Bonding, Touch and Tuning In

Samantha Chater of Babistic Baby and You was one of the first people to take an “Acorn” sponsorship package for the Growing Families conference, and has been a consistent supporter of what we are trying to do with this October’s not-for-profit event in Manchester.  We have a number of friends and contacts in common so I was keen to meet with Samantha and find out more about her business and her own parenting journey.  I was expecting to discover a lot about her background, skills and the courses she offers, but I didn’t think it would be relevant to me personally.  After all, my children and now 5 ½ and nearly 3.  How wrong I was…….

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Samantha lives in Timperley with her husband Dave and six-year-old son Dominic.  She started her professional life in Performing Arts, and trained in Massage and Reflexology ten years ago whilst living down in London.  She was doing Performing Arts work alongside other jobs, juggling a number of projects including teaching baby gym, music classes and toddler classes.  Samantha eventually gave up the Performing Arts when she had Dominic, and at that time did a bit of baby massage with him, attending a class with a friend in the hope that it would help with Dominic’s colic.  The course was from the International Association of Infant Massage, and Samantha says it all connected back to her own training in holistic health.  “It felt like a calling, I did the IAIM training straight away when Dominic was only four months old.”  Babistic Baby and You went live in May 2011, when Dominic was less than a year old.

The baby massage training fitted in with Samantha’s own ethos of parenting, and she went on to specialise in reflexology for maternity, postnatal and baby, and baby yoga.  Samantha says there was a “buzz” about hypnobirthing and that felt like the perfect next step.  She trained in the Mongan Method originally, but when Samantha and her family moved to Manchester she found the Wise Hippo Hypnobirthing Programme.  This was recommended to her by Suzy Ashworth, a neighbour from London who had been a case study for Samantha’s training in baby massage.  Samantha fast-tracked the Wise Hippo training, having already trained in the Mongan method, and then put it all together in one course for Babistic Baby and You.  “The rest is history”.

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Classes provided by Babistic Baby and You provide continuity for families through pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.  Samantha takes a non-judgemental approach – she wants to provide useful tools for families, rather than a strict agenda of what they “should” or should not do.  It was her husband Dave who came up with the name “Babistic” as an amalgam of “baby” and “holistic”, and the website styles the classes “for bump, birth and beyond.”  Baby reflexology and Baby yoga are also part of the Babistic Baby All in One course – giving parents so many tools with which to bond with and help their children.

 

So what does Samantha feel are the things that new mums need the most?

“To feel a connection with others, to feel like they are not alone.  Social media can help with that – it can also be a hindrance!  I always tell parents not to get involved in parenting debates online.

It is important for mums to have the tools and techniques for getting to know their baby, and helping baby with any problems he or she might encounter, such as colic.  Bonding is an ongoing process, and sometimes parental expectations can be unhelpful.  I encourage guilt-free parenting in a supportive, safe and non-judgemental environment.  Empowering parents to know that they are the expert on their baby, and that one size does not fit all.”

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What about new babies, what are their most important needs?

“To be listened to.  Stop, don’t rush in: babies are all different and it is important as parents that we are led by baby, by what they are communicating to us.  If we know what is normal and have realistic expectations, we can watch for their personal cues and tune in to our children.  Babistic techniques help parents to get to know their baby – we discuss respect for baby’s needs, the importance to baby of having his or her needs met; we talk about allowing baby to give permission and to feel valued.  Newborn babies are fully aware human beings.  They have the right to say yes or no to any technique that we wish to try with them.”

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Do new dads tend to get involved as well?

“I encourage mums to share the techniques with their partners so that dad can get involved if it’s his thing.  It has got to be something you want to give.  I think it’s important to let dads find their own way.  A child will have different expectations of each carer, and that’s okay.  Dads can make mistakes and that’s okay too.  They need to build their confidence.

The same goes for grandparents – if they want to get involved and try out the techniques that’s great!  I have a few Nanas attending my classes.  It is great if grandparents can understand the baby led fundamentals.”

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Growing Families:  Facts, Fiction and Other Stuff is very much focused on the postnatal period and the early days with baby.  What was the hardest part of the “fourth trimester” for Samantha?

“Colic kicked in for Dominic when he was two or three weeks old.  It was hard.  I felt helpless and angry.  I couldn’t help my baby.  My husband and I became snappy with one another because we were so exhausted.  Breastfeeding was hard as well.  I thought it would be easy but it wasn’t.  I expressed for as long as I could, but not being able to breastfeed was my biggest disappointment of that time.

At the time I didn’t get offered the right type of support – better support may have saved our breastfeeding journey.  Through the knowledge I have gained over the years I am now able to signpost new mums to excellent support in the area.”

 

What has Samantha learned since becoming a mother?

“Patience!  Some things I thought were important before I had Dominic are not important now.  I have learned to be mindful and in the moment, and not to waste those lovely opportunities – although I am not always successful with that!”

In discussing all of the techniques with Samantha we inevitably discussed my own parenting experiences with Edward and David, my regrets over how little I was able to hold David when he was first born, and the fact that I used to give Edward a massage every night when he was a baby but I haven’t done anything like that since.  Samantha discussed how massage can be reciprocal, now the children are older they can learn techniques to use on me and on each other, as well as deciding whether they would like a massage themselves.  We talked about how David in particular likes to be in control, no doubt due to how many medical procedures he had when tiny, so may not appreciate massage, but might like to massage others.  As always, it has to be child-led.

Samantha recommended the book “Once Upon a Touch”, storytelling massage for children.  http://www.storymassage.co.uk/resources/  Talking to her encouraged me to re-connect with touch and bonding with my children, and to remember the benefits that baby massage had for Edward and for me.  It seems that it is never too late to tune in.

 

Helen Calvert
September 2016

What should new parents expect?!

Sally Hogg is a mother who works in children’s policy, research and practice, and has done extensive work on the subject of excessive crying in infants.  She is now the lead for the Mums and Babies in Mind Project, from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.  Our thanks to Sally for her support for Growing Families: Facts, Fiction and Other Stuff.  Here she discusses parental expectations and the realities of new parenthood.

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I often need to go to bed quite early and nearly always fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. In the morning, I am ready to get up as soon as my alarm goes off (although I have a toddler, so don’t need an alarm these days!).

My husband, on the other hand, needs time to relax and ‘switch-off’ before he can sleep. And in the morning, he has multiple ‘snoozes’ before he’s ready to face the world.

When it comes to food, I need a good breakfast early on, but then can go without food until lunchtime. My husband likes a later breakfast, but needs to eat and drink regularly or else he gets ‘hangry’.

You may be wondering why am I writing all this in a parenting blog.

Good question.

I want to illustrate how people can be really different, even in some very basic ways. We have different characteristics and constitutions. It’s part of how we are made.

And babies are just little people. So they are all different too.

This may seem obvious, but I think it is such an important point for expectant and new parents to keep in mind.

The parenting books, public opinion, and sadly some professional advice too, can lead us to believe that all babies should be the same, that they will have similar sleeping and feeding patterns, and that there are simple rules and routines that we as parents can, and should, follow, to get our babies to behave in the expected way.

Not enough recognition is given to the fact that every baby, every parent, and every situation is different. Ok, so the 10-point plan in the baby book MAY have helped the author’s baby to sleep. That doesn’t mean it will work for Joe and Joanne Blogs and their baby.

Parenting isn’t about sticking to someone else’s 10-point plan. It’s about getting to know your baby and their likes and dislikes, strengths and struggles, and finding a way through that works for all of you.

I heard some wonderful advice recently; One mum asked another at what age she stopped feeding her baby at night. Her answer,

“We just gave him what we needed, and when he stopped needing it, we stopped giving it to him.”

Simple.

If parents expect their baby to feed, sleep, cry and behave like other babies (whatever that actually means), then it’s more likely that they will feel something is going ‘wrong’ in the first few months when their baby doesn’t match these expectations. They may start to believe that they, as parents, are doing something ‘wrong’ because their baby struggles to sleep, for example, or that there is something ‘wrong’ with their babies because they cry or feed more than others. This line of thinking leads parents to beat themselves up; to get stressed, or to try and find endless cures or solutions to ‘problems’, rather than settling in to find the best way to parent the wonderful, unique baby who has joined them.

There are lots of examples of how, when parents expect that they, and their babies, will have a textbook experience, the reality can be really difficult.

We know, for example, that postnatal depression is more prevalent among mums who plan to breastfeed and then don’t, compared to both those who don’t plan to at all, or those who plan to and do so. It’s really hard when we struggle to be the parent we expected ourselves to be.

We also know that the expectation is that parenting will be a magical time. And the (misplaced) belief that everyone else feels that way, makes it hard for the 20% of mums with mental health problems to talk about their feelings and seek help.

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Conversely, we know that when we prepare parents for the fact that things might get difficult, it can make a big difference. The NSPCC found that showing parents a 10 minute film explaining the reality of how much babies can cry, and how stressful this can be for parents, had a significant and prolonged effect on parents’ confidence, their ability to talk to others about problems, and their use of different soothing techniques.

And when midwives and health visitors spend just 10 minutes helping new parents get to know their baby and understand his or her unique characteristics, and how easy (or not) he or she find it to stop crying, or get to sleep (using an approach called the NBO), this helps parents to feel closer to their baby and more confident as a parent, and reduces the incidence of postnatal depression.

I don’t want to suggest that parents-to-be should expect to parenting to be difficult, breastfeeding hard, or babies to cry a lot. But they need to be prepared that they may experience these things, and that if they do, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them or their baby. It’s part of the normal rollercoaster of parenting, and there’s a lot of support out there to help.

If I had to tell parents what to expect when they have a baby, I’d tell them to prepare to meet your own fantastic, individual little person. And don’t expect anything to be like you read in the books.

 

Sally Hogg
September 2016

The amazing benefits of baby swimming

Aqua Nurture in Cheshire is “the perfect place for parents-to-be, new parents and young families to swim, learn and grow together”.  We are delighted to have Aqua Nurture as Sapling sponsors of Growing Families: Facts, Fiction and Other Stuff, our not-for-profit parenting event in Manchester this October, and they will be exhibiting there on the day.  Aqua Nuture is also home to Puddle Ducks Greater Manchester who provide aqua natal for mummies to be, and award winning baby, toddler and children’s swimming classes, all in the purpose built hydro pool.  Here the Puddle Ducks team explain just what are the benefits of baby swimming.

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Baby swimming is one of the most amazing experiences you can share with your baby!

Babies have a real affinity with water. They spend nine months in the womb, and many expectant mothers are now choosing a water birth as the most natural introduction to this world. Water is recognised as a warm, supportive environment during labour and provides a natural transition for your baby from the womb to the “outside world”.

Babies can be taken baby swimming from birth, they do not need to have completed their injections and very young babies love the freedom, massage and gentle exercise that the water offers.

The benefits to both parent and baby of swimming together are immense:

  • Plenty of eye contact
  • Plenty of skin contact – it’s a wonderful way to bond with your baby
  • Helping you and your baby feel relaxed and confident in the water
  • Makes swimming a fun and socially stimulating activity (for both you and your baby!)
  • Even parents who can’t swim can enjoy relaxing in the water with their baby

There are further benefits for water babies too, especially if you join a fun, progressive class:

  • It is the only time your baby can be completely independent (when experiencing gentle submersions)
  • Only in the water, can a baby move freely and develop actions they wouldn’t otherwise be able to in their first year of life. This gives “swimming babies” the opportunity to develop crucial higher brain functions, core muscle development and co-ordination far earlier than they would otherwise be able to
  • Even though gentle, baby swimming classes provide a complete physical work-out: strengthening your baby’s heart, lungs and respiratory system, which again aids development of the brain
  • Regular swimming often improves eating and sleeping patterns
  • Learning to respond to key words (within a few months) can make your baby sharper mentally, increasing levels of awareness and understanding as well as improve communication between you
  • Encouraging a baby to take regular exercise from such a young age is also an extremely healthy routine to instil which may prevent childhood lethargy

But most importantly of all, baby swimming should instil a love of water for the rest of your child’s life.

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Baby swimming is an entirely safe and gentle activity, but coming to classes often provides a parent with the necessary support to enable them to relax and enjoy the experience. Good baby swimming teachers are trained to understand the needs of both parent and baby, and are also qualified in lifesaving and resuscitation skills.

Classes can vary, so take time to find a class that will give you the experiences that you want – whether this is just water familiarity or a more progressive approach; and whether the style of the class is relaxed and fun, or more formal and regimented.

Specialist baby swimming classses follow a clear and progressive structure and will usually involve some underwater swimming for your baby. However, the emphasis should be on parents and their babies having fun, with no baby being forced to do anything against his or her wishes.

The best baby swimming classes are full of carefully designed but simple activities, gentle submersions and are packed full of songs. Songs and rhymes provide gentle stimulation and are the most effective way to communicate with your baby. Repetition is fun, reassuring and promotes learning.

 

Puddleducks Greater Manchester
September 2016

Breastfeeding and Drugs in Breastmilk

The Breastfeeding Network’s Drugs in Breastmilk Service will be exhibiting at our event in Manchester on Thursday 6th October.  The service is headed up by pharmacist Dr Wendy Jones, and is an invaluable resource for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The day after our event, Wendy is teaming up with our sponsors the LIFIB (Local Infant Feeding Information Board) to provide a workshop in Blackpool for healthcare professionals, entitled Prescribing for Infants and Breastfeeding Mothers.  More information here: http://www.breastfeeding-and-medication.co.uk/conferences/prescribing-for-breastfeeding-mothers-october-7th-blackpool 

Our thanks to Wendy for her support for our event, and for providing this blog post for us about her work and experiences.

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The time in a woman’s life when she is pregnant, giving birth and breastfeeding is a unique period. All of us remember the smallest details as we grow older. Even after thirty years as a breastfeeding support worker I am humbled and amazed at the way older women (yes there are still a few older than me!) want to tell me what happened to them.

How we feed our babies influences our attitude to infant feeding in the future which is why it is so difficult for women who come from bottle feeding families to feel comfortable with breastfeeding. They have neither seen breastfeeding as normal nor usually do they feel wholehearted support for their chosen feeding method. Subtle comments about milk quality and content may be common, undermining their confidence in their body’s ability to sustain their baby.

Nurturing our babies is a unique way of showing our love for them so it is unsurprising that the breast: bottle debate is always so heated and felt so personally.

It has become increasingly apparent to me that some healthcare professionals underestimate the importance to mothers of continuing to breastfeed. In pregnancy we bombard them with information on the “advantages” of breastfeeding. In fact there are no advantages. What? I hear you splutter. Consumption of its mother’s milk is the biological norm for a mammal. It is in fact artificial formula – prepared from the milk of a different mammal, normally a cow – which is the intervention. As it does not, and cannot have the biological specificity that breastmilk has then it inherently has disadvantages.

Some women feel passionately about breastfeeding before the birth of their baby – I know I did – and will go to any lengths to find a way to feed and overcome any difficulties on their way. Others are more equivocal and will talk about “trying if I can”. These women may become totally committed to feeding after the first few days or weeks and have discovered in themselves a passion. Breastfeeding doesn’t come easily to everyone these days. We have the equipment but not necessarily the support to enable us to achieve a pain free latch immediately. If it hurts we may be told by others that it doesn’t matter, that formula is as good, that a couple of bottles won’t hurt to give the nipples a rest and chance to heal, that Dad is willing to feed the baby overnight so mum can get some well-earned sleep. The more useful comment to a mother struggling is how to find support to make feeding pain-free – be that by a person who can spend time with the mother and baby, via internet links, via social media, by telephone helplines which ever works for the family.

All of us are anxious to provide the perfect start in life for our babies – it is an innate and natural instinct to protect this precious new life to the point of being willing to lay down our life for him or her. So for those of us who choose to breastfeed we want to know that our milk is pure and unpolluted, perfect in every way for our baby. If we choose to formula feed we trust that the manufacturer has undertaken the research to ensure their product is an adequate substitute. How then do we regard taking medication which will get into our milk and pass to our baby? We also have an increasing number of mothers who are still breastfeeding when they fall pregnant again so are concerned about keeping both children safe.

It fascinates me that mothers can be so scared about what will affect their babies that they not only refuse medication for headaches, colds etc. preferring to let their bodies heal themselves, but that they also question much more simple products. So over the years I have been asked if it is safe to have false nails fitted when breastfeeding and indeed if nail varnish itself is safe, whether drinking Ovaltine is safe, whether a breastfeeding mum can have her hair dyed or straightened.

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There is sadly a paucity of research on the safety of drugs in breastmilk. There appear to be a few specialist workers who actively collate information on exposure to infants of newer drugs via breastmilk. My aim is to equip women with the voice to ask for the help they need to find appropriate treatment without compromising the breastfeeding relationship with their baby.

The importance of breastfeeding to a mother with mental health issues seems particularly important to me. It takes courage to make an appointment and go to see your GP to explain you are feeling anxious or depressed. To have your wishes to continue to breastfeed dismissed is soul destroying. GPs and all healthcare professionals need to have compassion for the mother as well as knowledge about the safety of the drugs passing through breastmilk.

I am delighted to be part of the Growing Families Conference and to spread the word to mums, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents as well as healthcare professionals that mothers can be prescribed medication and continue to breastfeed without harming the baby.

 

Wendy Jones
The Breastfeeding Network Drugs in Breastmilk Helpline
September 2016

Drugs In Breastmilk helpline: 0844 412 4665.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BfNDrugsinBreastmilkinformation

How to support this vital service: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/friends-drugs-breastmilk/ 

Healthy Children – implementing the digital red book

We are very proud to have eRedbook as one of our four headline “Oak” sponsors for our event in Manchester on Thursday 6th October.  Here Shelley Heffernan explains the benefits that a digital health record has for families.

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I’m Shelley Heffernan,  Professional Lead in Children’s  Nursing  for Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust.

About 18 months ago, I went to an innovation meeting and saw a presentation on eRedbook and I was inspired by the concept. As I mum myself, I could see the benefits and wished I’d had access to eRedbook when my daughter was a baby. I was a busy working mum who was forever losing my daughters book and my daughter was poorly when she was born, so it was important to me to have all her checks and immunisations recorded in one place.

I also remember thinking at the time that as a Health Visitor this is just what we needed, as it would take my profession into the new era of digitalised health care.  We really needed to keep pace with our ‘technologically savvy’ clients and it could be an exciting service improvement for Health Visiting!

Our families need the option of accessing their health care record at the press of button or via their phones.  More than that, I think they actually expect this. You can access any other service area online, so why not a child health record? For parents who can’t access the electronic record or didn’t want to get involved, there would still be the option of the traditional paper Red Book.

My passion for providing an effective service for clients, which they actually want and my professional responsibility to provide high quality services is what motivated me to get involved in this exciting innovation. This was something that could make a real difference to Health Visiting and how our clients experience our service.

Since then we’ve come a long way and health visitors in central London are now using the eRedbook. Our clients are really enjoying it and they seem to love the fact that they have an online health record all about their baby. We are still developing our approach and piloting the electronic record,  but the priority has always been about improving the parent’s/carer’s experience. Therefore for us, right from the start, getting feedback from our clients was essential. We wanted to know whether this would be something that our clients wanted. We could see the benefits in terms of accessibility and clinical benefits but critical to our success was improving the clients experience.

We also wanted to find out if it would be useful to our HV colleagues and whether it would help them in their practice? As a professional group we are often asked to take on different aspects of practice. Sometimes we can’t see the benefits, so we wanted to test this to see if the eRedbook would make a difference, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Health Visitors really like it and we have eRedbook champions across our boroughs who are assisting us in developing the product into our clinical practice.

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Recently all our hard work came to fruition. We have, with our partners Sitekit, successfully implemented the functionality of the eRedbook, so that a child’s immunisation data can now automatically flow into the baby’s eRedbook . What this means for mum, dad or carers is that when they register on eRedbook, their child’s immunisations will be automatically populated within the child’ s electronic record, which marks a real step forward in how our clients will interact with eRedbook.

Parents will have an accurate, up-to-date record of the child’s immunisation status in an easily accessible format . It’s useful for the clinician as it allows them to plan the care for the family, ensure that the baby has all the correct immunisations, and make it easier for families to be to be informed about their child’s health, so they can make the right choices in relation to their child’s health and wellbeing.

This was encapsulated on launch day when for the first time, we observed a mother registering on eRedbook, reviewing the record and easily accessing their baby’s recent immunisation data. She was delighted to have all this information at her finger tips and was extremely impressed.

For more information see http://www.eredbook.org/

 

Shelley Heffernan
September 2016

 

Infant Sleep: Expectations and Reality

Alice Amber-Keegan is a biological anthropologist researching infant sleep at Durham University, as part of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab.  Professor Helen Ball of the Sleep Lab and the Infant Sleep Information Source is one of the main session speakers at our event in Manchester on Thursday 6th October, and Alice has kindly contributed this blog post to Growing Families in support of Helen’s involvement in the day.

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When you tell people that your research is about infant sleep, it inevitably leads to stories about how their children slept, many told with an air of nostalgia long free from the torture of sleepless nights. Although my research has been invaluable in educating me about infant sleep in general, it has also encouraged me to find out more about my own upbringing and that of those dear to me. Many of these conversations are generally light-hearted but have given me an insight into the struggles of modern day parenting and debunked many of my pre-existing expectations of what bringing up a young baby is like.

Being the youngest child in my family and not being a parent myself, I came into infant sleep research naïvely having previously had very little contact with young babies; none of my friends or close relatives have had babies and much of what I knew about infant sleep was through TV, films or pictures I’d seen. My idea of infant sleep was very ‘Eurocentric’ assuming that it was the norm for babies to sleep in cots or cribs, either in the parents’ bedroom or a specifically made ‘nursery room’. Hollywood representations of the pregnancy experience which continually display decorating the nursery as a rite of passage, preparing parents for the birth of their child, are deeply ingrained in my visual imagination and are frequently still evoked when I think about infant sleep. It came as a surprise to me that co-sleeping is such a huge and integral part of negotiating night-time care with 50% of babies in the UK having bed shared at some point by the time they are 3 months old (Ball 2002) and even more of a surprise that it is not represented in popular culture. The complexities, contradictions and moral significance of parents’ night-time infant care decisions have slowly become apparent, boggling my mind with what parents have to deal with alongside adjusting to life with a new family member.

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Image courtesy of Rob Mank & the Infant Sleep Information Source

When discussing my research with people, they regularly jest that studying infant sleep is a paradox. The idea that babies don’t sleep seems to be a generally accepted and popular notion, however parents seem to continually struggle with the level of sleep deprivation they experience and the amount of time it takes for babies to ‘sleep through the night’. These ideas are opposed with popular representations of infant sleep, such as Pampers adverts that promise ’12 hours of Dryness’ and show images of blissfully sleeping babies in cots, or sitcoms like Friends showing new mothers setting their babies down to sleep for hours on end and continuing on with their pre-baby lifestyles. Whilst discussing this with some mothers in a local sling group, one mother stood out by claiming that her expectations of her baby’s sleep were actually met;

“He met my realistic expectations initially. He was a typical baby.
I had expected him to sleep through the night in his own bed by 8 years mind”

Although this is an extreme example, I think it is important to consider the extent of sleep disruption that parents need to prepare for in order to create realistic expectations. Chung and Hoyoung (2014) note that Korean parents are more tolerant towards post-baby sleep disturbances because their “sleep less, work more” ethic gives sleep less cultural value and allows them to easily accept sacrifices of sleep. Korean parents are known to co-sleep with their infants for 3-6 years, with no specific word for bed-sharing, room-sharing or co-sleeping in Korean – it is seen as an essential part of parenting.

Studies of formula fed infants in the 1950s and 1960s were used to blueprint normative infant sleeping patterns which led to the creation of harsh and regimented sleep training models which promised to enable parents to transition back to pre-baby sleeping patterns shortly after the birth of their baby. However, for breastfeeding infants it is normal to frequently wake and feed throughout the night; the structure of human milk, which is low in fat and protein but high in sugar (lactose) encourages rapid brain growth but provides few calories per feeding and results in babies having to feed more frequently and on-demand (Jellife & Jellife 1978), meaning that ‘sleeping through the night’ is an unrealistic goal for breastfeeding parents. The necessity of frequent night feedings has consequences for breastfeeding mothers who must wake frequently to facilitate infant feeding needs. Many breastfeeding mothers have adopted same-surface co-sleeping as a tactic to negotiate night-time care, with research showing 75% of breastfed babies share the bed in their first month of life (Ball 2007). Studies have also shown that co-sleeping and breastfeeding have a mutually reinforcing relationship, with co-sleeping infants feeding more frequently (Ball et al. 2006; Gettler & McKenna 2011; McKenna, Mosko & Richard 1997), encouraging milk production and maintaining lactation (Ball et al. 2011).

As an Anthropologist, I study infant sleep from an evolutionary perspective. Understanding the significant biological immaturity of babies – they are born with one quarter of their adult brain size meaning that they go through a period of external gestation where they behave more like a foetus – can help to contextualise babies’ need for constant reassurance and close parental contact. It is estimated that it takes around a year for human infants to develop to the point that other mammals are at when they are born (Martin 1992). Constraints on pelvic width due to upright walking on two legs means that human babies have to be born early in their development, before their brains grow too large to pass out of the pelvis (Rosenberg 1992). This results in extremely immature and dependent babies that have very little control of their own regulatory systems.

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Image courtesy of Rob Mank & the Infant Sleep Information Source

The under representation of co-sleeping in popular culture arises from fears about the association between co-sleeping and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and worries that publicly displaying the behaviour will encourage parents whose infants are at risk of SIDS from same surface co-sleeping to engage in the behaviour when they wouldn’t otherwise. Some SIDS prevention campaigns have focused on stopping parents from co-sleeping altogether by displaying images of infants sleeping in bed next to knives or under headstones creating associations between co-sleeping, danger and death. Previous studies have associated co-sleeping with SIDS but many of these have shown that the risk of SIDS from co-sleeping for breastfed babies in the absence of hazardous circumstances is very low (Blair 2014; Venneman et al. 2012). It is important to note that there is a significant and increased risk of SIDS from same surface co-sleeping for infants exposed to maternal smoking (prenatally and postnatally), parental use of alcohol and drugs and co-sleeping on a sofa (Blair et al. 2009; Venneman et al. 2012). However, for infants who are at a very low risk, co-sleeping has been shown to increase maternal and infant sleep quality and encourage breastfeeding which in itself has been shown to be protective against SIDS (Huack et al. 2011). Breastfeeding, co-sleeping mothers have also been shown to induce arousals in their infants that may have a protective affect against life threatening apneas and SIDS. Co-sleeping allows babies to be physiologically regulated by their mother’s body as well as enabling mothers to induce arousals, either to initiate feeding or to improve infant arousability (Mosko, Richard and McKenna 1997).

Studies have shown that co-sleeping is frequently used as a tactic to negotiate night-time care – on any particular night, for some part of their sleep, parents are sleeping with their neonates (Blair & Ball 2004). Therefore, under representations of co-sleeping are not stopping the behaviour but creating an education deficit where parents are not being informed how to do it safely and appropriately. Lack of education about safe sleeping practices and prejudices against co-sleeping can also result in parents facing stigma when discussing with health professionals, resulting in confusion about safe co-sleeping practices and increasing maternal anxieties. It is therefore important to educate parents about how to engage in safe co-sleeping, allowing them to make informed choices about their own sleeping practices.

It has been a steep learning curve researching parenting from the ‘outside’ and it has been invaluable in preparing me for challenges I am still yet to face. I am astounded by the lack of accurate information about the realities of parenting and have realised how important it is to be informed. From observing mothers negotiating night-time care in a culture that is full of conflicting pressures and stigmatisation, it has become apparent that the only way to deal with these conflicts is to empower parents to make informed decisions. Being informed can not only encourage parents to make their own decisions with knowledge and confidence, but can allow tolerance of other people’s choices and help to eliminate feelings of shame and failure. Being informed is integral in constructing realistic expectations, enabling parents to plan and manage their post-baby lives more effectively, reduce the likelihood of parental stress and allow breastfeeding mothers to be more effectively supported by peers.

 

Alice Amber-Keegan
September 2016

 

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