Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pick and Choose

I've been stuck on the topic of sleep lately. This morning I turned to Google when I started wondering whether my 3- and 5-year-old were getting enough sleep. I found this WebMD site listing the amount of sleep children need at various stages. It also gives tips. Knowing how I feel about cosleeping and night nursing, you can probably imagine how I reacted to this advice from WebMD:
Allowing your child to soothe herself and put herself to sleep unassisted are critical to establishing good sleep habits, sleeping soundly, and preventing future sleep problems. As Mark Weissbluth, MD, says in his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, "The failure of our children to fall asleep and stay asleep by themselves is the direct result of parents' failure to give their child the opportunity to learn . . . self-soothing skills. . . . Some parents can't leave their kids alone long enough for them to fall asleep by themselves. . . . The major sleep problems in babies 4-12 months old develop and persist because of the inability of parents to stop reinforcing bad sleep habits" (source).
Dr. Weissbluth wouldn't think too highly of us! I might start feeling like a failure... except that my 3-year-old and 5-year-old take a mere 3-10 minutes to fall asleep most nights (without crying) and then stay peacefully asleep until 10-12 hours later. Perhaps I haven't irreparably damaged their "healthy sleep habits" by soothing them to sleep as infants (and toddlers) after all? (Can a 4-month-old really have "bad sleep habits" to reinforce?) Some of my fondest early childhood memories are of my dad singing us lullabies while we fell asleep and my grandma lying down with me until I fell asleep so I wouldn't be scared. Those were moments when I felt an intense sense of peace, security, and love... things I desperately needed at that time in my life (I had an emotionally traumatic early childhood). I'm so grateful my caregivers didn't fret over "reinforcing bad sleep habits" when I needed or wanted their assistance falling asleep.

Thank goodness we can pick and choose our experts! Isn't it funny how you can find opposing "expert" opinions on just about any topic? In terms of infant sleep, I much prefer Dr. James J. McKenna's take on things! He says:
[I]rrepressible (ancient) neurologically-based infant responses to maternal smells, movements and touch altogether reduce infant crying while positively regulating infant breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation. In short, . . . cosleeping (whether on the same surface or not) facilitates positive clinical changes including more infant sleep and seems to make, well, babies happy. In other words, unless practiced dangerously, sleeping next to mother is good for infants. The reason why it occurs is because... it is supposed to ("Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone").
Of course I couldn't help feeling smug about this one:
Western parents are taught that "co-sleeping" will make the infant too dependent on them, or risk accidental suffocation. Such views are not supported by human experience worldwide, however, where for perhaps millions of years, infants as a matter of course slept next to at least one caregiver, usually the mother, in order to survive. At some point in recent history, infant separateness with low parental contact during the night came to be advocated by child care specialists, while infant-parent interdependence with high parental contact came to be discouraged. In fact, the few psychological studies which are available suggest that children who have "co-slept" in a loving and safe environment become better adjusted adults than those who were encouraged to sleep without parental contact or reassurance ("Babies Need Their Mothers Beside Them").
Thank goodness for access to information. With libraries and the internet, we can examine the differing view points about child-rearing (or childbirth or any other topic) and find what feels right for us. I'm grateful to have found what works for me and my family.


Anonymous said...

I think it's important to remember that in situations like these we should do what we feel is right for ourselves and our children. I think co-sleeping is great for some people, like you and others I know, but it's definitely not for me. I tried it with my first daughter because I loved the idea but she would wake up every couple of hours to nurse and neither of us would get a good night's rest. When we moved to a bigger apartment and she was able to have her own room, I moved her out of our bed and into her own bed and she slept a hundred times better. She still does in fact. I also learned that I sleep better without her as well. So while co-sleeping is great for some people, it isn't for everyone and we shouldn't feel guilty if we choose not to.

Buscando la Luz said...


Absolutely. That's the point I've been trying to make with the last 2 posts. Regardless of what anyone says (including the experts), you have to follow your heart. Cosleeping is just what has worked for us so far. We'll see about the future. :-)

Buscando la Luz said...

I'd also like to clarify that "cosleeping" covers a lot of things. Bed-sharing is only *one* form of co-sleeping.

Dr. McKenna's research about the benefits of cosleeping include having an infant nearby in the same room in another bed. My babies spend part of the night in their beds and part in mine.

Bedsharing definitely doesn't work for everyone.

The Fifes said...

my memory may be failing me, but i believe dr. weissbluth talked about 2 methods of putting a child to sleep-- cry it out and sooth/rock/etc to sleep. Both were acceptable different methods. So i think his advice still applies... i guess i should read the book again to remember.

What worked for us was to do up to around 4 months of co-sleeping/nursing/bed in same room, and then "sleep train" having baby cry himself to sleep now. It was the hardest thing i've ever done, but he is the easiest thing to get to sleep now. And he knows how to entertain/soothe himself. I'll put him down at 7:30/8 and sometimes at 9 i still hear him talking to himself in his toddler bed. He stays in bed until we come to get him out in the morning, between 8 and 9:30. And naptime he usually sleeps for around 2.5-3 hours.

We'll see with the next one. :)

M-Ware said...

Sleep is the number one thing on my mind lately, too, and I agree with your last post that you just have to decide what works for you and it usually ends up being a combination of 'methods.'

Dr. Weissbluth's sleep book is the one I've been going over lately and it has to be one of the most confusing parenting books I've ever read. He talks a lot about the family bed and isn't against it ... and like the quote you used, he kinda sounds like you're doing major damage to your kid if you do xyz ... and then he reassures you that bad sleep habits are not irreversible ... anyway, he totally confuses me. So at this point I'm relying on friends and family to guide me in my sleep decisions plus using a bit of my own intuition because it's all quite confusing to me.

The first sleep book I read was BabyWise and it scared the pants of me. But now that I'm going on 4 months of night feedings, I just may be crazy enough to try to get my baby to sleep through the night at 12 weeks next time. Who knows.

I think I'm going to pick up the Meredith Small and Elizabeth Pantley books you suggested. Thanks!