Monday, February 27, 2012

Oh, the mystery of co-sleeping and why families choose to do it. If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, you may recall that Joe and I were a bit unsure about co-sleeping. It was an idea we considered, but with all the dangers involved, we weren't sure it was the best decision for us and our baby. So we went out, bought a crib, and set it up super cute with a handful of stuffed animals and some Dwell Studio crib sheets... because who with a baby on the way doesn't do that?

Cheech was born at 7:50 in the morning, and Joe and I remember that night as being one of the most traumatic of our lives. Our brand new baby SCREAMED and WAILED the ENTIRE night. At the time I was unaware that I was producing zero colostrum, and by that evening my poor girl was starving. She was latching, so we had no clue that her non-stop tantrums had to do with the fact that she had not received an ounce of food since being pulled out of my belly. She absolutely refused to be placed in the hospital crib, and the only thing that seemed to help her was being cradled in my or Joe's arms. We were lucky that we got to stay in a private room with two beds. We spent that night in 20 minute increments of holding and passing her back and forth between us. The next morning, we discovered her blood sugar levels were low, and that I was dealing with some serious breastfeeding challenges. Having to put so much extra effort into nursing, sleeping with Cheech had become extremely convenient.

Because of my cesarian, we stayed in the hospital for four nights, and by the time we came home, co-sleeping had already become our norm. All of a sudden, all those dangers didn't seem as serious and scary... I can't speak for other couples and families, but we've always been very aware of our baby's presence in our bed. Sleeping with our baby not only made constant nighttime feedings incredibly easier (even when Cheech became an exclusively bottle-fed baby), but it offered a way to bond with our child on a whole new level. Jamie once stated in one of her posts that sleeping with H allows her to spend hours with him that that she misses out on during the day while she's at work. Her sentiment made so much sense to me. Yes, I can see how sleeping with your baby may not seem like valuable time spent together, but trust me, in a very peculiar way, it definitely is. I think most people would agree that the act of sharing a bed with someone creates a deep sense of closeness and intimacy. For me, sleeping with Cheech has provided a great feeling of attachment despite my failed attempts at breastfeeding.

Co-sleeping has certainly come with its challenges, but I am a firm believer that unless there is some sort of sleep training involved, most babies face sleep challenges. That being said, I am here to say that babies who sleep with their parents can and do have the potential to sleep through the night... the ENTIRE night, even. Cheech was your classic "wake every two hours to feed" baby for the first two months of her life. Despite everyone's claims that "bigger babies sleep for longer periods", and "formula babies make it through the night because they are fuller", we didn't exactly have that experience. I assumed that my bigger-than-average, bottle-fed baby would be a champion sleeper in no time, but that was not at all the case for us. In many ways, all these declarations that seemed to apply to the average baby, were starting to remind me of constantly being reassured that morning sickness "only lasts during your first trimester of pregnancy". Somewhere along my 16th week, when I was still on a pretty strict diet of bagels and popcorn because everything else kept making me ill, I started to realize that no one seemed to know shit... at least when it came to me and my situation.

Between months 2 and 4, she went down to waking three times a night. Then another two months of twice a night. Right at 6 months, she mostly only woke once on most nights. Examining her two month pattern, I was hoping/assuming she'd make it through without waking at all by 8 months. Well, since our little Cheech likes to keep us on our toes, she waited until her 9th month to pull that trick out of her hat. She'll be 11 months on Sunday, and I can confidently say that she sleeps the entire night (roughly 6:30-7) about half the week, and still resorts to her one early morning bottle the other half of the week. If I compare her sleep patterns to all the other babies I know, I can't say she's the best sleeper on the block, but she ain't exactly doing too shabby either. And if I take her age into consideration, she's in fact doing a pretty awesome job.

Of course we've dealt with setbacks from time to time, and I'm sure many of you recall all the issues I've had with actually putting her to sleep, but I wrote this post to point out that, contrary to popular belief, co-sleeping doesn't necessarily result in a poor sleeper. Often times, I know parents of co-sleepers may not get the best support, and they may feel discouraged by their situation if they have a frequent waker, but let's not forget that there are babies who sleep in cribs and in their own bedrooms who also suffer from these problems. Although I have not personally felt the need to sleep train, I'm not trying to say that I'm against it here. Every family has to do what works best for them. I guess I just view sleep as a milestone that some babies reach sooner than others... such as crawling or talking. There are babies who have an extensive vocabulary by their first birthday, while others wait closer to their second to utter any words at all. But eventually, even when it comes to sleep, they all get it.


  1. Thanks for your post. I had often assumed that co-sleeping was a philosophy (rather than a survival strategy!) Where I live, a lot of people are downright militant about co-sleeping, and see the other option (a crib) as practically child abuse. My feeling now is that I'd like that little bit of space, but perhaps I'll change my mind for sanity's sake.

  2. @williamsburgbaby i think it is a philosophy for many, and a survival strategy for even more. (and one leads to the other.)

    i will just add that, i think crib babies probably *do* sleep better. no, not their whole lives. but maybe between 6months- 2 years or something.

    and as i have pointed out a million times, yeah, i'd love it if we could sleep through the night. but not enough to pay the price it would cost us and our (kind of) high needs poor sleeper. disclaimer is of course, we could change our minds at any time. ;)

    ps in related news, the last few nights henry has been doing CRAZY acrobatics in his sleep, and not waking up. this might be the start of a new sleep habit.... hmmm.....

    *jamie (i am too lazy to sign out. and sign back in. sue me.)

  3. mothers way back in the day used to co-sleep. it part of survival.
    i too bought a crib, and have never used it..6 years and two boys later..
    i have enjoyed co-sleeping, and breastfeeding. I could not imagine any other way. I am very very aware that my baby is in bed with me, and have yet to have anything bad happen.
    I find it natural, comforting, bonding, and a way to get a fuller nights rest, for everyone!
    (i also read that babies who co-sleep, have less risk with SIDS)
    wonderful post!

  4. Great post! We expected to co-sleep, but ended up using a Moses basket next to the bed instead. Now she's in a crib, but I can tell you that being there hasn't cured her night wakings. They just gradually got better with time.

  5. I was quite interested in co-sleeping, until I got Gus home and realised it would never feel right to me because even if I fed him in bed and put him back in his bassinet I would wake minutes later FREAKING OUT I'd left him in there somewhere and he was suffocating (I was so exhausted and delirious and slightly prone to hallucination - I thought the back of my husband's head was Gus once). Even 3 months later if we nap together I wake constantly freaking out he has a sheet on his face or will roll off or something.
    I don't quite get how it works? How do you have to set up the bed - like have no covers and pillows near them? Does it have to be against a wall so they don't fall out? And baby in-between you and partner or just on your side? I'm convinced my husband would crush Gus within minutes - he's always elbowing me in the head.

  6. thanks for this. we co-sleep w ramona and though it makes some things easier i was recently starting to worry that it would be years until she slept through the night or slept without my boob in her mouth!

    things change week-to-week, and i'm glad you address that here. there are some mornings we wake up and pat ourselves on the back for how awesome of a sleeper she is. and then she brings us back to reality the next night by waking up a ton, nursing for (what seems like) hours on end, and waking up bright-eyed and bushy tailed at 4:00.

    ramona will, one day, sleep through the night. just like you and i and everyone else has. somedays i can't wait for that to happen (naturally) other days i i can't bear the thought of one day not having my little bean in bed with my hubby and me.

    great post. thank you.

  7. I ended up with a co-sleeper bassinet before my daughter was born because I wanted her close to me, but was too afraid of what might happen to her squished between me and my husband. The first couple of weeks, she slept on top of me, and I'm not sure which one of us needed it more. She seemed so tiny and lost in the expansiveness of the bassinet (which wasn't really so expansive, she was just so tiny) and I didn't have the heart to set her down in it, especially when she preferred to sleep on me. Then she grew a little and was easily set into the bassinet after I nursed her to sleep, plus I was having the same fears as Clairsy above, delirious and waking frequently with fears she'd been rolled upon when she was in bed with us (or even when she wasn't). So, eventually the co-sleeper bed worked out nicely for us, giving us all our own space, but also the nearness and ease for breastfeeding.

    Recently at 6 months baby M started waking much more frequently, and I thought it had been because we had weaned her arms out of the swaddle (she was rolling on her tummy and I felt they needed to be out so she could move around better). But it turns out she just needed a little more space to get comfortable. We borrowed a pack-n-play for a trip last weekend and she slept awesome with enough room to roll freely (and eventually onto her tummy). I guess she has officially now grown out of the mini-cosleeper bassinet. Bittersweet!

  8. Just wanted to chime in to say that I think this is your best post yet. Love it.

  9. I appreciate you writing out all of your experiences...pleasant and not so. Its so helpful!!! I am 34 weeks pregnant and trying to plan for just about anything our little spud will bring us. I appreciate honesty and openness on blogs. So thanks!! Now i'm going to your breastfeeding post to educate myself!