Co-sleeping: Is it for you?
When I was pregnant, I heard you should never sleep with your baby. You might roll on her, she might get wedged between the wall and the mattress, she might suffocate, or die from SIDS. So I did my homework. Attachment Parenting International offers some guidelines for safe co-sleeping. Around the world, co-sleeping is the norm, and research shows that SIDS is lower in babies that co-sleep with their parents. Unless you have a medical condition or take substances that cause you to be extra-drowsy, most mothers don’t roll onto their baby. In cribs, SIDS is more likely, they can fail and your child may not receive the psychological boost that co-sleeping can provide.
In other words, co-sleeping isn’t inherently dangerous, just as cribs aren’t inherently safe.
I knew I was going to breastfeed, and that co-sleeping is a great way to make breastfeeding go more smoothly. Babies that are exclusively breastfed generally wake up several times during the night. Co-sleeping allows you to feed your baby without either of you fully waking up (though nursing while lying down is a learned skill).
Before my daughter was born, I decided to use a co-sleeper that attaches to the bed. But as soon as I met my little one, I knew I couldn’t have her even that far away. I also tried a special mat you place in your bed with you, with raised sides so you can’t roll on your baby (unless you can roll over 3-inch stiff barriers). The only problem with that was I had to pull my baby out of the contraption, since I also couldn’t lean over into it for more than a few minutes. (My daughter nursed for 30 to 45 minutes at a time, several times a night in the beginning.)
Finally, I realized that millions of women, and our ancestors, couldn’t be wrong. I put my daughter next to me, and things were fine. I just placed her on a receiving blanket, with a receiving blanket roll wedged under her (so she couldn’t roll). I put my sheet or blanket under her (so she couldn’t wind up under them and suffocate) and everything was perfect.
What do I love about co-sleeping? I feel like I’m still protecting my daughter. If her breathing isn’t right, I’ll be able to hear her immediately. I found that I never slept very deeply, and that our sleep cycles seemed to match each other’s after a while. Whenever she was hungry, I was always able to tend to her before she started to fully cry. After practicing for months, I learned how to barely wake up during the process, though I was always naturally aware of my baby and my position.
Mothering doesn’t end when the sun goes down. Co-sleeping allows me to mother and nurture all night long. We touch and we feel each other breathe. I notice my daughter sometimes wake up, take a look at me, and smile before drifting back to sleep.
At two-and-a-half, she still sleeps with me. I’m not sure how long this will last, considering I am sometimes woken up by a kick in the head from her feet, and I would really like to have my bed to myself one day. But when I’m not in bed with her, she wakes up screaming sometimes. That’s never happened when I was next to her, or at least I could soothe her instantly.
My advice? Do your own research and follow your heart.
Did you co-sleep? How did you make your decision, and how did it affect your family life?
Resources: Attachment Parenting International; Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory; La Leche League International article on co-sleeping