Monday, February 13, 2017

Co-sleeping



Since Kabouter's birth, I treasured 2 things most while bonding with my newborn: breastfeeding and co-sleeping. None of them I had planned consciously beforehand but I discovered them in the first days and I valued them quickly essential experiences of early motherhood.  When both had stopped for Kabouter, I really was looking forward to start over again with Beertje.

For Kabouter, there was a fully equipped baby room waiting for him one month ahead of time, but I had no facilities for him to sleep in our room when we came home from the maternity.  I was in the illusion I'd only feed the baby at night during the first week or two....hahahahaaaa what a joke.  On the first day home with Kabouter, Jan and my midwife managed to arrange a co-sleeper however and it had become the most essential piece of furniture for us while the fully equipped baby room remained idle for another 9 months.
For Beertje, there was no fully equipped baby room waiting, but the co-sleeper returned into our bedroom well in time. It felt so unreal but exciting that there would soon be a little tiny baby snoozing in there right next to me again: to see it peacefully asleep, to feel its skin, to hear its breathing right next to my ear.

As of birth, Beertje responded to human touch very strongly. I could feel him relax instantly and doze off in my arms in contrast to when he was put in his crib.  I had learned to value every single moment of sleep with Kabouter so I decided not to waste any minute on battling with Beertje to get him in sleep in his crib if he'd sleep immediately in my arms.  While the official hospital policy on the wall still warned against co-bedding, the nurses (who in 3 years time had clearly become way more breastfeeding minded and lactation educated) were really charmed when they saw us sleeping together.

And so Beertje came home and we were mostly co-bedding in the first weeks/months and only slowly evolved to co-sleeping. Usually Beertje fell asleep next to me and once sound asleep I moved him into his crib next to me.




I was often amazed on how anatomically a baby has a perfect fit, belly to belly, feeding at your breast and drifting off in your armpit. It is impossible to describe the feeling when waking up and staring in the big curious eyes of your smiling baby under your arm. You'd get pregnant just for that moment. It's so great to be able to calm your baby just by the touch of your hand on its cheek when it's sleeping restlessly.  In fact, Beertje had the lovely habit to grab my hand when falling asleep, so we were often laying there, hand in hand next to each other. 





The recommendation has recently changed to sleep with your infant in the same room from 6 months up to 12 months, however when co-bedding it is important to keep a few security measures in place. In the first months (fortunately summer) I had to be careful not to lay with him under the duvet as he's incapable of removing the mass from his body, neither can they regulate their body temperature sufficiently.  So we both slept under a little fleece while my great duvet was tucked against my back until Beertje moved into his co-sleeper.  And obviously it is out of the question to drink alcohol while sleeping with your baby, as your instincts and reflexes that help you to sleep with your infant will be troubled.

The big advantage of co-sleeping and co-bedding from a breastfeeding mother point of view is that you can feed your baby, without getting out of bed. We just rolled from one side to the other and back. And the proximity helps you to react much quicker...and let him latch on before he, yourself or other persons in the room are really quite wide awake and upset.  The closeness + the nightly breastfeeding (and the linked release of oxytocine hormone) also aligns the sleeping cycles so the baby does not seem to wake you up from your deepest sleep. I notice the difference in fatigue the next day if Kabouter or Beertje has woken me up.




Of course it's not all pink clouds.  There's nights I simply couldn't find a comfortable position because Beertje was holding my hand or because his head was leaning on my arm, making my limb go numb entirely etc... If he was sleeping restless, I was awake etc...

And as he grows, that seems to become more frequent. It was our experience with Kabouter that at 9 months he had become too big for the co-sleeper and also too mobile. He had surprised us a couple of times in the middle of the night by standing up at the edge which is too low to protect him in that case (as a co-sleeper is designed to be leveled with the mom's mattress). Rather abruptly we had to decide to move to his own room and while that didn't seem an issue for him, I was mourning his absence. It really took me weeks to get used to.

Since the fall, Beertje also mastered to crawl out of his spot and it was no longer possible to leave him alone in his co-sleeper for a longer period (even when we entered the 4th side to secure him) so napping during day-time was out of the question. As he was turning and twisting more in his sleep he bumped into the sides of the co-sleeper or rolled onto my mattress and woke-up more frequently. However he didn't seem to have the desire to stand-up at night and start a party as long as I was sleeping next to him. However, he did get into the habit of waking up at night and crawling against me as surely he considered sleeping in my arms much more desirable than sleeping in his own spot. We seemed to evolve back from co-sleeping to co-bedding.

At one hand, I was, once again, really not ready to let him go out of my sight and I was secretly thankful for our house renovations that forced us all to sleep in one room with no option to "move him to his own room" at 9 months.  My little Beertje would have to sleep with me longer than his brother had been allowed to do. But on the other hand, we both lacked sleep severely at the turn of the year.  Colds, teething, other virusses ...there was always a reason for a restless night and a restless night translated itself into crawling onto me a dozen times a night, smacking my face with his hand, babbling, crawling himself to the other side, crying when he wasn't comfortable etc... We seemed to be in a constant bed fight with each other, hushing for silence while hoping we did not wake up Jan and Kabouter in the room etc. I walked up and paced the room for hours with him in my arms trying to rock him to sleep. Jan kept saying we had to put him in his own bed and I tried to postpone, because I was convinced that an additional baby bed really wouldn't fit into our room anymore (since Kabouter had already moved in with us as well) but also because I knew it would be the end of the co-sleeping.  Surely the bad nights were just a phase, we'd manage. There were moments we were both sleeping together like little angels. I did not want to miss that yet.

But being member of #teamnosleep and being at work full-time was too hard, so in the end I was relieved to see we managed to fit in another travel baby cot in our bedroom. As I had feared, it seemed the end of co-sleeping since he has not slept in his co-sleeper next to me anymore since ...but as I had hoped, he seems to sleep more stable blocks in his own bed where he has room to turn around without hitting me or the edge.  For a month now he's in his own bed and we still have horrible nights as the virusses, teeth etc continue to visit us.  Compared to his brother, Kabouter was a much easier sleeper.  But now on average it's a bit better manageable. And the transition from the co-sleeper to the travel cot isn't so big as he only moved from my arm to my toes, so to speak. (and sometimes after feeding we still snooze a bit in each other arms early in the morning). My baby is still quite close to me so I'm dealing with the transition much better this time.

Yet I was not ready to pull out the co-sleeper out of our overcrowded bedroom. It's hard to emotionally admit what you rationally know already a long time: I will not sleep with a little infant at my side anymore. After 4 weeks of non-use, it's time to create some moving space again but it's so hard to accept that your children grow up too fast.  And so furniture becomes a symbol of the difficulty of letting go.

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