THE REALITY OF BREASTFEEDING

 

BABIES' NEED FOR SLEEP - SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS

 

All mammals sleep with their young. Most humans do as well. It is only here in Britain and the USA that a notion has arisen that babies can be expected to sleep alone. This is relevant to breastfeeding because you are then not expected to wake in the night to nurse your baby. An ideal baby, according to society, is one that sleeps all night alone. It is not surprising that parents become exhausted and possibly resentful about this, and they are unprepared, when they discover the reality that their baby needs attention during the night. I talked to a Chinese woman who had never been to Europe about the British habit of leaving babies alone to sleep when very young and she said “But the baby would be scared!”. She was genuinely shocked at the idea.

Interestingly in a survey reported in our local paper in Solihull last year 66% of parents questioned said they would allow a child into their bed when unwell. I know many parents here do sleep with their babies. They rarely talk about it though, which means that other parents don’t think it is normal and OK, and they struggle on unsupported.

If you know that is what a baby will expect you don’t have such a shock when your brand new baby cries when put down alone. I say this so that you know what to expect and that you are not doing anything wrong if your baby does not obediently drop off in its own room as portrayed so convincingly in the advertising we see in this country. The practice of expectant parents preparing a room for their baby before it is born speaks for itself, showing the expectation of our culture that a new baby is instantly ready to be separate from its mother. Appropriately this room is called a Nursery - from the nurse who used to be available to the baby all the time by those who paid someone else to look after their baby and yes, you’ve guessed, to sleep beside it.

Breastfeeding needs proximity and certainly for the first few months (or longer if you plan to continue nursing) you can expect a baby to need to feed in the night. If you know that this is normal behaviour you won’t worry when it happens to you. I hope it will also prevent you from spending many fruitless hours pacing the floor in the small hours with a baby who sleeps soundly while you are holding it and wakes like magic as soon as it is put down and you attempt to leave the room.

 

This is a safety mechanism in the baby to know when you are near and it is being protected. We are still biologically the same animals that have survived in the wild. And, as stated by Jean Liedloff in the ‘Continuum Concept’, there are still places in the world where your baby would be eaten by a leopard if left alone. Our babies cannot know that we don’t live in the wilderness. The fact that our babies are more at threat from another human being than a wild animal is sad but means that we still need to be vigilant in protecting our young ones.

When I had my first baby I felt uneasy about going out of the room without her. My neighbour expressed the same feeling in hospital and was laughed at. However since recent baby snatching incidents she feels that she has a right to be protective.

All this is not to say that you should or should not do things a particular way, but in order that you might know what to expect and what is possible. Some babies do sleep in a room alone, some parents have the baby in the same room and some in a crib beside the bed. All of these can work, as can putting the baby down alone for the first part of the night then bringing it into your bed for the rest of the night. This solution can give you the best of both worlds. You only have to wake once, you get the privacy and relaxation of going to bed alone / with your partner, the baby sleeps most soundly for the first few hours as you do, breastfeeding can then continue for the rest of the night without you being woken. This or something similar can work, then it changes as the baby matures. Sometimes the new baby does need to be held all the time and you can try this once some weeks have passed. You have to be creative in finding ways to get the most sleep for everyone in the most acceptable manner.

Some mothers have a single bed in the baby’s room that they go to after the baby wakes to save disturbing their partner and to give them more room. Some people get a bigger bed. I had a single bed by our double bed once my second baby was seven months old so she could crawl in with me when she needed to, I did not then have to wake at all.

It all changes in time and children do move on to the next stage when ready.

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