I defied the GP's orders and let my baby sleep in my bed, says ITV weathergirl Becky Mantin
20:59 GMT, 28 April 2012
20:59 GMT, 28 April 2012
It goes without saying that the whole experience of first-time motherhood is a steep learning curve.
Take a perfectly intelligent, capable woman, put her through the mind-blowing experience of birth, add one brand new baby, a dollop of sleep deprivation and a dogged determination to try to ‘get it right’ and, sooner or later, even popping out to buy a loaf of bread becomes a military exercise.
To complicate matters further, the advice that comes from all directions (hospital, doctor, health visitor, family) is incredibly inconsistent.
Beck Mantin with her son Rory, whom she struggled to teach how to 'self-soothe'
My son Rory was born the day before my
30th birthday. I remember that on the first morning in hospital, four
midwives in the space of an hour each told me to trim my baby’s nails in
a different way.
Of course more serious decisions than that lay in store. Rory was about six weeks old when, during a routine check-up with my GP, I made an admission that – judging by her reaction – instantly secured me a nomination for the world’s worst mother. My crime Occasionally letting our baby sleep in bed with us.
She warned there was a risk of me smothering my child and, just as importantly, I was preventing him from learning to ‘self-soothe’ and fall asleep by himself.
My baby was only six weeks old. Was I meant to just ignore his cries The answer was, apparently, yes.
The NHS recommends the safest place for a baby to sleep for the first six months is in a cot in the parents’ room. With the baby in bed with you, there is a theoretical risk of a parent rolling on top of the child, or of the youngster falling out and being injured.
There have also been suggestions that bed-sharing can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However, conflicting research provides evidence that ‘co-sleeping’ reduces the chances of SIDS, the baby cries less during the night – if at all – and the physical reassurance is thought to be hugely beneficial to the child’s long-term emotional health.
At the time, though, all I knew was that my baby was tiny, I was tired and if I couldn’t settle him in his Moses basket (in our room), I brought him into bed with me where he slept peacefully for most of the night.
Following that visit to the doctor, I felt under pressure to persevere with self-soothing, or the Cry It Out (CIO) method as it’s also known.
Becky said she was glad she followed her own instincts and decided to let her first child sleep in the bed
The gist is that if you put your baby in a cot and leave them alone, they’ll cry and then they’ll fall asleep. Different schools of thought advocate checking on them every two to six minutes, each time comforting but not picking the baby up or feeding them. Others advise no contact at all.
The theory is that this technique should allow a baby to recognise when it’s bedtime and will teach them that crying will not get them out of the cot.
You only have to Google the term CIO to find chatrooms full of upset mothers under huge pressure to get their children to reach that Holy Grail.
One woman reported her ten-month-old cried non-stop for 90 minutes until he fell asleep standing up in his cot and was then tearful and clingy throughout the day.
Anxious, however, after that GP visit, I put Rory down in his cot that night, ‘sleepy but awake’ as instructed, and, instead of picking him up when he cried, I lay on the bed next to his Moses basket patting him but not picking him up.
After 30 agonising minutes of tears, I couldn’t bear it any longer and I picked up my baby. He burped and I realised trapped wind was the cause of his crying. And I’d let him suffer through it because I was trying to ‘get it right’. I followed doctors’ orders for another couple of nights but I felt wrecked and confused.
It was my friend who saved me. She told me that she rocked her daughter to sleep before putting her down.
Becky, on the job at ITV, said she plans to do the same with her second child
She reasoned that the more her daughter trusted bedtime was a safe time, the more quickly she’d gradually put herself happily to sleep. It was as if I’d been given permission to follow my instincts, and I have tried to follow them ever since.
We invested in an enormous bed with a firm mattress so in those early days I could bank up pillows in a horseshoe shape around me and Rory slept on me.
At five months, when he’d outgrown his Moses basket, we moved him into a cot in the room next door but he continued to be welcomed into our bed if he was distressed – although it happened less and less as he got older.
When he needs to come in with us now – he’s 15 months – he snuggles down and we all go back to sleep. He always starts off in his bed but often comes in for a cuddle before the morning alarm goes off.
I felt like an old hippy with my approach, but I am gratified to see that science is coming around to the idea that co-sleeping is a good thing.
New research from the Medical Imaging Research Unit at the University of Cape Town reveals that close contact with the mother during sleep cuts a baby’s anxiety levels, which, if left unchecked, could trigger harmful long-term effects on brain development.
But let’s face it, research aside, any mother will tell you that when their baby is close, they are calm and happy.
Of course you need your partner on board – and it helps to have a big bed when your baby turns toddler, especially if they like to sleep diagonally across the bed. I’m planning to do the same thing when baby number two arrives in a few weeks and I will continue to follow the guidelines set out for safe co-sleeping.
Crucially, never co-sleep if either parent has been drinking or taking drugs/sedative painkillers, as the resulting deeper sleep may override a mother’s instinctive awareness of the baby’s presence.
I don’t think I could ever suffer the distress of trying to teach a baby to self-soothe again.
And we should be supported in how to follow our natural instincts safely and happily – then maybe we’ll all sleep a little bit better.