Archive for Sleep

Feeding the Kids with My Eyes Closed (and Other Reasons to Love Co-Sleeping)

cosleepingNot long after my first child was born, I found myself in a discussion with another new mom about how (not so) well our babies were sleeping. Really, what else do new mothers talk about? It was inevitable that the topic would come up. What wasn’t so obvious to me – though perhaps it should have been – was the discouragement I’d be met with when I confided that my six month-old son slept in bed with my husband and me.

Other moms at the play-date soon dropped their conversations and joined ours. I was grateful for the increase in numbers. Surely, one of them would defend the choice my husband and I had made, offering further assurance that yes, it was possible to sleep peacefully with a baby at your side, and no, we didn’t stay awake all night, petrified we’d roll over on our children.

But, it seemed – at that particular play-date, anyway – that I was alone. The other moms were sincere in their disbelief and peppered me with questions. Back then, I lacked confidence in my answers. After all, I hadn’t intended to co-sleep. I didn’t even know there was a word for it. I just knew that although I’d intended for my son to sleep in his crib as my pediatrician advised, I found it didn’t work. My son hardly slept, but I got even less shut-eye than him. When I wasn’t tending to my crying infant, I lay in my own bed, down the hall, watching my son on the video monitor. I listened to his breathing patterns and watched his chest rise and fall as I attempted to will myself to take my eyes off the screen.

After a few nights of this nightmarish pattern, I flicked off the monitor, grabbed my son, and lay him beside me. The next day, I bought Dr. Sears’ The Baby Sleep Book and read up on how to sleep with your baby safely. I bought a guardrail for my bed, and placed my son between the rail and me at night (since my husband is an incredibly heavy sleeper and actually did worry me that he might roll over on our child). And, then, only a couple nights into this new way of doing things, both my baby and I got a good night’s sleep.

Those sleep-filled nights continued (barring a middle-of-the-night illness  or teething episode), and many years and another co-sleeping child later, my family was well-rested.

It’s been six years since we first let a child into our bed, and now, as I lay next to my snoozing twenty-month old, I think of all the benefits of co-sleeping I wish I could go back and share with those innocently incredulous women. I can’t repeat history, but I can share with a different audience some joys my husband and I have found in co-sleeping.

1) Emotional closeness. When my son was an infant, I joked that he was a heat-seeking missile. In his sleep, he would inch closer, eventually nestled right up against me. As he grew, he searched out my arm and used it as his pillow. Now, at six years old, he sleeps in his own room (what six year old wouldn’t prefer Star Wars bedding to a rose covered quilt?), but occasionally enjoys climbing into my husband’s and my bed when I’m putting his little sister to sleep. He rests his head on my shoulder, sweetly rubs his sister’s arm, and falls asleep right along with her.

2) Setting a precedent for our relationship. The door to the room my husband and I share is an open one for our children, just like our relationship with them. Co-sleeping has taught them that we are always accessible rather than “off limits”. It’s a lesson that translates into other aspects of their lives and that will continue to do so. Because we’ve listened and responded to their needs by allowing them to sleep beside us, our children understand that we are always approachable and available, that they can come to us, and that we will not turn them away.

3) Happy bedtimes. Because bedtime is a chance for us to settle down, cuddle and feel that awesome feeling you get when you’re snuggled up close to those you love, bedtime in our home is rarely a fight. I’ve been in homes where parents (and their kids) dread bedtime. Where kids cry and resist going to their rooms to sleep. Once, when I witnessed a particularly bad tantrum, it hit me that our children love bedtime (unless we’re having a sleepover at their grandparents’ home, where the love to stay up late). My one year-old usually goes to the steps by 7 p.m., and requests sweetly, “bed”. My 6 year-old son often bounds up the stairs to his room, then snuggles up close in his bed, where we read his chosen bedtime book.

4) Nearness in the not-so-healthy times. Co-sleeping offers the ability to read your child’s body language and respond accordingly. Many nights, because of my nearness, I discovered a fever early, before it had a chance to rise uncomfortably high. I could tell when a stomach bug was about to strike or when my son needed to use the bathroom, and in both instances, my closeness often helped my kids to avoid accidents. I soothed them through teething pain without them waking up. And on more than one occasion, I nudged my children back into a regular breathing pattern when, as infants, they had elongated (though usually normal) gaps in their breathing.

5) Less interrupted sleep. I’ll never forget the first time I woke and found my infant son had helped himself to nursing. I was initially confused. Had I fallen asleep nursing him? Obviously, I had. Had he never stopped? Being that it was hours later, obviously, he had. Had he really rolled back over and latched himself back on without me knowing? Yes to that, too. And then, once my perplexity faded, I felt relief that I hadn’t needed to get out of bed to feed or coddle him. As I drifted back to sleep, I wondered why I had ever attempted to put him in a crib in the first place.

6) Peace. It’s what all these other benefits lead to. The peace in knowing your children are safe, healthy, and nearby. The peace of feeling their bodies rise and fall with each breath they take. But, most important, it’s about the peace co-sleeping brings them. The comfort and security they gain from having their parents so close at hand. And, really, that’s the best benefit of all.

Image credit: kdshutterman (freedigitalphotos.com)

Transitioning Your Co-Sleeping Child to Her Own Bed (It IS Possible!)

transition bed

It happened so suddenly. We’d been talking about it for awhile, but yesterday, my husband took action. He emptied our older daughter’s bedroom. We organized, we tossed, we scrubbed, and we mopped. And, then, there it was. A sparkling clean bedroom with two twin beds with coordinating pink and purple comforters. Two beds just close enough for late-night sisterly confidences, yet far enough apart to air out the inevitable future disagreements. At two-and-a-half years old, our youngest daughter, our baby, was ready to move in to her sister’s room and move out of ours.

We’ve co-slept with all of our children. It took some getting used to at first, but after 11-plus years, I’ve grown to love it. Of course, there are rough nights. There are nights when I feel like a punching bag and nights when a king-size bed just isn’t big enough. But those nights are no match for the smell of a freshly shampooed head lying next to mine on the pillow, or the feel of a snuggly little body warming mine while the dead of winter yields its worst outside, or the opportunity to gaze at my precious child’s face in the glow of the night light while time disappears into irrelevance. I’ve loved these co-sleeping years, and my heart feels sad as we transition my baby into her own bed with no promise of another little one coming anytime soon.

But, it’s time. We’ve done this before, and here are some approaches that have helped us make this time of change go as smoothly as possible.

1. Plant the idea.

We started talking to my daughter about sharing a room with her sister and having her own bed several weeks before actually doing anything. When the time came, she was excited and looking forward to it.

2.  Let them choose something special for their bed.

It might be new sheets, a comforter, or just a fun pillow or stuffed animal. Letting our children make their bed their own helped them to want to sleep there.

3.  Give them some company.

My five children have two bedrooms. And they still often all end up piled into the same room by morning. Sleeping bags, pillows on the floor, three bodies in one twin bed. As one of my friends puts it, “As long as everyone sleeps, it doesn’t matter where.” We’ve found that siblings who share rooms are much happier together, day and night.

4.  Take it slow.

 Some of our children started sleeping in their own bed for naps only at first. With all of them, I kept the same bedtime routine of nursing them to sleep, then I just put them down in their bed instead of ours. The first time they fussed, I moved them into our bed for the rest of the night. Go with the flow. Don’t force. Over time, they will gradually sleep for longer periods of time in their own bed.

5.  Remember, it’s a “conversation.”

I love this description that Dr. Greg Popcak gives to dealing with children’s sleep issues. It truly is a conversation, unique to every child. One child might show interest in their own bed at 12 months, while another might not be ready until age three. Follow your child’s cues. The process will ebb and flow. Even my elementary school-aged children experience times when they need more parental comfort at night. But I’m finding that, by middle school-age, it takes a pretty ferocious thunderstorm for them to seek us out in the dark — and my 11-year-old now says nearly every night, “I’m so tired. I’m going right to sleep.” And he crawls into his own bed and goes to sleep all by himself. No problem.

And I can’t help but sigh wistfully and remember a time when a certain downy, sweet-smelling head wouldn’t sleep anywhere but next to mine.

Tender Tidings Winter 2014 NOW AVAILABLE!

Tender Tidings Magazine, our FREE parenting publication, is now available for your enjoyment! Just click on the flipbook to explore. PDF is also available from flipbook.

  • THE SLEEP ISSUE:  tips for getting more sleep, the science of safe co-sleeping, sleep stories from intentional, Catholic parents
  • Dr. Greg answers tough questions from real parents, including one about preschool tantrums
  • What can the Holy Family teach us about parenting?
  • Make a king cake for Epiphany
  • Don’t Be Misled by “Parents” Magazine: The Cry It Out Sleep Training Method Can Hurt Your Baby

    sleepless babeDr. Darcia Narvaez over at Psychology Today has alerted parents to the goofy thinking behind a recent article in Parents magazine in which an author encouraged parents to let their babies cry themselves to sleep. The author of the Parents article said parents should rest assured that letting a baby cry herself to sleep won’t harm the baby, and that “whatever sleep training method feels best to you is just fine.”

    Dr. Narvaez and her co-author explain:

    Unfortunately, over 2 million Parents readers have just been told that leaving babies to cry to the point of distress and beyond—to the point of potential neurological damage (Lyons, 2000)—has been proven safe and even that it’s proper childrearing . . . It does this by ending with the prolific, misconception that has justified this practice for decades: “[Your baby] needs to learn the important lifelong skills of self-soothing and falling asleep on his own.” Nothing could be further from the truth for a baby.

     

    As Parents magazine did in this case, media reports notoriously and misleadingly back up cry-to-sleep (CIO) advice with a single flawed study. In this case, the editor approved conclusions that crying-it-out is safe based on a study of babies who didn’t, in fact, cry-it-out—not in terms of what all the major sleep-training books recommend or the common understanding of the term.

     

    This Parents piece exemplifies the glaring mistakes made regularly among reporters on cry-it-out as well as sleep training generally. Such failures lead parents to make decisions based on misinformation. Worse, these reporting failures lead our society at large, including non-parents, to think it’s “just fine” to leave babies in distress. This unscientific attitude is bad for us all—regularly or intensely distressed babies grow into unhappy and stress-reactive (inflexible, self-focused) adults that we all have to live with (Read: Gerhardt, 2005).

    Dr. Narvaez and her co-author go on to outline very clearly the flaws in the media’s treatment of the cry-it-out method.  I encourage you to check it out for yourself!

    If you’re looking for gentle, sensible sleep advice, I recommend these resources:

    Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Co-Sleeping by James McKenna

    The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley

    If I Could Offer Only One Piece of Advice to Young Mothers

    I might have looked like a self-sacrificing mother but I was merely acting out of a sense of self-preservation when I put my kids’ needs first.”  Melanie Jean Juneau

    What sort of behavior would you expect if a child becomes overloaded with sensory stimulation, hunger, and exhaustion?

    This is rather an absurd question because the answer is obvious. Even adults get cranky, never mind little kids who can become just as unreasonable as an old curmudgeon, often experiencing complete meltdowns. In other words little kids have a what we call a temper tantrum where onlookers assume they are simply spoiled rotten. Sometimes I think we expect even better behavior from children than adults.

    If I had to divulge one secret to making  childcare easier, that I was fortunate enough to discover early in my mothering career, it would be, “Never let them get tired and never let them get hungry.”

    180082082There is a universal image stuck in our brains of a screaming toddler throwing a tantrum on the floor of a grocery store. Even the best parent becomes a helpless victim in these situations because nobody is as miserable and disagreeable as a hungry and irritable baby, toddler, or small child. This so-called temper tantrum is really a baby breakdown; they are over-stimulated, under nourished and physically exhausted without any tools to vent their frustration and anger.

    Think about being in a position of total submission to another person’s control, unable to meet your own needs, and the person in charge is not doing his job. When I ignored the warning signs that my kids were reaching their limits of endurance, I created either a clinging, whiny wimp or a screaming monster. Then nothing I did or said seemed to help the situation.

    I might have looked like a self-sacrificing mother but I was merely acting out of a sense of self-preservation when I put my kids’ needs first. No time for resentment because happy and satisfied kids were worth every “sacrifice” I made. The peace was worth any compromise. One niece once told me that many people had given her advice when she became a new mother but the only thing she always remembered and practiced was,

    “Never let them get tired and never let them get hungry.”

    Who Needs a Teddy Bear When You’ve Got a Teddy Baby?

     “I would wrap the newborn tightly in a warm blanket and let each child cuddle up to a living and breathing teddy baby.”

    A newborn can see clearly for about eight inches, just far enough to focus intently on his mother’s face.  It is almost as if the initiative to bond comes from the baby first, especially when I consider the fierce hand grip they are born with.  To ensure an infant is fed, he is also download-3born with an incredibly powerful rooting reflex. These traits help to draw out strong protective love from both parents. For me it was almost a magical transformation from an exhausted woman in labor to a glowing mother adoring her newborn.

    Even when all the kids were still little, I decided to share this magic with them. It was one of the best decisions I ever made to enable mutual respect and love to flourish in our family.  However, at the time I was forced to literally watch the clock to make sure everyone would get a chance to hold their new sibling . It seems to me that the children bonded to each other because even our toddlers were given the privilege of holding the baby. With excitement twinkling in their eyes, barely containing their joy long enough to sit still while I propped up one of their little arms with a pillow, they looked extremely proud and pleased as they too held the baby.

    Bedtime became something to look forward to for about three months after the birth of our newest addition. I would wrap the newborn tightly in a warm blanket and let each child cuddle up to a living and breathing teddy baby. This quiet time, to be alone with their sibling allowed warm, nurturing, love to flow between both children and it eliminated jealousy. The focus was no longer just on the baby but attention focused on an older child and the baby.

    As I nursed, it was easy to give the older children my mental and emotional attention by listening, talking, reading books to them, helping with homework and even playing with play dough with one hand. I can honestly say that no one resented all the time each newborn demanded because we were all part of caring for the baby. Little ones were proud to run for diapers, clothes or blankets and older kids would choose rocking or pushing a colicky baby in the buggy over washing dishes any day.

    One of our family jokes concerns the day I managed to relate to five people at once! I was laying down on our bed, back to back with my husband as he read and I nursed a newborn. A toddler lay curled around my head, playing with my hair, I was fixing a knitting mistake for a seven-year old and talking to a ten year-old.

    I am pretty proud of that statistic.

    Watching God Work

    “As Catholic parents, we aren’t simply called to find the parenting method that is the most gentle, the most effective, or the most in line with our beliefs.  We are called to parent in a way that will aid our children in their journey to sainthood.  We must pray and be in tune with our hearts and our children’s hearts, but most of all we must be in tune with God’s parenting advice.  We are first and foremost His children, after all.”

    I’m tired.  My four-year-old daughter is suddenly struggling with bedtime . . . again.  After countless weeks of an easy, consistent bed time routine, her resistance to sleep and clingy night time behavior is frustrating.

    I have my trusted resources.  I’m familiar with many bedtime methods and techniques and we’ve tried a lot of them.  But something is still off.  I want nothing more than to catch a glimpse into her heart.  To know for certain what is causing her to act this way.  Is she simply testing her limits?  Is she truly afraid of something?  Does she need more focused attention from me?  Is it all of the above?  Something has rocked her little world, and I can’t figure out what it is.  I want to get into her heart and give her a  big Mommy hug from the inside out, but instead I must look on as an outsider.  An observer forced to accept my human limitations.

    I pray, and I listen.  Sometimes God brings us to our knees so we will surrender not only ourselves, but also our children, totally to Him and His Blessed Mother.

    139549398Being called to raise saints means we have a front row seat to the battle between good and evil.  It means that we can only bring our children so far in this world before we have to release them to the Holy Spirit.  This is why our hearts ache so for our children sometimes.  Because we would much rather be plagued by temptation than watch our children struggle with it.  Just as a devoted mother would readily endure any physical ailment for the sake of her child, so too would she endure torment of her own soul before allowing the stain of evil to mar the purity of her child.

    But God usually doesn’t form saints in a day.  It is a life long process and beyond our control more often than we’d like to admit.

    “Bedtime makes you realize how completely incapable you are of being in charge of another human being.”  Jim Gaffigan

    In his book, Dad Is Fat, Jim Gaffigan provides a lot of chuckles that we parents can relate to, but he gives us a lot of profound insights as well.  Our children are such a gift!  They are God’s instruments!  They are often God’s way of reminding us that He isn’t finished with us yet–that just as we are watching our children evolve into saints, so too are we evolving.  Sometimes that means we step back, toss up our hands in surrender, offer prayer, and allow God to do the work.

    As Catholic parents, we aren’t simply called to find the parenting method that is the most gentle, the most effective, or the most in line with our beliefs.  We are called to parent in a way that will aid our children in their journey to sainthood.  We must pray and be in tune with our hearts and our children’s hearts, but most of all we must be in tune with God’s parenting advice.  We are first and foremost His children, after all.

    God is whispering to my mothering heart and telling me to give in to my daughter’s need for night time connection right now.  It’s not easy.  I want her to go to bed in her own room so I can have time with my husband and time to myself.  But God wants me to practice giving a little more of myself right now.  He wants me to continue to pray for my daughter, teach her His ways, and form her overall character, but the rest is in His hands.  I have a feeling this is not the last phase of life when I will spend sleepless nights praying for one of my children.  All kinds of temptations and difficulties await them as they continue to venture out into the world.  I won’t always be there with them, but God will.

    I will practice guiding them into the loving arms of our Father and Mother in heaven now.  I will surrender those things I cannot control, love my children in spite of their difficult phases, and enjoy watching God work.

    Resources

    Dad Is Fat  by Jim Gaffigan

    The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley

    Image credit:  Heidi Breeze-Harris (photos.com)

    The Bedtime Routine: More Than a Means to an End

    Bedtime was rough last night.  While I will spare you all of the grisly details, let’s just say my four-year-old daughter set a new record for length and intensity of her already impressive tantrum throwing abilities.  As parents, sometimes it takes a child screaming at us combined with a feeling of complete helplessness to inspire us to reevaluate the direction in which our parenting skills are going.  Are we continuing to focus on loving our children and meeting their needs through self-sacrifice and growth in virtue, or are we gradually slipping back into selfishness and vice?

    57612470I turned back to a trusty resource today, The No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Elizabeth Pantley, and after reflecting on just a few paragraphs, I felt the scales fall from my eyes.  Her emphasis of gentle strategies to help our children ease into a peaceful sleep made me realize I’ve been doing just the opposite.  I’ve been thinking of bedtime as the glorious moment when I get to turn my children off for the day so I can focus on myself and the tasks I want to finish before collapsing into bed myself.  I’ve been dutifully performing the bedtime routine with one goal in mind:  to get to the “me time” that I deserve after a long day of parenting!

    I now understand that my children strongly sense this selfish attitude.  At the time of day that they most need to feel the security of my love, my focus is already shifting to other activities.  And at the end of the day when I’m wishing I had spent just a little more time connecting with my children, I realize I missed out on the golden opportunity that is the bedtime routine.

    Sleep is a popular topic of conversation among parents.  We are all continually trying to figure out how to “get” our young children to sleep.  And while a break from parenting responsibilities is healthy for both our marriages and our personal sanity, it is important that we don’t sacrifice our children’s sense of security in the process.  Are we taking our time in every step of the bedtime routine to speak to our children in a loving tone of voice, listen to a story about something that happened at school that day, and be silly with them?  Sometimes my children reveal some of their most important thoughts and concerns to me while in the midst of getting ready for bed.

    An excerpt from the “Night Prayer” found in the Magnificat comes to mind:

    Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace, alleluia. 

    How comforting these words are, that in a world that seems to be filled with too much immorality, tragedy, and terror, there is a Father in heaven who loves us deeply and holds a place for us in eternal bliss so long as we choose to do His will.  Don’t our children deserve to sense the same protection and love from their earthly father and mother?  Even if their day consisted of skinned knees, disappointments, or a “big kid” moment that stretched the limits of their independence, they can always trust that Mom and Dad will be there to hold their hand through the more challenging moments of growing up.

    As a Natural Family Planning and Theology of the Body teacher, an important lesson my husband and I have learned is that the end does not justify the means.  While we are often referring to this truth in the context of marriage and birth control, the same could be said for so many of our parenting challenges.  Yes, we want our children to get the sleep they need to function well as people in this world, but how are we achieving this?  Are we using gentle methods that take each child’s personality and individual needs into account, or are we trying to force the issue by playing upon their fears as we attempt to conform their dispositions into a cookie cutter bedtime mold?

    In spite of her periodic tantrums, my daughter can be quite rational and reasonable when her emotions are under control.  So we sat down together and came up with a plan for bedtime.  She was happy to help me remember all of the steps of getting ready for bed, and was thrilled with the prospect of now incorporating a bedtime blessing and surprise bedtime book bag into the routine.  She understands there will be reasonable consequences if she does not follow the routine that she helped create, and she seems very pleased to know exactly what to expect at bedtime tonight.  I believe the security of this routine is especially helpful to her as our household continues to adjust to the blessing of a new baby.

    My husband and I are looking forward to what will hopefully be a time of peaceful, relaxed bonding with our children, followed by some time to focus on each other as a married couple.  And if things don’t go as planned?  We’ll keep tweaking the routine until we get it right, as I am sure we will continue to do from time to time as our children grow and change.

    Once again, I find myself thanking God for providing me with the means to grow closer to Him by loving my children better.  Now where did that unopened bottle of champagne go?  I think I see an at-home date night in my future!

    Image Credit: Stockbyte (photos.com)

    Different Types of Attachment and What It Means to You

    Wanted to share this article by Dr. Greg Popcak commenting on a study on the consequences of the cry-it-out sleep method.  He writes:

    [A] new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships highlights the long term psychological and relational consequences of the cry-it-out method.  In particular, the new study looks at the tendency of insecurely attached adults to feel threatened by otherwise healthy, intimate relationships.   The study is one of hundreds that look at the effects of insecure attachment in childhood on adult relationships.

    Dr. Popcak explains very clearly the different “attachment styles” and how they influence outcomes for children when they grow up.  There are three attachment categories identified by attachment scientists:  secure, ambivalent, and avoidant.  The securely attached child is confident in interpersonal relationships and knows how to be vulnerable “without losing himself”.  He also feels confident enough to explore the world, knowing his 123172048safe harbor (mom or dad) is nearby.  The child is nervous when mom or dad leave, often crying, but when mom or dad return, the child cuddles for a while then is fine.  The ambivalent-attached child is not secure, tends to be clingy and nervous about being abandoned.  This child is hesitant in exploring the world and becomes distraught when a parent leaves, but when the parent returns he will act ambivalent about the parent.   The avoidant-attached child is the least securely attached — they act as if they don’t care about their parents.  They don’t behave in a distressed manner when the parent leaves and don’t seem to care when the parent returns.

    Unless something significant happens to change the child’s world, the child’s attachment category tends to be stable into adulthood.  But it can change. For example, the securely attached child will tend to grow into a securely attached adult, enjoying intimate, close friendships, capable of joy and empathy.  However, if the child experiences some serious setback in life — the death of a parent, divorce, abuse, etc. — his attachment category can change.  Similarly, a child who lacks a secure attachment as young child can learn to trust the world again through intervention and consistent, warm parenting.  Adopted children often experience some attachment difficulty early on, but with loving parents, they grow up to become thriving, happy adults.  I just want to make clear that the childhood attachment category isn’t carved into our brains, forever unchangeable.

    Why does this matter to you, to me?  As Dr. Greg explains, which category a child falls into is determined by how responsive her parent is in infancy and toddlerhood.  He specifically says that:

    Children whose cries are responded to promptly develop secure attachment.  Children whose cries are responded to inconsistently (i.e, time to response or consistency of responding at all varies) develop anxious-ambivalent attachment.  Children whose cries are consistently ignored develop avoidant attachment.  This it not a theory.  These findings (both how a child comes by their attachment style and the long term relationship effects) have been established by hundreds of studies conducted over decades and, in some cases for decades (as with some of the 30year + longitudinal research done on attachment styles and adult relationships.)

    Poorly attached children do not fare well in interpersonal relationships in adulthood.  They are guarded, suspicious, and have a hard time opening their hearts to anyone.  They also often lack empathy and are more vulnerable to depression and addiction.

    Dr. Greg urges parents to look at the evidence before they make up their minds about the cry it out method.  I would also add that the attachment or bond is started in infancy, but we have to nourish the bond throughout childhood.  Harsh parenting styles will weaken the basic trust between the child and parent even if that child was responded to with sensitivity as an infant. CAPC’s 7 Building Blocks work together to create a connection-rich environment in your home not only during infancy but throughout childhood.

    As Catholic parents, we have to use wisdom in discerning which cultural norms we should accept or reject.  God made our child’s body a particular way, and scientists are revealing the way our parenting choices impact our child’s emotional and moral development.  Every child deserves to be treated with dignity; every child deserves a fighting chance to grow up to become a joyful, exuberant adult.  I hope you’ll check out Dr. Greg’s article and the links he provides.

    I also recommend these awesome books on attachment science if you want to dive deeper into this topic:

    The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland.  A great, accessible book on how parenting choices influence brain development and attachment outcomes.

    The Attachment Connection: Parenting a Secure and Confident Child Using the Science of Attachment Theory by Ruth Newton. Presents a clear history of attachment theory and how to foster attachment especially in babies and very young children.

    Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love by Robert Karen.  This book traces the emergence of attachment theory in the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.  This might be more detail than some readers want, but I couldn’t put it down!

    GUEST POST by Sheila Jenne: Parenting While You Snooze

    Sheila Jenne is a young, Catholic writer and lucky mama to 2 little boys.  Sheila was homeschooled and raised by an attachment mom!  You can visit her on her family blog at  http://agiftuniverse.blogspot.com

    I often tell other people that my number one reason for attachment parenting is that it makes me feel good.  At a time when my soul and my hormones alike crave closeness to my baby, I listen to them and snuggle up.  Though I never planned to cosleep, I find it’s my very favorite AP practice.

    My mother practiced attachment parenting herself, and I saw her dealing with having my younger siblings in bed with her.  She always woke up tired, and transitioning them to their own beds was a source of stress.  So I resolved that my own children would sleep in their own beds from day one.

    Day one came, and I found myself second-guessing my choice.

    Here I was, just home from the hospital with a two-day-old baby, and I was popping in and out of bed all night, sitting on the edge of the bed, freezing, so that I could nurse my baby when he cried.  I was exhausted.  I tried putting the baby in bed with us once or twice.  Trouble is, none of us could sleep that way, least of all the baby.  I didn’t know how to nurse him lying down anyway.  So it was back to the crib.

    I figured my efforts to keep him in his crib, not to nurse him all the way to sleep, and encourage him to pacify himself would all pay off in a great sleeper.  And they did – for about a month when he was three months old.  When he turned four months old, he was having trouble getting enough to eat, and he started waking again.  There was nothing for it but to keep feeding him at night.  Months went by and I became more and more sleep-deprived.  He started waking up every time I put him back in his crib.

    One night, addled by exhaustion, I was fruitlessly trying to get him into his crib the dozenth time.  My husband stopped me.  “Just put him in bed with us.”  So I did.

    It wasn’t all roses. The first night I only slept in snatches, despite my exhaustion.  I am just not used to sleeping while touching anyone.  And he still wouldn’t nurse lying down, so I sat up in bed with him every time, slowly sliding back down once he was beginning to drift off on the breast.  But after a few days, I realized I was actually getting sleep.  I took the side off his crib, shoved it tightly against the bed, and called it good.  I started him out for the night in his crib, brought him into bed to nurse, and sometimes rolled him back into his crib again so I could stretch out more.  Sometimes he spent the whole night in our bed.  It didn’t matter all that much to me.  I was getting sleep!

    After a while I started cosleeping for naps, too, to help him sleep longer.  And that’s when the unexpected benefits started popping up.  First, I was better rested than I’d been since he was born.  Second, my milk supply shot up.  Even if he didn’t nurse at night, his presence seemed to stimulate more milk.  And last of all, I found myself brimming with extra patience and love for him.  That snuggle time every day made it so much easier to deal with any issues that had cropped up during the morning.  I tried napping separately for a while – it just wasn’t the same.  Sleeping snuggled up to him was so much better.  Plus, he would wake up slowly and happily, giving us such a nice start to our afternoon.

    There are other advantages, too.  It’s so much easier to travel when your baby will sleep easily anywhere you are.  And when the baby spikes a fever, you know before he even wakes up.

    At a year old, we moved him into his own room.  I’m sad to say that he’s two now and still doesn’t always sleep through the night.  I’m realizing it’s actually a genetic thing – almost no one in my family, despite how they slept as babies, ever slept well until two or three.  I could have wasted an entire year trying to get him to sleep through the night, but instead I spent that time getting good sleep and snuggles.  Things got much harder when we stopped cosleeping.  A night waking might mean an hour of rocking him, or falling asleep crammed into his tiny bed and waking up two hours later with a crick in my back.  Cosleeping was a much better way for our family to get the rest we needed.

    When I became pregnant with my second baby, there was no question I would have him in our bed.  Ideally I’d like to keep him there until he regularly sleeps through the night on his own – however long that is.  Once he was born, I was so glad I’d made that choice.  He simply would not sleep unless he was touching me for his first two weeks.  Sometimes he’d spend half the night latched on!  I couldn’t have coped with a busy toddler during the day while sitting up in a rocking chair nursing all night.  Now, at a month old, he sleeps a bit better, but he still sleeps the best with my arm around him.  It’s hard to tell for sure, though, because I no longer even wake up all the way when I feed him.  I wake hours later and find I’ve switched him to my other side and nursed him without even remembering it.  How nice it is to wake up after a good six-hour chunk of sleep (or what felt like it) and find you’ve been nurturing your baby at the same time!

    Since my toddler is very active and demanding, I don’t get a lot of time to bond with my baby during the day.  Nighttime is our special time to nurse, snuggle, and build a strong bond.  If I’m feeling wide awake, I stroke his soft cheek and drink him in.  If not, I just latch him on and doze off again.  Either way, it feels good to know I’m meeting his needs without sacrificing mine.

    For my husband, it’s more of a sacrifice.  But he benefits by having a wife who’s able to handle most anything during the day because she’s well rested.  And he has been known to join in the snugglefest at times.  It’s always a special joy to me to sneak out of bed early in the morning and come back to see him with a protecting arm around the baby.

    Let me point out, lest I come across as laying more requirements on your plate, that cosleeping is in no way required for good parenting.  So long as you are responsively parenting your child at night – as long as you attend to their cries and needs, the same as you do in the daytime – it doesn’t really matter who sleeps where.  Still, if you haven’t tried bedsharing, I highly recommend you at least try it out, for naps if you aren’t comfortable doing so at night.  At the very least, there can be no possible risk in bedsharing if there’s another adult around who is staying awake and can check on you often.  Try it on the weekends when Dad’s around, or when your mother or friend comes to help you with a newborn.

    But don’t miss out on the special kind of joy that comes from sharing sleep once in awhile.

    Another Inconvenient Truth: Babies Need Us At Night

    “People who say they sleep like babies usually don’t have them.”  Leo J. Burke

    Issues of sleep are usually a top concern of expectant and new parents.  No wonder.   Parents can’t pick up a parenting magazine or book without reading somebody’s opinion about infant sleep.  Sleep is always on the list of questions pediatricians ask of new parents about their baby.  How is the baby sleeping?  How many hours in a row? How long at night?

    The topic of sleep covers many areas, including safety issues, napping, night sleep arrangement, normal sleep patterns in infants, children, and adults, breastfeeding, and much more.   In this article I’ll narrow our focus to nighttime sleeping for infants.

    CAPC’s First Building Block to a Family-Centered Home is Baby Bonding:

    Your infant’s capacity for attachment is established early on. She has an intense need for physical closeness, predictable comforting, and a sense of safety. Meeting these needs has a direct impact on her early brain development and helps her develop a sense of trust in later babyhood and toddlerhood, leading to a secure attachment to mom and dad.

    I’m sorry to report to America:  Global warming isn’t the only inconvenient truth.  Infants are inconvenient for modern parents, especially at night.  Rarely will a young infant sleep through the night.  We parents want to sleep through the night, but they aren’t there yet.  Because they aren’t biologically ready yet to meet our needs, we need to adjust our needs to meet theirs for a while.  On the child-need v. parent-need scale, new babies are very high need and they don’t understand it when their needs aren’t met.  But it’s only temporary.  I promise.  As Catholic parents we can call on God’s help in difficult moments.  You cannot outgive your Heavenly Father.

    So let’s just get down to it and ask ourselves how we can optimize their sleep environment to give those wee ones what they need in their first weeks of life!

    Sleep Near Your Baby 

    My husband Philip and I have co-slept in some form with all four of our children.  Our youngest daughter, Lydia, still sleeps in our bed at age 2.  Our middle children now sleep together in one bed.  Our teenager, who slept with us until age 5, happily sleeps alone.  After the births of our youngest 3 children, my husband slept with the older children so he could get a good night’s sleep before going to work the next day and so he could night-parent the older children while I healed from my c-sections and focused on night-parenting our newborns.  While these sleep choices are counter-cultural in the United States, they do not run counter to the Catholic culture of self-donative love.  We can participate in the self-gift of Christ in the way we parent.

    Yes, for me, co-sleeping is part of my faith.  As a Catholic Christian I recognize what a privilege it is to use my body for the good of another, especially a tiny, helpless baby.  My husband and I are witnesses and models for our older children in self-giving love and generosity.  I am called to love my children tenderly:  Allowing my small babies to sleep near me helps them feel safer, more secure, and it makes it easier for me to respond to their needs during the night.

    In addition, Philip and I are confident that we have made the right choice for our infants’ physical and emotional development.  Scientific literature shows us that the best nighttime sleep arrangement for optimizing attachment is some form of bedsharing or co-sleeping.  Dr. James McKenna, a prominent sleep researcher at the University of Notre Dame, reviewed research in physiology, infant neurology, and human sleep, and he also conducts controlled experiments on mother-infant pairs in a sleep laboratory.  He has discovered that co-sleeping moms and infants are extraordinarily in sync, responding to one another’s movements and sounds.  He is unequivocal in his recommendation that baby’s sleep next to mom, either in the bed or right next to her on a separate surface, because this is the optimal sleep environment for infants for many reasons:

    [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.  James McKenna, Co-Sleeping and Biological Imperatives.

    Baby and mama both sleep better and baby is fed when he needs to be fed.  By sleeping with baby next to mom in bed or within arm’s reach in a side sleeper, mom can respond to baby’s cues very easily: She can soothe the baby when baby starts to stir so baby can settle back to sleep or mom can nurse baby very conveniently.   Best of all, the baby’s breathing and body temperature become regulated in response to the mother’s physical proximity.  For this reason, Dr. McKenna thinks co-sleeping can be safer than solitary sleep for an infant.  It’s also perfectly normal.

    Co-Sleeping Is Normal, Really.

    I know many of our older relatives think our sleeping choices are bonkers.  To be frank, Philip and I have not been very forthcoming about our reasons for co-sleeping because we knew it would seem odd to our relatives of the older generations.  We sort of hide it, like we were criminals or deviants.  We should make more of an effort to explain our reasons for co-sleeping, especially so because I believe strongly that our sleeping arrangements are healthier and actually more “normal” in terms of biology and psychology than those of the average middle-class Western household where the sleeping norm is to place babies and small children in separate beds in their own rooms.

    Our sleep arrangements are actually similar to those of the rest of the world, especially in those cultures that value strong familial bonds and interdependence.    The fact is, how and with whom we sleep is strongly influenced by custom and culture.  The field of ethnopediatrics has demonstrated in several cross-cultural studies that sleeping with your baby is actually the norm if one considers worldwide practices.  The most prominent sleeping pattern cross-culturally is mother with baby in one bed and father in another bed alone or with older children.  Meredith Small, Our Babies Ourselves, 111.  While babies sleep in a variety of containers and on differing sleep surfaces, in almost all cultures worldwide, babies sleep with an adult and older children sleep with an adult or other siblings.  Small, 112.

    Americans stand out as odd in our practice of isolating infants in sleep.  Why is it so important to us that tiny infants be independent?  They aren’t leaving for college for 18 years.  Let them be who they are: babies in need of assurance and comfort.  You can’t force independence and maturity on a small baby, but you can ignore them long enough so that they give up hope.  These are the moments that require heroic love.  I know you are tired sometimes and wish the baby would sleep for 8 hours, but the early months pass very quickly.  By responding to a baby’s nighttime cues for food, comfort, and warmth, she will become confident that she’s safe and cherished.  This phase will pass into a new one, and you’ll look back and be so glad you gave her what she needed for those few months.

    Safe Co-sleeping

    Co-sleeping parents are frequently on the receiving end of a finger-waving warning about SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the sudden unexplained death of a child younger than one year old.  While SIDS is not well-understood, these deaths are believed to be correlated to the immaturity of a baby’s heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure during sleep.  Margot Sunderland, The Science of Parenting, 73.  Many people believe letting a baby sleep in bed with a parent (bed-sharing) increases the risk of SIDS, but the fact is, countries with the highest rates of bed-sharing experience the lowest rates of SIDS.  Sunderland, 73.

    Sleeping with your baby can be practiced safely.  Here are a few important precautions:

    • Never allow a baby’s head to be covered by a thick blanket or comforter.
    • Don’t position baby in between two people.  If both parents are sleeping in the bed, have mom sleep in the middle.
    • Don’t sleep with baby in bed with other older children.
    • Don’t bed-share with an infant if you or somebody else in your household smokes.
    • Don’t bed-share if your vigilance is impaired by drugs, alcohol, or exhaustion.
    • Don’t co-sleep with a baby on a waterbed, sofa, or a reclining chair.
    • Premature infants shouldn’t bed-share.

    If you’re at all concerned about SIDS, I highly recommend a co-sleeper, which will allow you to sleep next to your baby but with the baby on a separate sleeping surface.  I had bassinets with my first 3 babies and they were fine, but I much preferred the awesome Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper I had for my youngest daughter Lydia.  The co-sleeper could be placed right next to our bed so that although Lydia was on a separate sleep surface I felt like she was right next to me.  With the bassinets I always had to get up and put my legs over the side of the bed to lift the babies out if I needed to nurse them.  The co-sleeper was much more convenient.  The side of the sleeper could be lowered so that the baby was easier to reach at night, but the side could be placed up higher during the day.

    Arms Reach Co-Sleeper with side up

     

     

    Co-sleeper side down

     

    After a few weeks that co-sleeper sort of turned into a changing table and Lydia just slept in the adult bed with me, but I did like having the option in the early weeks to put her down to sleep in her own space.

    Whether you choose to sleep with your baby in bed with you or right next to you on a separate sleep surface, there are gentle ways to encourage older babies to settle back to sleep when they aren’t waking to feed.  Elizabeth Pantley’s book The No Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night is a full of helpful and practical advice.  Pantley’s approach involves responding to the baby’s cues, but also helping the baby learn to fall back to sleep when she reaches her natural arousal states during the night.

    FURTHER READING

    Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Co-Sleeping by James McKenna

    The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley

    If you’re interested in ethnopediatrics or studies in culture & parenting I recommend:

    Meredith Small’s Our Babies Ourselves (very readable) and the more challenging but worthwhile collection of scholarly essays Parents’ Cultural Belief Systems:  Their Origins, Expressions, and Consequences (edited by Sarah Harkness and Charles Super).  The latter is expensive but I found a copy on inter-library loan.

    Sleeping infant photo credit: Vladimir Melnik (photos.com)