There are fierily passionate people on both sides of the co-sleeping aisle. Some swear by the physical and emotional upside of having their babies slumber in their beds. Others swear it’s an incredibly dangerous and totally irresponsible practice.
I’m well-aware of the benefits of co-sleeping, just as I know all about the grave dangers that come along with it. While I do agree the bonding can be unparalleled, I’m more concerned about the downsides. When the city of Milwaukee recently unveiled a provocative anti-co-sleeping ad campaign, I agreed that co-sleeping is probably not worth the risk for me and my baby.
And yet at some point on many nights, I co-sleep with my 7-month-old daughter.
And I kind of hate myself for it.
When my older daughter was born three and a half years ago, the first three or four weeks of her life were spent sleeping on my chest — day and night. It was the only way she’d sleep. That meant for the first three or four weeks of her life I didn’t sleep. Like, a wink. I was too scared of having her fall of my chest, of rolling over on top of her, of rolling her off the bed. After those first few weeks she moved to a bassinet, and then to a crib, and then we never heard another peep from her. All’s well that ends well.
When my younger daughter was born at the end of last summer, she, too, only wanted the warmth of my body when she slept. She’s now sleeping in her crib nearly 12 hours at a stretch at night. Nearly. If she had her way, she’d be in bed with me all night. And on some nights she tries as hard as she can to get me to take her in my arms. Her crib is an inch away from my side of the bed (we can’t move her into my older daughter’s room until we’re sure that she won’t kill her). As much as I love her sweet little body nestled up in mine, I loathe sleeping with her for all the classic reasons that anti-co-sleepers fear.
Sometimes at night she whines for some love. It can usually be quieted with a pacifier. Then she usually wakes up between 4:45-5:30 a.m. to eat. I nurse her in the side-lying position on each side until her little belly fills up and she goes back to sleep. Sometimes I fall asleep while she’s still nursing. Sometimes I wake up with a start and get all panicky after realizing I was in a deep sleep and forgot she was there. I worry she’ll roll over and off the bed (because now she’s a super-duper roll-er-over-er). I worry my husband will roll over on her. I worry I’ll roll over on her. I worry the comforter will smother her. I worry a pillow will somehow smother her. I worry, worry, worry.
But I can’t stand to hear her cry. Sometimes, like when we’re traveling, it takes her a little time to adjust to a portable crib or a new room or new smells. So she’ll cry. She wants a pacifier. She wants a breast. She wants a warm body. And sometimes I let her cry it out. Sometimes I don’t. When I don’t, it means she comes in bed with me. And sometimes I fall asleep. My whole body aches because I stay frozen with a protective armed draped over her until my whole body goes numb from being immobile. It’s not the discomfort that keeps me awake, however, it’s the fear of something happening to her.
It’s not like I’m a stickler for doing everything right, clearly, as I sometimes leave my baby in the car all alone. There is also a bumper pad in my daughter’s crib. But I also still breastfeed exclusively, which I’m proud of (after failing to do it with my older daughter). No one is perfect, and I don’t expect that I’ll ever be a perfect parent. There just seems to be some inevitable shame in doing something for and with my baby that feels wrong but is sometimes easier.
I wish I never had to co-sleep with my baby. As much as I love her with me, I don’t like her with me in bed while I’m also sleeping. To me, the benefits don’t nearly outweigh the risks. And yet sometimes my exhaustion and/or heartache wins out over my sense of reason.
Are you ever an unwilling co-sleeper?
Photo credit: Meredith Carroll