Cosleeping has a bad rap. It’s been falsely linked to SIDS, postnatal depression, behavioural issues and marital problems. Yet one fact remains: co-sleeping is the biological norm. Parenting isn’t a part-time position, it’s a 24/7 responsibility. Engaging in night-time parenting not only creates a secure parent-child attachment, it’s also an invaluable tool for breastfeeding mothers.
For working mothers in particular, night-time parenting enables them to strengthen their milk supply and connect with their child at the end of a long day. Indeed, cosleeping can often be the deciding factor in whether a mother breastfeeds, as the following story illustrates.
“I am a mum, not a superhero. I meet the needs of my baby. Like many women, I had a good job before children and I wasn’t sure about going back and how it would all work. Thankfully, my company agreed to let me work from home. I felt like I owed it to everyone to try to make it work.
The journey to motherhood was rough
I suffered 3 miscarriages in 2010 and was delighted to finally have a pregnancy that progressed. However, my labour didn’t progress in a straightforward way. To call it ‘epic’ would be an understatement. My waters broke on Saturday night and I finally gave birth on Thursday morning. I had three failed rounds of prostin pessaries. I thought that I was finally going into labour in the early hours of Wednesday morning, but it was just prostin pains, as I was examined and found to still be 1cm. I was hooked up to the syntocin drip on Wednesday at 6AM. I was coping well with TENS and gas and air, but then the contractions came too strong and fast in the early afternoon and I had to ask for the drip to be turned down and an epidural to be administered. I was shattered from being in the hospital for 3 days unable to rest and under constant monitoring. I became very anxious and upset at 10PM at night because I was still only 6cm dilated after such a long time. The midwife told me that I was going to do this naturally. I remembered all of the agonising pregnancy losses, the fear of the early days of this pregnancy, and I steeled myself to get through the next few hours.
The hospital staff tried to keep me on the bed, but I told them that I wasn’t going to stay on it any longer, I was going to stand up and work through the contractions, whether they liked it or not. My son was born at 7:37 on Thursday. He latched on immediately. I didn’t realise how important breastfeeding was going to be for both of us up until this point.
I was clueless in the early days. I didn’t understand my son’s feeding cues and I feel badly now for it. I was given advice to feed every 2 hours, but in reality, he needed more than that. He became jaundiced which made me feel very guilty like I had done something wrong, even though it is a common condition. I still wonder if I could have avoided it if I had fed more frequently on the first day we were home. Thankfully, his jaundice cleared up without being the need for readmission to hospital.
My parents live in another country and they came to visit after my son was born. They couldn’t understand how I was still feeding him after nearly an hour. My mum did breastfeed, but she said that the advice was 10 minutes either side every 3 hours. I just kept on feeding him until he unlatched himself.
Rejecting the right breast
At around 4 months, he stopped feeding on my right side. I kept trying, but he wouldn’t latch on. I felt defective like my body had let my son down. I blamed my flat offset nipple for the problem. I went to see a breastfeeding counsellor and she advised that it was probably too late to do anything about it now. She thought it would be too hard to try different positions now he was bigger. Also she suggested that he may have an upper lip tie which made sense to me. He has a sizeable gap between his front teeth. Other babies his age don’t seem to have it. I am waiting to see a specialist to confirm if this is the case. In the meantime, I figured I would just have to carry on with the one side.
My son also has atopic tendencies which become very aggravated during the cold winter. He had a blood test and it was confirmed that he had a moderate allergic tendency towards dairy products.
Upon finding this out I felt vindicated as I knew something wasn’t right. Yoghurt left a massive rash on his face and he was sick after having pancakes. I cut out dairy from my diet and took flak from my husband that I was making the situation worse by not giving him cows’ milk. I read up on cows milk and realised that allergic reactions are not an uncommon problem. There are massive subsidies to the dairy industries in the US and Europe and they try to push it as being a normal part of your diet. We humans are not meant to have cows milk. I am glad that I have stuck to my instincts and continually offered feeds to keep my supply going. If he had had formula regularly, he could have been a very sick baby.
Cosleeping to the rescue!
Meeting my son’s needs is first on my list. Knowing what I do now, I understand that night feeding is crucial to maintain supply. I figured that as I could only feed from one breast, I certainly needed to make night feeds freely available. Although challenging at times, nursing offers us both a chance to drift back to sleep most of the time.
Often times, mothers think that their child self-weans at 1 year of age. This is most likely down to choices that a mother makes to encourage a child to ‘sleep through’ which can cause supply to drop off and the child stops breastfeeding.
My son has never accepted sleeping anywhere at night other than right by my side. I could never just feed him to sleep and set him down. He had to stay put where he fell asleep. At nearly 17 months, he has never slept through the night. It is extremely hard to focus and be productive after several night wakings, but I do the best I can and meet my work deadlines. Friends sometimes express concern for me because of continued broken sleep. I have modified our beds to allow more space. Even though I am working full time, my son and I have our breastfeeding base to comfort us both when we are reunited.
The best thing about co-sleeping is when my son gives me a hug in the middle of the night.Having him next to me is relaxing because I don’t have to worry if I can hear him breathing on the monitor. He vomited in his sleep last week last week and I don’t know if I would have heard it if it was on the monitor.
My partner sleeps in the spare room and I miss him. However, he works long hours and has a long drive to and from work and can’t cope with frequent night wakings. When he tries to sleep with us, he really struggles. He seems to accept our current sleeping arrangements, but will comment as to what other babies do and don’t do. Our son is so happy and funny that he sees that something must be right. I’ve said that I do what I need to do to cope with the demands of being a full time working mother. He thinks it is a bit strange to still be breastfeeding at 16.5 monthsand often asks when I am going to wean.
Initiative is key
Personal initiative is a key factor in working through problems establishing supply. If there is an obstacle in your way, remove it. Don’t give up until you have an answer. I used the early lengthy feeds to research breastfeeding problems and found a way through. We need more breast feeding support in our society, so I am training to be a peer supporter, to offer support when I can. Do what comes naturally to you, not what other people say you should do. It is such a short period in your life when your baby has such an intense need for you. I will have my nursing memories to cherish when I am old and grey and my son is grown up.
People who don’t try to breastfeed are selfish and deludedif they think that artificial milk is just as good. They need to open their eyes and see that they are being manipulated by mega corporations who do not have their babies best interests at heart. Why would you willingly pay money for an inferior product? If your baby could verbalise, s/he would ask for the breast, not a substitute.”
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