Tucking Baby into Bed
I cosleep with my daughter, and have done since she was born. The closeness and ease of breastfeeding has enhanced the last two years of parenting for our family. But I am saddened every time I hear new parents utter the words “I’ve been told not to put baby into bed with me, its too dangerous”. Health professionals across the UK need to give parents informed choice, simply telling them that ‘cosleeping is dangerous’ is as helpful as saying ‘a caesarean section has no risks’.
New parents, especially mothers, are vulnerable. They are often exhausted from the birth and overwhelmed with love and a sense of responsibility. With a high initial breastfeeding rate, it is reasonable to assume that most new mothers will be spending their first 24 hours getting used to the needs of their baby waking frequently. In a hospital ward environment their baby’s rhythm is disrupted by other babies waking, bleeping of various machines, call bells, ‘routine’ monitoring, laughter in the midwives’ office. The fear of falling asleep in bed with baby has been fed almost intravenously from media scare stories and ill-informed health professionals, so women will try to carefully place their just-fed sleepy baby into the cold plastic cot beside them, and baby wakes almost instantaneously.
Because it is a primal instinct is to be close to its mother, where it is warm and safe, where it can feed when it needs, where it’s body temperature, heartbeat and breathing are regulated, where it can stimulate the vital supply of breastmilk. This is how we have survived as a human race.
So a mother’s instinct will respond to this. She will hold her baby close and climb into bed after settling her baby in the cot has failed for the seventeenth time. She will feel relaxed, her oxytocin will start to flow, triggering her milk supply. She will fall asleep. Contented with her baby. It is in these moments that if, as a midwife, you step back and just watch you will see the glow of a mother being born.
Now is not the time to pluck the baby from the mother’s arms without her permission. Now is not the time to tuck the baby into the cold plastic cot. The baby and its mother will wake, horrified by what you have done, but too terrified that they are endangering their baby to complain about it. Instead it would be better to quietly get a sheet from the linen cupboard and secure mother and baby together. For we should never be in this situation in the first place. Open and honest discussions should be had with ALL women about how to care for their baby at night time and how to create a safe sleeping space in the bed.
Co-sleeping is a survival tool. It prolongs the breastfeeding journey. It helps mothers get more sleep. The frequent night wakings of a breastfed baby are infact a protective factor against SIDS (Horsley, et. al., 2007). Roughly half of all parents in the UK take their baby into bed with them at some point (UNICEF, 2016)…so why are midwives, health visitors and maternity support workers hiding from this? Are they afraid that their career will be on the line if they tell parents that cosleeping is safe and a life is lost? Do they even know about the benefits of cosleeping and the situations that make it hazardous?
I would NEVER perform a midwifery intervention without gaining informed consent, by that I mean a full and honest discussion about the benefits and potential complications, and application of the evidence to the individual’s circumstances. I even explain why I want to palpate, monitor blood pressure, dip urine. Protecting a baby from SIDS is no different - we should not tell only half a story; this does not allow parents to make informed choices. Midwives work with women, and I will always discuss the evidence and encourage parents to respond to their instincts, plan for the unexpected and take sensible precautions to keep their baby safe.
A little note:
I thought long and hard about sharing this image with you, but its the reality of motherhood! It was taken about year ago. Now my daughter sleeps on a floor-bed in her own room (with me tucked up right next to her). Even my ten year old yearns for the comfort of someone beside him at night from time to time. As for my husband - his patience is more than I could ever possibly ask for.
UNICEF (2016) Cosleeping and SIDS Health professionals resource. Available at: <a href="https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/leaflets-and-posters/co-sleeping-and-sids/">https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/leaflets-and-posters/co-sleeping-and-sids/
Horsley T et al. (2007) Benefits and harms associated with the practice of bed sharing. Arch Pediatr Adolecs Med; 161 (3): 237-245