Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Co-Sleeping For Dummies

Since we came back from England Anna has been sleeping in her own bed.

Some of you are probably reading that thinking, yay Anna, the big girl bed! You rock little snoozer.

I’m sure others of you are going I’m sorry what? She’s almost 3 for crying out loud, when were you going to kick her out of that nest? Maybe at 16 when hosting a sleep-over and she was forced to admit to friends that they'd have to share with her parents?

Then there are probably some people thinking, ‘wait, I googled homemade surfboard, what the hell kind of website is this? A Mommy Blog? Aaah, my eyes! they burn!

So yes, co-sleeping a brief family history:

Not long after we brought our deliciously fresh pink baby back from the hospital we realized that we could either:

A: Not sleep at all by putting the creature in the torture-chamber of hell known in baby circles as a ‘bassinet’.


B: Get quite a lot of sleep by sharing the bed with the tiny but all-powerful scream-machine and simply rolling over to boob her whenever she dared utter a squeak. This worked so well that I would frequently wake up in the morning with only the vaguest memories of having fed her, but with one boob the size of a watermelon and the other flapping in the wind. Not an easy look to pass off at work a few hours later let me tell you, but so completely worth it.

Things were going fairly well for a while. We were new parents, we were definitely getting more than our fair share of sleep, and then I started going to a parent support class. A group that seemed (in my insecure mind at least) to be solely designed to tell you YOU'RE DOING THE WRONG THING! Of course they don't say it like that do they, they say 'wow, and that's working for you is it?', or 'well, that's brave!' Then of course there was the couple we nanny-shared with for 2 years who said 'oh my God you POOR THINGS!' To which I mumbled 'actually, it seems to be working pretty nicely for everyone'.

"Oh you POOR PEOPLE, I really CAN'T IMAGINE, I would just DIE'.

So parenting guilt led me to try having Anna sleep in her cot/crib and many hours of crying and mid-night waking later she was more or less used to it. She'd still wake up at about 3-4am and scream to be put in our bed, but that's par for the course right? Parenting Nazis. Anyway, we were practically normal, with a child who to all intents and purposes slept in a separate room. Until a few months later when we got the mother of all stomach flus, every ounce of internal fluid making a simultaneous bid for freedom. We were all so sick we literally couldn't get down the stairs to the kitchen. For 2 days. For that 48 hours of hell, we all fought death in the same bed watching the same Hannah Montana marathon on the Disney channel because we were too sick to find the remote. After that we were back to square one with the creature sleeping in our bed.

Co-sleeping is almost the parenting dirty little word. Conjuring up images of slovenly parents lacking in discipline. Which of course is true(!) What strikes me as strange is the number of people who are doing it, but mostly on the quiet. Of the friends I have with young children, well over 50% have or have had their children sleeping with them. They all graduated to their own beds without fuss well before the age of 5, why is everyone staying in the closet?

The main concern is that children become dependent on you to sleep, that they lack the ability to 'self-soothe', and while I'll admit that 'I need Mummy's hair' has been an oft-repeated sleepy refrain she has made the transition to sleeping in her own bed with very little fuss at all. She barely even questioned the move, seeming to accept it as the natural order of things. Quite honestly we had to face the alarming truth that we were just as dependent on her presence as she was ours. The overwhelming comfort of being able to reach out and touch her in the middle of the night, to know she was safe - particularly in an earthquake zone - the soft sweet smell of her downy head. We were rapidly becoming the ones that needed weaning.

Overall I would say co-sleeping has worked very well for us. At first we were worried we'd roll over and crush her, but as with most parents, we were so alert to her presence, to any half-uttered cry or fart that forgetting she was there was never an issue. It was also easy to keep her away from duvets and pillows that might suffocate her, as she was born mid-summer in California. It was a life-saver on our three trips to the UK, as jet-lag and sleeping in a foreign bed was made much easier with her being comforted by us being right there. Plus, when Anna sleeps, she sleeps like the dead. If she thrashed around a lot, I'm sure co-sleeping would never have taken off.

We decided to wean her when the logistics of having two tall adults and an increasingly gangly toddler in a Queen size bed became overwhelming. Too many knees and elbows, and quite frankly, butts, in a bed. One of us had to go. Then came the time when LK and I were doing some dozy half-awake spooning only to have her march into our room, sandwich herself between us and declare 'no, I go in the middle!'

Admittedly, we still wake up in our bed at 7am with her often sleeping soundly between us, both of us oblivious to her having snuck in in the wee hours.

That's fine with us, as long as she stops before she goes to college of course.


Expatmum said...

Oh what a beauty! I must say I could never have mine in the bed. I can barely sleep when the Ball & Chain is around but my kids all have sharp, craggy toe nails and they always used to end up with their feet on my back!

Anonymous said...

Good for you! We never set out to be co-sleepers, but found that it works out very well for us. Cooper now starts the night in his own bed, but migrates to ours some time after midnight. Maren will go down in her crib, but more often than not goes down in our bed. I hear so many people talk about how co-sleeping ruined their marriage and sex life . . . we got pregnant 3 times in 3 years (and even manged to sneak it in a few times and didn't get pregnant!) The kids will leave our bed when they are good and ready . . . or when they leave for college - which ever comes first.

Tranny Head said...

God I just KNOW you're going to get lots of troll nasty comments about how cosleeping sucks and how dangerous and terrible it is.

I do it too - and really wish I'd found out how great it was sooner! It's SAVED ME SO MUCH SLEEP. And frankly, if I'm well-rested? The baby and I are BOTH a lot happier during the day. I just wish I'd known to do it first before struggling and failing with bassinet and crib.

Brace yourself for the nasty comments . . . I'm sure they'll come.

Eden Kennedy Onassis said...

We've never managed to keep Jackson out of our bed for very long and he's now almost (gasp!) seven. This weekend's plan is to take apart his bunk bed and lower it so the dogs can get in and comfort him at night instead of us. Wish us luck. (We still love having him sleep with us for all the reasons you mentioned, but it's time.)

Lucia's Mom said...

Good for you writing this post! It's true, it's a dirty little secret, almost everyone does it but people get so much grief from other people that they don't admit it. We were totally against it until I was delirious with lack of sleep with a 3-week old preemie and realized, like you, I could nurse practically while I was sleeping and was totally aware of her while I slept, somehow. I wholeheartedly agree with the comment that it's easier to travel if you are flexible to co-sleeping. Sometimes they just don't have a crib available. We are kind of in the middle of the road, she always starts in her crib but usually comes in our bed for her first feeding (when she was a baby) or for that last hour of sleep (when she was 1) or for about half an hour of cuddling and playing while we doze half-heartedly (after she turned 2).

We're going to try switching her to a big girl bed (mattress on the floor) this weekend. Getting too big a belly to lift her out of the crib, plus we'll need it back by September!

ExpatKat said...

When I had my first two, co-sleeping was all the rage (and I'm not that old!) But that was the UK for you. All of ours were breastfed in our bed when they were tiny and moved out when the time was right for them. The Little Guy seemed to stay put until around the age of 6 or 7. To me it seems natural, it's part of the bonding experience.

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