Q: It never occured to me that there was an alternative to babies sleeping in cribs until I went to visit my friend Noriko in Japan after she had given birth to her first son. She slept with him Japanese-style on a futon on the straw mat floor. My first concern: Aren't you afraid you'll roll over onto him? She kind of laughed at this and shrugged her shoulders. "Oh well!" she joked. I later learned that it is very common in Japan (and many other eastern cultures) to co-sleep, and I remembered that my cousins had all slept with their parents as babies, and some into the elementary school years.
I was re-introduced to the concept of co-sleeping, or bed-sharing, when I met my friend Ginger. She practiced what she called a "family bed" where everyone slept together in the same room, if not the same giant bed. It seemed so cozy and nurturing and when I expressed my concerns, she responded with thoughtful, fact-based answers: co-sleeping promotes breastfeeding and bonding with a newborn and is actually SAFER than putting your baby in a crib. Some excellent and more in-depth articles about this subject can be found here and here.
As I did more research in preparation for becoming a parent, I realized that my own comfort and personal philosophies aligned with the Attachment Parenting method, which espouses co-sleeping. When Mayumi was born we slept Japanese-style on the floor with her in bed with us. It made those night-time nursing sessions a breeze and I never really felt sleep-deprived. Mayumi is two and half and continues to sleep in our bed, which is exactly where we want her to be.
D: So the big elephant in the room: what about sex?
Q: Oh please. Where there is a will there is a way. First of all, the girl is usually asleep by 8:30pm. We can make love anywhere we want in the house, though we've certainly done it in the very same bed where she is sleeping and she has NEVER woken up. And if she did, we're not really worried about it. We're a pretty affectionate and open family (she bathes with us and dresses with us, but that is a subject for a different post), so I don't think she'd be too shocked and disturbed, if at all.
M: The closest we ever got to co-sleeping was having a bassinet next to our bed. I thought it was a great idea because I figured I could keep an eye on baby and not wonder if she was breathing or not, and have her at arm's reach for those late-night feeding sessions. What I didn't factor in was how much noise babies make! I awoke at every movement, every sigh and coo. Plus, the genius of having her close by so I wouldn't have to get out of bed wasn't a reality; I was getting up to change her diaper anyway before feeding in order to wake her up (especially as a newborn) and keep her clean. So after two weeks, I moved Olive into a crib in her own bedroom. Hubby and I both slept better and now enjoy having our bed and our bedroom to ourselves.
Q: It is definitely a personal decision and of course, you have to find what works best for you and your family. One of my biggest frustrations, though, is when people are judgmental about it or when states like New York initiate campaigns against co-sleeping based on faulty information and ignorant assumptions. The truth is, there is no inherently safe place for a baby to sleep. There are so many factors you need to consider when making this decision, including breastfeeding needs, quality of sleep for mother and baby, and basic safety. In my case, there are few things sweeter than witnessing my baby sleep - sometimes she softly giggles and smiles in her sleep and it makes my heart soar. I love falling asleep to the gentle cadence of her breathing and her warm little body snuggled against mine. I feel like she is safest is there.