Last year, at 8 weeks old, our son was hospitalised for two weeks due to a urinary tract infection caused by an undiagnosed PUV. It was an awful time. Within hours of arriving at the hospital, our little baby was connected to a heart monitor, a drip and a feeding tube. I began expressing milk so they could feed him through the tube and measure input and output.
Once he was more stable, we were transferred to our own room on a ward. He looked lost in the big cot he had been put in and soon became unsettled, I knew that all he wanted was to be held. I sat with him in my arms, being careful of all the wires and tubes, unable to breastfeed because he was still being fed through the tube. He eventually fell asleep and I put him back in the cot and tried to get some sleep myself. Fifteen minutes later, he woke up and so I sat holding him until daddy came back to the hospital and took over while I got some sleep.
A day or so later I was told that I could breastfeed him again. Now any breastfeeding mum knows that breastfeeding is not all about the milk, it’s also extremely comforting and soothing for a baby to be on the breast, this is more true when the baby is in a strange environment with strange faces, smells and sounds. Once our baby was allowed back on the breast, he didn’t want to be off it! This usually wouldn’t have bothered me at all. However, in a hospital setup, this was made very difficult. My bed was on one side of the room and he was connected to the various tubes and wires in his cot at the other side of the room. I knew that that particular set up wasn’t going to work for us; I would have to get out of bed every time he wanted to feed and sit in the uncomfortable chair by his bed to feed him/comfort him and more importantly, I would miss those early cues that let me know he needs me. That would have been a new experience for all of us. My husband asked the nurse if it would be possible for us to swap our son’s cot bed to a normal hospital bed so my son and I could share – he would have unlimited breast access and I would be able to get some sleep. We were told that they couldn’t do that for us as the “NHS don’t advocate co-sleeping because it increases the risk of cot-death.” I was told it was dangerous. My husband was told he couldn’t stay overnight in the room with us and given a ‘family room’ and I was left alone with our baby.
That night, my baby cried and I went to him, I fed him and held him until he fell asleep. I shuffled back to my bed and 30 minutes later, he cried again. So again, I went to him, soothed him and as soon as I put him back in his cot, he woke up again and he wanted to go back on the breast. This happened throughout the night. I sat in the chair next to his cot, absolutely exhausted, terrified of falling asleep in case I dropped him. I stood up to feed him as I didn’t trust myself not to fall asleep in the chair. I felt sick. It was the first time in the 8 weeks of living with my son that I felt like I was a danger to him. I called my husband and he came straight to our room and took our son from me. I had some milk I had expressed into a bottle, but he wasn’t interested in the bottle, he cried and cried until he was back with me and my boobs!
The next day a doctor came in to take some bloods, she asked how I was, I told her I was exhausted due to being up all night with my son. “We’re not used to this setup,” I told her, “we bed-share at home. I’m not used to having to continuously get out of bed through the night and he’s not used to having to cry to wake me.”
The doctor looked at me with a look of horror on her face –“that is so dangerous!” she exclaimed. “It causes cot death.”
Women have been sharing a bed with their babies for thousands of years and rates of SIDS in countries who routinely bed share are incredibly low or none existent! What is dangerous, is not giving women the correct information!
Even while my son was having his brain scanned after a seizure, we were warned of the dangers of bed sharing – it seemed everyone was an expert on where my child should be sleeping. However, none of their opinions were evidence based.
While we were in hospital, NICE had just published their newest guidelines on co-sleeping, guidelines which didn’t differentiate between safely sharing a bed and falling asleep on the couch with your baby. They listed all the things that could lead to an increased risk of SIDS (prenatal and post natal smoking, drug taking, alcohol consumption and premature birth) which happen to be the same things that increase the SIDS risk in babies who are left on their own in a cot. While the report tells parents the dangers of co-sleeping it doesn’t tell parents how to co-sleep safely. It fails to highlight the benefits safe bed sharing can have for the breast feeding mother and her baby. In my opinion, this latest report does nothing to dispel the fears of mothers or to give them the knowledge and confidence they need to make an informed decision. Furthermore, it’s not until you read the full report that you see that NICE say that there is not enough evidence to say that co-sleeping causes SIDS, only that there may be an association. What concerned me the most was that women were being told by health professionals that they are putting their baby in danger by bed sharing, so in order to avoid this ‘danger’ women were moving away from the bed to feed and onto chairs and couches.
My son is nearly 6 months old now and we still bed share. We didn’t at the beginning, when I first brought him home he slept in his co-sleeping crib, but it soon became apparent that the best way for us all to get the most amount of rest was to bring him into our bed – it felt like the most natural thing in the world and the most convenient for us.
There are lots of places you can get good co-sleeping advice from, unfortunately new mums aren’t pointed towards these places by health professionals. I’ve included some links for those who want more information and advice.
The sad thing is, my experience in hospital is what some women experience on a nightly basis because they’re too scared to bring their baby into bed with them, no wonder some women give up breastfeeding in those early weeks!
Safe Sleep Seven – a guide to bed sharing safely