Thursday, May 13, 2010

Trialogue: Co-Sleeping

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.

D: I'm with M for the most part on this topic but there are times when I make an exception. Lucy stayed in our room for the first 3 weeks post-partum, and then we moved her into her own room. I was mostly too scared to have her sleep with us because I was afraid that we would smother her or hit her. I think that there was one time that I slept with her because she had a little fever and we did skin-to-skin but it wasn't for the whole night and I made my husband sleep on the couch so that I would have plenty of room for with her - she slept on my chest but I didn't sleep much. She started to sleep through the night around 6 weeks and after that, I didn't see the point in sleeping with her if she was sleeping so well on her own and I was getting better rest and sleeping with my husband. Like M, all the baby noise kept me up.

However, we have a spare bed in her bedroom and when she is sick or teething or just "off" for whatever reason and wakes up in the night, I often sleep in the spare bed with her as I nurse in the side-lying position. I don't get the best quality of sleep and I miss my husband but if it is just every once in a while, it's not so bad. It's easier than frequently getting out of bed. The only other time I have co-slept that I actually enjoyed was in Japan when Lucy was about 5 months old - we slept on futons on the floor and she was a little messed up from the time difference (and we were too) but she slept beautifully there with us and I didn't have to worry about her falling off the bed.

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.


MamaD said...

Yeah - so a couple of weeks ago, I was sleeping with Lucy in the spare bed in her bedroom and I wake up to this huge thud and a cry. She had fallen off the foot of the bed. I felt horrible...

Mike said...

I have friends that have always co-slept with their son. But kids do start to grow up. One evening my friend (male) calls me and mentioned that the night before he and his wife had been having sex, when suddenly an annoyed voice says, "Daddy, stop shaking!" My friend laughed about it. I was slightly less amused.

maryamsteele said...

I didn't intend to cosleep because I didn't think it was safe. It happened naturally, though, from the first day she was born. It suddenly made sense to me, and I got the best sleep knowing she was right there. Now I have two sidecars (ages 6 and 4), happily cosleeping. I get to hear what they dream about (my daughter talks a lot in her sleep), hear them laughing at funny dreams (which is hilarious), and don't have to get up when they wake in the night. It works for us. It's really true that everyone should choose what feels best because that ultimately IS best. Thanks for posting about this and the different points of view so calmly—it can be such a touchy topic!