Not long after my first child was born, I found myself in a discussion with another new mom about how (not so) well our babies were sleeping. Really, what else do new mothers talk about? It was inevitable that the topic would come up. What wasn’t so obvious to me – though perhaps it should have been – was the discouragement I’d be met with when I confided that my six month-old son slept in bed with my husband and me.
Other moms at the play-date soon dropped their conversations and joined ours. I was grateful for the increase in numbers. Surely, one of them would defend the choice my husband and I had made, offering further assurance that yes, it was possible to sleep peacefully with a baby at your side, and no, we didn’t stay awake all night, petrified we’d roll over on our children.
But, it seemed – at that particular play-date, anyway – that I was alone. The other moms were sincere in their disbelief and peppered me with questions. Back then, I lacked confidence in my answers. After all, I hadn’t intended to co-sleep. I didn’t even know there was a word for it. I just knew that although I’d intended for my son to sleep in his crib as my pediatrician advised, I found it didn’t work. My son hardly slept, but I got even less shut-eye than him. When I wasn’t tending to my crying infant, I lay in my own bed, down the hall, watching my son on the video monitor. I listened to his breathing patterns and watched his chest rise and fall as I attempted to will myself to take my eyes off the screen.
After a few nights of this nightmarish pattern, I flicked off the monitor, grabbed my son, and lay him beside me. The next day, I bought Dr. Sears’ The Baby Sleep Book and read up on how to sleep with your baby safely. I bought a guardrail for my bed, and placed my son between the rail and me at night (since my husband is an incredibly heavy sleeper and actually did worry me that he might roll over on our child). And, then, only a couple nights into this new way of doing things, both my baby and I got a good night’s sleep.
Those sleep-filled nights continued (barring a middle-of-the-night illness or teething episode), and many years and another co-sleeping child later, my family was well-rested.
It’s been six years since we first let a child into our bed, and now, as I lay next to my snoozing twenty-month old, I think of all the benefits of co-sleeping I wish I could go back and share with those innocently incredulous women. I can’t repeat history, but I can share with a different audience some joys my husband and I have found in co-sleeping.
1) Emotional closeness. When my son was an infant, I joked that he was a heat-seeking missile. In his sleep, he would inch closer, eventually nestled right up against me. As he grew, he searched out my arm and used it as his pillow. Now, at six years old, he sleeps in his own room (what six year old wouldn’t prefer Star Wars bedding to a rose covered quilt?), but occasionally enjoys climbing into my husband’s and my bed when I’m putting his little sister to sleep. He rests his head on my shoulder, sweetly rubs his sister’s arm, and falls asleep right along with her.
2) Setting a precedent for our relationship. The door to the room my husband and I share is an open one for our children, just like our relationship with them. Co-sleeping has taught them that we are always accessible rather than “off limits”. It’s a lesson that translates into other aspects of their lives and that will continue to do so. Because we’ve listened and responded to their needs by allowing them to sleep beside us, our children understand that we are always approachable and available, that they can come to us, and that we will not turn them away.
3) Happy bedtimes. Because bedtime is a chance for us to settle down, cuddle and feel that awesome feeling you get when you’re snuggled up close to those you love, bedtime in our home is rarely a fight. I’ve been in homes where parents (and their kids) dread bedtime. Where kids cry and resist going to their rooms to sleep. Once, when I witnessed a particularly bad tantrum, it hit me that our children love bedtime (unless we’re having a sleepover at their grandparents’ home, where the love to stay up late). My one year-old usually goes to the steps by 7 p.m., and requests sweetly, “bed”. My 6 year-old son often bounds up the stairs to his room, then snuggles up close in his bed, where we read his chosen bedtime book.
4) Nearness in the not-so-healthy times. Co-sleeping offers the ability to read your child’s body language and respond accordingly. Many nights, because of my nearness, I discovered a fever early, before it had a chance to rise uncomfortably high. I could tell when a stomach bug was about to strike or when my son needed to use the bathroom, and in both instances, my closeness often helped my kids to avoid accidents. I soothed them through teething pain without them waking up. And on more than one occasion, I nudged my children back into a regular breathing pattern when, as infants, they had elongated (though usually normal) gaps in their breathing.
5) Less interrupted sleep. I’ll never forget the first time I woke and found my infant son had helped himself to nursing. I was initially confused. Had I fallen asleep nursing him? Obviously, I had. Had he never stopped? Being that it was hours later, obviously, he had. Had he really rolled back over and latched himself back on without me knowing? Yes to that, too. And then, once my perplexity faded, I felt relief that I hadn’t needed to get out of bed to feed or coddle him. As I drifted back to sleep, I wondered why I had ever attempted to put him in a crib in the first place.
6) Peace. It’s what all these other benefits lead to. The peace in knowing your children are safe, healthy, and nearby. The peace of feeling their bodies rise and fall with each breath they take. But, most important, it’s about the peace co-sleeping brings them. The comfort and security they gain from having their parents so close at hand. And, really, that’s the best benefit of all.
Image credit: kdshutterman (freedigitalphotos.com)