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In Which I Admit I Am Kind of Co-Sleeping With My Baby

No, we don't let Henry co-sleep with the dog. Max just babysits during the day.

I can hear the thrum of the furnace as it kicks on. Good, it’s cold tonight, I think as I reflexively reach down and clutch my son’s tiny feet in one hand. His socks have fallen off for the third or fourth time tonight. I’m glad he’s tucked in beside me so I can keep him warm.

Co-sleeping or bedsharing is seemingly as controversial as drinking while pregnant. Supporters think mama’s bed is where baby belongs. It promotes bonding, enables the parents to get more sleep and makes breastfeeding convenient. The other side of the fence questions if it’s safe. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns parents not to place their infants to sleep in adult beds, stating that the practice puts babies at risk of suffocation and strangulation. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agrees.

You’ve heard the horror stories. In Utah, where I live, a couple was even charged with murder for co-sleeping with their son.

However, co-sleeping is standard practice in many parts of the world outside North America, Europe and Australia where the co-sleeping death rate appears to be much lower, perhaps because of different sleeping situations regarding mattresses and bedding. In many parts of the world, bed-sharing simply has the practical benefit of keeping the child warm at night.

Clearly, considering some of the infant deaths reported in the United States, co-sleeping and adult beds can be made to be safer. This would be a much more appropriate service for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to provide, rather than just warning against co-sleeping. Responsible parents consciously creating a safe co-sleeping environment are safely providing the best of all worlds for their baby. One 2004 study reported mothers getting more sleep by co-sleeping and breastfeeding than by other arrangements. This is how my co-sleeping experience with Henry began.

I never had Violet in my bed. She was my first baby and she just seemed too tiny. I was afraid I’d hurt her, not realizing that a new mom never really sleeps – even when she’s sleeping. I put her in a bassinet next to my bed and would wake up at the slightest sound. I could hear – no, not so much hear as sense when her binky fell noiselessly from her lips. I could tell, without looking, when she was awake because of the difference in her breathing patterns. My point is, I was never at peace. My body was constantly on alert. At about two months-old she was nearly sleeping through the night so I moved her to a crib in her own room so I could attempt to get some sleep and stop listening so hard.

My experience with Henry has been totally different. He doesn’t like the bassinet that Violet slept in. So I put him in his crib, which he apparently enjoys – for the first half of the night. But the little guy gets restless around four in the morning. It got to the point that he wouldn’t really go back to sleep after that 3:30 or 4am breastfeeding. One night, in my frustration, I brought him to my bed and snuggled with him. He was asleep in two seconds. Literally two seconds. He didn’t wake up until seven at which point I was able to lie on my side while he breastfed. Best night ever.

Am I worried I’ll roll on my son? No. Do I pile big fluffy blankets and pillow around him? No. He’s flat on the mattress with me next to him. Even while sleeping I’m hyper-aware of the fact that he’s there. As aware as I was with Violet next to me in a bassinet. Like I said, a mother never sleeps, even when she’s sleeping. Is that a new term? Did I just coin a new term? And I’ll tell you something else: I love it. I love cuddling with my little guy who only has to sense my face next to his and he drops off to sleep. I’m remorseful that I missed the opportunity to bond with Violet in that way.

It’s strange, but I think that I’m better able to soothe Henry during the day because I co-sleep with him for those few hours in the morning. Sometimes, when he fusses I just put my face super close to his, like I do in bed, and use the pad of my thumb to stroke the spot right between his eyes and he is immediately quiet, sometimes sighing with pleasure. I just feel so much more in tune with this little guy, which I guess is all that bonding proponents of co-sleeping talk about.

Throughout this first year with my son I want to be flexible enough to shift nighttime parenting styles as circumstances change. Every family goes through nocturnal juggling acts at different stages of children’s development. I am trusting my intuition about parenting my individual baby instead of unquestionably accepting the norms of American society.

So yes. There you have it. In spite of being warned by dozens of well-meaning people that I’m probably going to suffocate my child, I’m co-sleeping. Aside from eliminating fluffy bedding and pillows, there are several products that can be used to facilitate safe co-sleeping with an infant:

  • bed top co-sleeping products designed to prevent the baby from rolling off the adult bed and to absorb breastmilk and other nighttime leaks.
  • side rails to prevent the child from rolling off the adult bed.
  • co-sleeping infant enclosures which are placed directly in the adult bed.
  • bassinets that attach to the side of an adult bed, and which have barriers on three sides, but are open to the parent’s side

Mostly, I’d just advise folks to do what they’re comfortable doing. For me, for now, that’s co-sleeping. Millions of moms in third-world countries can’t be wrong, right?

Tell me what you think. What are the sleeping arrangements in your home?

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