The first two nights after our little baby was born were definitively too short. What else did I expect with a newborn at home?
We had decided to sleep with a baby cradle next to our bed, put on my (the mother’s) side. The idea was tempting: We’d sleep better and would be with more energy the next day. At the same time we would be right next to our baby in case she needed us. Also, our little one would hear our respiration and sense our presence.
So far the plan. We had even swaddled our newborn to help her feel as if she was in the uterus due to space limitation. Nevertheless she didn’t stop crying when we tried to bring her to bed after changing diapers and breast feeding her. We didn’t close an eye during the whole night.
After the third night without any sleep we “risked” to let her sleep in our bed. We put her between the wall and me and covered the side of the wall with pillows so she wouldn’t roll into the cold stone wall. We slept as the following: wall, baby, mother, dad. I need to add that we still have a 1.40 m French bed.
And it was the most recreative night we could have wished for! Once in a while our baby woke up to drink. Then I gave her my breast and just continued sleeping. That was all. Once or (very rarely) twice we had to change her nappies.
Still, we were worried to crush our baby during the night. What if we slept so deep that we rolled over her? Hereon, our dear midwife explained to us that it was very unlikely that this could happen as long as the baby lied on the mother’s side. Apparently, mothers have this “chip” in their brains (of course again due to the beloved hormones!) that makes them sleep only a very light sleep. By this, mums unconsciously listen to their baby’s respiration while asleep. Fathers however can fall into a normal, deep sleep which is why the risk of rolling over the baby at night might be given. This information calmed us down.
The question that then came into my mind motivates me to write this article:
Why was the thought of letting our sweet, little baby that had just arrived into this big, unfamiliar world sleep in our bed so difficult? Why had it been so clear for us to put her aside into her own bed? We hadn’t even thought about another way. In a way this had been the most natural thing in the world for us.
90% of parents worldwide take their baby into their bed
In fact, the exact opposite is the case: The most natural and original is when babies and toddlers sleep in the same bed than their parents respectively mothers. Some good numbers were given by the anthropologist Meredith F. Small in her book “Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent”. Hence, about 90% of children worldwide sleep in the same bed then their parents or respectively their mothers (in some cultures it might be the case that men and women don’t regularly sleep in the same bed even if they are married, e.g. in polygamous societies)! NINTY PERCENT! And where are the belonging “abnormal” 10% of human mankind who let their kids sleep alone? Studies have shown that in particularly in the US and big parts of Europe parents don’t take their kids into their beds.
Contrary to that, scientists meanwhile assume that it can have even physiological advantages for newborns to sleep together with their parents. Newborns can’t yet control their sleeping rhythm by themselves. Such they can fall into a very deep sleep from which they hardly can return by themselves and so they might just stop breathing (note: this explanation of course is very simplified!). Scientists suspect this as one of the possible reasons for the so-called and everywhere feared SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Sleeping next to the parents the baby hears the sound of their sleep which protects the baby of falling into a too deep sleep. At the same time the so-called “co-sleeping” is developed where the baby adapts to its parents’ sleeping rhythm. Hereby it learns to differentiate, coordinate and control the different sleeping phases. (Attention: Please not that parents should NEVER take their baby into their bed if they have consumed cigarets, alcohol or any other drug!!)
Isn’t it unbelievable what mother nature has prepared for us? It’s all there – we only have to accept and take it!
Why was it then so difficult for me to imagine our child sleeping in our bed? I mean, I have seen this so many times when I lived in Japan or in South America. Sometimes kids even slept in their parents’ bed until they entered into adolescence! And one couldn’t even argue that the parents’ sexual freedom is very restricted in such parts of the world! Both cultures have their own methods to grant time for intimacy. Also, people there aren’t less independent than people in cultures where babies usually sleep alone in their own beds and rooms.
Being afraid to spoil my baby
I think, at the end I was afraid to spoil my child. Of course there was also the fear to crush my baby but it might not have been the main reason. We had been given many times the advice to let our baby sleep as soon as possible by her own so that she won’t get used to that comfortable situation of sleeping in our bed. We didn’t even realise that this was an advice. It was rather like a constant ripple of water that purled in the background. The comments of the others. The offers of wonderful, cute newborn cradles in the shopping centres. All the movies where babies are for general put into their own beds. Other parents and their methods… All this had been definitively forming.
But firstly: During the first months a baby can’t “calculate” or “manipulate” yet. This means, our baby doesn’t cry because it “thinks” that we’d then take her into our bed. Rather she cries because she really needs something – and let it be “only” love and mom’s warm skin!
And secondly: Why shouldn’t I spoil my child? Why is the pampering of children so despised? I mean, why do we have children then? Only to be able to call them “independent” and “autonomous” as soon as possible? I believe, a healthy self-confidence comes also (or in particular!) along with pampering. Assuming that pampering finds place by giving love, time and precense instead of material goods, sweets and television. Furthermore: Do we really wish that our kids leave home with 18 and don’t want to know anything of us anymore? Without feeling a connection and affection for us…? Think about it.
My husband often speaks about the “Paraguayan mother” who spoils her children (also in an adult age) with her self-made cocido (sweetened mate tea). In fact, the recipe itself is very easy. Yet, most Paraguayans that I know don*t have a clue how to prepare it. Only mothers and grandmothers seem to know the recipe. I used to smile about this inability and regarded it as a lack of independence. But by the time I kind of understood the “concept” that lay behind this apparent inability: It’s all about giving love by pampering with small things. It’s not about forcing by any means the independence of your kids. Generally this comes by its own. Mostly sooner as one wishes…
Sleeping pills for the baby
In some countries as for instance France or the US some parents even go so far that they let their paediatrics prescribe sleeping pills for children in order to make them sleep throughout the whole night. This is in particularly due to the working situation and the lack of bigger family bondings in those countries. Such, in France women are returning much earlier to work than the average in European. In the US maternity leave is extremely short (for more information about maternity and paternity leave see also this comparison: Parental leave and child care around the world). At the same time, there often is no family backup as for instance in those countries where the whole extended family takes care for the baby. Still, I’m wondering what sense does this make? On the one hand one let his baby sleep alone to (apparently) make it more independent. On the other hand, one fills his child up with soporifics and such withdraws any freedom to discover and control it’s own sleeping rhythm. Actually, one takes the independence of the child by doing so. In a way I find this contrarian…