Navigating Sleep with a Third Child

Posted on Jun 3, 2011 in Featured, Parenting | 8 comments

{This is a follow-up to my January post Reconsidering Co-sleeping where at 35 weeks pregnant I revealed that after 2 kids and 5.5 years of co-sleeping I was considering a crib for my third child.}

I had this idea back in January that I wanted to write a post that would realistically present the nuances of co-sleeping, that would argue that Attachment Parenting is not a set of cult rules but rather a complex personal philosophy that shifts from family to family, from child to child, and over time. By highlighting my own sleep struggles and divided mind on the issue of co-sleeping, I wanted to show that you can still be an attachment parent even while you decide not to embrace all elements of the philosophy…because you are making the best decisions for your family in the spirit of striving for balance in personal and family life. I believed that my post was balanced in that I could be honest about my struggles while remaining incredibly supportive of co-sleeping (from personal experience not just a theoretical standpoint).

Some commenters correctly pointed out that there is a difference between co-sleeping and bed-sharing. Dr. William Sears, a well-known pediatrician and author of many parenting books, defines co-sleeping as sleeping within arm’s reach of the baby. Bed-sharing on the other hand is actually sleeping on the same surface, in the same bed, as the child. Having slept with both of my kids since 2005, I know that distinction, and yet, for some reason, I seem to continually use the two terms interchangeably. To be honest, I find that many people do this on a regular basis and while I find the distinction can be important, I also feel comfortable with my use of co-sleeping to encompass all the ways that parents share sleep with their children.

I really enjoyed all the commenters who shared their personal stories, experience and tips. I appreciated the tips and atmosphere of support though as a long-time co-sleeper and supporter of the practice, most of the ideas were ones that I had entertained and discarded as not working for us in our 800 square foot, 2 bedroom house. No chance of a mattress beside our King size bed that took up our whole room. No chance of a double bed in the kids room that already housed a loft bed, toddler bed and all of their clothes and toys. Nevertheless, I really appreciated the helpfulness and understanding.

However, there were also comments (notably in response to a re-posting on the Natural Parents Network facebook page) along the lines of “every child deserves to be co-slept with” and “I co-slept with all 4 of my children and wouldn’t have it any other way.” I regretted that I had somehow given the impression that:

  1. I was planning to stick the baby from Day 1 in a crib in a room down the hall,
  2. I had no intention of being sensitive and responsive to the individual needs of this particular baby,
  3. I was absolutely, certainly never going to sleep with this baby at all,
  4. I no longer supported co-sleeping,
  5. My mind was made up.

My intention from the day of that post was to start with a bassinet beside the bed and move after a couple of months to a crib in our room, a few feet away from our bed. This way I could still hear the baby easily and respond before baby cried but I would have a little more physical space so that I would not jump to attention every time baby stirred and so that baby wouldn’t get in the habit of nursing every hour. As a mother of two other children, I was also well aware that even our best intentions are at the mercy of our individual babies. I was prepared for the fact that this baby might not want to sleep anywhere other than on my body. As an ardent supporter of co-sleeping for its benefits, I was also prepared to share my bed with the baby whenever necessary, if we were sick or dosed off while nursing or just because I wanted an extra long snuggle.

Now that the baby in question has actually arrived, wanna know what happened?

At first, I tried the bassinet but Silas had his days and nights reversed. He spent at least 2-4 hours every night alternately crying and nursing and usually didn’t settle until midnight or 2:oo am. If he settled before midnight, I could count on being up nursing for about 4 hours in the middle of the night. It was far easier to struggle through this snuggled up in bed, so in our bed he came.

Plus, I was head over heels in love with him—I  just couldn’t handle having him more than a few inches away from my body.

I waited for him to switch his days and nights. I waited for my oversupply issues to even out. I fretted a bit but overall, I just went with it. Gradually we found that he would settle easily in the little moses basket at the foot of the bed. Gradually he began to sleep there and only come into our bed to nurse. It was only when I was very very tired that I would fall asleep before he finished nursing. Otherwise, he was easy to move into his basket. Still, we were feeding every 1.5 hours.

Then we had his minor tongue tie clipped. His latch improved over night. His gassiness and fussiness eased. At 8 weeks, he slept a 4 hour stretch during the night for the first time. We moved to a new house and set up the crib, about 5 feet from our bed.

Silas is 15 weeks old now. He sleeps in his crib. I can hear him snuffling for a boob and I bring him into bed to nurse before he even cries and then I gently return him to his crib and tuck him in. In fact, Aaron generally sleeps through the night without hearing Silas make a peep. Silas nurses about 2-3 times each night and has occasionally slept from 11:00pm – 5:00am. We go through weeks where he nurses almost hourly, like when he got his first cold, and he sometimes sleeps short stretches in the bed with me, but overall, he’s super content in his crib. On the whole, I feel much better equipped to deal with my 5 year old and 2 year old without the luxury of a nap. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still tired, but at least I can function.

I was recently re-reading The No-Cry Sleep Solution and this particular passage really stuck with me:

Babies make a wide assortment of sleeping noises. Not all of these mean, “I’m awake and want to nurse.” A co-sleeping mother’s best long-term sleep enhancer is to learn how to pretend to be asleep while listening to Baby’s sounds. And to wait. Your baby just may fall back to sleep without your help.

After all these years, you’d think I would be better at that but the truth is my sleep was disturbed by all of baby’s sleep noises and I was jumping to nurse or comfort every time I heard a snuffle. This created babies who needed me to help them go back to sleep every time they stirred. This created a very exhausted mom. Now, with Silas a few feet away from me, I can still hear and respond to him but I’m also able to sleep through the bits when he’s just wiggling or coughing.

Third time round, I’m also wise enough to know that all of this can change tomorrow so this is where we’re at today.

How about you? In what ways have you found your approach to parenting changed over time or from child to child?

8 Comments

  1. “He sleeps in his crib. I can hear him snuffling for a boob and I bring him into bed to nurse before he even cries and then I gently return him to his crib and tuck him in.”

    That’s exactly what I did with my daughter when she was a newborn. =) To each their own, whatever works for the parent is what’s best!

    • My sister’s parenting motto is “Do What Works” and I’ve always thought that it perfectly sums up attachment parenting.

  2. Excellent post! So interesting that your “cosleeping” (cosleeping/bedsharing) journey mirrors my own. With my first we bedshared 100% and to this day (she’s almost 7) she still needs us to comfort her to sleep, despite working hard to have her learn how to soothe herself to sleep. While I am an avid supporter of attached parenting, I blame responding to her every twitch and murmur when she was an infant. I memorized all the baby sleep books, including the No Cry Sleep Solution, but I was afraid to let her fuss (connecting it to CIO). Adding more children to the mix (#3 is now 1 yo) made me really rethink what I was doing. All my babies bedshared for at least the first 4-6 months but I gradually transitioned #2 & 3 to a crib for naps and at least the first bed sleep stretch of the night. I can’t get enough sleep with a twitching, snoring, kicking baby next to me in the bed all night long, and I think my sleep is important for my family (and yes, me… I count, don’t I?). Yes, I still practice attached parenting, but I no longer rigidly believe that using a crib or separate bed close by me for part of the night is insensitive to my children’s needs.

    Thank you for your honest reflections.
    Twitter: christyrollo

    • Yes, yes you do count.
      Funny…my first born also really wants us to lie down with him until he falls asleep too. And in some ways I don’t mind. I mean, I’m not against parenting a child to sleep…but I do wonder if being overzealous at responding to every little peep robbed my baby of the chance to develop his own skills…you know, like a night time version of helicopter parenting.

  3. This makes sense to me! We probably started taking our baby to his crib in the next room at 10 months, and bringing him to bed when he needed to nurse about 1am. With the new one I’m expecting I may try something like what you did. I want to be available, but let the snuffling pass before jumping.

    • Good luck with your next one. Come on back and comment about how it goes. I’d love to hear.

  4. That passage from “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” speaks to my experience with my first child. I actually had her in a Moses basket beside my bed. In the early days, she couldn’t latch successfully without a nipple shield, and because of the angle and shape it didn’t allow for easy nursing in the side-lying position. When I would lay her back down after nursing her, she would snuffle and grunt and I would pick her back up. I reached the point of total exhaustion veering into depression.

    Once I put her in her crib and learned to let her re-settle herself, I found that she would snuffle and grunt and then go to sleep for several hours. When my baby was in arm’s reach, I would reach for her immediately. When I put her a little farther away, I would actually wait for her to wake up before getting her. I really didn’t expect to put her in a crib, but it ended up saving my sanity.
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

    • I think that’s really interesting Amber. I’ve heard people say that their kids just slept better in the crib…and that seems to be my experience with Silas so far too (for a variety of reasons, not all of which are the crib).

      I really didn’t want to attack co-sleeping especially since its followers can be very zealous (myself included sometimes) but I don’t think it isn’t without its own downsides…and I wanted to be honest about what those downsides looked like in our family. Kind of like breastfeeding supporters can be honest about the hard parts, painting a realistic picture so people don’t give up when they run into trouble. I still support co-sleeping and I’m probably more realistically a part-time co-sleeper even now…but I’ve learned that I’ve had to be honest about the tough parts as I’ve added more children to my family.

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