Coming Out of the Co-Sleeping Closet
Like mastitis and sleep training, co-sleeping is one of those things I didn’t even know existed before I became a mom. As far as I knew, babies slept in cribs without complaint, and their parents slept eight blissful hours a night in their own beds.
The first time I heard the term co-sleeping, it was in reference to a family who took the practice to the extreme, their master bedroom turned into a patchwork of mattresses with three kids and two parents sharing one massive family bed. I was appalled.
Later, I learned that co-sleeping, or bed sharing, isn’t always so intense — that sometimes parents just share a bed with one baby or toddler. Still, I couldn’t imagine doing it myself. I wouldn’t want to risk rolling over on the baby, I reasoned. They need to learn independence, I thought. And, ahem, when would my partner and I ever have sex if there was always a baby between us?
I reflected on all of this early one morning after being woken up by a two-year-old’s foot being planted firmly on the side of my head. How on earth did I become a co-sleeping parent? To answer that question, we’ll have to take a look back.
We started out in our own beds. As per recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, we put our newborn son’s Pack ‘n’ Play at the foot of our bed, because studies have shown that it reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Guidelines suggest room sharing for the first year, and we stuck to them diligently. Because who wants to mess with SIDS?
Having him close soothed my new mom worries. I was never diagnosed, but in hindsight, I suspect I may have suffered from a bit of postpartum anxiety. When my son was sleeping, I checked on him at least every hour to make sure he was breathing.
I’d wake up throughout the night and place my hand on his chest, calmed only when I detected its soft rise and fall. I loved having him close enough to touch, and it steadied my nerves even while disrupting my sleep.
Reclined Night Feedings
I discovered the wonders of reclined night feedings. In the early weeks as I struggled to master breastfeeding, I would sit stiffly in a chair in his nursery or propped up by multiple pillows in bed to nurse him, even through the multiple night feeds.
But as I grew more comfortable nursing, I learned that lying down was the easiest way to get through night feedings — for both of us. When my son woke up in the night, my husband would groggily pick him up out of his crib and place him beside me, where I’d nurse him until he fell asleep again. Then, I’d get up and put him back in his crib, and we’d all sleep until the next feed.
I was terrified of suffocating him. After discovering how great it was to nurse lying down, there were definitely times when I almost dozed off with him in my arms. I was exhausted, and I wanted so badly just to let him sleep with me.
But I was terrified of rolling over onto him in my sleep. That fear would jolt me awake, and I’d always put him back in his crib.
As he grew bigger and stronger, that terror subsided. And my resolve weakened. Once he started rolling over and sitting up, my fears of suffocating him decreased slightly. And then, I accidentally fell asleep while nursing. And he slept through the rest of the night nestled between my husband and me.
I thought it was a fluke, until the next time it happened. Another blissfully solid night of sleep for all of us.
We half-heartedly tried to keep him in his crib. We dutifully placed him back in his bed after night feeds, or rocked him back to sleep when he wasn’t hungry.
But by nine months, my son was walking and clearly strong enough to hack it in our bed. And we couldn’t ignore the powerful, sleep-inducing effect our bed seemed to have on him. The bed sharing became more frequent.
No Crib While Traveling
We took a travel crib to Europe, and we didn’t use it once. Our first big family adventure was to London, Paris and Avignon, France, and I invested in a well-reviewed travel crib for our journey. We set it up at the foot of our bed in our tiny Paris apartment, and our son refused to sleep in it.
In fact, he refused the entire trip, instead sleeping between us in tiny European beds. Thankfully, our daily explorations made us tired enough to sleep, despite the tight conditions.
Home again, we reached the one-year mark and moved his crib out of our room. For a few weeks, we pretended that he’d sleep in the crib in his own room.
After a few days of getting up in the middle of the night and stumbling into the next room to calm our crying babe, we gave up and started putting him to sleep in our own bed.
We transitioned to one nap a day. Around 18 months, our son’s naps seemed to be getting progressively shorter, and we decided to try one nap.
While he’d been napping in his own crib up until then, he seemed to be struggling with his new nap schedule, and his naps were growing progressively shorter. We moved nap time to our bed, and he slept for a solid two hours most days.
Co-Sleeping It Is
I realized that I love co-sleeping. My son is almost two. He is fully weaned, and a little bit wild.
But when I wake up in the morning and look over to see his peaceful little face (that is, when he’s not kicking me in the ribs), I know this is the right decision for my family — for right now, at least.
Finding Personal Time
And about the sex? We find a way. After all, we’re hoping to add another member to our brood in the future, and that doesn’t happen without some private time for mommy and daddy.
Luckily, we live in a house with two other bedrooms … and a couch … and a shower. We find a way to make it happen.
An End in Sight
We realize there’s an expiration date. It’ll probably happen somewhere around the time when baby No. 2 comes along, or maybe when I do get pregnant, and my expanding belly starts taking up more than its share of space. We’re not going to be that family with mattresses all over the floor, a seven-year-old snuggled into my arms.
I can even tell that my son is starting to want his own space at times, and he’ll sleep in his own bed for a few hours at a time. But for now, we’re enjoying these sweet days with a little one that is still a little bit of a baby, and very much the center of our universe. For now, co-sleeping is one of the sweetest things about being a mom for me.