Monday, July 1, 2013

Where Should Your Baby Sleep?

Welcome to the Parenting Blog Carnival: Around the World in Six Weeks!

What can we learn from parents around the world and how they raise their children?

When we first heard about Christine Gross-Loh's new book, Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, we were intrigued. Gross-Loh addresses many of the tough questions of parenting: Where should kids sleep? What should they eat? How do we raise our children to be happy, successful and kind?

Sarah from Left Brain Buddha, Jessica from School of Smock and I will be writing about our own experiences with these topics as parents, as well as our reactions to the book.

We'll tackle many provocative topics raised by the book. We invite you to join us in the coming weeks. Contact any of us -- or comment on a post -- and tell us if you're interested in linking up with us for any (or all) of the upcoming blog posts. {We're calling it a "blog carnival" because blog carnivals are collections of blog posts, written by different bloggers, all focused on the same topic.}

Here are the questions we'll be exploring in the Parenting Carnival:
1) How should we teach our kids to eat?
2) Is too much self-esteem harmful to kids?
3) Do American kids have too much academic pressure? Or not enough?
4) How do we raise kids with good character?
5) How do we raise independent kids and foster their self-control?

We'll also be giving away a copy of Parenting Without Borders, signed by the author Christine Gross-Loh. Enter the giveaway by commenting on any of our Carnival posts during the next two weeks. We'll announce the winner by July 15.

Let's read and talk about how culture shapes our parenting. Join us!


Today, we’re starting with the number one subject on the minds of new parents: SLEEP! And it's a minefield: Co-sleep, or put baby in a crib in a separate room? Rock baby to sleep, or let her cry-it-out? Allow baby to sleep whenever, or put baby on a schedule?

When I was pregnant, Rayne and I were pretty clear about one thing: the baby would not be sleeping in our bed. Instead, we borrowed the Arm's Reach Mini Co-Sleeper from my cousin and hitched it to my side of the bed. And that is where he slept the first five months of his life.

If you look beyond the extreme cuteness you can see
the co-sleeper attached to my side of the bed.
The co-sleeper made it easier to breastfeed, check if he was breathing (which Rayne did with surprising regularity by blowing in his little face) and comfort him when he fussed. We had a changing table and a rocking/nursing chair in our bedroom; when we went to sleep, we had everything we needed.

Safety Considerations

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants sleep in their parents' room -- but not bed -- for the first six months of life. Gross-Loh, however, makes a good case for not worrying about smothering your baby while co-sleeping. For example, a researcher says mother-baby co-sleeping actually reduces the risk of SIDS. She goes on to conclude that statistics we hear about accidental smothering and the like are associated with risk factors such as "Smoking, drug or alcohol use, [or] co-sleeping on unsafe, non-bed surfaces (such as sofas of water-beds)...." not co-sleeping per se.

That made sense to me. For the first few months of Henry's life, we slept together during his blissfully extended morning nap. It was glorious. He slept and fed, and never once did I worry about rolling over on to him.

I was, however, worried about my husband smothering our baby. Rayne is most comfortable sleeping with something tucked under his arm, almost rolled under his body. That something could be a pillow, a blanket or me. He sleeps heavily and deeply and is next to impossible to rouse; neither of us had any confidence he would manage not to crush Henry.

I noticed that all the research in the chapter discussed mother-baby co-sleeping but never mentioned the father's presence and father-baby rhythms. I can't imagine we are alone in that fear, so it seemed like a fairly big hole.

Nap-time co-sleeping in the early days.

Practical Considerations: The Family Bed

Call me naive, but I have never understood how co-sleeping works when the parents are not in the bed. What about naptime? And did we have to go to sleep at 7:30 p.m. also? Would you put the baby in your big bed and risk having him roll off (as mine once did)? Or would you put him in a crib or bassinet and bring him into your bed when it was time for you to go to sleep? What if your partner went to sleep first; would baby wait for mom to join the family bed?

Gross-Loh answers none of these questions directly. She does, however, note something incredibly enlightening. Co-sleeping parents in other cultures, she says,
devise sleeping arrangements that ensure restful sleep for parent and baby: they'll put futons on the floor, prepare adjoining spaces for baby and mother that are separate from other family members, and give everyone room to spread out. Western co-sleeping is usually complicated by Western beds, which are high up off the floor and usually not wide enough for a family. This leads to the problems many associate with bed sharing: rolling on the baby, kicking, disrupted sleep, adult pillows and blankets dangerously close to the baby, baby falling off the side. How, really, could one be expected to get a good night's sleep? (emphasis is mine)
Obviously! My concerns weren't crazy; I just wasn't thinking out of the box. Maybe if we had a frameless California King mattress, we wouldn't worry if the baby rolled off, and Rayne would have enough room to keep his "under-tucking" behavior to the pillows.

Emotional Considerations (1): The Marriage Bed

The thought of Rayne snuggling with a pillow clear on the other side of a huge futon, however, brings up an issue I have always had with strict co-sleeping: what about the couple? I Googled "co sleeping effect on marriage" and came up with a dozen anecdotal articles pro and con but no real studies.

When Rayne and I first moved in together, one of our mini-battles was whether we should have a television in our bedroom. I was adamantly in the "no" camp and still am. Our bedroom is a place for rest and reconnection. And while I acknowledge there isn't a lot of sex, snuggling or sleep in the infamous "fourth trimester," what about later when the babies are tots and then young children? Once a child or two is asleep in our bed, how do we find intimacy, both physical and in those last sweet moments of reading together before turning off the light?

Perhaps I am selfish, but those things are important to me and my marriage. For Henry to sleep in our bed once in a while might be okay. But not to have a bed of his own? I do not think it would work for us.

Gross-Loh doesn't address the issue. Just as there was no mention of the father's role in the bed, nor was there a nod to the couple's role.

I did like the flexible Swedish model she referenced. The kids have their own beds and room, but they can sleep with their parents when they feel like they want some extra security, even if it's only for a couple hours before returning to their own sleep spaces.

Emotional Considerations (2): The Working Mom

Sweden offered another point in the co-sleeping plus column. One of Gross-Loh's interviewees notes, "We see so little of children during the day that we all want to fill up our tanks with love at night sleeping together."

That sentiment resonated. I find I have endless patience for bedtime shenanigans on work days when I have just returned to a sleepy, smiling little man waiting for a story. I rock him a little longer and sing him an extra song on those nights, just so I can soak in a little of his scent.

On days when I do not work, I usually can scarcely wait to get him down in the crib so I can have  modicum of time to myself.

I understand why, then, I might consider a co-sleeping arrangement (once a week? twice?) if I went back to work full-time. But as a SAHM? Hmmm....

Now Who's Crying?

Gross-Loh softly criticizes the American "cry-it-out" method of sleep training throughout the chapter. Cultures around the world, she says, do not even know what to make of such an approach.

Why is this method so uniquely American? In my view, Gross-Loh tells us in the beginning: "Once a mother, and no one else, was fully responsible for nighttime care," she writes, "it became more important for a baby to be able to sleep long hours."

What is more middle- and upper-class American than the solitary nuclear family, relatives and friends far flung around the country and even the world? We seem to have perfected the ideal of the mother-who-does-it-all, only to allow ourselves be deeply disappointed -- not to mention exhausted -- when reality smacks us down a notch.

In such a society, it was inevitable someone would come up with a method of "sleep training" our infants. Not even mothers can run on three hours of sleep a night indefinitely.

Luckily, Henry is a good sleeper (which is not the same as a good napper), so we never had to go that route. We still let him cry 5-10 minutes before really going to check on him. Usually, he decides he is fine after all and puts himself to sleep (or back to sleep).

Some nights I inexplicably long for the feeling of my son's warm breath upon my skin and wish I could bring him into our bed. I don't disturb his peaceful sleep, though, to satisfy my own needs. I also don't want to "create a bad habit." But reading Gross-Loh's book made me wonder about my methods and reasoning.

Last week when it was over 90 degrees, I found Henry sweating in his crib during my last check-in before bed. Rayne was away on business, so I took him to our bed where the air conditioner kept us cool all night long. A little after 6 a.m., I opened my eyes to his babbling face right in front of my own. It was nice, I admit, although I hadn't sleep too soundly myself.

Good Morning, Moo Cow!
Then, the other night around midnight, he screamed in fear and began to cry. Nightmare? I went in right away, but instead of comforting him briefly and returning him to his crib, I rocked him and sang lullabies in the now-defunct nursing chair. He calmed down quickly but was still awake.

I smiled at him as we rocked. To my surprise, he returned the biggest, wide-mouthed, teeth-showing smile. And he didn't stop. It was a full-face smile of love and adoration that lasted and lasted. He locked onto my gaze and smiled infectiously, until slowly sleep began to overcome him, his eyes drooped, and I put him to bed still smiling.

Tears welled up in my eyes, and my throat constricted. I stroked his soft cheek as he snuggled up with his llama-llama-red-pajama.

"Ti voglio tanto bene," I love you so much, I told him, as I blew him a kiss and returned to bed.

I'm still not sure the costs outweigh the benefits for me, but there definitely is something to the co-sleeping bond.

Where Should Your Baby Sleep?

Toward the beginning of the chapter, Gross-Loh writes, "In America, we believe solitary sleep is necessary to raising an autonomous and independent child." She then spends the rest of the chapter providing compelling evidence for why co-sleeping children are not less independent and self-sufficient.

But this conclusion says nothing about what follows from "solitary" sleep. Are solitary sleepers harmed irreparably by sleeping in a crib? I do not believe they are.

Parenting choices are so personal. In the end, Gross-Loh concludes, "Where should your baby sleep? Wherever he sleeps best."



Please take a moment to read posts by my lovely partners in Carnivaling:

Jessica @ School of Smock: Sleepless in Boston and Buffalo: Colic, Co-sleeping and Coping

Sarah @ Left Brain Buddha: Parenting without ... Sleep!

Thoughts on co-sleeping? What worked for your family? Did you try a different arrangement with your second or third children?