This Friday I have a CAFS nurse visiting my home for the mandatory newborn baby and mother check. When the appointment was made, I was told that the nurse would be checking where my baby sleeps. So this might be a good moment to explain why my baby sleeps where she does.
My baby is now two and a half weeks old and my husband and I decided that she would be sleeping in her cot in her nursery at night from the first day we brought her home from hospital. Controversial, I know! The recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS is to have your newborn in a cot in your bedroom for the first six months. However this was not going to work for my family for a couple of reasons. The first is that we have three cats. One, perhaps two of these cats are heat-seeking deep sleepers who I worry might think a sleeping baby is a nice warm place for a nap. Keeping the three cats out of our bedroom would be difficult as we would be opening and closing the door and constantly trying to herd them out. But in the nursery, I can shut the door and be sure that the cats aren’t in there and therefore they can’t get into the cot.
The other reason for our decision is our ability to keep the nursery warm. We are experiencing a relatively cold winter currently, and I know babies have trouble regulating their own temperatures. From the moment our baby came home, we have had an oil heater on in her nursery and I check before she is put down to sleep that the temperature of the room is 20 degrees, which is not too hot or not too cold for baby. The door remains closed all day to keep the heat in the nursery, something we couldn’t manage in our bedroom. Apart from living in fear of our next electricity bill, I feel confident that my baby is sleeping in a warm room, in a safe cot that meets all safe-sleeping rules, swaddled in a wrap, with ample blankets and no furry visitors in the cot. She settles off to sleep very easily in her room and I have a sound monitor in her cot with her, which is put next to my bed at night, or in the living room during the day. So I can hear her as if I’m right next to her.
During the day, my baby either sleeps in her cot in the nursery, or in her bassinette on the pram. This works well for me because sometimes I will take her out for a walk in the pram while she is asleep, or even sometimes to help her get to sleep, so I’m pleased to find she sleeps soundly in the bassinette. I think it’s important that she learns to sleep in places other than her cot so that it gives me more flexibility about where she goes to bed; whether it be at a friend or family member’s house in a Portacot when she’s a bit older, or in her pram while we are out and about.
Now for a confession that I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting; I am paranoid about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The idea of my daughter being put down to sleep and never waking up again fills me with an anxious dread. I keep this anxiety at bay by reminding myself constantly that I’ve followed all the SIDS recommendations about putting her to sleep on her back, in a swaddle, in a safe cot or bassinette and I have a monitor listening out for her at all times. Sometimes I give in to the anxiety just a little by checking on her perhaps every hour when she is asleep. And I have chosen not to follow the SIDS recommendation of having her in my room. But I also feel that if I did have her in my room, I might be tempted to do something I have guiltily done once or twice in the last couple of weeks; and that is to breast feed while I’m still in bed. Both times I have done this my husband has brought her into me as she’s woken for a feed while he is up and I’m having a nap. And as much as it saved the hassle of getting out of a warm bed in the cold winter night to feed her sitting up in my nursing chair in the nursery, I am really aware that it would be far too easy to accidently fall asleep while breast feeding if I made a habit of feeding her in my bed. For me, the short walk to the nursery when she wakes up in the night for a feed is enough to wake me up sufficiently to organise the feed, and once sitting up in the nursing chair, I don’t feel there is any risk of me falling asleep.
A quick note here about sleep-deprivation. So far my daughter is sleeping fairly well for a newborn, which means a maximum of 2 – 3 hours at a time. That means I’m only sleeping a maximum of 2 – 3 hours at a time while she is asleep. So although over the course of a night I might get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep, it is broken. And for me, broken sleep is nothing like a good 7- 9 hour stretch. I’m not a huge fan of napping during the day as I usually wake up with a headache and feel quite groggy afterwards. So I’m surviving ok at the moment with the broken night sleeps. However, I am exhausted all the time. I’m drinking coffee for the first time in my life and it does help me to get through the day. And I know this period of sleep-deprivation won’t last as she will sleep for longer as she gets bigger. I hope! But for the time being I need to make it really clear that I’m exhausted. So the risk of me falling asleep with her on my boob is relatively high. Which is why I make sure I’m always sitting up in a chair to breastfeed, day and night. Because I am terrified that if I fell asleep while breastfeeding, I would drop my baby, or smother her and cause her death.
This fear is also why I could never co-sleep with my baby. I totally understand why mums choose co-sleeping; their baby probably sleeps better next to them and they don’t have to get out of bed to breastfeed so they get more sleep too. Some women are so exhausted by their baby’s short sleep patterns that they will do anything to find some rest and co-sleeping offers them this intoxicatingly attractive option. I understand co-sleepers take all the precautions they can to make bedding and their baby’s position as safe as possible. And I understand that some women really believe that they are in tune with their baby to know they would never ever roll onto their child. But honestly, I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t because I just know I sleep far too soundly, particularly when I’m as exhausted as I am now. The warnings about the increased risk of SIDS for co-sleeping babies is just too big a risk for me to take. So whereas I might ignore the recommendations by experts to reduce the risk of SIDS by having my baby in her own nursery rather than in a cot by my bed, I won’t be ignoring the recommendations against co-sleeping, no matter how tempting a good night’s sleep might be.