Sunday, September 15, 2013

WIWS and I Co-Sleep and I'm Not Sleep-Deprived.

Kendra over at Catholic All Year has a blog post about baby sleep and what she does to get her babies to sleep. It's a very interesting post (as all of Kendra's posts are), and the comments are even more interesting. While Kendra was very much do whatever works for you, every family is different, many of the commentators seemed to say that babies needed to be trained to sleep and before employing CIO (cry-it-out), everyone was sleep-deprived and miserable and afterwards, everyone was happy and well rested.  And, I'm sure that is true for them.  But, it's not true for me. 

I've gotten to a point in my parenting where I can respect that different things work for different families.  I'm not judging those who do CIO.  I totally respect that most parents really are parenting the best they can and everyone does things differently.  I realize that co-sleeping isn't for everyone..that it doesn't work for some families.  And, that's okay.  Those families need to do what works for them. 

However I did want to address the idea that babies need to be taught to sleep alone for healthy sleep habits and that co-sleeping leads to unhealthy sleep habits and sleep-deprived mothers and babies.  

With all my babies, we've co-slept from day one.  They've always nursed to fall asleep unless they fell asleep in the stroller, the sling or the car. 

Co-sleeping and night-nursing is easy for me.  It doesn't disturb my sleep and I sleep just fine with a baby in bed with me, and even nursing in the middle of the night does not disturb me because I don't have to get up. I barely even have to roll over.

By 1 week, my babies have all had their days/night straight and would (98% of the time) sleep all night, with only waking up to nurse...but no fussy/awake periods during the night.  So, I never actually got up at night (except to change a poopy diaper and that all stopped by 3-4 weeks of age or so).

By 3-6 months, they would reliably give a solid 2 hour stretch of sleeping alone, in the beginning of the night and I could easily nurse them to sleep and then lay them down and they'd be good for about 2 hours while I did my own thing.

By 6-10 months, I could nurse them to sleep and easily lay them down for naps and they would nap alone (for some reason napping was harder to get them to do alone).

Here's proof..  Baby napping alone!  7 months ago this would have been it's a daily occurrence.  And, now you can also see what Elsa wore Sunday. 

By a year, they were down to nursing only once or twice in the middle of the night. Since we're still co-sleeping, this nursing is not disruptive to me in the least.  I simply latch them on and go right back to sleep. 

Sometime around age 2-2 1/2 I night-weaned them completely, although they would continue to nurse to fall asleep but not nurse at all during the night.  Depending on the child, this was easier or harder, but with all the kids, it was fairly painless.  

One thing I learned from night-weaning, is that even at age 2, some of my kids were legitimately thirsty in the middle of the night and that is why they wanted to nurse.  Once I started keeping a sippy- cup of water in the bedroom to offer instead of nursing, night-weaning went fairly smoothly.   Heck, sometimes, I still wake up thirsty and need a drink of water to go back to sleep.

Sometime around age 2.5-3.5 they stopped nursing to sleep.  They just did this all on their own.  I didn't have to teach them or anything, they just naturally started pulling off from nursing before being completely asleep and then falling asleep on their own.    I know some people will think aaaack, you were still nursing your 2-year or 3-year old to sleep, but really nursing them to sleep is EASIER than reading stories or singing songs or doing whatever bedtime routine other people do with their kids.   It only takes about 10 minutes at that age, and is a more sure-fire way of getting them to sleep than stories and singing or whatnot.   And they all naturally gave it up...on their own. And, none of them got cavities from it either.

 And, if I wasn't home to put them to sleep, they fell asleep just fine with Daddy, so it wasn't like I had to be there all the time.  It's just that most of the time I was, so it was easy enough to nurse to sleep.  

Also, around age 3, they all moved to their own bed in another room. 

And, between 3 or 3 1/2, they all weaned totally and completely..and have slept on their own, in their own bed, ever since.  They all have healthy sleep habits, fall asleep easily and for the most part sleep all night. We don't have elaborate bedtime routines...or kids stalling bedtime or kids getting out of bed repeatably.  From age 3-4, some of them would come into my bed in the middle of the night a few times a week, and I was fine with that.  By age 4, they pretty much all stopped doing that and stayed in their own bed all night. 

There has been a natural progression of increasingly independent sleep that happened all by itself without sleep training. 

For babies grow up we've learned to our sorrow
So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep,
I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.  
That line from that classic poem is so true.  Babies grow up.  They all grow up.  They all wean. They all learn to fall asleep on their own. They stop needing to be rocked (or nursed).  They become easier to put down asleep as their sleep pattern shifts from a newborn pattern to an adult pattern.*  They all start sleeping through the night. Some earlier than others..but it DOES happen.   Sometimes it feels like society is pushing babies and toddlers more and more towards independence earlier and earlier.  We just joined a new coop and Elsa is in the nursery. I'm only assigned to be in the nursery with her the last class...the first class I have "off" to socialize in the parent's lounge and the 2nd class I'm expected to help out in another class.  Last week was our first day there, and not surprisingly at all, Elsa protested rather strongly if I tried to leave her alone in the nursery with total and complete strangers.  She was terrified.  So, I didn't leave her.  She's just a baby.  I put her on my back in the Beco and took her with me to help out in the class I was assigned to help out.  And, she was fine..she fell asleep back there.  And, I was fine with her on my back.  The other mothers in the nursery were oh, it's like a rip it off and it hurts and they cry, but then they get used to it and they stop crying. And, maybe that's true..but I wasn't going to leave her in there crying and alone with unfamiliar people. She's just a baby.  I don't judge others who do that..but I'm not going to.  Just because she can't be left at 12-months with total strangers doesn't mean she won't happily go into a preschool class at age 3 or a kindergarten class at age 5.   They all grow up. I don't need to force separation at age 1, to make it possible at age 3 or age 4.

Likewise I don't need to force a baby to sleep alone at 6 months, to ensure that they're sleeping alone when they're three or that they have healthy sleep habits.  It just happens..they just naturally grow up and become less needy and more independent.
I can honestly say that I've never felt sleep-deprived from my babies nursing in the middle of the night.  The only times I have felt sleep deprived are when I stayed up too late, or  I was up with someone who was sick or injured.   But, never just from my babies waking up to nurse.  I honestly can't relate to moms talking about those sleep-deprived first few months, because I'm wasn't sleep-deprived.  I sleep, baby sleeps, we all sleep together and it works for us.

And, my babies have never seemed sleep-deprived or been cranky from nursing at night or nursing to sleep.  The only time they've been cranky and sleep deprived is when they haven't napped enough.  And, that's not the fault of co-sleeping or nursing to sleep...that's the fault of us having places to go and people to see and things to do and simply not being home during nap, so they had cat naps in the car, or fell asleep in the sling at the grocery store or were pulled out of bed and thrown into the car to rush off to piano lessons.

On the flip side though, the advantage of nursing to sleep is that my babies are very adaptable and will nap anywhere.  So, a 1-year old who sleeps all through Mass...SWEET!

The other advantage is that co-sleeping and night-nursing delays the onset of the return of fertility...and provides a form of "natural child spacing".   My children are all spaced fairly far apart, and this form of co-sleeping/breastfeeding is a large reason why. Now, some people may not care about that, or may want closely spaced children (and that's great). But for those who do, or who are unsure about NFP...ecological breastfeeding/co-sleeping/continued nursing at night can work and provide a natural form of child-spacing.  Of course there are exceptions..there are always exceptions...but it totally does work for me. 

And, I as I said earlier...I respect the fact that everyone parents differently and that every family does what works from them.   I really believe that.  Co-sleeping doesn't work for everyone.  My purpose in writing this post is to show that babies and toddlers can naturally learn healthy sleep habits and independent sleep in their own time without being "trained" into it.  You don't HAVE to teach a baby how to sleep alone or how to fall asleep alone.  They WILL figure it their own time.

*Dr. Sears talks about this.  When babies are first born, they fall asleep asleep differently than adults.  They go from awake to light/REM sleep and then into deep sleep, which is why it's so hard to put a newborn baby down when they first fall asleep.  They don't fall straight into deep sleep the way an older baby or an adult does. As they get older, this gradually shifts and they start to fall asleep and enter deep sleep earlier and faster (similar to the way an older child falls asleep and at that point, they become much easier to lay down if they fall asleep nursing or being rocked).   I can always tell when Elsa is ready to be put down because her head rolls back in my arms...the rolling head is a sure sign of deep sleep. 

And, since it just happens to be Sunday, I'm linking up with Fine Linen and Purple for What I Wore Sunday...because that's what I do .  I just can't let a Sunday go by without letting you all know what I wore (because I'm sure you all just care so much..or not).

The photographer wanted to stage the picture this way. 
You've seen all these pieces before.  Everything is second hand...and that black cloth peaking out of the top of my shirt...that's actually a belly band worn..not-on-the-belly.  But, works. 
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  1. Amelia, thanks for writing this. The way your babies sleep and transition sounds lovely. I have a similar experience as you describe through 6-9 months, but then my babies all go kind of beserk. Perhaps it's because they have me as a mother. And MY babies are mostly 19 months - 2 yrs apart, which lines up exactly with when they get moved. But, I haven't minded that either. We like to keep it crazy.

  2. Love this! I can't imagine what an angry zombie I would be if it weren't for co-sleeping - we've done it to a certain extent with all the kids, and while it hasn't helped space kids as far apart as yours, it has definitely helped us get more sleep! We tried letting John Paul cry it out ONCE when he was little (in a tiny apartment, so we could hear him the whooooole time), and I could never do it again! Although I'll admit I'm sorely tempted with the twins, particularly since someone seems to be teething ALL the time these days and it's really hard to co-sleep with both of them now that they're bigger! We've been working on the crib transition, so we'll see how that goes...

    Anyway, I don't know how it has never occurred to me to wear my belly bands like that! Definitely going to find them and experiment...

  3. Thanks for writing this.

    We go through stages...sometimes, co-sleeping is working SO GREAT OMGEE WHY DOESN'T EVERYONE COSLEEP and then other times I am like, THIS IS SO DUMB THIS BABY IS GOING INTO THE CRIB RIGHT NOW I AM A ZOMBIE I HATE EVERYONE. So I am not a poster child for...anything.

    On one hand, I really wonder if I have created horrific habits for Zuzu. She really is not the best sleeper. I'm talking...if she does 45 a stretch for naps, I'm pretty happy. Then I go in, nurse her back, she'll do another 45-60 min. Sometimes she's up every 20 min. 10 min. 5 min. I pretty much give up at that point and hang out in bed with her while she sleeps. At night, I really can only judge by how I feel - if well rested, she must not have gotten up much (1-2 times??), if I feel crappy, she must've been up a lot. I don't keep track.

    But really, what it comes down to, is I can't do CIO. Not in any form, not at all. It feels unnatural, dangerous, crazy, wrong. And I'm lucky, at this point I don't have to - I'm not crazy sleep-deprived, I don't hate cosleeping every night, Zuz and I both manage to get the sleep we need on average. Even her sleeping in another room would feel odd at this point. I like being able to check on her in the night, cuddle her through a nightmare; I adore watching her wake up or nursing her to sleep during our nightly rosary.

    I wanted our babies closer together - I was hoping to be pregnant by now - but I'm not going to wean her if she's not ready, so it looks like they'll be a bit more spaced out, unfortunately. Adopt every other baby, maybe?? ;)

  4. Amelia, I've been meaning to tell you how much I appreciate your NFP and ecological breastfeeding posts. And I really like this one too. We did CIO with both girls. I feel the thing about CIO no one tells you is that you have to do it over and over again. Once to get them to go to sleep by themselves, and again to get them to stop waking up during the night, and then again to get them back to sleeping through the night after their schedule has been disrupted from teething or illness. (They always wake up during the night while they're teething or ill; and we get up with them then.)

    By the time they were maybe 6-9 months old, I was getting up, nursing them, lying them back in the crib and going back to sleep. I was so exhausted that I wanted to co-sleep, but by that point they were so used to sleeping in their cribs that they wouldn't fall asleep in our bed.

    When/if we have another, I'm going to give co-sleeping and ecological breastfeeding a try. It didn't appeal to me bf (esp the dogmatic way it was presented in the earlier CCL NFP books) and didn't seem like a good fit. But the sleeping situation with both my babies was hell. So I'm ready to try something new.

    A big problem for me was naps. My girls might have drifted to sleep while nursing/being held, but they usually woke up when I laid them down. Or just slept for 10 min or so. Drove me crazy. Eventually I just made them cry it out for naps b/c nothing else worked. Esp with Girl2. If she didn't wake up on her own, her noisy big sister would. How did you nurse yours to sleep for naps w/o the older ones bothering you? Maybe this is a post in itself.

  5. Great thoughts! I've done both and with my current one, kind of a combination. My hubby doesn't sleep well with our 9mth old in bed, so we have a pack and play in the room with us. But, I have noticed a much better sleep pattern with this little one that I have nursed on demand from the beginning and he slept with me for the first two months and then in a co-sleeper up until about six months and not in the pack and play. I keep telling hubby we just need to get a king size bed and everything would be great!

  6. I wish nursing on demand would stop my cycles from returning...but I guess I'm genetically disposed to getting my cycle back early (like my mom and sisters too). Now I know I will get them back early because I have to work and pump, but even when I was at home nursing round the clock, it didn't work for us. I can't co-sleep only because I'm a terrible sleeper as it is, but we don't do CIO because I can't stand the thought of my babies crying for me and just ignoring them. So we've found a happy middle ground where the babies sleep in their own space, but we are close by to comfort them. It is so interesting to see how different families operate!

  7. Love this, Amelia! My experience is very similar to yours. After having tried different things with the older ones , I through all suggestions out the window and just did what I felt came naturally to me and what worked for the baby. I think with my last three babies I never, ever got out of bed with them on the night other than to change diapers! What a huge blessing! All of my kids have very healthy sleep habits and have all slept independently by about three, and before that, once I put them to sleep, they haven't needed me to sleep next to them. I think it is also a comforting thing for younger children in large families who may not have the amount of individual alone time that the first children had.

  8. I'm a first time vistitor to your blog so hi! Anyway I have done the CIO method with my twins and had no problem but with my third baby she absolutely refused and I did not think it was appropriate to let her cry and cry. I really think she would have cried for hours if we let her. So I would still get up in the middle of the night with her. Now we have our fourth baby who I am able to successfully nurse for the first time. We co-sleep with him and I nurse him while laying down and it makes a huge difference in my sleep. Plus I find that he falls asleep easily. However I don't think we will continue to co-sleep after six months. We will do a limited CIO but not go crazy!

    I completely agree that our culture seems to force kids to grow up too fast. I wear all my babies and keep them close. I am fully aware that one day they won't be little anymore and just thinking about it makes new sad. We all know that growing up is inevitable but all the more reason to snuggle them a little closer while we still can.

  9. Interesting thoughts. I really think it comes down to the temperament of the baby. I would let my first cry in her crib for five mins max. She adapted easily to sleeping through the night by herself. My second was similar but took a bit longer to sleep through the night. My third is co-sleeping at 13 months old and I feel more drained than I ever did with my first two. I don't regret extended nursing with him but I'll be honest and say it is draining!
    One is obviously not better than the other. If you are doing whatever you do out of love (letting them sleep on their own at an early age or co-sleep until they are older)then you can't loose. In our house each child has been treated differently based on living situations and what my husband and I feel they need. CIO is great if you don't go extreme. Co-sleeping is great but in my situation has been extremely draining. I'll be honest...I want my bed back :)


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