Wednesday, November 10, 2010
What cosleeping is like
When I mention cosleeping to people, a lot of them answer in one of two ways: either "I could never do that! I'd roll onto my baby and smother him!" or, "I could never do that! I wouldn't sleep a wink!" Those who say the former are usually deep sleepers; those who say the latter are usually light sleepers.
My main problem is the second, and not the first. I know how I sleep: I get into the perfect position (on my right side, knees bent, arms in front of me, blanket over my ear) and fall asleep. Eight hours later (wow, how long it's been since I slept eight hours) I wake up in the exact same position. So I know I wouldn't be rolling onto a baby. (Prolactin makes mothers sleep more lightly anyway, so most breastfeeding moms would probably find themselves in the same camp when it came down to it.)
I'll admit it: the first several times I brought the baby into bed with me, I didn't sleep a wink. That's why I didn't stick with it. On the other hand, the first many nights I was married, I didn't sleep a wink either. There's something about having someone else in my sleep space that is really hard for me. Because people aren't perfectly still in their sleep. They twitch. Their breathing changes. They roll over, pull the blankets around, flop onto their other side.
I do this too, which is why I can't even sleep with my cat. I have fallen asleep petting her and woken up with horrible scratches on my hand ... later reconstructing that I had started to grab her as I fell asleep.
So, my twitches and breathing changes kept the baby awake, and his kept me awake. We would lie awake and stare at each other until I finally put him back in his bassinet.
Over time, though, we've learned to sleep together. When he had a cold, he liked to nap upright in my arms. (This sounds like a huge sacrifice for me to do, but it was really just a good chance to catch up on my Google Reader.) At first, I had to be perfectly still. My arm could fall asleep under him, and I had to leave it there. I'd be starving and thirsty and my nose would itch, but if I moved at all, he would wake up.
After a few days of this, though, he got used to my movements. Some clicking around on the computer ... a readjustment of my arm ... until I found I could switch him from one arm to the other, go into the kitchen, and get myself a snack, and he still wouldn't wake. He'd become accustomed to the normal movements that I make.
We do this, as humans. The fact is, hardly anyone sleeps through the night. We wake half up, adjust the blankets, turn over, make sure we are comfortable. We hear a noise, and we take a moment to decide whether it's a noise we have to respond to or one we can ignore. We aren't fully awake when we make these decisions -- I call it "triage mode." Triage mode explains why I wake up the instant the baby makes a peep, unless John is up with him, in which case I sleep right through it. I thought John's alarm didn't wake me, because I always woke up with no memory of hearing it. But he told me I actually sat up, looked around, and resettled when it went off. I'm now adjusted to John's presence in the bed, so a poke of his foot, a flop as he turns over, or a tug at the blankets doesn't wake me -- and yet I don't roll into him, either. I know he's there without having to wake up and be conscious of the fact.
The ideal of cosleeping is to train your triage mode to the sounds and motions of your baby, so that you wake up in the morning saying, "Boy, I feel refreshed -- did the baby wake up at all? I don't remember," and yet the baby is happy because he was fed five times over the course of the night and you didn't roll over him. My mom used to call my sister Juliana her "miracle baby," because she would go to bed resolving to keep Juliana in her crib, but wake in the morning and find her in bed with her. Her brain "triaged" the situation -- baby crying, baby not settling, baby hungry -- and decided cosleeping was the best solution. But she was still enough asleep that no memories were formed.
The best thing that I've found for acclimating yourself to someone else's sleep is to go to bed at the same time. Your brain can freak out when it wakes up and finds a different situation than the one it fell asleep in -- which is why babies cry when they fall asleep in Mama's arms and wake up in a crib. When I coslept with my younger brother Joseph, all went well (relatively) as long as I went to bed when he did. If I stayed up later and joined him once he was asleep, he wasn't aware of my presence and would keep rolling into me and kicking me in the stomach.
Once you're acclimated to a sleep situation, it's the one you prefer and find most comforting. I trained Marko to sleep in his crib, so when he finds himself in his crib, on his tummy, with a thin blanket over his feet, he feels calm and often settles back to sleep. Yet until recently, if he found himself in my arms (and I wasn't walking around, which is his preference) he would wake up crying. Now that he's getting used to sleeping with me, it's no longer a surprise to find me with him when he wakes up, and he more often wakes up smiling.
An added bonus is that I can now comfort him more easily, wherever he wakes up. It used to be that, when he woke up, the best I could do was hold my breath and hope he settled back down. If I touched him or adjusted his position in any way, it woke him up and he'd cry. Now, when I lay him down in his crib, I give him a kiss first, lay him down, leave my cheek against him for a minute, and slowly straighten up. If he's wiggly or half-awake, I can pat his back or stroke his hair. These things, which used to wake him, calm him now because he's used to them.
So, now that we're getting the hang of things (though we still cosleep less than half the time -- just for some naps and sometimes early in the morning), we're both sleeping much better than we used to. He snuggles into my arms and gets comfy. I adjust my position until I'm as close as I'm going to get to my accustomed position and start to feel relaxed myself. (It helps that nursing is a surefire sleep aid, both for him and me. A bit of nursing before we lie down gets us both very drowsy.) At first I never dreamed when napping with him, but now I do. I don't think I sleep very deeply, but I wake up refreshed.
And unlike when I nap in my bed while he's in his crib, he never startles me awake. We always wake up gradually, at the same time. He stirs a little -- my dream starts to dissolve -- he grunts -- I stroke his hair and hush him -- after a few half-awakenings, he opens his eyes and smiles at me.
It really is the best.