By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.authenticparent.com
We cosleep with our baby, but she keeps waking up every hour or two to breastfeed. I put her to sleep at 7 p.m., and she wakes up two hours later. I join her at around 10 p.m. and then she keeps waking up and nursing. Should I move her away from our family bed to help my baby sleep better?
A: I am delighted that your baby sleeps with you. If she woke up in another bed or another room, she would have had to go through anxiety and crying every time she needed to breastfeed or to feel reassured that you still exist. She would have given up half the times, and she would have learned a painful lesson, “When I need care, I have to cry loudly.” This is the early training for tantrums and anger.
When babies are carried on our bodies and sleep with us, they hardly have to make a sound to get the care they need. As they grow older, they will keep asking for what they want in gentle ways.
Waking at night is nature’s clever design. Babies grow in their sleep and can become easily hungry. Sensing the presence of the mother’s body reminds them to wake up and nurse. In addition, since their breathing is still immature, nature makes sure that they wake up often enough to avoid very deep sleep and apnea. Nature makes no mistakes.
Your expectation that she should wake up less frequently causes you undue stress. The good news is, she is thriving and you are meeting her needs wonderfully. Without your misled expectation, you can respond to the way she is with joy. I recall waiting impatiently for the sweet moments of my babies waking up at night so I can kiss, smell, breastfeed, and feel the baby. These times are heavenly, but resisting and worry steal our joy away. The more you follow your baby’s needs, the easier it becomes. Of course, make sure to eat well yourself, avoid stimulating foods, and provide a dark, quiet bedroom for your family.
The baby is always right. The baby never asks for something wrong. The basic needs she signals for are what she absolutely needs. Your job is not to alter your baby but to respond to the way she is. You only doubt yourself when under the influence of other people. Listen to your little baby and to your own heart. She is needing to sleep with you and to wake to breastfeed as often as she does. There are ways for you to get enough sleep without going against your baby’s needs.
Couple Time and Bedtime
Many couples with a first or even a second baby are still “hoping” to resume life the way it was. They want to put the baby to sleep and have time for themselves. However, more often than not, sleep proves itself far from a good babysitter. Bedtime becomes a struggle because of an unspoken goal of getting rid of the baby or child. The baby senses this intent and may become resistant to sleep or simply not wanting to be excluded. Because it seems to work for some when the baby is still young, we are fooled to believe it would keep working.
In reality, your baby needs your uninterrupted presence when sleeping. The baby has no idea of future and no sense of existing without her body being touched. She can therefore experience terror when alone. This is the reason that nature gave babies a built-in reaction of crying when away from our bodies. Nature never meant for babies to sleep away from their mothers. And, mothers naturally want to hold their babies. There is no reason to train mothers and babies out of their healthy attachment.
When you put your baby to sleep at 7 p.m., she is not cosleeping for a good part of her night. She is alone. Waking up to find herself without you is scary for her. She can develop into a light sleeper who wakes up frequently to guard that you are close by. Your daughter’s emotional well being, confidence, intelligence, and health depend on taking for granted that mom is always present. This may require a lot more than you thought you were ready to give, but at the end, it is the easier way and it results in a well-behaved, content child. Be gentle with yourself by avoiding guilt, and instead, learn and grow daily by listening to your baby and exploring inside of you the thoughts that drag you away from enjoying her fully.
In natural societies, parents never put their babies or children to bed. A baby sleeps when she sleeps. She is in arms at all times and regulates her own sleep. In this way, the baby learns self-awareness and self-regulation without becoming dependent on adult control. Let your baby fall asleep on the breast anywhere you are, at her own time, so she can become self-aware and develop healthy sleep.
I often say that I was a lazy mother. I wanted to do everything the easiest way. Amazingly, I found that this was also the kindest way to babies and children. I always went to sleep with my children in the same bed and the same time. They had no stress about bedtime and are terrific sleepers. I never put them to bed. Every night was a slumber party, and we always had enough sleep and sometimes I even read in bed in the morning while the children were still asleep.
We must move on and depart from old expectations. Sex and couple time don’t have to be always in the evening and in the bedroom. Trying to impose couple time in the evening, when the baby needs you the most, is a struggle against nature. Find new times and settings for your relationship and realize that being together as a family is romantic, too. It is not about sex but about love and sharing the child you are nurturing together.
Your baby needs to be in body contact with you at all times, including the first hours of her night’s sleep.
Use these principles in your own creative ways. Respond to the flow, nurture your daughter’s natural ability to recognize her own tiredness even if she fights it — it is her self-discovery — and provide constant, stress-free physical closeness. Your baby wake-ups are wonderful and healthy; without struggling against it, you can cherish each moment of cuddling with your nursing little angel.