It’s safe to say we live in a culture that is sleep obsessed. Shortly after welcoming our little one into the world and introducing him to family and friends, the congratulations always seemed to be followed with the question “Is he sleeping through the night?” Needless to say my answer to that question was “no” and I would often stop there. But what I wanted to say was “no, do you sleep through the night?” and then jump into educating the inquisitor on the parasympathetic system regulating our ability to self-sooth. Our society often totes parental success as a baby sleeping through the night and the independence of a child measured by them sleeping in their own room. Well neither of those things are happening in our household, and I can confidently say I feel like I’m still rocking the mom life.
Up until recently, it seemed as though co-sleeping was a taboo topic that moms rarely talked about, or if they had co-slept it was out of pure exhaustion. With the American Academy of Pediatrics recently updating their sleep guidelines, they acknowledged babies do sleep in their parents’ beds and took one giant step forward by actually encouraging room-sharing until a year old (with the focus on this having dramatic reduction in risk of SIDS). Before our little one arrived we planned on room-sharing until baby outgrew the bassinet and then planned to move him to his crib (the things we thought we would do before being a parent).
What we did not plan for was the natural transition we made to co-sleeping, more specifically bed-sharing. As a trained attachment-based therapist turned attachment-style parent, I’m a huge proponent for the closeness that’s created with co-sleeping. Even if it means waking up in the occasional pee puddle (invest in a water-proof mattress cover) or a few jabs to the face at night, it is definitely worth it.
In case you are still on the fence, here are benefits that this co-sleeping mama has uncovered in the past eight months:
Sleep. Mama gets more sleep. Seriously. Do you need more benefits than this?! No waking up and walking down the hall to a crying baby to soothe, put down, only to walk back to your room, put your head back on the pillow to hear a cry and start it all over again. Baby also sleeps more while co-sleeping. With the mother being so close and able to respond to baby’s needs, this often prevents baby from fully waking up to get the parent’s attention (aka cry at the top of their lungs before the monitor registers it and mom wakes up to run down the hall to said crying baby).
Breast milk. For breastfeeding mothers, co-sleeping actually helps maintain milk production. Breastfed babies need to nurse at night, as breast milk metabolizes more quickly than formula. More feedings means more stimulation to maintain supply. Also, helpful to ward off the other weary foe of breastfeeding: engorgement. Since baby is near and able to nurse on demand, this mean there shouldn’t be engorgement, which also means hopefully no mastitis (also known as torture). Bonus: with bed sharing you can utilize the side-lying nursing position once baby is big enough.
Get in extra time with baby. Especially for working parents that are not able to spend as much time together, this night contact is a huge plus that allows for more connection time. I know my husband loves this time he gets with our little one.
Safety. Sleeping in close proximity allows for baby and mother to respond to each others’ sensory signals and cues. This is the reason behind AAP recommending room sharing as it reduces the risk of SIDS when mothers can respond immediately to their little one when needed. In the blur of those first few days and weeks, I felt reassured having him so close that I could see him breathing and feel his breath as I gently placed my hand on his tummy to feel the rise and fall with each breath (helped reduce major new mom stress). Always make sure to follow safe co-sleeping practices; a great resource is Dr. Sears, which can be found here.
Closeness of the bond. There is nothing quite like having your little one sleep safely within arm’s reach. The closeness it creates is not just between mom and baby, but with dad too (note that if there are siblings, they should not be sleeping next to baby). Many families site the emotional and physical closeness that is created through this experience as their reason for choosing to bed share. I love going to sleep as a family and waking up as a family.
That face. There is nothing like waking up to see your beautiful little one’s face as the first thing you start your day with. I’m greeted every morning with the sweetest smiles that instantly puts a smile on this mama’s, and non-morning person’s, face. This has evolved into our amazing morning ritual consisting of lots of cuddling, kisses, and giggles in bed as we slowly start our day.
24/7 parent. Children are completely dependent, needy, perfect, and precious. We are meant to be a parent to our child at all times, to provide comfort, reassurance, and love. Meaning, if our little one needs us (communicated by crying), we show up emotionally and physically. This creates internal safety for our child and sets the tone for the development of their own emotion regulation skills. Being there physically (more specifically the consistent physical closeness to mother) also benefits the physical safety of the child by positively regulating breathing, body temperature, immune status and oxygenation.
Sex life. Yes, I said sex life. Since it’s not happening in the bed simultaneously, that means it’s time to get creative outside the bedroom and make time for your sexual intimacy and connection with your partner. Since everyone is getting more sleep at night then hopefully there’s more energy as well as less stress in the household as a whole. Time to re-connect and have fun.
Creating safety in the night. Nighttime can often be scary to little ones, a dark room, often unfamiliar (aka nursery), as opposed to the safety of mommy and daddy within arm’s reach. Familiar sounds, smells, and sights create a positive association with sleep. Remember that little one called your warm and safe body home for the past nine months. Abruptly separating can create stress and anxiety for both mom and baby. Creating positive associations with sleep and nighttime can often ward off the development of sleep conditions and disorders.
No tears, just cuddles. Bedtime and nighttime is a positive experience in our home. There is no arguing between my husband and me, or suffering with a baby crying. Co-sleeping means less work and grief when it comes to getting baby to sleep and to stay asleep. Yes, I am my son’s sleep association; he needs me (and that’s okay). Nursing to sleep feels natural and right for us.
What truly made the difference and allowed us to confidently and safely bed-share was the dock-a-tot. Haven’t heard of it yet? Be prepared to be in awe of this incredible portable safe co-sleeping bed (recently voted one of Parent’s Favorite Products by Tillywig), this was a godsend for us. Our little man slept soundly as he felt comfortable and had the feeling of being held safely. Bonus, this made napping around the house a breeze and was little guy’s favorite place for safe play and tummy time. Major success also came when traveling with it. The portability, safety, and ease of sleeping on the go is unparalleled with this beautiful invention. We are proud users of the dock-a-tot and have graduated to the next size as our little one is not so little anymore.
While his adorable crib, perfectly decorated, collects dust, we will continue our journey of co-sleeping, nice and cozy in the family bed. This may not be for everyone, but you must listen to what feels right for you and your family.
Mamas have you co-slept? What was your experience like?