Monday, August 27, 2007

Mommy Monday: Co-sleeping

Whenever I write a post where the fact that we cosleep is mentioned, I get a comment that asks me to share more about how it works, why we do it, etc. So I thought this would be a good time.

Disclaimer: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies under one year old sleep in their own beds. However, I've also seen statistics that say that something like 85% of families co-sleep at least occasionally. What follows is my personal perspective and should in no way be considered advice or endorsement.

When we were in the hospital after giving birth, and Minnow was so little tiny, she slept on my chest. It just seemed like her glass basinet was so remote, foreign, and cold after nine months of being in my womb. Neither of us was ready for it.

In those first few days and weeks, we kept co-sleeping because she slept better curled up next to me (or, more typically, on top of me). When I'd put her down she'd awaken within a few minutes. Plus, I was so tired and worn down that I needed almost as much rest as she did, so it made sense. Up until the point where I went back to work, I went to bed every night when she did and I held her or napped with her for her naps. Since I've been working (starting at ~2 months), we've been very gradually increasing the amount of time she's sleeping on her own. At first it was naps in the swing or short stints in the co-sleeper. Now she takes all her naps in the crib (or carseat) and goes to bed in the crib until someplace between 9 and 11 pm. When she wakes up at that point, I feed her and take her to bed with me for the rest of the night.

We never intended to put her in a crib in a distant room right away, but we never intended to have her sleep in bed with us either. We bought an Arm's Reach co-sleeper – a sort of pack-n-play that attaches to your bed. The idea was that the baby would be safely in her own sleeping area, free of suffocation hazards, but still be close when she needed me in the middle of the night. The idea may have been good, but it never really worked that way for us. I think she never spent more than 2-3 hours in her co-sleeper per night and when she was in her co-sleeper and I was in bed, I'd lie there awake with a hand on her belly to keep her asleep. And I missed her so. I found that I couldn't easily lift her out or set her into the cosleeper while I was lying in bed, so, having to get up anyway, a basinet would have just as functional. Once she started to really roll over, ~ 4 months, the co-sleeper wasn't safe anymore and we gave up on it completely. FYI, there is other co-sleeping gear available – snuggle nests are a popular item, and some cribs can be rigged to side-car against the bed.

So how does she sleep? She comes to bed in my arms and I lie down with her on my chest. Once she is sound asleep I roll her to one side where she generally sleeps nestled under my armpit. Sometimes she is between Fish and I, sometimes not. Before she was able to lift her head well and roll, I took scrupulous care to avoid having pillows or blankets near her, even if it meant that I spent the night with no blankets on my upper half. Now I'll often pull a blanket up to her waist. When she sleeps between Fish and I, we act as twin bedrails for her. When she is on my other side, my arm keeps her secure. When we had the co-sleeper attached to our bed, it acted as a bedrail. A few weeks ago, we tried attaching a bedrail to my side of the bed, but it made it too difficult for me to get in and out of bed, especially with Minnow in my arms. Before my early morning classes began, Minnow and I would sleep in together in the mornings – to someplace between 5:45 and 7:15 am – recently closer to the latter, thankfully. Now, two days per week, I have to sneak out of bed about 5:45 (after Fish has already gone to work). Then I am faced with a nasty choice: attempt to move Minnow into her crib, let her stay asleep in the bed and pray that she doesn’t roll while I’m in the shower, or wake her up and somehow manage to get a shower while she’s awake. The first choice is what I’d like to happen most days – she’ll get closer to her usual wakeup time and I’ll get a few minutes in the morning to myself.

OK, enough with the logistics…what are the good things about co-sleeping? The number one advantage of co-sleeping is that I get lots of cuddle time with Minnow – which is especially important for us now that I’m working full time. The second big advantage is the ease of night-time breastfeeding. If you don’t have tummy troubles, you can just roll over, line the kid up and go back to sleep. A few hours later, roll them to the other side and repeat. It’s a cinch. You get way more sleep than having to get up and stagger to a different room, where you end up falling asleep sitting up. The third advantage is that you know your child will never cry unheeded in the night. There’s no way you can ignore a crying child when she is in bed with you. Trust me, Fish sleeps like a log, and even he mutters “shhh” in his sleep when she cries out.

How about the disadvantages? The biggest one is fear. Fear that your child will suffocate. Fear that she will roll out of bed and get hurt. Fear that other people will disapprove of what you are doing. Fear that you will care what they think. Once you get over the fear factor, by getting a system that you know is safe and that works for you, the other disadvantages are minor (at least in my mind). Sure, it probably delays the normalization of sexual relations, but, dude, you are so tired and things are so sore, that might count as an advantage to the mother. Sure, we’ve all heard about kids that still sleep with their parents when they are in elementary school. But, I’m guessing that with the combination crib-co-sleeping we’re doing now, that it won’t be a forever battle to eventually wean her from our bed – when we’re all good and ready. And I look forward to continuing to co-sleep – at least occasionally – for years. It sure is handy when you travel.

Anyways, that’s how we’ve been sleeping for the past seven months and it’s probably how we’ll sleep if we have another child. Hope this answered your questions.


Anonymous said...

It's good to hear stories of working mom's that find the things that work for them. We co-slept with my son until he was crawling (~9 months old). After that point he was kicking too much and I had a greater fear of him falling off the bed.

EthidiumBromide said...

I found this post to be really interesting and informative, as co-sleeping isn't something I knew much about. As a child psychologist, my mother is against co-sleeping (she sees too many cases of parents who do not even try to get their children sleeping in their own beds until 3 or 4 years of age, and the children then suffer serious separation anxiety). Since my husband-to-be is a doctor, I know he is opposed to it as well, so I likely will not have the opportunity to try when I eventually do have children.
It is great that you have found something which works so well for you -- and thank you for sharing with those of us who were not aware of all the positives!

Rebecca said...

We also co-slept with our son, until he started sleeping through the night. Then, I would take him to bed with me because that was a surefire way to get him to sleep, but when my husband came to bed, he would transfer the baby to the crib.

Now, like the first commenter, he is too mobile to take with me to bed, so he sleeps in his crib. But the transitioning of the nightly transfer helped him to not be too unhappy about being put into the crib when he's still awake.

Ethidiumbromide, if it is the case that your exhausted husband realizes he can get a little more sleep with a co-sleeping arrangement, he may change his tune. And ultimately, what works best for you is what you should do. For some people, co-sleeping works best. For others, it doesn't. My sister couldn't sleep from the sound of her son snoring. I couldn't sleep worrying about when I next had to get up. It's different for everyone.

Kate said...

Thank you so much for writing this post! Since I first read you co-slept with Minnow I've been hoping to hear a fuller account of how it's going. I'm fully intending to co-sleep with my little one when s/he is born next year, but there is precious little information out there about how it works day to day for people.

j said...

Yeah, I really wanted to co-sleep, and did from about 4 or 5 am on for a few months, but at about 3 months I just couldn't sleep very well at all because the slightest noise that my daughter made would wake me up, and I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep. So we moved her in the bassinett to her own room. Where I still wake up immediately when she makes awake noises, but can sleep through her various sleeping noises.

I also never got the hang of nursing on my side, due to being unable to be on my side for about 6 weeks after the csection, and then just not being able to get in a comfortable position. So when I did nurse in bed it required lots of pillows, which made it hard to have my partner in bed along with us. We slept separately for awhile, but again, I was ready to have her back in bed with me when the baby moved to her own room.

My partner, by the way, was really opposed to the co-sleeping initially, until she saw that we were fine doing it. I like it when people try various things out - nothing is going to work for everyone, but I hate it when someone feels that a particular option like co-sleeping is completely ruled out due to fear.

Annie said...

Aside from the easy factor, isn't it just lovely to wake up with a warm little bod curled into yours? We all slept better with Norah in her crib (which she moved out of last night of her own volition - I crawled into a corner and wept). But on the off days when we got back in bed and watched a little early-morning TV (read: Mama couldn't pry her eyes open that early) and she fell back to sleep, it was so sweet to feel her baby fingers twisting in my hair.

BTW, did those pictures get there?

Amelie said...

Thanks for sharing. Extra cuddle time with your baby sounds great to me.

Flicka Mawa said...

I think it sounds like you guys are doing great! My experiences with teh family I babysit for have taught me how important it is to work on gradually shaping sleep, even when cosleeping, and I think the transition you've been making to her napping in her crib sounds perfect! You're still getting the cuddle time of cosleeping at night, but you're slowly teaching her that it's ok to sleep in the crib too, which means when that as you are gradually needing each other less and less during the night, she'll be able to learn more and more how to sleep on her own.

It's just the kind of process I envision I will practice with my own children - except I'm going to try as hard as I can to use a cosleeper or sidecar attachment, because Hubby and I are both overweight and they say that heightens the risks involved. But I'm hoping to lose weight over the next year before we begin trying to get pregnant anyhow, so maybe I'll be in better shape by the time we have a baby!

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Anonymous said...

I know this is an old conversation, but what a lovely one! After being exhausted with our first baby, we stumbled on co-sleeping simply because I fell alseep feeding her one day - what a revelation! But our second is a lot more mobile and curious, and at 7 months I don't dare leave him on the big bed alone - for example during the day when I have his sister still at home, or in the early evening when I still want to be up to get a couple of hours with my husband. Time for the cot, but oh how he screamed! And I know this is different for different mums (in other words no judgments!) but I just can't leave him to scream. Tried patting, rubbing, singing etc, all to no avail. Does anyone have tips on helping a co-sleeping baby transfer to the cot, at least some of the time? Many thanks and happy parenting.

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