Co-Sleeping Converts #1: The First Six Months

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4 March 2013 by thaliakr

This is the first in an occasional series on our experience of co-sleeping with our baby (and toddler, as he becomes later on!). You can see the series list here

Co-sleeping Converts 1, Our First Six Months as Accidental Attachment Parents

We didn’t intend to become ‘attachment parents.’ We don’t tick all the boxes, but we could certainly sneak into an AP Christmas party and fit right in, particularly since we co-sleep with our toddler, SBJ.

I read somewhere that something like 40 per cent of parents have their kids in bed with them overnight at least some of the time, so lots of people will have experienced that. But I realise it’s more unusual to share the same bed full-time, so I thought it might be useful to outline what we do and why. Of course, this is very much in the spirit of It Works For Us, rather than saying or even passive-aggressively hinting that everyone must do it.

co-sleeping, attachment parenting, trying out co-sleeping, tips for co-sleeping

When SBJ was a little baby he had a borrowed bassinet (a small baby bed on a stand, specifically for young babies who can’t crawl or stand). It was great, and had wheels so we could bring it into the living area during the day and put it back in our bedroom at night.

Sudden Unexplained Death of Infants (SUDI, previously knows as cot death, crib death or SIDS) has been of great concern in recent decades, especially in New Zealand. We were careful to listen to Ministry of Health evidence-based guidelines that babies are safest if they sleep in the same room as an adult for the first six months of their lives (as well as sleeping on their back, with their faces clear, and living in a smoke-free environment).

I had also read that co-sleeping (having the child and adult sleeping in the same bed) had been associated with deaths in the United States and was being discouraged there, so it wasn’t on my radar as a practice for our family.

SBJ asleep on his Daddy's chest, at about one week old.

SBJ asleep on his Daddy’s chest, at about one week old.

In his first months, therefore, SBJ slept in whatever room we were in, either in his bassinet, the arms of an awake adult (his preferred option by a long way), in a car-seat or push-chair if we were out and about or strapped to his Daddy’s chest in a front-pack (also very popular with the under-one crowd in our house). I aimed to have him fall asleep in his bassinet at least once a day, but he much preferred to be held, fed or carried to sleep.

In the night, he would wake once or more for feeding, and all three of us would be awake for a bit. I have trouble with my arms and back, so my husband would get SBJ out of his bassinet, give him to me to feed, go back to sleep, then wake and return him to his bassinet when we were finished.

Except this last step usually involved an extra 5-20 minutes of settling him in his bassinet, because ‘the transfer’ as we called it, in hushed tones, was a difficult business. Having fallen asleep feeding, why would my baby want to go anywhere else? We developed a repertoire of balletic movements designed to manage the transfer without waking him, but nothing worked infallibly.

Every so often, we would give up. The only thing that was sure to calm SBJ at this point was to fall asleep on Daddy’s chest, the way he had spent his first night in the outside world.

When he was five months old we travelled around New Zealand and to the United Kingdom for five months, which is where we really gave up on conventional sleeping.

Asleep in our bed next to his Dad for an afternoon nap (x2)

Half Houdinied out of his sleep-sack as usual, asleep in our bed next to his Dad for an afternoon nap (x2)

Transferring SBJ into our otherwise excellent travel-cot was a whole new level of insurmountable. In the intervening months, we had also read more widely on the subject of co-sleeping, and learnt more about safety research.

This article, for instance, gathers references on the safety of co-sleeping, including findings that it’s safe unless the adult is a smoker, obese, or is drunk or stoned. It’s these factors that have been significant in the deaths that have been associated with co-sleeping. It’s also best for premature babies to be in their own cots.

There are a bunch of benefits that researchers have observed when families co-sleep, which you can read about here. But take care: I reckon it’s best to read this if you’re considering or already co-sleeping, as a useful reassurance and validation. It’s the kind of list that could easily make non-co-sleeping parents feel like they’re doing the wrong thing, and neither the author of the article nor I am intending that. Do what works for your family, definitely. Whatever helps everyone sleep best is great!

More interesting for some will be the co-sleeping pros and cons from the wonderful Lucy at Lulastic:

In the middle of the night a few days ago Ramona shuffled over to Tim, climbed up so her bum was right in his face and did a whopping toot. Then she clambered back down to her spot and returned to sleep. Oh, how Tim and I didst laugh- the timing was impeccable. Farts- when it comes to making a list of pros and cons of cosleeping- where do they come? No one likes little clouds of excrement in their nostrils but the comical effect of childly bottom coughs are right up there. It is a dilemma, for sure. I’ll have to leave it hanging in the midst there. But here is the rest of my list.

PROS

Her morning kisses are definitely number one. Ramona wakes up, stretches and immediately finds my face for a kiss, as if she is so stoked to begin a new day with me as her mummy.

[read more]

And speaking of dads, she also links to this beautiful essay from a co-sleeping father:

If you’re a man with a new baby who’s always telling people you’re jealous of the bond between mother and child, and if your child isn’t yet sleeping in your bed, I say to you: Bring your baby in, get to know him, sleep with him. If someday you want to share your child’s daydreams, take a step in the right direction by first sharing his night dreams.

After many months of my son sleeping with us, I am intimately familiar with his needs, both at night and during the day—even if I’m not always the one who can fulfill them. (I can’t, after all, nurse him or be his mother.) I feel as if I am in sync with him as I have been with no other human. I don’t think I even knew what it meant to be so familiar with another human. And I cannot explain to you how exhilarating that is. You have to experience it for yourself.

[read more]

We didn’t co-sleep with any regularity until SBJ was five months old, and if we have another child I would probably look into this kind of ‘side-car’ arrangement, rather than have a newborn in bed with us. I’ve never found them on sale in New Zealand, but I’ll look harder if necessary later on.

We started bed-sharing because it was convenient, and we carried on because it was waaaaaay better for our collective sanity than the previous arrangement. Before, to feed in the middle of the night, SBJ had to wake enough to wake us up, and then be woken again to be put back into his own bed. My husband had to wake to do at least one of the pick-up/put-downs, and I was awake for the whole deal. Now, SBJ needs only to wriggle without waking to have a feed. My husband doesn’t wake at all, and I wouldn’t call what I do waking exactly. I wake enough to get us both into position, and that’s about as strenuous as it gets. So we’re all able to sleep much better.

from howtobeadad.com

We also really enjoy it. If we didn’t, I’m sure wouldn’t do it. We’re not that idealogically committed!

Now that SBJ bigger and more robust than a newborn, there’s nothing like sleeping snuggled up with him. We get to hear him sleeptalk (crackers, dogs and Daddy are most on his dreaming mind, apparently), and see his first grin of the day as soon as he wakes up.

We haven’t used a bassinet or cot since he was five months old, and It Works For Us. I’d be interested to hear if any of you have found co-sleeping helpful and how you got into it. Feel free to share any practicalities or tips or other reflections in the comments below.

Things got more complicated as he started to crawl and walk, so in the next post I’ll talk about how we handle co-sleeping with a toddler, and the ginormous bed we purchased on return to New Zealand. Ahhh, our bed is awesome!

This is part of an occasional series on our adventures in co-sleeping. You can see the series list here and find out from the comments that heaps of people are doing this! Please feel free to leave a note with your own experiences or thoughts.

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9 thoughts on “Co-Sleeping Converts #1: The First Six Months

  1. Tracey says:

    Thalia, we ended up being accidental co-sleepers too, for the simple reason that Heidi WOULD NOT sleep in her crib. Her eyes would fly open the second she was laid down by herself…also, of all people, a nurse at the hospital where she was born introduced me the the concept. At just a few hours old, Heidi had gotten a bit chilled and had to go in the infant warmer. The night nurse brought her back into me, plunked a pillow down beside the bed rail and tucked her in right next to me assuring me it was the best way to keep her warm. I loved it, it was so sweet and cozy. So at home we invested in a cot side for the bed, and she coslept with us. It was great for breastfeeding, just roll over, latch her on and go back the sleep. Eventually I moved the crib into our room, removed the drop side and secured it to our bed with bungy cords to give us all a bit more room, but she mostly stayed close to me at night. She transitioned to her own bed sometime before she turned two, because Kerstin was on her way, and also she had started kicking in her sleep. She did great with it, I would sit with her until she fell asleep, she had a few nights she would wake up, but nothing like the issues we thought we might face having coslept with her. I also coslept with Kerstin (and carried her most of her waking moments until she turned two), she also transitioned to a big girl bed with surprising ease after her second birthday. So I anticipated cosleeping with Matthew, and we did for a good six months, but then he started getting very restless, so one night I put him into his crib, guess what, he settled right down. So we have been alternating him in his crib and cosleeping, I bring him in with me when he wakes up to nurse, then once he’s done, I put him back in his crib. He sleeps best on his tummy, which I know is a no no, but honestly, his SIDS risks are as low as they can be, and I was of the generation of babies who were put to sleep on their tummies, we seem to have survived. I did invest in a new mattress for him, because the one I had before was awful, no wonder my girls didn’t like to sleep on it! The new mattress has a bit of give to it, it was pricey, but one of the best things I have ever bought.

    It just seems to me that the recommendations for baby sleeping, as well intentioned as they are, are in fact a really great way to prevent sleeping, think about it, firm mattress, no pillow, minimal covering…I couldn’t sleep that way. And I do believe that statistics we hear are biased against cosleeping. You might read in the newspaper of an infant death in which the baby was sleeping with an adult, but a SIDS incident in which the baby was sleeping in a crib rarely makes the news.

    Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson is an excellent book. It really gave me the confidence that what I was doing was right for us, and safe, as long as we took precautions to prevent smothering. After all, I was educated the same way as you, do you remember those “Back to Sleep” ad campaigns on TV? I swore up and down that my baby would sleep in his/her crib from day one, this was before Heidi was born, well that went right out the window, after all, what do you do when baby just won’t sleep on her own? You cuddle up together, and both get some rest, that’s what.

  2. Angela says:

    Well done! I did worry about how you could sleep – only because I couldn’t sleep with a wriggler next to me (not even a cat, actually). But it sounds like you get way more sleep this way! Not to mention plenty of other benefits. x

  3. Pippa says:

    We’ve been co-sleeping fully since about 3 weeks, but we always planned on it. I had seen a friend’s picture of a co-sleeping bassinet on facebook and as soon as we had our 12 week scan started to investigate. I read Three in a bed, which my ever patient husband then read and also the baby calm book, which he also read. The desire to co-sleep was all that kept me breastfeeding when we ended up in hospital with mastitis on day 8.

    For about 6 weeks from 4 to 10 weeks Toby only slept at night on my chest (little monkey) but it did mean that all he had to do was nuzzle with a bit more persistence and I woke up and he fed.

    When I called time on breastfeeding we moved him onto his co-sleeping cot. I had assumed that I would babywear far more than I do, but since he moved to sleeping on his back at night he has gradually moved to wanting to sleep on his back on a mattress. I really miss having a sleeping baby in my arms but he just wiggles until he is put down!

    We have a mothercare bedside cot, one of the sides slips down and underneath the cot.
    http://www.mothercare.com/Mothercare-Bedside-Cot/815448,default,pd.html
    We have a bungycords attaching it to the side of our bed. I love that he is arms reach away. Thankfully we found one on ebay, as all co-sleeping aids seem to be priced at the very high end of the market.

    I am starting to wonder about managing day time naps and early evenings, until now he has been in his moses basket downstairs with us, but he has just about outgrown that. Time to try some naps in his cot, making sure there is no where he can role into trouble.

  4. andrew says:

    1. At what age do you kick them out into their own bed? if they’ve never known sleeping alone, wouldn’t it be more of a trauma when they eventually transition? i know this isn’t in the same vein, but it feels uncomfortably close to the “breastfeed until they are at primary school” school of thought.
    2. I could see it intefering with marital relations. shoot me, but it was the first thing that occurred to me after reading that SIDS isn’t the issue it was painted as.

    • Pippa says:

      question 1…it was one of the questions I had and we discussed before setting off down the co-sleeping path. The airy fairy answer is when they are ready. In practise most people who have written about it or who I know have done it have made that move between 18 months and two years. One of the more compelling things I read and has stuck with me is that ‘before independence there is dependence’, and that includes needing parents at night. Apart from two sets of parents I know, who resolutely don’t allow their babies/children in their bed everyone else I know bring their children into bed at somepoint from new born through to being toddlers. I guess they wouldn’t describe themselves as co-sleepers but it is exactly what they do one or more nights of the week. This was another part of the reason we decided to co-sleep from the beginning, having a baby/child in bed seemed quite normal, but it also seemed to sometimes be a source of tension or stress, and we felt that we coud remove that by choosing to co-sleep.

      question 2. Personally I think sleep deprivation probably impacts more on marital relationships than having a baby in your bed/in a cot attached to your bed. I am pretty sure I get more sleep through this arrangement, therefore marital relations are better than they would be otherwise!

    • Thanks, Andrew, for the questions, and thanks Pippa, for such clear and thoughtful answers.

      My second post is already provisionally entitled ‘When will he get his own bed?’ as it’s the most common question we are asked (perhaps number 2 is the most common question in people’s minds, who knows!)

      I’d only add here that it’s worth examining where our cultural norms come from when it comes to what’s natural, wise, common sense, etc for parenting babies.

      Early weaning and having infants sleep alone are both actually modern, Western phenomena. Anthropological surveys show, for instance, that the average age of weaning outside the West ranges between 2.5 and 7 years. If that doesn’t appeal to us, it’s worth wondering why, and whether our current norms are improvements on old ways (like handwashing, antibiotics, etc) or things that have crept in for other reasons and are worth questioning.

      I’ll say again that I’m not saying everyone needs to revert to pre-industrial ways of parenting, including co-sleeping, but I make the above point to show that what we’re doing isn’t weird compared to the rest of the world and earlier history of our own culture.

  5. […] question people have about co-sleeping may actually be about sex, but as I said in the comments to the first post in this series, the most common question people actually ask us is, ‘When will SBJ get his own […]

  6. […] Co-Sleeping Converts #1: The First Six Months […]

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