Monday, September 23, 2013

Co-Sleeping vs the World

Three days after she was born, Rissa came home from the hospital.  I was adamant that she sleep in her crib.  David was in a state of paternal panic.  "But she... How will we... What if she?"  Having spent the first three days after my c-section NOT sleeping in the hospital, I was nearly hysterical with exhaustion.  "I NEED to sleep.  I will not sleep if I'm worried I'm going to roll over on her.  Please, for the love of all things holy, PLEASE... LET... ME... SLEEP!"

Rissa slept in the crib...  Until 2:00 a.m., when David brought her into our bed, whereupon I nursed her and then she slept between us, each parent precariously perched on the side of the double bed, infant flat on her back in the middle, blissfully unaware.  Boom!  Pattern set.  Crib for naps and the first part of the night, parents' bed from the middle-of-the-night feeding on.  I'm sure that my mother was horrified, but it worked for us.

Full-time co-sleeping with the infant or even toddler version of Rissa wasn't practical.  Rissa is the most violent sleeper in the world.  She flails her limbs and has 22 elbows which connect with eye sockets, bridges of noses and kidneys.  Plus?  I've always been a selfish sleeper.  Even more so in those first couple of years of parenthood.  I jonesed for sleep.  I wanted time with David to snuggle, even if it wasn't for sex.  'Cause we all know that first year after the baby - is NOT about sex.  A little dirty spooning with one's spouse is a perk I was unwilling to give up.

Seems recently - a decade after I had to really worry about it with Rissa, there is a great hue and cry over Co-Sleeping or Bed-Sharing.   Even Maclean's did a huge cover story on it. It's this dirty little secret.  And we North Americans love our dirty little secrets don't we?  Sure, I will fully admit that until very recently, I thought that parents who slept with their 4, 5, and 10 year olds were out of their gourds.  But  that's because I was and am a selfish sleeper who wanted to have sex in my own bed and that greatly affected my feelings on co-sleeping.  PLUS?  North American society makes you feel like a parental pariah if you 'give in' to your kids. The online forums dedicated to parents asking when they should stop co-sleeping, how long to co-sleep, whether they should co-sleep are all based on societal and familial constraints that tell them they're doing something wrong.   But hey!  If it works for your family - if it means that you're not spending hours of negotiating or constantly getting up and down with your kids and you actually get some sleep?  YAY YOU!!  Congratulations!  You're coping!!  Better to be sane and cramped in your own bed than exhausted and sleep-deprived, I'm thinking.  The kid will not ask you to sleep with them when they head off to university.

North American Pediatric societies do their best to convince parents that co-sleeping is unsafe and preach that it increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  Here is a particularly lurid ad from Milwaukee's Department of Health.

It doesn't help new parents when studies such as the one released by the British Medical Journal in May of 2013 tell them that co-sleeping infants below the age of 3 months are FIVE TIMES as likely to suffer SIDS than non co-sleeping infants. "No really, go ahead and sleep with your baby, if you want to KILL it."
Thing is?  The North American 'norm' of infants sleeping in a separate crib ain't really the 'norm.'   Throughout the world, infants share their parents' beds, or are least within arms' reach, often for the first couple of years.  Yet now in North America, co-sleeping is the latest in divisive parenting practices.  God forbid that you admit that you co-sleep.  The raised eyebrows, the generational 'tut-tutting' with grandparents and older relatives.  "We NEVER slept with our kids..." "She won't be independent..." "You're not doing him any favours..." "You'll never be able to cut the apron strings..."

We North Americans are so frickin' sure of ourselves.  We're so much smarter than the rest of the world, except when we're not.    As middle-class North Americans living in houses where almost everyone has their own bedroom, we don't remember that most of the world doesn't have that luxury and yet they have somehow, miraculously, managed to raise independent and successful members of society.  With industrialization in first world countries, breastfeeding went out of vogue, it wasn't until the late 60s, early 70s that we clued in that, as mammals, perhaps our young might be better off if they were getting the nutrients that they were supposed to.  And breast milk?  It doesn't fill up that infant's tummy the way that formula does, hence they get hungrier through the night.  Hence more waking up, hence more opportunities for co-sleeping.  We're so worried about seeming 'civilized' that our children are expected to be self-sufficient, sleep through the night and generally silent from 3 months of age onward. 

New parents in North America are terrified of SIDS.  That fear, accompanied with articles throwing around percentages and the phrase FIVE TIMES AS LIKELY telling you that co-sleeping will KILL your baby -  are convincing parents that co-sleeping with an infant is wrong when most of the world is managing to do it just fine.  Strangely enough, these international co-sleepers don't have high SIDS rates and when they grow up aren't running around wetting themselves and unable to make decisions as adults. 

How 'bout this?  If you feel like co-sleeping and it works for your family,  embrace that decision.  Tell other people to mind their own frickin' business and that you're coping alright thanks.   A few caveats: Put your baby to sleep on their back.  Don't sleep with your infant on the sofa or in a waterbed.  Don't get drunk or consume drugs and then go to sleep with your infant.  Sleep in a big bed with lots of space for the 6 of you in it if you have an infant there with you.    This is your parenting journey - if you are happy with it, don't let anyone else tell you differently.

Here's some other reading just to really confuse the issues:

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