Before you read this post be sure to catch Ecological Breastfeeding Part I, Part II and Part III
I know mothers who follow all of the ecological breastfeeding standards except the two that we are going to talk about today. And guess what? They don’t benefit from the same blessings that following the entire plan give. Of course, following five of these principles rather than none is definitely a good thing, but you and your child are still missing out on ecological breastfeeding and the gifts it can give your family.
So, I ask that today you keep an open mind. Don’t immediately disregard this phenomenal method of parenting your baby until you have heard all the facts. I know that many people will read the next two standards and think “There’s no way I’m ever doing that.” But just wait, make an informed decision; you owe it not only to your child but to yourself as well.
Standard #4: Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
The story is old and worn and well known by all Americans… “I got pregnancy insomnia, and then after he was born he wouldn’t sleep for three months! Now he only needs one or two feedings a night, which is better, but I feel so exhausted all the time…” If you are like many families and have children in close succession, this could mean literally years and years of being sleep deprived.
Whether you believe in birth control or not – it was obviously not a part of God’s original plan for growing families. This leaves me with one of two conclusions, either God intended for mothers to be useless and sleep deprived for all of their childbearing years (which for some can literally be decades). Or… God had another model that prevents unnecessary sleep deprivation for mothers. I tend to go with the latter.
And honestly? I think I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have been sleep deprived since becoming a mother. Currently nursing and growing a baby does make one quite tired… but I got ten hours of sleep last night. Yup, ten wonderful… amazing… needed hours of sleep.
When people ask me how Evie sleeps I always tell them that she started sleeping through the night at four days old… that’s not exactly true, but it’s easier than explaining the reality that I started sleeping through the night again when she was four days old.
I am actually not sure when Evie started sleeping through the night… and honestly I didn’t care when she did, because I didn’t need to care. When she wakes up and needs to nurse I just have to readjust and help her latch on; normally I never even remember doing this. See? Feeding your baby is so easy you can do it in your sleep! Haha…
But in all seriousness, this one practice of having our baby sleep in our bed with us has given us so much more rest and sanity than many young parents I know have had in years. It’s terribly sad to me that our society has lied to mothers telling them that cribs are the safest and only place a baby should sleep, not even stopping to consider the mental and emotional toll it takes to raise a child that way.
Think about it. While breastfeeding, chemicals such as oxytocin are released into your bloodstream. These are very helpful in bonding with your child, but they are also deeply relaxing. Many moms find it difficult to stay awake while nursing, and it isn’t just because it’s 2am. Nursing induces sleepiness. Why would our benevolent and omniscient Creator make our bodies want to fall asleep at the very time that it’s dangerous to do so? It doesn’t make sense.
Sleeping and nursing go together – it’s natural! And also completely safe. Ads like this one make me furious. They are misleading and inappropriate to say the least. Many babies in our country DO die every year from dangerous co-sleeping situations, but not from sleeping in a safe environment with a nursing mother.
Instead of pushing the crib habit, the government should be focusing on giving real information about co-sleeping that is helpful. Information like, don’t sleep with your child if you are impaired with drugs or alcohol, don’t let your baby sleep near a crack or on the edge of the bed, don’t fall asleep in awkward places like your recliner, etc. Asserting flat-out that cribs are the only safe place for babies is not founded in science and is simply untrue. In fact, it is actually safer to co-sleep in a proper family bed under the right circumstances than to place your baby alone in a crib. This is a very good summary of how to co-sleep comfortably and safely and is very similar to what we have done as a family.
Not only does co-sleeping give you more rest, but it ensures that your baby always knows he is safe and taken care of. No one should have to sleep alone, especially not babies who do not have the ability to understand why they are all by themselves. Low serotonin levels have been scientifically linked to a higher risk of SIDs, and high levels of stress induce such dangerous chemical imbalances in the brain. What could cause a high level of stress right before sleep? Being left abandoned in a dark place, all alone, where no one responds to your cries of terror. This is what an infant experiences when parents unwittingly use the “cry it out” method to get their babies to sleep on their own.
Even with gentler crib sleeping practices, a crib is still not as safe as being next to mom in bed. Carbon dioxide has been shown to cause the inhaling reflex in infants. If you are sleeping facing your baby (as you would be nursing while you sleep) your constant breathing rhythms help to regulate your child’s so that his body continues to breathe safely through the night. Not to mention that forcing yourself to stay awake in a rocking chair or elsewhere while nursing can lead to the more dangerous sleeping-while-nursing scenarios that we want to avoid.
So, what does all of this have to do with making sure that your baby continues nursing through toddlerhood and receives all the nutritional benefits he needs? Well, a lot actually. If you don’t sleep with your child there is a necessity to begin limiting nighttime nursings, scheduling, etc., which inevitably limits how much your child nurses.
Putting any limitations on nursing at all can cause your child to wean early and lose many of those nutritional benefits he could have been reaping his entire life. Furthermore, nursing at night is many times nursing for comfort. This is an important part of the nursing relationship and, if you cut it out, he will to learn to go to other sources for comfort causing weaning to begin much earlier, whether you are ready for it or not.
Standard #5: Sleep with your baby for a daily nap feeding.
I won’t delve into the safety issue much here as I covered that already; but sleeping with your baby during the day is more or less the same as sleeping with your baby at night, and just as important.
Not only does laying down with your baby for naps give more opportunity for nursing (which is important for extended amenorrhea and a long nursing relationship) but it also gives you more opportunity for rest.
Becoming a new mother is exhausting and simply sleeping through the night may not be enough. You need to give yourself permission to take naps, and the best time (if not the only time) you can do this with a newborn is while he’s napping. Because of our body’s natural tendency to get tired while nursing a babe to sleep, this is a perfect opportunity for you both to bond, rest and benefit from the nursing relationship.
This is probably one of the easiest standards to shrug off because so many of us are not used to the luxury of napping daily. And, you might say, if I am already sleeping with baby at night will this really make a difference? The answer is, yes. Just as with any of the seven standards, you lose one and you’re done. Fun rhyming eh? Ok… too many bad puns in one post will lose me my readers, sorry, I’ll stop.
Now with me and Evie, and with most I’d wager, we don’t take naps together every day. In fact, I only napped with her on a daily basis for maybe the first two weeks. After that it depended on whether or not I was tired enough to sleep. If I wasn’t tired, I would get up after Evangeline fell asleep and go do something else. If she woke up before I knew she was ready I would nurse her back down, and sometimes then I’d be ready for a nap too.
Even still today I nurse her to sleep for bed and for her naps every day. I usually don’t nap with her, although with the pregnancy it’s become more tempting… When I am not tired enough to sleep I will lay down with her and nurse her till she’s fast asleep and then I’ll leave. When she wakes up I (as Jake fondly refers to it) nurse her back to life.
She always needs to breastfeed upon waking. I’m not sure what it is about that transition period, but it’s what we’ve always done and it’s become one of my favorite nursing times of the day. I think it started when she was smaller and woke up two or three times during her nap; I would nurse her just to see if she would fall back asleep, so even when she was ready to get up we would still nurse. In any case, it’s been an enjoyable bond between us.
I think I’m going to wrap it up for tonight, but as always if you have any questions on this or any of the other previous breastfeeding posts please comment or shoot me an email. At the end of this series I am going to have a Q&A and I would love to tackle anything you’d like to throw at me.
Blessings on this, the 4th Day of Christmas!
Read Part V Now!