My thoughts about “Sweet Sleep”

Rina Demiri, Kosovo

– Does your father sleep with your mother? – asked Besa, my best friend in third grade.
– Mom sleeps with the baby and daddy sleeps with me and Lili. – I answered carelessly…
– Does your father love your mother? – she continued.
– Yes, of course. – I answered proudly.
– Awkward! – finished Besa.

I just continued walking to school but I was waiting the night to listen to my father’s fairytales before bed time. My father’s fairytales were incredibly imaginary. I can remember the character called Vili with his adventures while mine and my sister’s eyes went down slowly in the dreaming world.

During pregnancy I saw Lir, through the ultrasound sleeping in my tummy. During pregnancy I also looked through the shops windows for cribs. They were white, nude and attractive but as a student of marketing and economy my stomach felt weird when I looked at them! Unfortunately, the marketing in the year 2015 was stronger than my “professional” doubts, so my husband and I bought the most beautiful crib for our precious little boy. That most beautiful crib turned to be my biggest doubt in my first days of motherhood. Lir’s 30 minutes naps were ruining the pleasure of days with him and breastfeeding, just after overcoming breast refusal problems in the beginning. I thought that I had one other problem ahead of me which was 30 minutes naps of Lir! This “problem” grew in my mind because of the opinions regarding sleep issues some of my family members and my friends shared(Well, later I understood that they all just wanted to help, but didn’t have right information). That was until my mother brought me back to earth. I was so happy listening to my mother’s advice and tuning into my own instincts while I started to lay down with Lir during the day to provide him safe naps and quality rest for me too.

Sweet Sleep validated my feelings and reassured me that I have done the right things with my little one. Sweet Sleep is very important because of the scientific facts about sleep it contains but also because it includes many mother’s opinions and stories, regarding their sleep experiences, from around the world.

Giving seven steps for safe sleep is a wise solution used by the authors to bring together arguments and build a protocol for bed sharing. Seven steps are also strong arguments against sleep training programs. The Safe Sleep Seven are: 1) mother must be a nonsmoker 2) mother must be sober; 3) mother must be breastfeeding; 4) baby needs to be full term and healthy; 5) baby needs to be kept on his back when he is not breastfeeding; 6) baby must be unswaddled, in a sleep suit or light pajamas, 7) a safe sleeping surface must be used. Thus the authors created a list that many of breastfeeding mothers fulfill already, and for the others it is an easy guide to safe bed sharing.

Who knows better than an insurance licensing officer (my current job position at Central Bank of the Republic of Kosovo) that life is risky no matter how you live it. A safe bed like a seat belt, can greatly reduce risks. It’s like putting your belt on and then driving slowly on a deserted (and lovely) country road. Enjoy having your baby beside you for the journey.

Before reading Sweet Sleep I used to use the term co-sleeping more often but now bedsharing comes very natural to me and I have realized that in the past, my family was a “bed sharing breastfeeding family” as this concept is formulated and explained in the book. The chapter Sleeping Like a Baby in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is also very important reading..

Through reading Sweet Sleep I learned so many new concepts, like the cuddle curl which is nature’s way of protecting a baby during sleep. Doing the cuddle curl with my child every day and night I never supposed that the position had a name, even a nice name. In Albanian it would be translated into “Kurba e përkëdheljes”, oh such a loving name. The breastfeeding mother’s radar, cuddle curls and the “Melon Effect” are a magical triangle, explained simply but with many positive effects when explaining the bedsharing process.

“Breastfeeding is the first human relationship our babies will experience. Breastfeeding relationship is communication, long before babies can talk. It is sending her off to sleep long before she can understand bedtime stories” – this quote and this concept stayed in my mind from the Attached and Attuned chapter of the book, and Attached and Attuned are two concepts that I understood better from reading this book.
I liked so much the explanation about the little human bodies but big brain capacities. But, the point I liked most was that those who advise “Don’t let the baby fall asleep at your breast” are fighting nature, with no research at all to support them.

Here we are reminded of Dr. Nils Bergman beautiful words, “The mother’s body is the baby’s natural habitat”. We read the example of Magnetic Mothering which is so concrete and true, while in the fourth chapter the mother and the baby are described as an inseparable biological and social unit. Chapter five talks about naps and I was so interested to find out that simple sleep and naps for babies means sleeping in mother’s arms or at her chest. I learned that the baby’s upright position on the chest it is called the Fetal Tuck. All the memories from my early days with Lir came into my mind and I remembered a poem that I wrote when Lir looked just like a little snail in my chest. The poetry was called Love Slime. Who knows, maybe one day it could be a song in the style of Bob Marley or Leonard Cohen haha!

This is an attempt to translate it into English:

A snail dreamer
Is sticking on my chest
Slowly, with four limbs
Is coming to my shoulder
I am wet with love slime
From the head to vagina

And you ask for more wet
You ask for breast milk
I give you my milk
We lost in our sea of love
I hold your dreams in my shoulder
I won’t ever let you sink

As I was going through the chapters, sometimes I was yawning, the book had that effect! Reading about sleep personalities, infant temperaments, babies sleep styles, etc was the best way to collect information about the importance of sleep in babies and how we can make sleep normal for them in the best way possible – by comforting them. Unfortunately I have had phases of excessive fatigue, for example when Lir had flu, luckily my mother was around and she supported me with Emergency Sleep Breaks, which helped me get much needed rest.

“The baby who never sleeps become the teenager who can sleep through an earth quake” – is another interesting passage of the book that really reflects my sister who is 16 years old now. She was breastfed for five years and breastfeeding helped her to overcome asthma problems. By the way, she also is a very ‘good’ independent sleeper now!

Reading further brought my own experiences to the fore. Chapter 17 explains the long term outcomes of long term breastfeeding. It resonated so much – Lir is turning three in August and breastfeeding is helping him go to bed earlier. At 8 p.m it is time to get ready for bed, if he doesn’t want to come but continues to play with his Daddy I merely shout from the other room “the boob is oooouuuut” and he runs to me, then slowly he falls asleep and sometimes I do too. One night I was sleeping when Lir woke me up saying
“I know the way to the bathroom”,
“In the dark?” – I whispered to him,
“it’s ok, turn on the little light” – said my big boy now and went to the bathroom.
I waited for him and we fell asleep again while he nursed a little bit.

The differences between SIDS and Suffocation are explained very clearly in the book and now I can see the distinction between them. The biggest SIDS risks factors are: 1) Smoking, 2)Tummy Down Sleeping, 3) Baby unattended, 4) Formula Feeding.

Part five of the book gives strength to new mothers by emphasizing that “Responding to your baby isn’t weakness. It is an important, powerful, healthy, protective instinct”

I was always melancholic thinking about our minds and bodies sleeping, I imagined the whole world breathing while sleeping like a wind that blows the night. With information from Sweet Sleep I am no longer melancholic about sleep, and I am also sure of the importance of healthy sleep to the whole family’s health.

Last summer, when we were arranging our holidays, my husband was talking on the phone with the hotel and I listened to him saying: “No, we do not need another bed for our child, he sleeps together with us”. And my heart melted.

Read more about Sweet Sleep – Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. Smith, and Teresa Pitman here.