Co-Sleeping And Breast-Feeding
by Nicole Freire
When I was pregnant with my first child in 1997, all of the resources that are available to pregnant women now were not a reality for me. Nineteen ninety-seven was pre-mommy bloggers, pre-baby wearing, pre-attachment parenting, and thank goodness, pre/pro-cloth diapers (I still had very clear memories of my mother using cloth diapers on my little sister in, what, 1973 or 1974? Even then I was pretty grossed out by it). There were maybe one or two parenting magazines out there, but that was about it.
Yes, that is me sleeping with my girls in the king-sized bed. The baby on my left is the youngest and the tousled blonde curls on my right belong to my eldest.
We lived in San Francisco in 1997, so I was lucky enough to discover a great store (the name escapes me now, of course) in the Noe Valley/Castro District that was the only birth resource place in the city. You could check out videos of childbirth (both home births and hospital births), read about breastfeeding, buy cocoa butter to slather on your belly, and maybe some homemade baby carriers. I haunted the place until I had checked out and watched every single birth video (yep, watched them on a VCR!).
But I still had so many questions and so few places to find answers. And so, like any good daughter of a reference librarian, I headed off to the library and the bookstore for help. There wasn't a huge selection, but I found some books that I kept permanently in my library. They were as follows:
The Baby Book, by Dr. Sears
The Family Bed, by Tine Thevenin
Spiritual Midwifery, By Ina May Gaskin
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, by the La Leche League
I did attend a lactation class offered by the hospital where I would eventually give birth, but the actual class details escaped me, as the highlight of the class was when one of the women also taking the class went into labor DURING the class. My husband and I did attend some Lamaze type classes offered by the hospital, but even then I was pretty sure that the breathing bit would not work for me. I even took a pre-natal yoga class but yoga is - and continues to be - not my thing.
I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful ob/gyn. In her practice was the state's only (at the time) male midwife. My pregnancy was good, I slept a lot. My parents bought us a crib and my husband handmade a cradle for the baby to come.
After an ok labor and scores of wonderful doctors and midwife nurses and an anesthesiologist who took his own sweet time getting to my room (thank you, Mr. Epidural) we took our daughter home.
I laid her down in the cradle next to our bed and after five minutes of watching her I thought to myself, "She looks cold and lonely and how can I make sure she's breathing?" So I picked her up and brought her into our bed, and there she stayed for the next four or five years. We never did use the cradle or the crib for anything resembling sleep. The cat enjoyed sleeping in the crib and we'd drag the cradle out to the living room occasionally to keep an eye on the baby (but only when she was awake) while we read the paper or watched television.
When our second daughter was born (very quickly, no drugs, no time for doctors, just the nurse and my husband to catch her), we bought a king-sized mattress before we came home. Having my daughters in our bed made breastfeeding easier (baby cries, mom rolls over, attaches baby to breast, baby nurses, mom goes back to sleep). I breastfed both of my girls until they were almost 3, and they both slept in our bed for years.
Let me be very, very clear about the choices I made before the comments start pouring in. Co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding are utterly personal decisions and what worked for our family. Many families make different decisions and whatever works for you and your baby and your family situation is what is important. I would not sic the La Leche League on anyone or argue for co-sleeping without your permission.
Extended breastfeeding helped my girls and me in many ways. I will admit to some of it being attributed to sheer laziness on my part. I've already told my readers that I don't like cooking and there was no way I was going to prepare special food for babies until they could chew the food themselves. Would you want to eat food out of baby jars? I found it gross. I did cut the food into tiny pieces, lest you call CPS on me.
I also discovered that extended breastfeeding brought me closer to my girls than I would have ever guessed. There were times when I suffered from some really bad post-partum depression and some other, not yet diagnosed, mental gymnastics that made me miserable. And so, in true Victorian fashion, I "took to my bed". So sometimes, all I could do for my girls was cuddle them during naps and long nights and breastfeed them whenever they seemed to need it. It helped make some long and horrible times more bearable.
In fact, my youngest daughter would probably still nurse. She remembers it, and like her sister, called it "see see" or "ci-ci" or "ce-ce". I was never sure if that referred to the act of nursing or the breast itself. Nevertheless, when she's really sick or really sad, she'll still ask to hold the "ci-ci". Then I'll acquiesce and agree to some brief ci-ci holding, but only "on top of the shirt". It's like negotiating with a guy who wants to get to second base.
But it's clear to me that the choices we made helped our daughters in many ways and their happy memories of those times only reinforce the decisions we made.
I tell you all this because recently my cousin emailed me asking for advice on night weaning her daughter. I emailed back, listing all the books I'd read, how many years I breastfed, the many answers and assistance the La Leche League can offer, how much we liked the family bed, yadda yadda yadda. She emailed me right back. "You really didn't offer any advice on nighttime weaning." And she was right; I didn't, because I never actually weaned my girls. I just kept at it until they decided to stop.
The more I've thought about all that baby time (because it all seems so blurry now and a lifetime ago), the more I've realized that the crucial part was the closeness and actual touch that we were all engaged in.
Because the older the kids get, that full body hugging and cuddling we took for granted for so many years can go away. Every now and then when my eldest is freaking out over GATE test scores, and who likes who, and a host of other pre-adolescent angst, I get to hug her and I think to myself, "Wow, when was the last time I held her like this?"
Or the times my youngest has fallen and sliced up her chin (twice so far), or doesn't want to put on her scoliosis brace -- I cuddle her on my lap and again think, "How long has it been since we were together like this?"
When the inhabitants of Chez Freire would go visit my husband's grandmother, the first thing my husband would do was to give her neck and shoulders a gentle rubbing. She would visibly relax and smile. And you know why? Because she didn't get hugged or touched enough.
And so, I've been realizing that this closeness, the very act of hugging or cuddling an older child or even an adult doesn't happen nearly enough. This is why people love massages so much (and I'm not referring to the "other" kind of massages you're thinking about. Perverts!). It's not only that their neck tension disappears, or their lower backs stop aching or their migraines abate, it's the very act of touch that heals.
It's been proven that touch helps in so many ways. It brings those good endorphins to flood our brains and our hearts and we are all guilty of not doing it as much as we did when our kids were still cute babies and toddlers.
I also realize that during many of those baby years, there were times when I was utterly "touched out". I would feel that my body wasn't my own, that I was some sort of milk producing robot that would go on forever.
So when my cousin asked me, "Will there really be a time that my baby won't want me every second of every day?" I had to tell her yes, there will come a time when your days won't be spent nursing and nursing and trying to sleep through the night, and they won't be quite as cuddly as they are now.
I still don't have any answers for night weaning and the American Association of Pediatrics now says that co-sleeping isn't a good idea, to which I say, "Shut up!" because in another few years they'll reverse their position and move on to not approving of pacifiers or teddy bears or baby blankets.
My only advice now is to ask lots of people what they did. Check out the La Leche League website (they have a lactation consultant online 24 hours a day), ask your pediatrician, and most of all, do what feels right for you, your baby, and your partner. Those baby years really do go by incredibly fast, even though they feel endless.
And please, please, remember to hug your children tightly and often, even if they squirm and insist that they have to check their g-mail right away or watch PBS kids. Hug your significant others too. It will make you feel good and they'll feel even better.
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.