CoSleeping is a pretty hot topic amongst parents and doctors alike. Is it safe? Is it a bad habit to start? Who should and should not cosleep?
Let's start by stating what cosleeping is NOT. Co-sleeping is NOT falling asleep with your infant in your bed, in your arms on the couch, or with you in the recliner. Tossing a baby in your bed out of sleep deprivation desperation is simply that - putting your baby into your bed. It is not safely co-sleeping.
First question - Is co-sleeping safe? The answer is, YES. If done correctly, co-sleeping has actually been proven to reduce the chance of SIDS in infants. How can this be when the media is constantly reporting yet another infant death due to bed sharing? Let's look at this, shall we?
If parents are commited to safe co-sleeping, then they will take several precautions.
1. Remove heavy blankets from the bed. (may mean you have to dress more warmly for bed yourself.)
2. Push the bed flush with a wall in the bedroom - or attach a cosleeper to one side of the bed. (we chose to use a cosleeper.)
3. Do NOT put baby between mom and dad. Baby should be between the wall or cosleeper and MOM. (Mothers are naturally more in tuned with where the infant is in the bed, as opposed to dads who are just naturally not programmed the same way.)
4. Put baby to sleep in your bed on their back - the same safe way suggested to put babies down in cribs.
5. Do not over-bundle baby for bedtime. Your body heat will keep baby much warmer than a baby that is lying alone in a crib or bassinet, and overheating is very dangerous for infants.
6. NEVER consume alcohol or drugs before co-sleeping. Even one glass of wine can significantly decrease your awareness of your infant and it definitely induces deeper sleep. Even common drugs like allergy medications are not okay to take before co-sleeping.
If you follow these simple steps, you are probably going to have a very safe and happy co-sleeping experience.
The next question is one I've been asked a lot: Why start co-sleeping in the first place?
Great question! The answers are varied from one parent to the next. Many parents choose to co-sleep from the start because "it just feels right," or "I just couldn't sleep without my baby next to me." These reasons are very real and wonderful reasons to begin co-sleeping with your new baby.
Some start for health reasons. Studies have proven that when co-sleeping is done SAFELY, SIDs is reduced. How? The baby's breathing and body temperature are all regulated simply by being next to Mommy. If that isn't evidence alone that co-sleeping is nature's way, I don't know what is.
My reasons were different. I started co-sleeping out of pure necessity. Personally, I would have rathered my babies be in the cosleeper beside my bed than in bed with me. I slept better that way. Problem was, my babies never slept better that way.
What new parent hasn't had the experience of finally getting that sweet bundle off to dreamland, only to find that when you put them into bed, the eyes pop open like one of those baby dolls and the screaming begins. I definitely found that to be the case with all three of my babies. The solution, let them sleep with me.
Once I got over the American idea that babies are supposed to sleep alone, and did with Mother Nature was telling me to do, I loved the more peaceful nights! I could nurse my baby lying in bed, and then simply roll them away from me a bit and both of us could snooze happily. Ahh... sweet sleep...
Many have asked logistical questions about co-sleeping. Mainly: Do you always have to go to bed at the same time as your baby if you co-sleep? I want ME time at the end of the day!
Another great question, and again, the answer will truly be - it depends.
Personally, I tried VERY hard to teach my babies to fall asleep on their own or to go to bed at first without me. Then, when they'd wake at night for the first feeding, the co-sleeping would begin. However, sometimes babies (like my second child) refuse to sleep anywhere but with mommy... ever. This can be incredibly exhausting, draining, and frustrating. I know - I've lived it.
With my baby that was this way, it started from birth. We co-slept in the hospital bed his first night out of the womb to stop his screaming from the bassinet. He knew where he needed to be, and he wouldn't settle for any place else. At first I thought it was sweet. In those first post-baby emotions, your newborn can do no wrong. After about two weeks of this, I was already exhausted with it. I just wanted a minute for myself! The truth is, I rarely got it. I know this isn't what you want to hear if you are struggling with a baby or toddler like this currently, but I want to let you know that it does happen to lots of moms and babies/toddlers.. and it also ENDS for us as well.
My little man spent some duration of each night in my bed for his first 3 years. Yes... three YEARS. Trust me, I did EVERYTHING to try to stop it. I did the Super Nanny technique of simply putting him back into bed each time he would get up. It would go on for hours before he would finally fall asleep in his bed. Then, he'd be back up a few hours later. I was determined, so I settled for exhaustion and continued the marathon "put him back in bed" routine for days and days on end. It just would not work for him. We were both exhausted, I was super angry with him, and in the morning I didn't even want to look at him because he had kept me up all night.. again.
Just like with realizing spanking wasn't for me.. I realized this was NOT for me. Not with this child, anyway. I turned to my attachment parenting friends for help. Their advice: put a pallet or mattress on the floor beside your bed and tell him he can sleep there, or in his bed. I agreed to try it, not thinking he would EVER settle for the floor of our room. But, he did! He slept on a crib mattress beside our bed from the ages of 2.5 to a little over 3. Once he hit age 3, he was finally able to transition to his room. He'd spend a few nights a week in his bed in his room, and a few nights still in our room. By age 4, he was mostly in his room and we removed the mattress from our floor. (we talked about how when he turned 4 the mattress would be gone to try to prepare him.)
He did okay with it. He sometimes would cry beside my bed wanting to sleep in the floor, but I'd take him back to his room, comfort him, and he would eventually settle back in for the night.
Now, age 5, he's 100% in his bed. All night - every night. No waking up, no waking us up. Ahh.. sweet sleep.
I will say that he is the only of the three that struggled like this. His baby brother slept through the night before he did. Seriously. When it comes to your children, they are all different and that's why no one technique will work on them all. Some of your infants and toddler - you may have to go to bed when they do for a while. The goal, in my opinion, is to SLOWLY wean them from it in a non-traumatic way.
For Carter - giving him a teeny tiny flashlight worked wonders! He only got to play with it at bedtime. I would tell him that if he'd lay quietly BY HIMSELF, that he could have the flashlight. He'd almost always fall asleep with it still shining - no mommy required. He still sleeps with that flashlight, actually!
Some moms I know swear by sticker charts. There's not even a reward for earning a certain number of stickers.. just the joy of getting a sticker! (it works!)
Somtimes you can just start with, "Lay here by yourself first, Mommy has to do something and then I'll be back." At first, only be gone for a minute or two at most... keep to your word. Then, slowly lengthen the time it takes you to come back until you can say, "Go on to sleep and I'll be in later." This can be a S-L-O-W process. Stay patient and remember that you are your child's only real security in this world. It makes sense that they need you in the scary night.
Co-sleeping can be a parent's best friend if done correctly. Not all kids may need it, but if yours does, I hope this gives you a few pointers on how to start it safely, and how to begin the ending process when you are ready. When it feels like your toddler will truly NEVER sleep alone, keep in mind that it is highly unlikely that your 16 year old will come home one night, toss the keys on the nightstand, and crawl into bed with Mom and Dad. All good things must come to an end... just hang in there!