Sheila Jenne is a young, Catholic writer and lucky mama to 2 little boys. Sheila was homeschooled and raised by an attachment mom! You can visit her on her family blog at http://agiftuniverse.blogspot.com
I often tell other people that my number one reason for attachment parenting is that it makes me feel good. At a time when my soul and my hormones alike crave closeness to my baby, I listen to them and snuggle up. Though I never planned to cosleep, I find it’s my very favorite AP practice.
My mother practiced attachment parenting herself, and I saw her dealing with having my younger siblings in bed with her. She always woke up tired, and transitioning them to their own beds was a source of stress. So I resolved that my own children would sleep in their own beds from day one.
Day one came, and I found myself second-guessing my choice.
Here I was, just home from the hospital with a two-day-old baby, and I was popping in and out of bed all night, sitting on the edge of the bed, freezing, so that I could nurse my baby when he cried. I was exhausted. I tried putting the baby in bed with us once or twice. Trouble is, none of us could sleep that way, least of all the baby. I didn’t know how to nurse him lying down anyway. So it was back to the crib.
I figured my efforts to keep him in his crib, not to nurse him all the way to sleep, and encourage him to pacify himself would all pay off in a great sleeper. And they did – for about a month when he was three months old. When he turned four months old, he was having trouble getting enough to eat, and he started waking again. There was nothing for it but to keep feeding him at night. Months went by and I became more and more sleep-deprived. He started waking up every time I put him back in his crib.
One night, addled by exhaustion, I was fruitlessly trying to get him into his crib the dozenth time. My husband stopped me. “Just put him in bed with us.” So I did.
It wasn’t all roses. The first night I only slept in snatches, despite my exhaustion. I am just not used to sleeping while touching anyone. And he still wouldn’t nurse lying down, so I sat up in bed with him every time, slowly sliding back down once he was beginning to drift off on the breast. But after a few days, I realized I was actually getting sleep. I took the side off his crib, shoved it tightly against the bed, and called it good. I started him out for the night in his crib, brought him into bed to nurse, and sometimes rolled him back into his crib again so I could stretch out more. Sometimes he spent the whole night in our bed. It didn’t matter all that much to me. I was getting sleep!
After a while I started cosleeping for naps, too, to help him sleep longer. And that’s when the unexpected benefits started popping up. First, I was better rested than I’d been since he was born. Second, my milk supply shot up. Even if he didn’t nurse at night, his presence seemed to stimulate more milk. And last of all, I found myself brimming with extra patience and love for him. That snuggle time every day made it so much easier to deal with any issues that had cropped up during the morning. I tried napping separately for a while – it just wasn’t the same. Sleeping snuggled up to him was so much better. Plus, he would wake up slowly and happily, giving us such a nice start to our afternoon.
There are other advantages, too. It’s so much easier to travel when your baby will sleep easily anywhere you are. And when the baby spikes a fever, you know before he even wakes up.
At a year old, we moved him into his own room. I’m sad to say that he’s two now and still doesn’t always sleep through the night. I’m realizing it’s actually a genetic thing – almost no one in my family, despite how they slept as babies, ever slept well until two or three. I could have wasted an entire year trying to get him to sleep through the night, but instead I spent that time getting good sleep and snuggles. Things got much harder when we stopped cosleeping. A night waking might mean an hour of rocking him, or falling asleep crammed into his tiny bed and waking up two hours later with a crick in my back. Cosleeping was a much better way for our family to get the rest we needed.
When I became pregnant with my second baby, there was no question I would have him in our bed. Ideally I’d like to keep him there until he regularly sleeps through the night on his own – however long that is. Once he was born, I was so glad I’d made that choice. He simply would not sleep unless he was touching me for his first two weeks. Sometimes he’d spend half the night latched on! I couldn’t have coped with a busy toddler during the day while sitting up in a rocking chair nursing all night. Now, at a month old, he sleeps a bit better, but he still sleeps the best with my arm around him. It’s hard to tell for sure, though, because I no longer even wake up all the way when I feed him. I wake hours later and find I’ve switched him to my other side and nursed him without even remembering it. How nice it is to wake up after a good six-hour chunk of sleep (or what felt like it) and find you’ve been nurturing your baby at the same time!
Since my toddler is very active and demanding, I don’t get a lot of time to bond with my baby during the day. Nighttime is our special time to nurse, snuggle, and build a strong bond. If I’m feeling wide awake, I stroke his soft cheek and drink him in. If not, I just latch him on and doze off again. Either way, it feels good to know I’m meeting his needs without sacrificing mine.
For my husband, it’s more of a sacrifice. But he benefits by having a wife who’s able to handle most anything during the day because she’s well rested. And he has been known to join in the snugglefest at times. It’s always a special joy to me to sneak out of bed early in the morning and come back to see him with a protecting arm around the baby.
Let me point out, lest I come across as laying more requirements on your plate, that cosleeping is in no way required for good parenting. So long as you are responsively parenting your child at night – as long as you attend to their cries and needs, the same as you do in the daytime – it doesn’t really matter who sleeps where. Still, if you haven’t tried bedsharing, I highly recommend you at least try it out, for naps if you aren’t comfortable doing so at night. At the very least, there can be no possible risk in bedsharing if there’s another adult around who is staying awake and can check on you often. Try it on the weekends when Dad’s around, or when your mother or friend comes to help you with a newborn.
But don’t miss out on the special kind of joy that comes from sharing sleep once in awhile.