Friday, March 13, 2009

How to Co-Sleep

When we first took the Cave Baby into bed with us it was out of desperation, and we did not know how you were officially "meant" to do it. I tried to research it on the net (whilst nursing of course) and found information was thin on the ground. So here are my tips for anyone looking for information on how to co-sleep:

1. I'm going to assume that you are breastfeeding. So you want to nurse the baby to sleep, and if it is like the Cave Baby, avoid moving it once it is asleep. So you are going to have to try to breastfeed lying down. This takes practice and I believe some people find it easier than others (something to do with breast size?). The two main problems are (a) where to position baby and (b) how to latch baby on properly. My answer to (a) is as follows. Lie on your side with the breast that you want to feed from closest to the bed. Stretch out the arm closest to the bed at right angles from your body. Lie baby on its side with head about 1cm below your arm. Hopefully baby's mouth is just about level with your nipple without you having to hold your breast (if not, adjust as required). For (b), I have never figured out a way of latching on that works as well as my daytime sitting-up latching on technique. You just can't see the baby's mouth well enough. I wait for baby to open its mouth (tickling lips with nipple as necessary) then just shove the breast in. In the early days I endured some shoddy latches, but my nipples got through it without any cracking or serious pain. Nowadays baby is good at latching on and my nipples are completely pain free.

2. The big question for me - does baby go under or over the duvet? Cave Baby is over the duvet in a sleeping bag. I know she is warm, it is easy to move her, and there is no danger of her getting caught up in our duvet. However lots of people have their baby under the duvet, and if you prefer that then go ahead. If baby is under the duvet they need minimal clothing - go roughly on what you are wearing. Whether baby is under or over the covers, you must consider the risk of suffocation and take appropriate measures. I think most people just sleep with the covers pushed down (I wear a man's shirt, unbuttoned, to keep my arms and shoulders warm but leave breast access open).

3. Where in the bed do you and baby lie? I stick to my own side of our bed, and the Cave Baby lies very close to me, so daddy has just about enough room on his side. I have no worries about lying the baby between myself and Cave Father - he has never even come close to rolling on her and I am sure that you and your partner's instincts kick in when you have a baby in the bed, preventing either of you from harming the precious bundle.

4. What about swapping sides to feed? In the early days I swapped the side baby was lying on about 4 or 5 times a night. Six months on, it is down to 2 times a night plus a swap in the morning for breakfast. She used to wake up a lot, perhaps every hour, but I would try and swap sides only once every 2 hours so that my breasts would empty properly. To swap sides I simply hold baby and roll her over the top of my body. This has to be done more carefully with a young baby but gets much easier once the baby has good head control. I believe that some people prefer to move their own bodies to the other side of their baby, so do whatever you prefer.

5. What kind of bed? You are not supposed to co-sleep in a water bed (not sure why) but a normal, firm mattress is fine. Personally I have found that a really firm mattress helps. With a softer mattress, the baby tends to roll towards the mother and risks falling on its front. It also makes positioning more difficult for breastfeeding. A firm mattress also means that baby is less disturbed when adults move around in the bed. My nights have become much more settled since we invested in a firm, kingsize mattress. The final consideration is how to stop baby falling out. You could push an open-sided cot against the side of the bed (providing a further optional location for baby to sleep). Or you could push the bed up against the wall. Or you can purchase a bedrail. I am shortly going to do the latter, and will report on my findings.

6. Other considerations? As you will hopefully have read in the World Health Organisation leaflet, do not smoke, drink or take drugs if you co-sleep. Do not co-sleep if you are obese or are over-tired or ill. Any condition that is likely to make you sleep more deeply than usual and risk rolling on baby makes co-sleeping a no-no. To be honest, I drink a little but no more than a unit or so of an evening.

I hope these guidelines help someone somewhere to get a better night's sleep with a challenging baby. Sweet dreams!

1 comment:

Sarah V. said...

Oh. My. God.

Some good advice in here, but PLEASE don't put a baby under a duvet. Ever. It's just too much risk. They could slip down and overheat or smother. I'm guessing the overall risk of that happening is low, but... why take the chance?

When I co-slept with my first baby, I put a camping mattress down on the floor to sleep on with a blanket. With no. 2, I couldn't do that as we were in a different house and had less room in the main bedroom. Fortunately, we did have a king-size bed by then, and when the baby woke up and I wanted to take her into bed, I pushed the duvet right over to my husband's side of the bed and pulled a blanket over the lower half of myself (so that I could keep even that away from baby's face).

By the way, do be aware that, even in situations optimised for safety, there is still some increased SIDS risk with co-sleeping with babies in their first few months of life. It's probably best to try to put it off until they're a little older.