Taking a Second Look at Co-Sleeping

I was just about 36 weeks pregnant and had just finished a hypnobirthing practice in preparation for labor. I was in our bedroom on this peaceful afternoon. My mind had been cleared.

And then I panicked.

Crap. I still don’t know how we’ll sleep our baby!

The thought had been looming over my head for months. I knew what experts said about suffocating or strangling your baby. My goodness, I was as jarred as any other mom would be by that warning. But I was still internally conflicted. I couldn’t justify putting my baby over there when I was over here. This makes no sense. He’s inside of me. I haven’t even met him, yet I feel so close to him. My gut was telling me the exact opposite of what pediatricians everywhere were declaring. That’s why I was panicking.

What do I do?!

I called a friend and she calmed me down. She helped me realize my conflict was because the advice I was hearing was contradicting what I knew to be right. That my intuition was screaming at me and that I needed to listen. That the advice from others was so jolting because it was based on fear, which is not how I wanted to begin motherhood.

Intuition is one thing and gets discredited with dire consequences. But the experts make a point based on data and experience. There are instances of these awful accidents occurring. So: which one do you listen to? Real facts or nameless intuition?

I listened to both.

I don’t necessarily think anyone is declaring this, but co-sleeping is not evil. It has been getting a bad rap only in recent history, and only in the West. Co-sleeping is how mothers slept their children since the dawn of man. Around the world, the majority of people and cultures still co-sleep, and it’s the norm. We don’t tend to see it often in the West, because the West predominantly uses cribs or bassinets to sleep their children. I’m not going to make an argument that these containers are wrong, just that my intuition can’t be far off if it is leading me towards a path that has been trod before by SO many mothers.

But to avoid becoming another tragic statistic, I read, and read, and read. I read Sleeping with Your Baby by Dr. James McKenna (see here). I read about his mother-infant sleep research and his advocacy for the family bed. I read The Baby Sleep Book by Dr. William Sears (see here) and about his (albeit informal) observations of his wife sleeping with their baby. How she seemed to regulate baby’s breathing with her breathing, how she roused when he stirred, and seemed to have this 6th sense sort of maternal awareness.

I read about how to safely co-sleep, namely:

  • Moving our mattress to the floor
  • Forgoing our cozy down comforter in favor of thin, breathable layers (thin quilts and knit blankets)
  • Ditching our excess bedding and throwing unneeded pillows in the closet
  • Kicking our cat out of the bedroom overnight (sorry, Lord Byron)
  • Simplifying our nightstands: no cords, no extras, books and lamp only (they were also light and simple, like these, and moved easily to avoid dangerous crevices).

Putting this all together, there is a balance between listening to the experts and heeding their warnings while also following your gut and heeding your intuition. Settled and committed to co-sleeping, my husband and I didn’t even buy a crib, because I knew we’d never use it. Five years and three kids later, it turned out to be the right choice. In some of our living arrangements, I’m not sure where we would’ve even put it!

This all made me realize, though, that there is a clear and marked difference between prepared co-sleeping and spontaneous co-sleeping, which is dangerous. Spontaneous co-sleeping is when accidents happen. I believe those accidents can be avoided if we stop this trench warfare between medical experts and crunchy millennial moms. If all a pregnant woman is told prior to labor is to never, ever co-sleep, she will never, ever research how to safely co-sleep. She will write it off as something that she will not do – until her baby is two months old, and she hasn’t slept for more than three hours at a time and she knows all she needs to do is lay down on the couch and just close her eyes for a second… what is a mom to do? We demonized all forms of co-sleeping from the beginning and now she doesn’t have the tools to know how to respond in this situation. She ill-prepared and ill-equipped to fulfill the needs of herself and her baby.

Am I crazy or is it a GOOD desire for baby to want to sleep mom, and mom to want to be with baby? I don’t know why we don’t use our logical brains to create more BOTH AND solutions, rather than suppressing our natural instincts. Making this decision for myself and my family felt like power. I’m MOM: I get to be the one who decides these things based on the information I’m given. Because I care the most. I have the biggest investment. And I’m going to know this baby and our family better than anyone else. I have a brain and a gut instinct and both of those matter.

So: off I went 3 weeks later to the labor and delivery ward in active labor. I had our beautiful baby boy and when I got my baby care tips talk from the discharging nurse and she told me under no circumstances was I to co-sleep (I hear some hospitals have contracts now), I nodded and smiled. I didn’t need to hear again the fear-based ideology from someone not raising my child. That’s what we gut-following-despite-external-advice moms learn to do from the beginning.

Then, I went home and exercised safe and careful co-sleeping with my newborn.

And I enjoyed it. I felt balanced. Physiologically and hormonally balanced.

And my son never had to cry. I was always there for his early cues.

And he nursed around the clock and grew beautifully, yet I did not feel drained.

And I maximized my sleep in a phase I was far from family and sometimes my husband (#navylife).

And the cat continued to be mad. But I digress.

I know co-sleeping isn’t popular, and I myself have felt the need to keep it under the radar to avoid the awkwardness of others’ opinions. But I think we need to talk about it. I know the family bed and other versions of co-sleeping aren’t for everyone. Totally. Awesome. I get that. But more moms need to know that it’s an option. I hope to write more posts in the near future, including:

  • Research on SIDS and co-sleeping (Is there any? I’m going to find out!)
  • More on safe co-sleeping and how to prepare your bedroom
  • Parental concern about kids learning independence. This is the concern of many: if my kid sleeps with me all the time, how will they learn independence in sleep and in life?

What else should we be discussing?

How does Marabou support women?

We live in culture where “bouncing back” is more valued than proper rest. As admirable as it may be for a sports star to get back on the field, the same rules don’t apply to postpartum recovery. The traditional resting period has been stolen from women through pressure to get back to their job or simply through lack of presence.

Grandmas, sisters and best friends who otherwise would have been there to help a woman transition into motherhood often live too far away to be of any help. Household chores and caring for older children inevitably fall on the mom. But she just delivered a new life! She needs rest. 

Marabou Services is a unique gift registry which provides services instead of stuff. Most mom’s get too many onesies, too many baby blankets and not enough helping hands. Break out of a destructive cultural norm and start a Marabou registry today.

Start a Marabou Gift Registry!

With a Marabou registry you can sing up for any service which will benefit you or someone you know during the postpartum recovery period.

Postpartum doulas for a first time mom

House cleanings for moms of multiples

Childcare for moms with older children!

Once your registry is created, add it to any other registry or post it to your Facebook and ask friends and family contribute to your postpartum service, rather than buying you more stuff.

More and more moms find they have to figure out postpartum alone. Is it any wonder why PMDs are on the rise? Or women are embittered by the journey of motherhood? We can change that by giving the gift of peace.