Every parent needs to make the choice that is right for their family when it comes to their childs sleeping arrangement. I have some strong opinions about bed sharing and crying it out (and countless other things too!) but ultimately I respect other peoples choices. I have met many healthy, well adjusted humans who slept in a crib when they were babies. A safe, healthy child is all that matters.
As I was thinking about which aspect of being a brand new Mother I should write about, I happened to be watching the news. Up popped the feel good story of the baby gorilla (Moke) who was just born. The gentle way the Mother kissed her newborn and placed her on her chest to sleep gave me my inspiration… co sleeping.
Like most expectant first time Mothers, I dutifully purchased a crib and set it up in the nursery. I had a pack and play and the Arms Reach Co Sleeper (borrowed from a friend) at the ready. I had no idea where the baby would sleep but I certainly felt like I had all bases covered!
Fast forward to the hospital. On my sons first night of life earth side he was placed in the plastic bassinet next to my bed. I couldn’t sleep as I was staring at him and felt a void that I couldn’t explain. He suddenly started vomiting and making choking noises. Somehow I pulled myself up and rolled him over just as a nurse walked in. I was terrified that he would have choked to death had I not been awake. As a C Section baby, this phenomenon is very common. Having not passed through the birth canal he still had a lot of fluid in his system. This was him getting rid of it. I can attest to the fact that it is very frightening and I didn’t sleep at all for the rest of the night as I was watching him and of course holding him and forcing myself to stay awake.
The next day I didn’t let him go. When night rolled around he was propped safely under my arm. I am a light sleeper so whenever anyone came in the room I would pretend to be awake. Thankfully my night nurse was wonderful and told me not to worry, that he wasn’t going anywhere and that we would both sleep better with one another.
We slept 7 hours that night.
The third night, I had the same nurse. Once again he slept on my chest. We slept 8 hours that night (with the obligatory hospital wake ups of course.)
I was blessed with a child that only woke once a night to feed and as he hadn’t lost too much weight, nobody was forcing us to feed every couple of hours.
When I brought him home and looked at all the options, I knew there was only one. I made sure that my sleeping environment was free from dangers. I wasn’t worried about rolling onto him as I could barely move after the surgery! I wasn’t taking any drugs other than Ibuprofen as I couldn’t stand the way that the Percocet made me feel and had stopped taking them as soon as I could.
Sleeping with my infant felt like the most natural, safe thing to me. I could feel his breathing and he could feel mine. It was summer so neither of us wore anything other than our diapers (haha – gotta love the post birth sanitary towels.) We were skin to skin and sleeping like a dream in the cuddle curl position (more about this later.) He woke up once at around 1am and again at 6am and was good til 8 or 9am. I had never slept so well.
Infertility and pregnancy had done a number on my sleep. I had been kept awake for 2 years worrying that my life choices would leave me childless. Then whilst pregnant I developed insomnia for the last few months which, combined with the frequent pee trips meant that I was very sleep deprived by the time I gave birth. I figured it was training for when he arrived but I got lucky and the reverse was true.
The problem with co sleeping is that there are a lot of people who will tell you that you’re creating a bad habit, that you’re going to kill your baby, that your child will never sleep alone. You’ll also be told that your child will be needy. I’ll address those here:
You’re creating bad habits
This is only true if you think that your child taking comfort from proximity to you instead of a pacifier/special blanket or toy is a bad thing. Bed sharing infants rarely have attachments to inanimate objects. I’ve seen so many mothers fret that their child has lost their blanket and can’t sleep, or their pacifier has fallen out and they’re awake again! Nobody thinks a favorite blanket or toy is a bad habit do they?
You’re going to kill your child / its dangerous
If you follow safe sleeping guidelines then this isn’t going to happen. SIDS has never been known as co-sleeping death. It has been known as Cot death. If anything sharing a bed with your child can lower the risk of SIDS as explained in this Dr Sears article. Most instances of child mortality from Co sleeping occurs after an exhausted parent falls asleep on a couch or chair and the baby slips down and suffocates. It is also more likely to happen when a parent is abusing alcohol/drugs. There were nights when I felt exhausted from a day of cluster feeding, so I would place my son in the co sleeper for the first stretch of the night and then bring him in when I was rested.
Your child will never sleep alone!!
Eventually they will. But chances are, if you wait for them to initiate it, then it will take a long time (which is fine by me!) By age 5 or so most children have left the family bed and are sleeping in their own rooms. It’s important to always give them their own space to go when they are ready. I got rid of the crib and my son has a toddler bed languishing for him. At least he knows it is there! Like anything, when you’ve had enough, its possible to change the arrangement.
You’ll end up with a needy child.
The reverse is actually true. Always being there to meet your childs needs – even in the middle of the night means that they cry for shorter periods (if at all.) You’ll find that your child is even more independent. It doesn’t eliminate the periods of clinginess that are developmentally normal but it does foster independence from an early age. In fact there’s a lot of benefits such as better health, happier and well adjusted kids, which you can read about in this article.
One thing that you may encounter when you bed share is unsolicited advice from your pediatrician. I firmly believe that they should stick to giving medical advice unless we ask for parenting advice. I have been told that my baby doesn’t need to be fed at night once they hit 4 months. I’ve been advised to cry it out. Bear in mind that my child and I sleep well and that his wake ups have always been minimal so I wasn’t asking for advice. Besides, I am vehemently against Cry It Out (but I’ll still be friends with you if you did it.) I had to change pediatricians 4 times (3 within the same practice) before I found one that I liked. One that said “if it’s working for your family then that’s great, if it stops working then there’s other things you can do.”
If you encounter criticism from family/friends then remember – it’s none of their business. Your baby, your choice. You could send them some of the articles I’ve linked to though, or google your own. There are so many out there. Also remember that most of the rest of the world bed share and their infant mortality from SIDS rate is far, far lower than ours.
The Cuddle Curl is your friend
The safest and most natural way to share your sleeping space with a breastfeeding infant is called the cuddle curl. In this position your child is cradled and you are unable to roll onto them. You’ll probably find that you naturally get into this position but you can read more about it in this article.
My son and I continue to share a bed. He is 20 months old. I work at night so on those nights, my Mother gets him to sleep and he spends the first stretch on his own. We started doing this when he was very young so that I would have a few hours after he went to sleep to have some alone time. It works for us. Until recently I would nurse him when I got home so he would sleep longer. Now he’s night weaned, he doesn’t even notice when I come home!
The mornings are my favorite. My son wakes up with a smile. He has never cried upon waking to find himself alone and needing to get my attention. We laze in bed until 7am and he’s fine with this. (sadly he rarely sleeps until 7am anymore). He gives lovely hugs, plays with his feet, talks to the dog or sings me songs. It’s super cute and I cherish these precious times. Before I know it he will be big, sleeping in his own room and wanting to hang with his friends. I’ll be so proud of the independent man he is becoming while cherishing those sweet days when we slept curled together in our bed on the floor!
* I didn’t have any pictures of us bed sharing that weren’t naked so the picture posted is a cute sleeping image of my little one. He is being watched and is not on a suitable sleeping surface for bed sharing!