(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