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  Sleep – Surviving Co-Sleeping
Erica Neser is a UNICEF-trained Breastfeeding Consultant and Infant Massage Instructor with the International Association of Infant Massage. She has a BA degree in Psychology, and is trained as an Aromatherapist, Postnatal Depression Group Leader and Infant CPR Instructor. She has been featured in radio talks, contributes to baby and women’s magazines and often speaks at parenting workshops and to groups of health professionals. She has been working as a breastfeeding consultant and teaching baby massage at two busy baby clinics for ten years. She is the co-author of the IAIM (South Africa) Baby Massage Parents’ Manual. She lives in Stellenbosch with her three young children, who have all learnt to sleep well.

And The Little One Said, “Roll Over!”

Surviving Co-Sleeping

By Erica Neser-Nieuwenhuis, author of Baby Sleep Guide
and mother of three (including a co-sleeping toddler)

“There were ten in the bed
and the little one said,
‘Roll over, roll over!’
So they all rolled over
and the one fell off
there were nine in the bed
and the little one said…”

Picture This:
19h30: Jason (3 months), has fallen asleep and been put into his cot with a quick prayer to the Sleep Fairy. His sister Alexa (2 ½), is in her bed and ready to sleep, after Mum has read her the allotted three stories. Mum lies down next to her on her bed, as she always does, and Alexa drifts easily into sleep. After a while, Mum untangles herself very carefully from Alexa’s embrace and gets up. She is tired and half asleep, but there are dishes to be washed and e-mail to be checked.

22h30: Mum and Dad go to bed. They are both exhausted and the only conversation they feel up to is, “Did you remember to set the alarm clock?”

12h00: Jason wakes for his night feed. Mum brings him into bed with her, this being the easiest for her. He feeds for a short while, but she battles for almost an hour to get him back to sleep. Dad decides to go and sleep in the spare room.

2h00: Alexa has a nightmare and comes padding into the main bedroom. Mum, dragged out of her first deep sleep, tells Alexa to go find Dad in the spare room. Off she goes to sleep with Dad. But Alexa likes to stretch out and soon Dad is on the edge of the bed. He goes to sleep in her bed. Meanwhile, Mum can’t seem to get back to sleep again even though Jason is soundly asleep, so she decides to go and sleep on the living room couch.

5h00: Jason wakes again, howling for Mummy and milk. Mum gives him a feed. He is wide awake. She takes him to Dad, and goes back to bed. Dad somehow gets Jason back to sleep again, still in Alexa’s bed.

6h00: The alarm starts ringing in the main bedroom, but Mum, in her sleep, presses the OFF-button instead of the snooze-button, so it never rings again.

7h30: Alexa wakes in the spare room and gets up to find the rest of her family, who have all overslept (again). Dad leaps out of Alexa’s bed and races off to get ready for work. Jason wakes, wanting another feed. Alexa wants her cereal. Another night has passed and another day begins…

This is a perfectly NORMAL night. It is acceptable for a three-month-old baby to need feeding at 12h00 and again at 5h00. And it is quite normal for toddlers to wake once a night. In fact, this is quite a good night!

Advantages Of Co-Sleeping

- Baby feels warm, safe and loved.

- Parents feel secure knowing baby is right there with them.

- For many children, this is the ONLY place they get any significant stretches of sleep.

- Can deepen the bonding between parents and baby.

- Promotes breastfeeding, increases milk production and inhibits ovulation.

- Co-sleeping decreases the amount of crying at night.

- Less need to get up at night. If baby cries or has kicked off her blanket, she can simply be comforted or tucked in again.

Disadvantages Of Co-Sleeping:

- Parents may not sleep very well with baby sleeping between them – some babies thrash their arms and legs, and make a lot of noise while asleep.

- Parents’ movements may disturb baby during sleep.

- Parents may feel a loss of privacy and intimacy.

- Some babies help themselves to a feed more regularly than mother would prefer. Research has shown that co-sleeping doubles the number of night time feeds, and triples the total duration of nightly breastfeeds.

- Research has also shown that the interval between feeds is approximately 90 minutes, compared to 180 minutes of babies sleeping in a separate room. (Mothering Magazine, No. 114)

- If co-sleeping is practiced as a reaction to a sleep problem, it is generally not such a positive experience for the parents, and baby is more likely to have sleep problems later on (but which came first – the chicken or the egg…?)

- Even staunch family bed supporters admit it works best with only one child at a time. Not so easy with two or more!

Independent sleeping is relatively new in human history, and the family bed was the norm until about 100 years ago, and still is in most parts of the world. Certainly, no prehistoric cave-dwelling parents would have had separate caves for their babies!

It is quite natural for babies to want closeness, day and night. Most of us still prefer to share our bed with a loved one, and the need for physical closeness is never truly outgrown. Having said that, your children will not be in your bed forever. Most children want to have their own beds sooner or later! Studies have shown that bedsharing is not only safe when practiced correctly, but also helps children grow into secure and well-adjusted adults. When co-sleeping is practiced as a parenting choice, it is generally a positive and satisfying experience for both parents.

You should not sleep with your baby on a couch, on a waterbed, if you and/or your partner smoke, if your toddler already shares your bed, if you have been using alcohol or medication that makes you very drowsy.

- Playing “musical beds” is more common than you think, and is considered quite normal.

- Accept that it’s a phase that will eventually pass.

- Don’t worry about what others will think about your sleeping arrangements.

- Babies and children go through phases when co-sleeping works very well, and other phases when it doesn’t seem to work at all. Try to adapt to these phases.

- Get a bigger bed if you can.

- Mattresses on the floor are always a good option.

- You may get more sleep if you all have separate single duvets rather than having three (or more) people trying to sleep under one double duvet.

- Babies and toddlers often sleep at 90o angles to their parents. Most parents just learn to sleep with little feet in their faces.

- Cots that attach snugly to your bed are available and work well for babies who tend to crawl around in their sleep.

- Special baby nests also work well for small babies sleeping in their parents’ bed.

- Try to get your children used to sleeping in their own beds some of the time, and preferably for the first part of the night. This gives you at least some alone-time (or husband-and-wife time).

- If you want to cuddle with hubby (alone!) and your bed is filled with sleeping kids, use one of the other rooms!

It’s not always easy sharing a bed with your children, especially if you are a fulltime mum and need a little bit of space for yourself in the evenings. But there are few things as sublime as waking next to a sleeping child, their little arm curled around yours and their face an expression of contentment. Life is short, and childhood is even shorter!

Erica Neser-Nieuwenhuis is a Breastfeeding Counsellor and Infant Massage Instructor. She has a BA degree in Psychology and is trained as an Aromatherapist and Postnatal Depression Group Leader. She works at a busy baby clinic and teaches weekly baby massage classes to parents. She has three young children (who have all learnt to sleep well).

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Visit us at www.babysleep.co.za

See also:

Sleep - Altered sleep routine

Sleep - Appropriate sleep routines (Jacqui Flint advises)

Sleep - Background noise

Sleep - Dealing with Catnapping (Author Erica Neser advises)

Sleep - Darkened room

Sleep - Night Terrors

Sleep - Reasons for waking

Sleep - Sighing

Sleep - Sleep routines for Baby (Author Erica Neser advises)

Sleep - Toddler Sleep Problems (Author Erica Neser advises)

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