Cosleeping has been in the news a lot lately because of the revelation that the Ministry of Health is being numbskulled and refusing to fund Pepi Pods and Wahakura.
I’ve seen lots of outrage over the Ministry’s decision, and lots of comments defending it too. Things along the lines of “just don’t cosleep! It’s dangerous! Why are we so politically correct and ridiculous?! Let’s not pander to stupid dangerous cultural customs!”
Cosleeping isn’t unique to Maori. In the UK, parent surveys found about half of babies sleep in their parents’ bed on a semi-regular basis.
But also, cosleeping is important in Maori culture and that’s not nothing. I was told as a child that the hongi evokes the mother and baby nuzzling together, forehead and noses pressed, which is such a gorgeous image isn’t it? Could there be a more beautiful greeting than one which evokes maternal intimacy?
When you’re the cultural majority, you get the privilege of invisibility – you don’t see your own customs as cultural. Though of course they are. A cultural minority has to defend the way they do things in a way that the majority doesn’t.
Most babies want to sleep next to warm bodies. It makes sense – they’re tiny mammals. We give puppies hot water bottles wrapped in flannel to make them think they’re next to a mama dog, but our own babies should be put in a cot with nothing around them? They don’t wanna be there!
We’ve basically given up on bub’s cot for now. He doesn’t like it one little bit. Right now he’s asleep in his buggy in the hallway.
He also has a cold at the moment. I do too. Winter eh. Yuk.
On Sunday night, bub woke every 1 – 2 hours for a feed. He seemed a lot better on Monday morning, but then in the nighttime he still wanted to feed a lot. Sick babies need frequent feedings, and there is some evidence that breastfed babies recover from low-level viruses more quickly because of the antibodies in the milk, so from bub’s perspective this is all perfect.
The little dude also woke up in the night. He’s on the mend from the same cold.
So Mr Daddy joined the little dude in his bed, and bub was next to me, and that’s how we slept last night, each child sharing a bed, each getting night time parental attention close by.
I have no ideological commitment to cosleeping as part of a broader parenting philosophy. Parenting philosophies make me cringe, even when I agree with many of the things they suggest. I think we all try and find what works for our families, and we all hope that the end result is good enough, and what works for me might not work for you, and that’s fine.
Cosleeping works for us because bub is breastfed and the house is smoke free, and I’m happy to abstain from alcohol for now, so I’m comfortable with the risk profile in our situation. It also works for us because he doesn’t want to go down in his cot and I’m too knackered to make a thing of it at the moment. If I put him next to me in bed, I can piece together a good enough night’s sleep. I honestly wish I’d coslept with the little dude from earlier (I didn’t because I was paranoid I’d smother him) – it’s made night time parenting much less onerous. He feeds, I roll him away, pop his dummy in his mouth, doze off, don’t have to get out of bed, don’t have to worry he might wake up when I put him in his cot, don’t have to worry about his crying waking the little dude. It also makes two kids much more workable. On the little dude’s home days, I don’t get that much time to attend to bub, and having him close to me at night makes me feel better about that. Mr Daddy is sleeping on the couch for now, so he gets a proper night’s sleep most of the time and goes into the little dude’s room whenever there’s a nightmare.
I think if I wasn’t cosleeping I’d be a complete wreck of sleep deprivation because this baby sleeps very very lightly and needs a lot of night time attention. It’s not cosleep vs cot, it’s cosleep vs I don’t fucking know if we even really have a choice with this kid.
There are so many reasons to cosleep aside from it being the way your people have always done things, and the main one is that parents need to sleep and babies need to be tended at night, and cosleeping allows for both.
But it’s dangerous in some situations. If the baby is exposed to tobacco smoke, either in utero or once born. If the baby is sleeping next to someone who’s had a few drinks or has smoked tobacco or marujana or other drugs. If the baby is sleeping next to someone other than the breastfeeding mother. If the baby is under thick blankets that could cover the face. If the baby was low birthweight. If the parent is large, or the bed is too small. All of these things are more prevalent among Maori, especially smoking rates – almost double the non-Maori rate. Babies with these risk factors are extra vulnerable and those are the ones that are dying, at a rate of about 50 a year.
The Pepi Pod or Wahakura is a useful compromise solution in these situations – no breastfeeding access, but a lot of physical closeness for stroking their little heads and singing to them, without the risk of accidental smothering. After they were introduced, New Zealand had the first drop in rates of babies dying since the “no tummy sleep” advice was rolled out. You’d think that funding them would be a fairly open shut case.
Except the Ministry doesn’t want to, because it goes against the “no co-sleeping” message. Yeah, kinda obviously stupid huh?
There’s a petition to get them funded, here: https://our.actionstation.org.nz/petitions/keep-our-sleeping-babies-safe