Reconsidering Co-sleeping

Posted on Jan 14, 2011 in Featured, Parenting | 14 comments

As we wait for this baby to arrive, I find myself seriously considering a crib. This may not seem very inflammatory. After all, for the vast majority a crib isn’t even a consideration; it’s a necessary purchase that requires no thought beyond what sheets to choose.

However, we co-slept (or bed-shared) with our two older children. A crib feels like venturing into strange territory. In fact, it even feels like a bit of a betrayal. Not that I have a problem with OTHER people using cribs at all. It’s just for me, it feels like denying this baby some of the wonderful things we were able to give our older kids. Furthermore, it goes against my personal instincts and parenting philosophies about keeping our kids close.

In a lot of ways I love co-sleeping. I love the extra snuggles in the night.  I love the extra hours of closeness with my children. I love being able to hear, see and feel that they are safe. I love waking up together. I love the early morning cuddles and giggles. I love that co-sleeping makes it easier for Aaron to be involved in night-time parenting. I love looking over and seeing one of my children cradled in Aaron’s arms.

There are more practical benefits to co-sleeping beyond all that lovey-dovey stuff though. Many people, including Dr. James McKenna from University of Notre Dame, claim benefits to co-sleeping like the ease of maintaining the breastfeeding relationship and the increased sleep for mom. Long-term effects also suggested include higher self-esteem in adults who co-slept as children and a new book by Margot Sunderland, director of education at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London, “says the practice makes children more likely to grow up as calm, healthy adults.” There are even studies that say that practiced safely, co-sleeping decreases the incidence of SIDS.

In my own experience, I saw first hand the ways that co-sleeping made breastfeeding easier. I could just roll over and nurse a baby while half asleep, without having to get up, walk down the hall, nurse in a chair and then carefully try to get baby back in the crib (without rousing her and having to start over). We learned quite quickly to disturb our babies as little as possible in the night if we wanted to maximize our sleep.  A baby that falls asleep nursing in a side-lying position is much easier to keep asleep than one who needs to be moved and placed back into a crib. Plus, because I wasn’t getting up, walking around and turning on lights, it was easier for me to go back to sleep after a feed too.

The problem is I’m beginning to feel that some of those gains in the early days set me up for some challenges later on. Some examples:

1. Eventually I began to dread climbing into bed at night. I would be tired (from a long day with a toddler who usually went to bed at the same time as us) and ready to sleep but as soon as I jostled the bed or baby smelled me beside her, it would be mean another feed before I could go to sleep. Whether it was 8:30, or 9:00, or 10:00, or midnight. I could not get into bed and just go to sleep. Even if baby had only nursed an hour ago, I was in for another feed before I could punch out.

2. Increased Night Wakings. Both of my kids spent their early days in a little bassinet type bed beside our bed and only moved into our bed when they outgrew their first bed, around 4 or 5 months old. Around this time, we noticed that they were developing skills for soothing themselves back to sleep. We would hear them rustle, re-settle, perhaps suck a finger or thumb and then go back to sleep. Around this time, hours of consecutive sleep were increasing from 2 (with a newborn) to 4 or 5. By the time both children were a year old, they were waking almost hourly for a nurse (between 6-8 times a night). This was usually only a 5 minute suck to get back to sleep, not a real feed because they were hungry. They seemed to lose all ability to go back to sleep on their own. They would wake and demand to be nursed back to sleep. Every time they woke up. And as I learned from Elizabeth Pantley, infant sleep cycles mean they wake once an hour generally.

3. Decreased sleep for me, even when the baby was asleep. Why is this? Babies and toddlers tend to sleep all over the bed. They turn sideways and dig their feet into your ribs or their head into your spine. They cuddle really tight and if you move or roll over they wake up. They flail around and accidentally smack you in the face. They like to sleep on top of you. These can be minor annoyances or they can be overwhelming, depending on the person.

All of those problems were relatively manageable with my first baby. No sleep arrangement is perfect and these seemed like minor problems compared to what we were gaining from co-sleeping. Our living situation was such that we didn’t have a lot of other options anyway so we worked with it. For some people, those problems are not an issue at all and the benefits far outweigh the costs.

But I haven’t been so lucky. Over time, my sleep became lighter and lighter. I had a harder time getting quality sleep at all, even after we night-weaned (which was no walk in the park, let me tell you). I got more and more exhausted—to the point where I just don’t think I can do it anymore. I’m beginning to realize that I have to remember that 8th principle of attachment parenting. You know the one: Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life. I can’t be the mom I want to be for my kids when I am that exhausted.

So I am willing to try something else. I don’t know if it will work for our family or for this particular baby. I’m open to see what happens either way.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pzrk
Do you co-sleep? How do you find it affects your sleep? Do the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages for you? Have you changed sleeping arrangements from child to child? How did that work for you?

14 Comments

  1. It’s funny you should post this today. I was just at Costco and priced king and pairs of twin mattresses to upsize from our queen in anticipation of adding a second child to our family bed (since our 2yo still doesn’t seem ready or willing to sleep in a separate bed, and frequently still needs cuddles sometime in the night).

    I can understand your logic, and too frequently, I think, we tend to forget or forgo that 8th principle. Balance isn’t just good: it’s essential! And balancing rest and parenting responsibilities is definitely one of those particularly key elements.

    A key to remember with almost anything, and which I struggle to remember myself, is that very few things are truly ‘all or nothing’. You could sidecar a crib to encourage baby to sleep somewhat apart, while still making nursing easier than rising from your bed mid-night, but baby wouldn’t outgrow it at 5mo like a bassinette. But I know you are aware of all the various options available to you: no need to tell you what you already know. 🙂

    I only finally night weaned our daughter this past summer in anticipation of conceiving again. I knew that I wouldn’t be sleeping as well once I was into my second trimester (and I was right: I’m not!) and the thought of not having a few months of uninterrupted sleep before getting pregnant frankly scared hell out of me. It is so hard, it’s true, to move from one manner of comforting our children to another way, particularly when the child is resistant, but where balance is concerned, it is well worth it.

    Best of luck to you, whatever you decide!
    .-= darlene´s last blog ..wholesome =-.

  2. I think when you have a new baby, there will be a lot of disruption no matter what. We did bassinette (Moses basket, which I adored) to start and then a crib. He kind of loved the crib (it’s like his own kingdom). Now he prefers if we are in his room with him, so we spend half the night in his room – one of us in the cot and him in the crib). In the morning, we bring him into our bed with us for the 5 to 7 stint. We just readjust for his needs. That all said, we tried co-sleeping and he is a snorer and a trasher, and I nearly lost my mind so we tried the crib and he liked it.
    .-= Harriet´s last blog ..Vlog 1- Three things I wonder =-.

  3. do you have a room you can set up for cosleeping and another to sleep alone in? that worked well for us with our second baby. we set up queens in two rooms and then i had the ability to go to sleep alone (or with just my husband) and then at some point in the night i could move to the other bedroom and cosleep with which mix of children needed me. infact, we still do things this way with our 4.5 and 2.5 year old. i have them in a shared room with a queen on the floor so i can join whoever needs me at some point during the night. but the “master” bedroom is for me and dh….

    just a thought….
    .-= robin (woowoomama)´s last blog ..triggered =-.

    • We do exactly as Robin does!! 2 rooms both with queen size beds. My boys love sharing a bed, and I love that I can go and cosleep with them both comfortably.

      Our 3rd is due in 3 months though and I’m considering a crib as well. I have no clue what I’m going to do when 3 kids want to co sleep with me…

  4. We have a crib and set it up both times we had a newborn. In the very early days they were easy to nurse to sleep and set down (mostly) but around 4-6 mo they both kind of “woke up” to their surroundings and refused to be set down asleep or semi-asleep in the crib. The only way I could think of to get them to sleep there after that point was cry-it-out, and I wasn’t prepared to do that.

    Instead, we started nursing to sleep in a double bed in another room, so I could start the night without a baby beside me. At the first waking the baby would come into bed with me and stay there till morning. There is definitely sleep disruption going on, and after 4 weeks of night weaning she still wakes up and demands to nurse, sometimes for an hour or more. exhausting. But it’s the best configuration I could work out that aligned with what I was prepared to do as a parent, and the majority of the first year I felt reasonably rested. Good luck in your search for balance. I know I’m a happier mama when I’m well rested.
    .-= Michelle @ The Parent Vortex´s last blog ..Playful Self-Discipline- Fun Family Exercise =-.
    Twitter: TheParentVortex

  5. I used a cosleeper (Arms Reach) with my first until she outgrew it, then she was in bed with us until about 11 months, then we side-car’d a crib to my side. With my second daughter (now 5 months), I slept with her on my chest, in a seated position, for the first 3 months because she had ridiculous reflux. Once that was over a few months ago, I just went from a seated position in bed to lying down with her and thankfully, we sleep beautifully that way. I do get the whole “dreading getting into bed” thing for the nursing aspect though. It’s deflating at best (no pun intended…lol). I feel like I’m getting better sleep with the second this way than I did with my first, but that could also be the fact that I’m not watching the second one breathe every 5 minutes…lol. But what I’ll be doing is side-car’ing the crib again, and sleeping her in it all night until she fusses to nurse. Then I pull her over (or sometimes meet her halfway) and nurse briefly, then she’s back to sleep for the rest of the night, I get to stretch out and get to have her there at the same time. I feel it works out to everyone’s benefit that way (i’m not getting up in the middle of the night, either). Hope you find a solution that works best for everyone, but be sure to take care of your own needs too… hugs!

  6. So interesting to read this right now! My baby is almost 12 months, and we are just now moving him out of our bed. He’s been a dream to cosleep with, but our motivation to have hims sleep in his room in his crib was
    1) he has started to try crawling off the bed (and succeeded once!)
    2) he’s nursing every 3 hours or so during the night and we want to ttc soon
    3) my husband is ready to have the bed back to ourselves

    It was an odd feeling to decide to move away from AP principles and CIO, but he’s old enough and it seems like a good time. And it turned out to be a good thing to trust our gut on this – it’s been the easiest transition ever! I swear #2 will be a horrible sleeper to make up for how easy this little guy has been!

  7. I have gone both ways. With my daughter, at 6 weeks I was seriously, seriously sleep-deprived. Like, not functioning. We had tried having her sleep in a bassinette beside our bed, and we’d tried co-sleeping. In a fit of desperation, I put her in her (until then) unused crib in her own room. It felt unnatural, but we had a baby monitor and it was really only like 10 feet from me, and I knew I would wake if she did.

    And I did. But, magically, it was less often. She slept a 4-hour stretch, and I regained my sanity. She continued to sleep very well in her crib, including sleeping 8-10 hour stretches on her own starting at 3 months. It did all go downhill at around 9 months, once she started crawling, which I’ve read is common. But still, she was always the kind of kid who “tanked up” before bed and slept well.

    My toddler, on the other hand, is 2 1/2 and has slept through the night 3 times. I tried him in the crib, and he generally only slept for a few hours in it, tops. I tried to encourage him to cluster nurse in the evening, but no dice.

    What I’m saying is that, in my experience, some kids do well in a crib and some don’t. Since I’m not willing to force the issue by leaving an unhappy baby in the crib, I sort of have to follow their cues.

    I did remove both of my kids from my bed at 18 months, though. It was the age when 2 adults + 1 kid felt like too many people in one bed. They have double beds (not feasible for everyone, I know), so that I can put them in their bed and go in as needed. For my son, right now, that means 3 or 4am most nights.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..Paige Rohrick- Life-Crafter =-.
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

  8. I think that each kid is different, and as long as you are prepared to be flexible in response to your child’s needs and your own needs you will find what works for you. With our first, we started off with a bassinet in our room. He didn’t like it, and we were afraid to co sleep. He was a crib sleeper, and he did great with it. Our second started off in a bassinet in our room, and he struggled to sleep. Really struggled. We ended up putting a queen and a twin together in our room. He started off in the bassinet, and when he woke for the first time (usually around 12 or 1), he came into bed with us. With our third, we started him off in the swing and when he woke, he came to bed with us. At first this was around 2 or 3. Slowly, as he’s been sleeping longer and longer the time has gotten pushed back later and later. Now, he just sleeps with me for the last hour or two of the night. As much as I like sleeping with my kids, I’m not willing to change this arrangement. We’re all sleeping, and everyone is pretty satisfied. At some point, he will outgrow the swing, and we will look for another arrangement.

    It seems like the sleep issue of parenting is individual to each child and parent dyad. If you are doing what your kids need, you’ll find the solution that works the best for everyone.
    Twitter: CBerbs

  9. I found it easiest when my girls were newborn to co-sleep as they wake so often through the night in the first couple of months to be fed. And it does help the breastfeeding relationship. After about three months both my girls were put into the crib to sleep for naps and at night. I transitioned my oldest to formula at 6 weeks and she never slept well – would always wake when I put her down. But with my second daughter, I found that after her night time nursing sessions (2 – 3 times a night), she would fall right back to sleep and I could put her down easily and leave the room to go and sleep comfortably in my own bed. I didn’t mind those middle of the night interruptions to get out of my bed and go nurse her. Thankfully though my oldest was 3.5 years old and sleeping through the night in her own bed so that helped. We slept with our oldest on an off until she was 18 months and at that point sleep was pretty uncomfortable with three of us in the bed. If she came in then hubby or I would go sleep in the spare room because she would keep us up with her flipping and flopping. I’m sure you’ll find your own natural rythm of things once the new babe is here 🙂

  10. Great post topic and something I’ve given thought to about future children. We bed shared with our son out of need. It wasn’t planned but it ended up being what worked for us and breastfeeding. For the most part I have lovely warm memories but then I remember how frequent the night wakings are because of the soothing of a quick nip, and all the neck pain and back aches I endured.
    Something that I’ve considered is, co sleeping doesn’t have to mean sharing a bed. Co sleeping means sharing a space together. So, the idea of having my babe next to the bed in a bassinet or in an arms reach co sleeper is all good. They are close to you, share your space, and you respond to their needs.
    .-= Mama in the City´s last blog ..A Rainy Day With Dad =-.
    Twitter: Apartment_Mama

  11. My third is now 7 months old and there were a lot of things I rethought. When I was having my first two I felt like I needed to fiercely attach myself to attachment parenting behaviors since they are not the cultural norm. This time I felt solid and experienced enough to ask: is this right for us?

    All the kids are in the bed with us and we’re okay with that, but when she was first born I realized quickly co-sleeping was not going to be as easy. I now had to protect her from her older brothers flopping around trying to get as close to mom to sleep.

    I also don’t wear her as much as the other two. There’s a part of me that feels like I should feel sad about that statement, but I don’t. I wear her when it’s the easiest, but when I’m schlepping three kids down to the park it’s easier to have her in the stroller and she’s quite happy.
    Twitter: hillaryboucher

  12. We didn’t use a crib with either child (not for lack of trying with the first!), and I wouldn’t recommend one as I think they are dangerous. They put distance between Mom & baby, allowing mom & baby to sleep more deeply when they SHOULD be waking, they also are cold & hard (I understand they need to be, in order to be a “safer” independent sleeping environment), and have entrapment & fall dangers.
    But those things aside (which I understand not all people share my opinions!), if you’re wanting space, you can use a co-sleeper – which gives baby her own sleeping surface, but close contact to you. You can also put your bed on the ground, and use a twin mattress on the floor directly next to your bed, also on the ground – you may have to build a box or use other things to bring it up to the level – get creative. But it gives you the option of having baby near you, but on her own surface – which helps you & baby keep from disrupting each other. We used both methods with our babies & children.
    Also, if you don’t already, you may want to invest in a white noise maker of some kind. We have always used an air purifier, which makes a nice whirring fan noise with the added plus of cleaning the air where we spend a large portion of our time breathing! The noise covers lots of those little baby noises, and mom & dad noises & creaks & footsteps, etc. that can startle baby to wake. It was a lifesaver for us – particularly when we had 2 kids in bed.
    Finally, you can move baby in to “cosleep” with the kids, once she’s older (which maybe, having a “deadline” in mind might help you be able to make it through cosleeping one last time – if you KNOW you’re only going to do it for 18 months or whatever you’re comfortable with). My now 3.5yo started cosleeping with his now 6yo sibling in their own floor bed when he was ~18mo. They still share sleeping space & because they both were raised in a cosleeping/family bed environment, the transition to sleeping with the warm body of a sibling was super-easy. Even though he still woke in the middle of the night for another year, it allowed me the first part of the night in my own bed, uninterrupted, knowing that he was still being warmed & cuddled, and was able to get to me whenever he needed.
    Twitter: kellynaturally

  13. I guess I’m going against the grain in saying that co-sleeping didn’t seem like a good option for us. We have the room, but I was always concerned that myself and my husband would somehow crush the baby in our sleep! I tried a cradle beside the bed for a few nights, but I didn’t sleep a wink. I could not take my eyes off that baby. So our son slept in a crib just across the hall (just steps away, with a monitor tuned to high!) until age 18 month when the little monkey learned how to climb out and went in his toddler bed! Having said that, we were very involved with him during the night as I was breastfeeding and he was a premie so when he was awake we were too. After an exhausting year of night wakings, we hired a sleep consultant to help us out. If I had to do it again, I would still go with the crib, but I would talk to my sleep consultant at the beginning to learn how to manage breastfeeding and maximizing sleep for all of us. Good luck!!

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