I remember the first day we came home from the hospital, a week after the birth of our first child. We walked through the front door, so happy to finally be home! We nearly skipped our way down the hallway, right to our daughter’s newly and beautifully painted & decorated room. Daddy unstrapped the sleeping bundle from her carseat (Stop, read that again. Yes, we moved a peacefully sleeping baby?!) and proudly laid our new baby girl in her new crib. We stood back and smiled our biggest new parent (read: completely clueless nincompoop) smiles down at her.
We took a few photographs that first day home, right as we laid her in her crib. What a big bed for a little baby, we thought. Oh, doesn’t she look precious? And then… the arms started shooting out, the legs started kicking, the eyes cracked open, her face started twisting up, and then… the wail.
What!? We looked at each other; concern & confusion reflected on our faces. What was wrong?
Surely she could feel & appreciate all the obvious effort that went into planning for her arrival, and drift happily off to sleep in her princess’ palace (oh yes, the wallpaper we picked out did say princess), while we proudly watched from above? I mean, babies sleep a lot. In their cribs. Right?
Now it wasn’t that we hadn’t experienced her crying in the last week. We had. In fact, we’d been told by the nurse that our baby seemed to cry A LOT (See: Colic… another post, another time). But, we’d assumed she cried so much in the hospital because she was in THE HOSPITAL, with bilirubin lights, isolettes, nurses & doctors poking and testing, SNS (supplemental nursing system) & formula & breast pump ministrations at every turn. Heck, I felt like crying myself. But once she was HOME, well… how can she not be happy in her own bed? A baby’s bed: extra-firm mattress, completely & plastic-encased dust-mite protective covered, no extra padding (per the instructions to avoid SIDS, of course), no blankets (also to avoid the dreaded SIDS), enclosed with bars. Wasn’t that doing it for her? Come on now, we followed the baby proofing bedding steps to the letter! Okay, maybe the crib mattress wasn’t that comfortable (I’d never want to sleep on it, personally), but, the MOBILE? Surely that would help. It was black, white, and bold primary colors – just what we’d read babies like! We turned it on, and waited, hopeful. Nope. She squirmed, and wailed, and was, well, obviously extremely displeased with being placed where we’d placed her. I picked her up. On to plan B.
Now, to be honest, our plan A wasn’t just baby sleeping in a crib in a separate room. We DID have Arms-Reach co-sleeper too, because, from my research while pregnant, I determined that I wanted my baby to be close at hand for nursing at night. And, in general, I felt like I liked the idea of co-sleeping (small letters), though not necessarily CO-SLEEPING (you know, the kind of thing that hippies do, where you give up all your personal space to your kid, and where you’re irresponsibly endangering them by obliviously rolling over on them in your sleep - hey, I've come far since then).
In reality, once we started co-sleeping, I wanted the easy access; I found it extremely difficult to sleep when I couldn’t hear her/see her breathe whenever I opened my eyes, yet the converse of that reality was the equally present and looming SIDS worry in every magazine & pamphlet I’d read, (further encouraged by the constant urging and requesting of my mother to put baby back in the bassinette, on her BACK after I finished nursing her, and clucks of disapproval as I created a space next to me on the hospital bed for her to sleep with me), that kept me from fully launching into CO-SLEEPING (big letters).
Anyhow, after about three weeks of night after night of struggling out of bed (I had a c-section) every 3 hours (to the alarm because my daughter had severe jaundice at birth due to AB/O incompatibility, so I was instructed to wake her every 3 hrs to nurse once home [for the first 8 weeks], so we wouldn’t have to return to the hospital again), picking baby up out of the co-sleeper, walking to her room, changing her diaper, sitting in the rocking chair in a sleep-deprived stupor to set up the SNS with correct amount of formula, accurately taped to my nipple and safety pinned to my sleeve, latch her on for nursing attempt, burping her, switching sides (mostly to wake her up from her jaundice-induced super-drowsiness), changing her diaper again, rocking her till she was asleep, trying to lay her down, having her wake up, rocking her, nursing, changing diaper again, trying to lay her down again, I sat bewildered and frustrated and just plain tired in the rocking chair sometime in the middle of the night. You know that time of night when even the crickets don’t make noise anymore. This is the new mother hour. Man, it was lonely and quiet and dark and all I wanted was to be asleep like the little baby in my arms. But, awake I was, sitting straight up in a chair (because, you know, that’s how I’d been taught to breastfeed, and if I tried to move to put baby in her crib or co-sleeper, she’d wake, so I just sat & tried to fall asleep that way, only, didn’t want to fall deeply asleep in the event that I might fall out of the chair). So there I was, reading & re-reading Dr. Sears Baby Book, trying to think of why this nighttime stuff was just. So. Hard. When suddenly, bleary-eyed, I stumbled on a page about the side-lying nursing position. To this day, I owe Martha Sears a debt of gratitude. After processing the drawing a few times, I felt a ray of hope. Maybe I could sleep, if I tried this CO-SLEEPING? I shed my boppy and three other positioning pillows & blankets and brought baby (and the book, for reference) into bed, re-latched her on while LYING DOWN and… she fell asleep. (Asleep! Thank you universe - my baby is asleep IN A BED.) And here I was, actually LYING DOWN. And would you believe folks, I fell asleep. And when I awoke, I realized that I hadn’t rolled over on my baby. No, in fact, she was still peacefully sleeping beside me.
The very next thing we did was buy a king size bed.
So there we were, a CO-SLEEPING family in a king bed with an unused crib, and unused arms reach co-sleeper (though I did realize quickly that it held diapers & wipes for middle-of-the night changes without getting out of bed, very handily! It also prevented the need for a bedrail.) finally getting some rest at night.
Of course, nap time was another story.
During the day, we couldn’t put my daughter down; because in the event that she did fall asleep in-arms, she’d immediately wake up as soon as she felt her position move towards horizontal. I tried leaning precariously over the edge of the crib (we got a non-drop side crib; again, I believe nincompoop fits the bill here), my feet off the floor, precariously see-sawing over the bar on my waist to ease baby onto the mattress (which I’d pre-warmed with towels fresh from the drier, per Dr. Sears suggestion), to no avail. The moment she touched down, her eyelids would flutter open & she’d immediately begin protesting. What’s a mom to do?
Well, I wore her much of the time - once I found the Snugli. (Yes, unfortunate as it may sound to crunchy parents everywhere, the Snugli is what I had because the only place remotely close to us was a Walmart, and the only thing they had remotely like a baby carrying device was a Snugli. So, the Snugli it was.) And the Sungli DID work to help PUT her to sleep – so long as I was doing full deep knee bending squats while singing. So, I was able to get some work done while she slept on me that way. Unfortunately, I could only do standing work; since as soon as I’d stop moving (say, to sit down at my computer, can you imagine?), she’d wake. Being that my job at home required computer time, this wasn’t the most convenient solution. So, there ensued my adventure to get my daughter to lie down for a nap. I tried every way possible to ease her out of the front pack and into her crib, asleep. In fact, some days, I’d spend hours on the Sungli to Crib Transfer, only to have her wake up and start the whole process all over again. I’d have fantasy scenarios as I was walking & bouncing her for hours, where I’d be able to nurse her to sleep by leaning over the bassinette, and then sneak away. Or, somehow climb myself into the crib & do the same (and yes, I DID try that). Unfortunately, none of these ideas worked out so well. Until one day, around four months, (yes, you read that correctly, I endured THREE MONTHS OF THIS) I laid down with her, completely exhausted in the middle of my bed, after myriad of failed nap “put downs” (as Adam & I referred to them), and nursed her to sleep. I had given up. I couldn’t work at home with an infant. I’d just lie in bed staring at the ceiling (I’ve never been able to nap well during the day) whenever she napped. Yet, somehow, between her drifting off to sleep, and myself trying to drift off, bravery (or commonsense) hit me, and I instead decided to roll away. And… she stayed asleep. I cleared the bed of any & all pillows & blankets, turned on the baby monitor, and - blessed be - she stayed asleep. I think I checked on her every 5 minutes that first time, but every day, and every night, for the next three years, my daughter slept in our bed full-time. And I was able to work successfully at my desk while she slept. And man, did life with a new baby get easier.
Every milestone brought new co-sleeping challenges. We went through plan A, B, C, D, and on through Z over the years. For example, as she began to roll, we put our mattress down on the floor; box springs stored away, and completely baby-proofed the room. Once she was crawling, we taught her how to back off the end of the bed, feet first. Once she was walking, we’d leave the gate up in the doorway.
After her brother was born, we all shared the king bed (we never even set up the crib for my son), which presented its own set of unique challenges (like, keeping two-year-old asleep when newborn noisily wakes and starts to root). But in spite of the challenges, and occasional sleepless nights, and bed reaarrangements, we kept on keeping on co-sleeping, because... it worked. Until one day, just after turning three, my daughter, the very same one who would never be put down, asked to start off the night in “her” bed (which was a full size mattress on the floor. From that point on, she'd start off in her room, then would join us sometime in the middle of the night. Once my son was around 18 months, we added a twin size mattress along side of her full size mattress, and the two of them have co-slept for the last year and a half.
So...what’s the moral of my story? Well, my bed sharing babies were far happier, far more rested babies than when not bed sharing. My co-sleeping self was far more relaxed once I brought baby to bed than when I was getting up every three hours to nurse in a rocking chair (and then trying unsuccessfully to replace baby in her crib), or, when she was (in the very rare occurance) asleep in another room, and I’d still be waking every half hour to check on her. And though we had to work through some less than restful nights of elbows in the rib cage and feet in the small of our backs, my co-sleeping husband and I loved the morning time waking up with the kiddos. And, my co-sleeping children are well-rested, happy, and so close to each other, and to us. I'm not sure I can attribute all of this to co-sleeping, but I CAN say that sharing sleep with our children as babies and young toddlers had far more benefits than drawbacks for me. I wouldn’t change the experience, and only wish I’d have figured it out sooner – doing so certainly would have made those first few weeks with my first newborn much easier!
If you’re thinking about co-sleeping, I encourage you to do some research! Find out why sleep sharing is so good for babies and moms. For information on co-sleeping, bed sharing, and the family bed, and how to share sleep with your baby safely, visit these fabulous sites:
PhD In Parenting: Co-Sleeping Safely
Dr Sears: Sleeping Safely With Your Baby
KellyMom.com: The Family Bed
Dr. Jay Gordon: Safe Cosleeping
And, please tell me your co-sleeping stories!