Friday, April 25, 2008

Out of my bedroom

Pierre Elliot Trudeau famously once said that the state did belong in the bedrooms of the nation. I’m increasingly beginning to believe that the medical establishment ought to stay out of them as well, at least as relates to how young families divide their sleeping quarters and activities.

Sleep (or lack of it) is the perennial topic of conversation among new mothers – it arises invariably and, like so many parenting topics, there are camps and there is limited overlap between them.

In broad strokes, the cry-it-out camp believes that infants/young children can be trained to sleep alone for long periods and teaching this is a parent’s duty. The family bed camp believes that infants/young children develop nighttime independence at their own pace and that parents should respond to their children’s needs whether the hour is reasonable or not. There are experts who claim to be somewhere in the middle, but frankly, either you think it’s ok to let a baby cry himself to sleep or you don’t and there’s not a lot of gray.

Three guesses which camp I fall into and the first two don’t count… Yes, our king-size bed is maxed out between the two of us, Thomas and sometimes Isabelle. Yes, there are times when Dan or I are hobbled because we spent the night with a strategically placed little foot between our ribs. For us, this is the way to maximize the total amount of sleep that we all get and still ensure that everyone’s needs are being met.

Bed-sharing isn’t necessary, but it’s a survival strategy – I don’t do sleep-deprivation gracefully. I recall standing in the hallway to our room when Isabelle was a few weeks old, asking Dan where he put the baby as she lay cradled in my arms. That was the night she came into our bed - until she set up shop in her big girl bed down the hall when she was a bit past two. This was around the same time she weaned

This is the part that frustrates me about the experts who suggest that co-sleeping is taboo and that babies should learn to self-soothe. It is entirely unreasonable to suggest that a parent (whether they are working outside the home or not) should be up and down the hall multiple times per night. The risk of falling asleep with baby in a chair or tripping on the stairs in exhaustion is obvious to anyone who has ever felt that kind of exhaustion.

It is also unreasonable to suggest that every baby is able to take the necessary nutrition in their waking hours and does not “need” to eat. I’ve now nursed two children into their second year and can tell you unequivocally that their nighttime nursing sessions are when their intake is highest. If the goal is to continue nursing until age 2 or beyond, as the evidence would suggest is best for mom and baby, health-care practitioners need to start recognizing that night nursing can be key to maintaining nursing in the busy toddler and stop treating normal nightwaking as a “sleep disorder”.

Do you have strategies for dealing with nighttime parenting?

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