Sweet Sleep and the Sleep Experts

November 19, 2014

This morning I attended a panel discussion of the Children’s Health Council at Cornell Weill Medical College on New York City’s upper east side. The topic was Tots to Teens: Sleep and Your Child.

The panelists were Vikash K. Modi, M.D., FAAP, Haviva Veler, M.D. and Mary J. Ward, Ph.D.

The topics they addressed are the things I discuss with my clients: routine, rhythm and consistency for good sleep hygiene. The topic of co-sleeping was mentioned but was never actually addressed during the panel discussion. It was great to hear these panelists discuss normal sleep behavior and when medical conditions get in the way.

Then they talked about the importance of letting babies learn to sleep on their own. They even encouraged Cry It Out. What was especially compelling was the fact that the two moms on the panel confessed their own discomfort with letting their own babies Cry It Out. I was relieved to hear this because it confirmed I was listening to real people with real life experience. But I wonder why. Why they have expectations that others should “do as they say, not as they do?”

They discussed the problems of electronics and irregular schedules. They discussed how light disrupts the excretion of melatonin.

They never discussed diet. They touched on allergies, mostly airborne allergies causing inflamed adenoids and obstructing airways. But they did not discuss what and how babies are fed. I wonder if they considered this in their research.

They talked about sleep associations like music, blankets and parents. They insist these “objects” need to not be there when the baby falls asleep or they will need these associations when they wake in the middle of the night. They did not discuss breastmilk or the melatonin levels that change throughout the day to help babies to sleep more. They discussed circadian rhythms.

I learned the two factors that determine the need for sleep are 1)circadian rhythms and 2)how much time has elapsed between sleep sessions.

During the Question & Answer period there were many parents asking about their own children’s sleep issues. Luckily I got a chance to ask my question. Into the microphone, I spoke, “I am a Private Practice Lactation Consultant and one of my favorite things to show new families is how to SAFELY lay down and nurse their babies and to know how to SAFELY fall asleep if that were to happen. Why then when families pass into the borders of the United States do their bodies suddenly become dangerous?”

Dr. Ward admitted that she may be biased toward Western philosophy and mentioned a study that showed most parents do not like sleeping with their babies or children.

It made me wonder if the participants in that study answered that they don’t like it because they are conditioned to think it is bad? Are they conditioned culturally to think that babies are not supposed to cross the border of the marriage bed? Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe my personal bias towards wanting more sleep and wanting to breastfeed comfortably colors my thoughts on this controversy.

Gerald M. Laughlin, M.D. suggested that in this country the mattresses on adult beds as so soft as to cause suffocation as opposed to the hard mattresses in Asia where co-sleeping is the norm. I am not an anthropologist but I do sit on a lot of beds and very few I have examined are soft enough to cause a risk for babies.

Dr. Veler stated that there is research that states that there is an increase in SIDS when sleeping with parents. I told her I have research that negates that untruth.

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I brought along two copies of Sweet SleepNightime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family, the new book by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. Smith and Teresa Pitman published by La Leche League International. This book debunks many myths around sleep. The authors really went through many studies with a fine tooth comb and proved that in specific circumstances co-sleeping is the safest for babies.

They talk about the Safe Sleep Seven. For this to work a mom needs to be:

1) a non-smoker

2) sober

3) breastfeeding

the baby needs to be:

4) full-term and healthy

5) kept on his back when he is not nursing

6) unswaddled, in a onesie or light pajamas

and they both need to be

7) on a safe surface.

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This is nearly a five-hundred-page book so if you are really interested I recommend you check it out – many of those pages notes with citation of studies and research.

I gave one to Dr. Veler and the other to Dr. Loughlin.

It is my hope that these doctors will really look at them, take in the research and consider their words when they are asking parents to do what goes against their instincts.

I did take away some good information about my own older children. I learned how sleep works. My knowledge of the technology interfering with sleep is a real thing. I learned that it is absolutely normal for my thirteen year old to not want to wake up early in the morning.

I also learned that by trusting my instincts and paying attention to my children’s sleep I know what works against them getting good sleep and what helps. As babies we all slept better together. I did not mind being their sleep association “object.” It reminds me of the time when Phoebe was a toddler and she was holding onto her little red Elmo and another mom asked me, “Is Elmo her security object?” I was stunned then I realized what she was asking. “No.” I replied. “Well, what is,” she needed to know. “Um.” A beat, then “I am,” I beamed.

One Response to “Sweet Sleep and the Sleep Experts”

  1. Ann S VerSteeg Says:

    My kids are now 22 and 24. They have NO interest in sleeping with me. I got a dog!


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