By Jaimie, Contributing Writer
When co-sleeping comes up in a discussion among parents, the responses usually fall along a spectrum of opinions. Some parents are all for co-sleeping and completely in support of it, and others are totally against it and convinced it’s dangerous. Still others fall somewhere in between, not entirely sure how they feel about it but not convinced it’s the worst practice, either.
Like many families, we didn’t start out parenthood planning on co-sleeping; rather it happened quite naturally. Our infant son wouldn’t sleep very well when we put him in his bassinet, so I pulled him into bed to comfort him and that night he slept five hours straight for the first time. Once we figured out nursing laying down, co-sleeping made even more sense, so that’s what we do all the time now.
I was a little hesitant about co-sleeping at first because I’d heard it was dangerous, and I didn’t want to hurt my baby! But I did some research, learned how to co-sleep safely, and now we practice it with no worries at all.
If you’re co-sleeping you’ve probably encountered some of the following common concerns people have about it. There are easy ways to address each concern, and you can relieve the worry of your mother-in-law, neighbor, and coworkers with confidence.
Four Common Concerns About Co-Sleeping (and how to address them)
#1: “You’ll never get baby to sleep by himself!”
Unless you choose to practice very extended co-sleeping, chances are you will not have a sixteen-year-old (or even a six-year-old) still sleeping with you on a regular basis. 😉 “Never” is a long time. It is easier to wean baby off co-sleeping by about six months, but if you choose to co-sleep longer you’ll still be able to transition baby to their bed eventually.
One way to ease that transition is to have baby take daytime naps in their own bed (or at least somewhere lying down on their own). We have a “napper” attachment for our portable crib, and our son takes most of his daytime naps there now.
#2: “You’re creating a sleep crutch; it will be hard for him to go to sleep without help!”
And? Most adults need a certain pillow, a specific room temperature and level of darkness, and their own sheets and blankets to sleep well and comfortably. No one denies them those things. A new baby has spent the first nine months of his or her existence in a warm, cozy womb, and suddenly is expected to sleep alone in an empty crib without being held!
Some babies can sleep on their own from the beginning, but many can’t. My two-month-old still prefers to be held and to suck or nurse himself to sleep. He’s a baby: this is completely natural and normal. I would rather give him some help to sleep and have him sleep better and longer, which results in better, longer sleep for me as well. All babies will gain independence as they grow (like the ability to suck on their own fingers) and soon will need less help getting to sleep.
#3: “Co-sleeping is dangerous; you could hurt your baby!”
Only if it’s done unsafely. Co-sleeping is very safe if the parents don’t drink or smoke, if the baby sleeps on his back (or at least his side, such as if he and mom fall asleep nursing), if blankets and pillows are kept away from his face, and if there is no gap between the bed and wall for him to fall into and get stuck.
We have a co-sleeper attachment on my side of the bed, so he can’t roll off there, and when he’s in the middle of the bed there’s nowhere for him to go. Indeed, co-sleeping can often be safer for the baby than sleeping by themselves. I can hear my baby if he’s congested and has trouble breathing, if he spits up, or cries for any reason, and I can help him instantly because I’m right there.
When co-sleeping is done carefully there is virtually no danger for the baby. Furthermore, the original SIDS researcher has explained why bed-sharing per se isn’t dangerous. (Read more facts about co-sleeping safety.)
#4: “But what about intimacy?”
I think many co-sleeping parents chuckle at this question. It’s nice for everyone to be concerned, but “intimacy” doesn’t just happen in bed. 😉 Besides, a soundly sleeping baby will sleep through pretty much anything, and even if they don’t, they won’t remember anything they hear or see. Any parents of newborns need to get a little creative to find time for romance, and that’s no different for co-sleeping parents.
It can definitely be made to work (how else would those parents have conceived subsequent children?). Certainly once a child is old enough to have permanent memories (around age three is the youngest this starts), Mom and Dad deserve their privacy.
For me and my family, the benefits of co-sleeping far outweigh any possible negative aspects. We all sleep better, nighttime breastfeeding is so much easier (I don’t even have to get out from under the covers!), and my baby is continually comforted and calmed by my presence. We love cuddling with Daddy at bedtime and as we wake up, and I love being able to kiss my baby as he falls asleep in my arms. The time we have with a tiny baby is so short and so precious, and for us, co-sleeping is a wonderful part of that.
If you are hoping to co-sleep or if you already do, I hope this will equip you to calm the fears of well-meaning relatives and friends, and give you confidence to make the decisions that are best for your family.