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  • Writer's pictureDr. Kristen Mitteness

Cosleeping, dream feeding and (not) swaddling

Before I get into it, I want to preface everything I say here by letting you know that this is not specific advice nor am I shaming anyone who does things differently than I do. This is simply what we decided to do and the reasons we decided to so it. It's not even how we planned to do it, but that's how parenting is - you go in with a plan and you make changes as you go. I'm also writing this at 7 months postpartum. I expect things may change over the next few months, but here's where we are currently at.


I scoured the internet for a sidecar bassinet (also known as a cosleeper bassinet) for our baby before she was born. I had briefly looked into the cosleeping research and guidelines and because we had a dog, I felt like this was the best option. Then, I found out they are technically not available in Canada (I would have LOVED to get my hands on one of these). But, I finally found one, spent more money than I wanted on Facebook Marketplace and drove to the other side of the city during afternoon rush hour and stuffed it into my vehicle. Task done, check.

For the first week or two after Madison was born, I slept with her in our couch's recliner, skin to skin, belly to belly. Yeah, I know you aren't supposed to do that, but it's what we did and it worked for us. I reclined back to sleep and came up to a seated position when she wanted to feed. Multiple people suggested side lying feeding to me and I halfheartedly gave it a try during a few naps, but couldn't figure it out. But, my butt was getting sore and I just wanted to lay down. I finally got the hang of it after a few more effortful tries. We then transitioned to bed and sent dad to sleep in the basement bedroom so he could get a full night sleep without us waking him up. I didn't see a point to have two sleep deprived adults in the house. This also gave us free range of the king sized bed. I switched sides of her regularly through the night so she could eat from both sides. The bassinet never got used. It was much, much easier to simply sleep together. It now stores a towel we use to clean up spit up messes.


And this is when I finally understood dream feeding. Rather than fully waking up at night, she would start making noises, rustle, suck on my arm or give me some other clue she wanted to eat or be settled back to sleep. I would feed her right away and she would fall right back to deep sleep. Sometimes within a minute, sometimes, but not often, after a full 30 minute feed. Some nights she would sleep for 3-4 hours straight, sometimes she would eat every hour or two. It totally varies day by day. We head to bed around 8:00 pm and she feeds on and off for the first one to two hours while I listen to podcasts and drift in and out of sleep. Until she started crawling, she would sleep a good stretch after that. Once she was more mobile and active during the day, night feeding increased (WHAT IS THIS?!) but they were often pretty short, thankfully. For her first 3ish months, I would get her up to change her diaper around 3 am. I decided I didn't like getting her up so I changed her in bed instead. After doing that for about a week, I decided I didn't want to to wake her up at all, even though we were still in bed, so I stopped changing her diaper overnight. While she has a very wet diaper in the morning, she seems to tolerate it fine and then pees and often poops in the toilet first thing in the morning. We love elimination communication! She typically wakes around 8:00 am so we spend about 12 hours in bed every night. Without the wake to change her diaper, she has woken up less than 5 times during the night requiring me to get her back to sleep. Is she just a good sleeper? Maybe? Is it something else we're doing? I have no idea. But, this has been fairly easy overall and allows me to get enough sleep, too, even though it's broken. I don't think I've slept longer than 4 consecutive hours in the past 9 months (long sleep is hard during pregnancy, too!), but I am functioning well thanks to the cumulative time in bed.

A note on naps: she pretty much only contact naps (sleeps on someone), so I sometimes feed her to nap and read a book with her on me, sometimes we'll put her in the carrier and go for a walk, sometimes she sleeps in the car seat. We have no set nap schedule, we just go by her cues and help her fall asleep in whatever way is easiest for us, where we are. On the rare occasion, I'll risk it by putting her down in bed. Sometimes she wakes right away, sometimes she sleeps for her full sleep cycle, it's always a gamble - fun stuff! We also never nap her in darkness. I was intentional about keeping nighttime dark and daytime light - her days and nights were right on with no issues - her circadian rhythm is incredible.


Now, on to why I chose not to swaddle my baby. First, there is the moro (or startle) reflex. Babies startle randomly and one theory is that it's to ensure they wake themselves frequently at night. Now, you can see why this would be annoying for parents. Chances are, you don't want them to wake up. But, one of my favorite phrases is, "You can't beat nature". This reflex is there for a reason and I didn't want to mess with it. Is it annoying? Yeah, sometimes it is, but the better used baby gets to this startle reflex, the faster they get over it, through it and integrate it. If you keep preventing it, you are prolonging it and slowing down baby's development. Sometimes I would manually swaddle her to calm her down (hold her arms and legs in when she was laying or cuddle her tightly) - we do this inherently. Just like shushing. And it works! But, when we do it manually, we aren't prolonging it. If you want to look into the swaddling controversy further, here are some good articles from Harvard, Parents Canada and a sleep website.

In the end, what I learned the most over the first half year of sleeping with my baby, is that you can and should listen to your instincts. You are the best decision maker for you and your baby. Not Instagram, not your mom or mother in law and not your doctor. It's you. Like the Down to Birth podcast says, hear everyone and listen to yourself.

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