Sleep sharing is a form of co-sleeping. It is having the baby sleeping in bed with baby’s parents. It is so cool. It is how babies are designed sleep, it supports longer duration of nightly breastfeeding, and so breastfeeding in general, and supports easier night care of baby, and better sleep for parents. Babies who sleep with their mothers take in three times as much breast milk during the night as do isolated babies, thus enjoying a more natural nutritional and immune support pattern.
The bosom of the mother is the natural pillow of her offspring
Dr Conquest, 1848.
Sleep problems – what are they? It seems a very important aspect of this is the concept of ‘welcoming’ baby into the bed – not suffering them there as a last resort – in such cases, sleep problems are reported – perhaps as baby wasn’t wanted there in the first place and there were different expectations of their sleeping patterns. Baby gradually learns sleeping behaviour and ‘etiquette’ by observation, modelling and experience with Mum and Dad. Baby sleeps well and in comfort and trust, lessening their need for night nursing until they sleep as the rest of us do – in their own time. As night-times are pleasant, the transition is, too.
“Sleep contact for human mothers and infants is a species typical trait”
Dr Helen Ball
I was fortunate to listen to this presentation By Dr Helen Ball at an ABA breastfeeding conference. The link takes you to the slides from it.
It is also called “Night nesting” – I love that term – snuggling with baby between or beside Mum and Dad. As it is the genetically programmed sleeping environment for a baby, there are a number of natural consequences of the close skin contact and sleep-interaction between baby and mother:
Source: The Science of Parenting page 70
Co-sleeping is a traditional practise world wide throughout history – why go against that for the hassles of a cot in another room? There are some who believe cots should even be banned as so many injuries happen while babies and toddlers are in them: Is it Time to Abolish Cribs?
Safety must be considered with sleep sharing – smokers should never sleep share, nor when adults are intoxicated. More info on safety factors can be found here: Safe Co-Sleeping
“Solitary infant sleeping is a principally western practice which is quite young in terms of human history. The practice of training children to sleep alone through the night is approximately two centuries old. Prior to the late 1700s co sleeping was the norm in all societies” (Davies, 1995) Source: www.naturalchild.org
As an itty bitty he slept beside me until I became concerned about him rolling off the bed. Now baby mostly sleeps between us, sometimes on one side of me, but for night EC needs, the middle is easier to get his pot. We face each other – usually his face faces upwards towards me at first (a natural position so the carbon dioxide in my breath helps stimulate his regular breathing.) I tend to sleep spooned around him, so that his legs are bent, and his feet are in my lap. This seems to feel comfy to him, and if he is trying to stay up, if I tuck him in like that he’ll relax better. I do all these things as he breastfeeds to sleep, as he is and has always been unable to lay down awake to go to sleep – he needs the booby help of hormones. He’d instantly scream the moment he is laid down awake – strong instincts there! It gets faster, though, unless he is supply pumping or otherwise needing to be attached often at night night now and then. If he does, I know something is going on – perhaps as he had a fall that day, or is having a burst of mental development, is teething or has been exposed to a bug he needs my immune system help to beat – or some reason unknown to me – he has the need, so I do my best to meet it at maximum ease to both of us.
When he wriggles at night, I never speak, and I never turn on the light, of any sort – as soon as light hits their retina, it sends a chemical to their brain to wake them up. I only communicate to him through touch during the night. He’ll have his sleep-pee in the bowl, then usually go straight back to sleep, or via a feed, usually quick, then he rolls away towards Dad. If I wake to the wriggles, I check myself to see if I am thirsty or need to go to the loo, as this is often something that disturbs his sleep. It is uncanny. Mostly, though, quiet feeding is what helps him to go to sleep. He’ll guide me to the bed and hop on when he’s tired, or ‘ask’ to breastfeed.
In my free eGuide on Sleep Sharing Tips I’ve described and shared 10 pages of the techniques, which I call ‘sleep sharing minutiae’ we use at sleepy-times to induce and support gentle sleep. There are heaps of ways for sleep sharing families.
And for when you are over co-sleeping and want some strategies:
(I HATE the title of this book – you can’t ‘break’ habits – but you can REPLACE them. Nevertheless, it seems something of relevance to include…)
Break the Co-Sleeping Habit: How to Set Bedtime Boundaries – and Raise a Secure, Happy, Well-Adjusted Child
Website to research on co sleeping and sleep sharing
www.kellymom.com for example The family bed and Studies on normal infant sleep and feeding to sleep and sleeping through the night
Wikipedia co-sleeping page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-sleeping
Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: The best possible start by Dr Sarah Buckley
Dr Sears sleep information and sleep sharing
Elizabeth Pantley’s website: www.pantley.com/elizabeth
Dr James McKenna Frequently Asked Questions About Co Sleeping
Pinky McKay’s Site – I really benefited from her book, Parenting by Heart
In her book, Parenting by Heart, Pinky McKay encourages parents to trust their own instincts, and connection with their child.
“You are unique. Your child is unique. To slavishly follow any method of parenting as though it were a religion, or to expect your child to fit a preconceived stereotype of success, is to deny your child’s individuality and your own.“
Pinky also examines the loss of confidence so many mothers, in particular, experience: she shows parents how to nurture themselves as well as their child, and how to stand strong against those who undermine or oppose their choices.
“As well as being your child’s advocate, you are his or her most important role model: To care for children and to nourish their identities, requires a strong sense of self. The connection between you and your child can be weakened when you are under stress, lack support or feel you are in unknown territory. At such times you may question your own wisdom and become vulnerable to pressure and inappropriate advice. But when your connection with your child is strong, you will find it easy to parent by heart: to ask yourself “how do I feel?” as well as “What do I think?” And to trust your feelings.“
Read more: Parenting By Heart
Australian Breastfeeding Association Forum ABA Forum
Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent by Meredith Small
Three in a Bed: the benefits of sleeping with your baby by Deborah Jackson
The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland
Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma Jean Bumgarner
The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley
The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedoff