gave up, and let them sleep on their bellies. (And I have so many other tired parents confess to this as well that it makes me wonder whether any babies really are sleeping on their backs?) We’re still making a valiant fight of it with Baby 3—swaddling helps, and so does wedging him into one of those sleep positioners, and sometimes angling him more on his side. But he’s already taken a couple (supervised) naps on his belly, too, and I wonder whether we’re eventually going to tire of the fight and just let him be a belly sleeper too, though doing that really does scare me, so well have I absorbed the messages of those frightening brochures. Anecdotally, we know of only one couple who has lost a baby to SIDS—and he was sleeping on his back.

This is a source of angst for me (if you’re still actually reading at this point, you may have guessed that by now). I want my babies to be safe, healthy, and well-adjusted. I want everyone to get reasonable quantities of sleep. And after spending every day with the little darling more or less attached to my person, I’m ready not to have a baby in bed with us all night, too. (Dr. Sears assures us that babies will eventually be ready to sleep on their own, so Mom and Dad will have the bed to themselves again…he suggests two years as an average. Uh, that really just doesn’t work for me.) Incompatible goals?

At least make me feel better by telling me that someone else has struggled with this too. Misery, company, and all that. :O


Kelly said...

Again, no practical experience here, but the hard-core co-sleeping thing kind of wigs me out. I know that some people really get into it and have their toddlers and infants in bed with them at the same time. But alas, I do like my personal space.

I also agree with much of Dr. Sears' reasoning and for that reason have registered for a co-sleeper. It is a modified bassinet that sidecars to mom and dad's bed. Baby is supposed to stay safely in his own space, without the danger of mom or dad accidentally rolling over on him. Baby is still conveniently accessible for nursing and close to mom. Seems to be the best of both worlds. I can't imagine having to get up and go to the other room every time baby wakes. Much easier to slide him over and take care of business without me stumbling about in a sleep-deprived stupor. Co-sleepers (Arm's Reach is the brand name I believe) are available at BRU, Target, and Wal-mart, although the latter might be only online. You can also find gently used ones on Ebay and Craigslist. The consensus on one of the boards I frequent is that most people use the co-sleeper for the first 5 - 6 months, and then transition baby when the night wakings start to decrease.

As far as the back/stomach controversy, I have no idea. I can say that I am a bit unsettled at the loss of sleep I know is coming. The only good thing is that I will not have to worry about getting up for and going back to work!

Kelly said...

Oh and FWIW, I tend to take most of what the AAP says with a grain of salt. One grandmother is worth 5 pediatricians, or something like that.

Lucy said...

I just recently found your blog and have to say you are a bright light in my otherwise sleep deprived world. I have an 8 wk old and so feel your pain. This child, my third, is the first to be happy on her back. The first two needed swaddled and propped (read: wedged with those dangerous things called blankets that are warned against by all the officious people) on their sides. I am like you in that I need some time to not be touch by little people. It doesn't happen during the day, in the bathroom or really anytime but when everyone is asleep - thus why I can't quite become a co-sleeping mommy.

Anne said...

I have been a co-sleeper mostly because I can't stay awake for all the night nursing. But I transition them to the crib next to my bed for at least 1/2 the night once they are asleep before I'm ready for bed. The crib is usually moved into a sibling's room by 1 yr. Or when they wake up just because i've walked into the room:)
When #1 was born my doctors hadn't overly cautioned us about "back to sleep". I was aware of this massive campaign, but apparently my brain had decided that this info should not stick. As I would change his pamperss and see the cute sheep and clouds and moons on the front along with the words "back to sleep" I just thought, yes, it is time to go back to sleep! heehee, I felt kind of silly when i actually figured out what it meant:)

Rebekah said...

I am that person in The Baby Book who says she's got four kids and needs a break from them at night. Of course, I've felt this way since we've only had one kid. I HATE having a baby in bed with me; it just makes me too nervous. I get better sleep if I sit up half the night and get a few hours alone.

I haven't gotten so desperate as to cave on the back thing, although our older son slept on his belly as soon as he figured out how to roll onto it (no amount of flipping could fool him). And I'll never forget the time our oldest, who was a terrible sleeper, fell asleep almost instantaneously when I put her down on her belly because I wanted a picture of her that way. I watched anxiously for the first signs of death for the entire duration of the nap. (And got a cute picture.)

utahrainbow said...

You have company! I have struggled with this same thing with all four children. The first two were side sleepers, and the last two I've let be on their backs now and then. Shhh, don't tell anyone! It has not been with confidence as I would still worry about it. Especially my mother-guilt imagining if the child did succumb to SIDS while being on her belly. Oh, the shame that would come with that!

Ultimately, I am a cobbler. A rebel to both "sleeping philosophies". Baby starts out in the crib, then (mostly because I'm so tired & lazy too) with me. We adjust this situation as it annoys hubby or myself overly. I think babies are hardwired to be close to mom, and some are more flexible about this than others. I figure whatever you can tolerate and gets you the most sleep works!

Perspective is good too. Most grandmas will tell you that they used to TELL you to put baby on her tummy. I can't help but wonder if it is mostly liability rather than actual risk. I also think it too bad that there may be many new moms out there that are at their wits end and tired, but feel that if they put baby to sleep in the wrong way or sleep with him, that she'll kill the child. This is the sort of crushing misplaced guilt that'll turn the first year of motherhood into a dark, scary experience.

utahrainbow said...

perhaps I should have put a disclaimer on that comment :)

Reb. Mary said...

Lucy--glad you found us :)

Sounds like we're all practical moms here--do what works, within reasonable limits, so that everyone is comfy and gets some sleep! A lot of swaddling and propping goes on around here too. And yeah, if Baby is on his belly, he may be sleeping better, but I'm sure not--that whole mother-guilt-paranoia thing, to be sure. We're not giving up on the back thing just yet.

I've considered a co-sleeper before but since one of my main problems is that my sorry self can't stay awake long enough for the baby to finish nursing (which is why I'm afraid to sit up to nurse--don't want to drop him!), I don't know if it would help me, though it certainly has its appeal. The cradle is currently less than a foot from the bed, and if I can't get him back into that, I don't know if I'd be awake to slide him back into co-sleeper anyway. And so we usually end up spending about half the night together. Well, the dude isn't even a month old yet. We've got time to work on it.

Reb. Mary said...

Oh, and Kelly--the loss of sleep thing--no doubt about it, the first baby is a serious shock to the system. But you make it through, and then strangely enough, it's easier with subsequent kids. Not that you get any more sleep--I guess we just get combat-hardened. Those battle scars Rebekah wrote about really do reflect our hardiness :)

Sandra Ostapowich said...

I not only allowed my son to belly-sleep (usually on MY belly at night - I soooooooo miss those days!). When he would get a cold and be all snotty, I his carseat carrier in the crib and propped him up "backwards" in it so he could sleep comfortably and still breathe.

Rebekah said...

Good point on belly to belly, Sandra--that's one I've used more than a few times and haven't felt guilty about. I have a big recliner in the baby's room and it beats a rocker any day. If we're having a rough night, I put down the back and get some sleep myself. I haven't dropped one yet!

Angelika said...

Our 1st baby was a nightmare. Not that I wasn't totally in love with the little guy but I never thought it would be so hard to be a mom. He would not sleep EVER unless he was nursing or being held... Day OR night! Putting him down on his back woke him instantly. Putting him on his side or tummy just didn't occur to me. I spent my second pregnancy terrified of how I would cope with another baby AND a toddler!

A friend gave me a book called "Secrets of the Baby Whisperer" by Tracy Hogg. Have any of you read it? It's been a few years since I read it form cover to cover so I don't remember alot of it but the one thing that stood out to me was the method she used called "E.A.S.Y." - Eat, Activity, Sleep, Your time. The theory behind it is that babies like to know what to expect next. It really has worked very well for me with my last 3 munchkins. I feed them but not nurse them to sleep, then I burp them and change their diaper (activity), and then I lay them down when they seem tried and they go off to sleep by themselves. It usually took about 3-6 weeks before this routine was down and it obviously wasn't as easy as it sounds. I often had to pick them back up and rock them a bit or stroke their back for a while, but the idea is to lay them down before they are completely asleep so that they learn to fall asleep by themselves. After using that method for the first few months it was very easy to get my babies down for a nap. I just lay them down when they are tired and they drifted off. I'm so glad I read that book. It's like night and day between our first and our last three babies. I highly recommend it. It has tones of other great info that to most of us might be common sense but we just don't think of at 3:00 am while holding a screaming baby.

On the "back sleeping only" thing....
After never putting our first on his tummy I did prop our second on her side with a blanket. When she was just a week old our midwife came to visit (we were in England at the time and they do that over there). She showed up earlier then I expected and I still had the baby on her SIDE in the bassinet. I was ready to get a talking to from the midwife because just a few days earlier she had given me the routine speech on how babies should be on their backs only. To my surprise she said "mom's often know what's best and if that is how she likes to sleep then that's just fine. My babies slept on their sides too, but don't tell anyone I said that." Well there I had it!! And from then on non of my kids slept on their backs if they didn't want to.

We do co-sleep (sort-of) because I bring them into our bed to breastfeed and I fall asleep while nursing (usually instantly). I sometimes wake up and don't remember how they got there which is a bit scary. But whenever that happens I wake up kind of stiff from laying real still or not turning over all night, so I must subconsciously know that they are next to me.

P.S. Love this blog. Thanks for all the info and for keeping it real!

Reb. Mary said...

Belly to belly sleeping...that is nice bonding time, especially when they're so tiny.

And I've read, and believe, that the instinctive startle reaction upon falling asleep or waking up is for the arms to clasp inward rather than fling outward, which is good news for a drowsy mom holding a baby.

BabyOne actually spent the few sleeping moments of his first six weeks in his carseat--we'd lift it into his pack n play so we actually felt like we were putting him to bed (not that it ever lasted long).

Reb. Mary said...

Angelika, thanks for stopping by! I haven't read the Baby Whisperer book but that E.A.S.Y. strategy sounds a lot like the only thing that ever worked for us from the infamous "Baby Wise" (have you read that one?). The idea of Baby eating, then having wake time, then nap time, makes lots of sense to me and has helped organize the kids' sleep schedules, plus help them learn to fall asleep better on their own. (Not so much with our latest baby, but we're working on it!)

I can totally identify with that feeling of waking up and thinking, "Who is this small person in my bed, how did he get here, and how long has he been here?! And more importantly, how long has it been since I changed his diaper and can I get away with not doing that right now?"

Our baby's doc has also given a sort of unofficial ok to the side propping and even to belly napping, so long as he's checked on frequently if on his belly. Which makes me think that HER kids slept on their bellies but she just can't ok it outright for liability reasons! It's a conspiracy, I'm telling you! Well, maybe I'm just sleep deprived :)

Angelika said...

"Baby Wise"... No haven't read it. They sound similar. Anything that helps us go a little less crazy is a good thing!!! LOL

Re: "And more importantly, how long has it been since I changed his diaper and can I get away with not doing that right now?"
Exactly!! My hubby gets grossed out when I stick my finger in a diaper to judge if I really need to get out of bed or can it wait a few more hours. "Yuck, who does THAT!!" are his exact words. Please tell me I'm not the only one who sticks her finger in a diaper.

Reb. Mary said...

One of the things I'm lovin' about bloggin' is knowing that I'm not alone...I usually just kind of poke the outside of the diaper to test for squishiness, but if I go cloth someday, I'll probably be sending a finger in there too...anything for a few more minutes of sleep :) I'm quite sure you're not the only one!

Pam & Bill said...

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I did have a baby die of SIDS. My 2nd daughter, Becky. She was on her tummy.

Knowing what I know now, I would NEVER take the risk. Talk about sleep deprived - as a new parent, it would be about 6 months of reduced sleep - as a grieving parent, I'm not sure that I'll ever sleep through the night again.

Why take the chance? As parents, don't we always say "I'd do anything for my baby." Do we really mean - except give up a few months of sleep?

Do you imagine that you'll stop using a car seat when baby throws a fit when he or she is put into it? or perhaps give in on the bike helmet because your child doesn't like it?

Of course, you're the parent, you get to chose. I wish I could chose differently.

Rebekah said...

Pam and Bill, how awful for you. Thank you for sharing your story. Strange how anecdotal evidence can resonate with us so much more strongly than the statistics. May our Lord comfort you in your mourning.

Reb. Mary said...

Pam and Bill, thanks for posting. I can only echo Rebekah: may you find comfort in God's person and promises as you mourn your heartwrenching loss.

Gauntlets said...

Sorry to be so late here . . .

Pam and Bill, I'm so sorry for your loss. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Reb. Mary: I sleep with my babies. I'm too terrified to leave a newborn alone in a big crib and I hate the way the little bassinet wants to smother him. Here's how it works: I wedge myself in a terribly uncomfortable position, make sure there's a light shining in my face, and nestle Baby's back into my belly so his face is sure to get the air. Then I wake up every 15 minutes or so to make sure he's still alive. This goes on until Baby learns to roll over on his own. Then I put him in his crib to sleep but continue waking up every 15 minutes to make sure he's still alive.

It's pretty much the most wonderful thing ever.

Now, doesn't that explain a lot? ;)