My Favorite Place

  • Post category:Sleep
  • Reading time:7 mins read

We were waiting for our food to be served at the restaurant and the children decided to pass the time with a game. One person had to guess a word chosen by the others, and the others had to give little hints.
“Mum’s favourite location” my youngest daughter said, ending the game on the first clue because everyone in my family knows the answer to that. My favourite place in the whole world is my bed. And like many mums (to the chagrin of many dads) my favourite thing to do there is to sleep. I dream of sleep, preferably in long unbroken stretches.

In retrospect, even in the years B.C. (before children) sleep and I have always had our issues. I  remember playing the game Trivial Pursuit, where one of the science questions was “How long does it take the average person to fall asleep?” It’s been years but I remember the answer because I was so shocked by it. In my pre-child existence, I always took a long time to fall asleep, about an hour. I’d run through all of the details of my day, think of alternate snappy answers to questions that I should have said, and review and rehearse upcoming interactions. But I knew that one hour was long for most people so I shaved my answer down to twenty minutes. The correct answer was seven. Seven minutes! To my childless self that was astounding.

Having children was a wakeup call for me to the womanly art of sleep management. No one knows sleep deprivation quite so intimately as the mother of an infant. No question that it’s rough in the early days.
Many a new mother makes the comment that they understand now why it’s used as a method of torture. Post-kids I could and did fall asleep in seconds. But I still could not rid myself of my love of sleeping and my addiction to large doses of it. I experienced withdrawal like a junkie, when my baby woke me up I was irritable and irrational.

Part of overcoming my addiction was education. Our culture – but not our babies – seems to view the eight hour uninterrupted sleep as a sacred right. Our babies are not designed that way, their little tummies need filling up and they have a need to check in and make sure we are close by.

I read some of Dr James McKenna’s work. He studies mother-baby sleep in his lab at Notre Dame University in the USA. His research quashes the myth of unbroken sleep. The truth is that all of us sleep in cycles that include deeper and shallower stages. Most of us do wake up in the night, but usually we go back to sleep without awareness of these wakeful periods.

Dr McKenna’s studies have shown how breastfeeding mothers and their babies who share sleep spaces develop a rhythm to their sleep patterns. Fighting this rhythm and trying to control it is what just about did me in as a mother.

Our nights would go like this:
• 11 pm; fall asleep with baby.
• It’s 1:34 and the baby is awake. Feed, change, make calculation about how much sleep I’d got…
• Jeez, it’s 3:32! More calculations. Not even two hours!
• Sheesh!! It’s 4:19!!! Mental calculator going again. Indulge in self pity for several sleep-wasting minutes. Have trouble falling back asleep because of resentment.
• For crying out loud, does that clock really say 5:22?!!!! Work self into a tizzy about how many wake ups I’d had. Try to decide if it’s worth it to even go back to sleep. On and on they went, these horrible nights,
and it was during the height of my misery that I knew I needed to do something. It was high time for some practical mother to mother support from some LLL mothers. They had some great suggestions which I’d like to share with you.

I wasn’t happy to take the advice of the sleep training set – though it seemed at the time that the world was divided into two groups, mothers who bragged that their babies slept through the night and people who advocated the cry it out method. What I needed to hear was that night time waking was normal and manageable – it just needed to be tweaked.

The best of the tweaks came from a mother who said, “You know, you could get rid of the clock in your room.” This was a stroke of genius. For me, a significant part of my night time waking issues was my own attitude about it and that clock wasn’t helping. Those nightly mathematical calculations were adding fuel to a fire that needed to be put out. Another mum gave me her tip, “Don’t change your baby’s nappy in the night. Most nappies these days are pretty absorbent and often last right through.” “If they don’t wake up fully,” another mum added, “they won’t poo.” I found that to be true for my babies also. All that changing just served to wake us both up further, so that I’d be trying to chill us both out from a full boil instead of keeping the flame low from the start. A midwife friend shared her tip of cutting two round holes in a sweatshirt to make access easier in the night also. And gradually my baby and I got unconsciously skilled at breastfeeding too, so that we could both do it almost without thinking about it, almost in our sleep.

When my second son was little, I overheard my husband bragging at what a good baby he was. “That child has slept through the night since the day he was born,” he said. Of course, this was completely untrue. The difference was that none of us was making a big deal about it; I’d developed the knack of breastfeeding in our semi-awake state. We all slept better. My bed stopped being a battleground and
sleep stopped being a contest I was determined to win.

My oldest child is 20 years old now, and I can’t count the number of unbroken nights of sleep I’ve had since his birth, and the birth of his siblings. For those of you beginning your motherhood journey, you probably don’t want to know that there haven’t been many. I am proud to say I am no longer keeping score. Though my bed still is my favourite place in the world, my children know that they are my
favourite people.

Co-Sleeping Safely
Make sure that your mattress is firm and fits tightly in the frame, avoid waterbeds, recliners, couches or armchairs.
Provide a smoke-free environment; exposure to cigarette smoke increases the baby’s risk of SIDS
Sheets should fit your mattress snugly.
Always place your baby on his back to sleep, including after breastfeeding.
No one who shares sleep with your baby should drink alcoholic beverages, take drugs, be exceptionally obese, be on medication that makes him or her less alert, or be too unwell or exhausted to be aware of the baby.
Consider keeping your young baby next to his mother only, because mothers seem to be especially aware of their babies in bed, keep an adult between any older child and your baby.
Make sure the sides of the bed are either tight against the wall or far enough away from the wall that your baby can’t become trapped. Or use a bed rail on the side of the adult bed.
Keep the bed low to the ground, maybe even on the floor, to minimise any falls.
Keep pets out of the bed the baby will be sleeping in.
Keep loose pillows or soft blankets away from your baby’s face, avoid nightclothes or hair ties with  strings or attachments that might pose a strangulation risk.
Avoid thick bedding and dressing the baby too warmly – close bodily contact increases body temperature.

Good Nights by Jay Gordon, MD and Maria Goodavage, and Sweet Dreams by Paul Fleiss, MD, taken from LLL information sheet Safe Sleep, available from LLLNZ
“Sleeping with your baby” by James McKenna, New Beginnings 2009; 26(1): 4-9

Dr Alison Barrett is an obstetrician, who still gets up in the night for babies – they are just no longer her own.


Continue ReadingMy Favorite Place

Ah, Nights…

  • Post category:Sleep
  • Reading time:6 mins read

I tried to nurse my husband’s elbow once. Groggy, desperately sleep-deprived, I heard my baby cry and fumbled in the bed for him, putting the nearest warm thing to my breast. But my son was down the hall, in his own crib, where we returned him aftermost nursings. That’s why I was sleep-deprived.

Our first routine was for my husband to get up each time the baby cried, and bring him to me to nurse (sitting up) on Side One. Then my husband would get up, take the baby to the bathroom, change his diaper, and return him to me to nurse (sitting up) on Side Two. Then my husband would get up and return the baby to the crib down the hall. Three trips out of bed each time those eight pounds of energy woke up. That lasted three nights.

But it took us two babies to get it completely right. Our second baby shared our bed from the start, with a rubber-and-flannel sheet under baby and mother to catch any drips from either one. There was an extra diaper handy at bedside until he stopped pooping at night, an extra nightgown or two until I stopped leaking, and a nightlight in the early days to help me line up my inexperienced partner of unaccustomed dimensions without either of us moving from our nest.

I nursed the “bottom breast” until it was soft, and later in the night rolled over a bit farther to nurse the “top breast”, looming over him like a tent, elbow resting on the far side of him. When his doctor asked me how often he nursed at night, I answered, “I have no idea,” and thought how right and simple that answer was.

Nights weren’t perfect, of course. Parenting never is. There were gaps in the bedding that let in cold air. There were nights when I wished he would just sleep. There were semiconscious wrestling matches between a father who wanted part of the bed to himself and a little boy who liked to sleep with his leg over Dad’s. But we never knew night terrors or head banging two childhood behaviors that Americans consider normal and zoos consider signs of stress in their monkeys. I never walked cold floors. He woke happy in the morning and so did we. And no “body pillow” can match the relaxation and peace of cuddling a child in bed.

Our sleep arrangements varied over time; our policy was to do whatever gave the most people the most rest tonight. Once he graduated to his own bed, he and his brother often shared it, or he came in with us partway through the night. Or I moved in with him a luxury for me, because his was the most comfortable mattress in the house. When he stopped waking in the night and stopped climbing in with us we reminded our children that they were always welcome, but they said, “Oh, no thanks.” And that was that.

We miss the smell and feel and snuggliness of those little bodies. It’s a time that comes only once, and we’ll never get it back. Maybe if our grandchildren come for overnights…

Safe Sleeping

Is it safe to sleep with your new baby? Of course. Imagine a cave woman laying her newborn in a separate niche in the cave for the night, well away from the warmth and protection of her body. Now that’s unsafe sleeping!

It’s also unsafe to have gaps that would allow your baby to slip between bed and wall, or between mattress and frame, or to lay your baby on poofy pillows, bedding, or mattress from which he can’t free his face.

And it’s not safe to sleep with a baby if you’re severely obese, or have been drinking heavily or taking drugs that keep you from rousing normally.

There. That’s out of the way. What’s left? Adults who are never completely unconscious (or they’d fall out of bed), sleeping with a very lumpy object (with a head like a grapefruitsized rock) that yells when it’s squeezed. Works fine.

What do you gain? Normal breathing and heart rates for your baby, without the breathless periods so often observed in solitarysleeping babies. Normal baby sleep which does not mean long hours of deep, hardtorousefrom sleep, though that might seem desirable. An even body temperature, warmer and more stable than the most expensive hospital babywarming unit can provide. A mellower baby at night, with far less crying. Safety from fire, kidnapping, and goblins. Lots of languid cuddle time.

You certainly gain vastly easier babycare, especially if you learn to breastfeed lying down during the day, when your tolerance and inventiveness are intact.

Infant sleep researchers believe solitary sleep may be linked to higher rates of SIDS.
This is a very difficult relationship to prove, since sleep arrangements change and since SIDS may have multiple causes. But we do know that many of the risk factors associated with SIDS are increased when babies sleep alone, and that cultures that share sleep tend to have low rates of SIDS. Shared sleep is as old as humankind, and small children crave it.

Shared sleep takes many forms. At our house, a lack of creativity kept us in an antique bed narrower than today’s standard double. Many nights there were four of us in it! If I had it all to do again, I would invest in a kingsized mattress and put it on the floor for those early years of parenting. Everyone would have plenty of room, and even an acrobatic toddler couldn’t fall far. We sacrificed comfort for convention, in a part of the house that no one but the sleepers themselves ever saw or used. Silly.

For more thoughts on sharing sleep with your baby, see William Sears’s book, “Nighttime Parenting,” published by La Leche League International and available through their online catalogue and in most libraries and bookstores.

Sweet dreams! And remember that nowhere is it written that parenthood includes 8 hours of unbroken sleep. Going to bed earlier helps!

© 2001 Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC
136 Ellis Hollow Creek Road Ithaca, NY 14850
Used with permission
Continue ReadingAh, Nights…

Two Styles of Mothering

  • Post category:Mothering
  • Reading time:5 mins read

Before my son was born I attended a ‘preparing for parenthood’ course with
my husband. It strongly advocated ‘parent controlled feeding and sleeping’ or
scheduled feeding. This sat very comfortably with my preconceived ideas
about what good mothering should be and I made the decision to feed my
baby three to four hourly from birth.
I loved my routine. Samuel settled well into it and seemed to progress as the
handbook said he should. I looked with disdain on those ‘ill advised’ women
who demand fed their infants. Couldn’t they see that if they responded to
every demand of the baby that they would inevitably create a demanding
child? It seemed common sense to me. I also didn’t approve of exclusive
breastfeeding. My decision to add two formula feeds into Sam’s diet allowed
his father to take an active role in the parenting and theoretically should have
meant that Samuel would sleep through the night at eight to ten weeks old.
Surely this was all in his best interests.
Samuel didn’t sleep through the night as we were led to believe he should. So
at eleven weeks of age we left him to cry for four hours on his own in the living
room, until he got the idea that he was not the boss. It took him three nights
and we were back on schedule. I helped him sleep more deeply by giving him
a solid night feed at twelve weeks. Of course it took Samuel no time to decide
that milk was easier to get out of a bottle than the breast and he had us fully
weaned at five months.
Four and a half years later my daughter was born. I had already decided that
as the routine had worked so well last time I was going to do the same again.
I don’t recall how it happened, Rachel was just a very content baby, and I
liked being with her so much that I seemed to feed her whenever I picked her
up. It was as if I was just saying, ‘hello, hungry?’ I found that I thoroughly
enjoyed breastfeeding her, and we seemed to bond more deeply each time
we did it. Rachel refused repeated attempts to supplement her feeding with a
bottle. In time I gave up. But I certainly never considered myself to be demand
feeding. Imagine my surprise when a friend, a La Leche League member,
pointed out that this was exactly what I was doing. I honestly had no idea. It
took a while for it to sink in. I had considered demand feeders ‘the enemy’. But
as time went by I began to see how much I had missed of my relationship with
Samuel because of my strict adherence to the routine. He is my son and I
adore him but from the moment he was born we have been at odds, with me
constantly forcing my will on him (I didn’t even let him decide when he was
hungry). And I really had lost the opportunity to have those precious innocent
months with him that I was now enjoying with his sister. I did the best that I
knew how for my darling Samuel, but it’s as if I held him at arms length and
I’m feeling the effects of that even now.
I was also upset to read research that contradicted so much of what I had
been told. I learned that breast milk supply is actually built up and maintained
by suckling and not by prolonged breaks between feeds. And that it is not
necessarily in a baby’s best interest to sleep through the night at eleven
weeks. And that babies who are exclusively breastfed are at a lower risk of
With Rachel, I had a great deal of pressure put on us by family and friends
who would ask, ‘Haven’t you weaned that baby yet?” But by then I didn’t care.
Rachel is a wonderful human being in her own right. Breastfeeding has added
a warmth and closeness beyond measure to our relationship. As for the
father’s participation in feeding; my husband’s support of my breastfeeding
has been invaluable. He would sit in a close embrace with the baby and me
and fully share our experience. So did Samuel. It’s been great for the whole
family. Add to that the enormous health benefits for both of us. I cannot
understand those who say that a chemist can come up with any better
nutrition than that which nature has designed.
I fed Rachel for 18 months. Now I am expecting another baby, and I have
already decided to exclusively breastfeed. As for a routine, baby and I will
work that out for ourselves and the clock, I suspect will have little say in the
To those who have never tried breastfeeding, or who are thinking about
demand feeding, I would suggest you give it a try. You really don’t know what
you are missing. And I thoroughly recommend contacting a La Leche League
Group. The caring support of like minded people, who won’t ask you, ‘Haven’t
you weaned your baby yet?’ is just wonderful.

By Jennie South, Christchurch
Originally printed in Aroha March/April 2003, Volume 5 Issue 2

Continue ReadingTwo Styles of Mothering

Being an At-Home Mother

  • Post category:Mothering
  • Reading time:9 mins read

While I was growing up, and during my pregnancy with my first child, Finn, now three and a half, I always thought I would work outside the home as well as having my children. I believed: it would provide ‘a healthy balance’ for me to work part time, that it was important to share in the bringing in of income into the household, that I would avoid the ‘trap of female dependence’ (I’d read a lot of Simone de Beauvoir and other feminist writers), and that it was important to keep my mind active.

I was entitled to one year’s maternity leave, and left work one month before Finn was due. I had discussed the possibility that I might return to work 10 to 18 hours a week. I loved my job, and the people at work were fantastic, encouraging me to leave it open and decide after Finn was born what would work.

Finn’s birth, attended by his father, Loren, my oldest friend, Cilla, and our midwife Yvette, was a truly sacred experience. Cilla’s six week old baby, my godson Ngaru, called Finn out into the world, and the six of us shared that awe, wonder, intimacy and intense physicality of welcoming a new baby. My heart opened so wide! Finn shared our bed, breastfed, lit up our sleep deprived lives.

Somehow when Finn was still tiny, I negotiated that I would return to work 10 hours a week from the time he was six months old. My mother would be Finn’s caregiver. She was going to move back to New Zealand from Scotland to be with Finn while I worked. I had it all planned!

When Finn was three weeks old, a Plunket nurse visited and reduced me to tears, telling me: he was old enough now to be left to cry for up to 15 minutes, he should be sleeping in another room, and if I didn’t keep picking him up every time he cried, he’d soon be off to sleep. She said the only reason I wasn’t letting him cry to sleep was that I lacked confidence.

I’d read The Continuum Concept by J. Liedloff long before I had my children and it made sense to me, but I felt vulnerable and distressed by this home visit, and quickly rang old friends for support. Debbie and Cilla told me to trust myself and that no one knew my baby better than me. A while later, everyone
in my antenatal group was having issues with their babies’ sleep. I wasn’t concerned about Finn’s sleep – he just snuggled into me and had his mother’s milk when he wanted to and we both slept fine but
he was rolling now, and I was worried about leaving him in our bed for a daytime sleep – Debbie
suggested I contact La Leche League.

I started going to meetings at Christchurch West Group, and I am hugely grateful to the Leaders, Anne Isbister and Faith Alexander and to the other women in that Group, not only for having lots of experience and helpful suggestions about cosleeping, but for being with me and for me while I was
tussling with what to do about going back to work.

I couldn’t leave Finn. He’d never seen or touched a bottle. At about five months I’d tried expressing and giving him my milk in a bottle. Wise baby. He would play with the bottle but wouldn’t drink from it. I can remember breastfeeding him to sleep on a mattress he had been playing on, on the living room floor, and saying to myself, “I can’t leave him!” There wasn’t a same time he slept every day, it was different from day to day, and he breastfed to sleep (another thing the Plunket nurse had told me was a real nono).

I couldn’t see how I could do it but more importantly, I didn’t want to. I worked through my concerns about letting them down at work after they had bent over backwards for me, and about my mother having set aside six months of her life to be there for Finn, and booked her tickets which were nonrefundable, and about our family income, and my future prospects in the career world. It all finally came down to me wanting to be with my baby, me wanting to be with him. And my partner Loren wanted that too. I can still remember us doing arithmetic and budgets and working out together what it
would mean, how we could do it. My LLL Group was alongside me throughout. Within the next few months, after not going back to work, Finn had chickenpox, infant measles, impetigo,
surgery for a perianal fistula and developed eczema. Working first with orthodox medicine and then with a naturopath and an anthroposophical doctor we had a 24 hour regime of care for him. Many times a day we administered drops, ointments, things to take with his food. I ate no wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts or tomatoes. We worked on his acupressure points and did other treatments. It was a fulltime

We started Playcentre when Finn was 14 months old. He loved it right away and still does. Our Playcentre whanau has given tremendous support to our family and we’ve seen Finn grow from a very
attached baby and toddler into the independent and self assured (and still very attached) three and a half year old he is now.

When Finn was 16 months old, Lila was born at home with the same awesome team and Julie and Rose, our midwives, as well as Finn and Grannie (my mum) and our friend Cathra. Cradling my tiny wet daughter in the birthing pool and seeing Finn’s look of wonder, my heart was full to bursting. Finn and Lila exchanged a look, of recognition, I thought, and then Finn wanted to show his baby sister how to breastfeed, and hold her little hand. I remember my astonishment when Finn went from breastfeeding about three times a day and not at night, to feeding all day and all night at every opportunity like
his newborn sister. Loren was an amazing support, especially at night. He would bring me whichever child needed their “num nums”, and hold and cuddle the other, settling that child with him. Again, the support of my LLL Group helped get me through. Our current Leaders, Linda Dockrill and Susan Proctor, devoted a whole meeting to looking at how I might wean Finn to one less feed a day, helping me chart each time he breastfed, and suggesting alternatives I might try. Sometimes I was feeding Finn
because I just wasn’t able to put in place all the other things that he needed as well as meeting Lila’s needs.

Thank you Linda and Susan for your encouragement and care that helped me find my way. I am still tandem feeding, and can’t believe Finn is having “num nums” only every other night at bedtime. This was his idea when we were talking about how he is growing up and someday he won’t have “num nums” anymore. He decides and we mark it on a calendar for a week or so ahead whether it’s a “num nums” night or not a “num nums” night. He checks his calendar and proudly lets us know what’s happening that night. Lila is still having lots of “num nums” in the day and in the night, and I am so much more relaxed with her as I realise that she will let me know when she is ready for her next step. I am really loving my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter.

It is all so worth it! Being at home and out in the community, at Playcentre and other places with my children means I am there with them in all or most of their experiences. I know what they are talking about when no one else does, and what they are remembering because I was there with them. I am rewarded by events such as: coming home from a busy morning at Playcentre and going to bed in the middle of a Finn and Lila ‘sandwich’ (with a few extra “num nums” to keep them sleeping); stopping what I am doing to help make a hut or build blocks or read a story or play in the sandpit. For a time, I was doing nothing much else except being with them, seeing them roll, crawl, walk, learn to eat solid food eventually after playing with it for a long time. Yes the laundry did somehow get done and sometimes meals on the table too, though we share with Christie Means (Aroha Vol 5 no 2 – March/April 2003) the fish and chip solution. Articles, such as Christie’s, in Aroha have been uplifting, inspiring and also very practical support for me over this last year when it hasn’t been easy to get to meetings.

I am grateful to be able to live life to our timetable, to know (or at least have an intuition or instinct) when tiredness, hunger, teething or getting sick affects my children’s behaviour; and how to comfort them. I am able to support their development at their own pace, knowing it is right for me to be with my
children, right here, right now. And what of my development? I have learnt not to blame the children for what they do, not to get angry with them when I get hurt. The list goes on and on. Sometimes it seems hard, especially when I’m very tired, and I imagine walking out the door in the morning dressed beautifully and spending a day achieving something tangible. But I am sure deep down that this may be the most important work I will ever do, together with my partner; the raising of these two human beings to be all they can be, and along the way to strive to be all I can be.

By Robyn Madden, Christchurch West
Originally printed in Aroha, March April, 2004

Continue ReadingBeing an At-Home Mother

Sleeping Like a Baby

Sleeping Like a Baby

This is an easy-to-read, reader-friendly book aimed at both those who need reassurance that their
baby’s sleeping (or non-sleeping) patterns are nothing to worry about, and for those who are
desperate to get some sleep. As is quoted in the book, “People who say they sleep like a baby,
usually don’t have one!”
The author is very clearly not in favour of “controlled crying”, which she describes as not being
evidence-based practice, and agrees with James McKenna that it is “social ideology masquerading
as science.” Nobody has studied exactly how long it is safe to leave a baby to cry, if at all.
Crying should be regarded as a form of communication and not a sign of manipulation. The author
points out that most infant sleep charts were compiled many years ago when breastfeeding rates
were at their lowest, so those observations were based on mostly formula-fed babies, sleeping by
themselves under laboratory study conditions.
The main message of the book seems to be, “Watch your baby and follow his/her lead.”
If you are trying to change your baby’s sleep patterns, the three basic things to consider are:
your child’s safety
is what you are trying to do respectful?
think about the bigger picture and what messages you want to send to your child about
There are chapters on what sleep patterns to expect of babies and toddlers at different ages and
stages, where your baby sleeps and how to set safe sleep rules, and co-sleeping. The chapter on
feeding is mostly about breastfeeding because Pinky of course unashamedly states that
breastfeeding is best.
There are also chapters on how to cope with problems like colic, reflux and teething, which can
disrupt sleep patterns, as well as one on the need to look after yourself before you can look after
others. There are tips for simplifying your life, getting as much rest as possible, taking time for
yourself, finding a support group, and finding help.
There is a list of useful contacts and resources. These are mostly Australian, but a few New
Zealand ones are listed too, including LLLNZ. There are also suggestions for further reading and a
useful index.

Original review, printed in Aroha Volume 9 Number 1

Sleeping Like a Baby
By Pinky McKay
Penguin Books, Australia, 2006
Reviewed by Rosemary Gordon

Continue ReadingSleeping Like a Baby