A (longish) note about co-sleeping

The act of putting my 13-month-old son to bed ranks on two of my personal top-five lists. Sometimes I would say it’s right up there with chocolate chip cookie dough hot fudge sundaes and post-workout highs among the things that give me utter pleasure. Other times it ranks somewhere among Spam sandwiches and scrubbing out toilets on my things-I-try-my-best-to-avoid-at-all-costs list. Fortunately for both me and my son, we have more ice cream/endorphin-ranking kind of nights. And, I have to say it’s nice to be presented more often with a sundae when you’re fearing a meat (?) product with a gelatin glaze. (To my dismay, I ate Spam quite a bit when I was a kid, and I still have nightmares about that mysterious gel).

What going to bed looks like for us

On a good night, Jacob eats a solid meal, lets me clean his teeth and gums, doesn’t put up a fight when I’m changing his diaper or his clothes, and smiles when I lay him down and put the pacifier in his mouth. (Yes, he still uses a binky to sleep—I was a little opposed to it at first, but it settles him better than anything). Then, I lie down with him; he snuggles close, wraps his tiny little arm around my neck, and drifts off to sleep within five or so minutes. After I’ve gotten a good dose of cuddling, I slip out of the room for a couple of hours to revisit my task list until it’s time for me to hit the sack myself.

Other nights are far more painful. Some of the challenges are him refusing to eat beforehand (and then being famished and restless as my husband or I struggle to put him to sleep, only for him to wake shortly after and want to eat), doing everything in his power to keep us from cleaning his teeth and/or changing his diaper and clothes, or playing, exploring the bedroom, or just crying inconsolably instead of going to sleep. (Just in case you missed it, let me re-share a link to a new book I find hysterical that reminds me of how I sometimes feel at such times: http://www.amazon.com/Go-F-Sleep-Adam-Mansbach/dp/1617750255#_. Make sure to preview a page from the book—you won’t quite get the essence of it until you see a few lines of the masterpiece. Oh, and a word of caution: if you are anti-curse words, then don’t bother clicking on the link…wouldn’t want to offend anyone.)

Why isn’t our son sleeping in a crib?

It’s funny because my husband and I never even considered pulling my stepson, Jackson, into bed with us. Ever really. When Joe (husband) and I got together, Jackson was just a bit older than Jacob. But, he was a totally different type of toddler. Among the many differences, Jackson always slept very well in his crib. We could put him in there when he was awake, and he would drift off to sleep on his own for three-hour naps or twelve-hour nights. The idea of having him sleep in our bed never came up.

In fact, when I was pregnant with Jacob or even for the first few months after his birth, if someone had asked me if I would consider having Jacob sleep in the same bed with us, I probably would have said, “why would I do that?” That all changed when I went back to work.

Jacob had been a good sleeper for the first few months of his life. He was easy—I put him down in his bassinet around 7 or 8PM, pulled him out when he woke to nurse around 2 or 3AM, and then put him back in again until he awoke around 6 or 7AM. That worked for my entire maternity leave….but, then I went back to work full time.

Suddenly, we were separated from each other for 9, 10, sometimes even 12 hours at a time on the days I taught aerobics right after my day job. All at once, Jacob had no interest in going to sleep or staying asleep during the nighttime. He wanted to nurse all night long. He would do anything he could to be close to me…probably because he never saw me during the day. It was amazing how much he would fight sleep when I put him in his bassinet. Then, he would wake soon after and cry until I nursed him. And, the cycle would repeat again, and again, and again until I was hardly sleeping at all. The night I threw in the towel and pulled him into bed with me was the first night we both slept a solid 6 hours. And, after he woke to nurse and I turned on my side so he could get his early morning meal, we slept for another 4. Since that night, we’ve never gone back to sleeping apart. Jacob now sleeps 11 to 12 solid hours each night in our bed (without nursing.)

Cost and benefits

One annoying thing about co-sleeping (one of the terms used to mean “babies or kids sleeping in their parents’ beds”) is that mommy or daddy has to sort of be on call all the time. When the kid is safe within a crib, you can worry a little less. For instance, I’m typing now to the white noise of the video monitor next to me. I glance over every few minutes to make sure Jacob’s still on his side or tummy and not on all fours crawling toward the edge of the bed (well, what’s left of my bed at least, now that the frame is removed. It’s really just our mattress with rails we added so he doesn’t roll off. Unfortunately, Jacob can pull up on the rails and flip over them–not safe at all.) We also have a gate at our door so he can’t get out of the room.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, we have to be there when he falls asleep. This means my whole night gets pushed back sometimes (more than if I were putting him in his crib at a certain time and expecting him to fall asleep on his own). And, yes, once we’re all in bed, having a child between mommy and daddy pretty much squelches any potential for intimacy in the bed (although my husband and I have devised our own plans for saving our sex life, which I’ll spare you).

The upsides are: like I said, I work five days a week and go to the gym (my stress prevention and relief) a lot in the evenings until close to Jacob’s bedtime. Through the week, I hardly feel like I see him. So, I really cherish time to be close with him at night. Plus, most nights everything works out well. Once he’s asleep at 7PM or so, we don’t have to worry about him, except to keep the monitor on high volume, so we know if he were to wake. Finally, we all get a great night’s sleep (in spite of the occasional kick in the stomach or bonk on the head.)

Co-sleeping, bed-sharing, sleep-sharing, whatever you want to call it, it’s what we do. And, some people think it’s weird or that we’re spoiling our little one because of it. Maybe. I think it’s more simple than that: it’s just making everyone happy and finding a way we all can get a good night’s sleep. And, apparently, in most cultures around the world, babies sleep with mommies. Regardless, it’s what works for us. For now at least. Just thought I’d share.

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Posted on June 13, 2011, in All about Baby and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. When I put Jacob down the other night, it was so hard to get up again! He also cried when I got up the first two times… He’s just so sweet and cuddly. [I did sort of miss the days when we could put him down with the pacifier and walk away knowing he’d be asleep in minutes.]

    I think you should also mention that if Jacob slept in his nursery, you would have to go THROUGH Jackson’s room to get to the crib. So you hear Baby cry on the monitor, get up, go down the hall, through your step-son’s room and *then* pick him up? Not this baby! By then he’d be hysterical! Completely impractical.

  2. Aw! He puts his arms around your neck. That is such a cute cuddle moment. Cherish it, ’cause you know they grow up so fast.

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