January 08, 2007

Confidential to Katy C.

The other day Katy spied Elliot’s bassinet, still in our room, and asked me if we liked having him sleeping there: there, as I said, still in our room. And I said, blithely: O yes! Now more than ever!

Well. Last night we had a wee bit of a tiresome night, which prompts me to qualify my response a little bit.

The question of “where shall my child sleep?” is a weighty one, in these days where “attachment parenting” battles moralistically against other parenting strategies (…uh, “distance parenting?”) in the hearts and mind of the progressive new parent. There’s a big push to have bebes sleep not only in your room but also in your bed, at the same time that there are also folk who think that “co-sleeping,” as it’s called, is about the worst thing you can do for your bebe. This argument has been mentioned right here, in the entries of our very own blog.

What are my thoughts? I have a lot of them. The first week Elliot was home I wanted him as close as possible, because I would often become convinced that the baby surely had stopped breathing (because coming convinced of your child’s non-breathing is something that happens to new mothers) and it was just easiest to have him close enough to check on without getting out of bed.

Also, I was pretty sold on the co-sleeping thing. I’d sort of assumed that if I wanted my dog in the bed (and I do) that I’d also want the baby there. I just really think that mammals are pack animals, and we like to snuggle, and that it’s reasonable, then, to want to sleep together. It’s especially reasonable, I thought, if sleeping with you makes the baby sleep better…and plus, how nice just to nurse without getting out of bed! And also, it seems that developmentally it really makes no difference to the baby where they sleep the first three months—not many people any more think you can develop “bad” sleep habits that early.

But it didn’t quite work that way. First of all, babies in the bed pretty much need to be really protected, so unless you have a co-sleeper or some other contraption (there are several), the baby needs to sleep between the two parents, which means that the parents themselves cannot snuggle. And who wants that? And also, even if the baby sleeps better in bed, they might still whine and complain and be loud, and then either both parents are going to be up all night or someone needs to go sleep on the couch. Which sucks. Of course, some parents just sort of plan on sleeping apart for the first while…but I think that sucks too. And the big draw of co-sleeping-- the nursing in bed part—didn’t work, because neither he nor I were very good at breastfeeding for quite awhile, and nursing in bed is sort of special advanced nursing and it hurts if you don’t do it right.

So: no co-sleeping for us.

But we did want him close enough so that I could hear him quickly when he woke up, to nurse him before he got really awake and mad. And we do want him to be pretty near us in our mammal pack. And (and this is key) even on the nights when Elliot wakes up more often, he almost always goes immediately back to sleep after nursing.

So this is why Elliot sleeps in our room: it works well for us. Of course, last night Elliot didn’t go back to sleep after nursing, and instead laid in bed entertaining himself by loudly sucking on his fists until both Brandon and I were wide wide awake. Which made me realize how fragile our little system is, and how, Katy, I should send you some more thoughts on this issue.

Oh, and another thing: Elliot is now well past the three month marker, so we have to be a little more careful about his developing sleep habits. In fact, I would almost send him off to his own room, except that it seems so lonely down there at the other end of the hallway. Also, now that he should really be venturing off on his own, he’s suddenly become very adept and nursing in bed, and when he wakes me up to nurse it is so very nice to be able to get him from his bed into my bed for a quick snack which I can more or less sleep through…I put him back in the bassinet after he’s done, but even so, it’s so much more restful for me.*

So anyway…our system evolves, as Elliot does. Which really, I guess, is the best thing I can say: you have to figure out what works best for you, rather than following some particular philosophy. You can think about your values: is your baby’s independence the most important thing? Is it your time alone with your partner? Is it insuring that your baby always feels you as a near, loving presence? And then you can think about how all those values pretty much go out the window in the middle of the night when you are exhausted and just trying to figure out what you can stand. And you can also remember—I really try and remember—that there are many many nights with your ever-changing child, and that you can always try something new tomorrow.


*I should say that although Elliot doesn't always sleep through the night, he's consistently making progress, sleeping for longer and longer chunks all the time. So I don't feel that I'm cultivating a bad habit or indulging him by nursing him in the night.**

**I had to end that little footnote because I am paranoid that someone will read of me nursing at night and say: see! If you didn't make it so nice to wake up the night, Elliot wouldn't do it! Which is just the teeniest tiniest example of how paranoid parenting makes you. Whew.

No comments: