In America, the idea of co-sleeping is faux pas to the nth degree. Taboo. Don’t do it. Get that craziness out of your mind.
Having been through three intentionally co-slept babies (why does that feel like a confession?!) I now believe this black-and-white advice is actually harmful.
Moms are told that co-sleeping – in all its forms – is dangerous. You’re going to roll onto your baby. Your baby will suffocate. Or be strangled or fall. This fills your head with countless nightmares so of course moms are ashamed to consider co-sleeping. They never prepare to do it safely, and – often – it happens spontaneously, in desperation, at 3 am when their baby won’t sleep alone for more than 20 minutes.
Around 46% of parents lie about co-sleeping with their children (see here) and the stigma associated with co-sleeping causes some parents to deny or avoid discussing it with their family or their doctor. And yet, over half of parents report to have co-slept in some form for a period of time while raising their children (see here). It’s important to prepare parents for safe co-sleeping even if you’re intent on baby sleeping alone.
Before you throw out co-sleeping, review these headers so you at least have an idea of how to safely co-sleep when it’s the middle of the night and you haven’t slept in days. Here’s what was important to us as we prepared to co-sleep:
- Put the mattress on the ground
We fell into this style of sleeping when living in Japan for a number of years, where futons on the floor are common sleeping arrangements. After three babies, we’ve only had one fall off the bed (at 18 months). Having our mattress on the ground made that fall barely memorable.
- Take away excess pillows and choose the right mattress
Choose a firm mattress with no pillow-top or anything too soft for baby. And for pillows, we each got however many we actually use at night. One for him, two for me. There’s no need for any more, and they would only increase risk.
- Simplify your bedding
Much of the worry over co-sleeping is suffocation from mom rolling on top of baby or the bedding covering their face. Heed this advice and make your bedding “crib appropriate.” We nixed the duvet in favor of layered, thin quilts. Our layers included: one top sheet, one thin quilt, and one additional quilt folded over at the foot of the bed, far from baby but warm on our feet.
- Simplify your side tables
No cords, no knick knacks, no excess. Our side tables are light-weight cubbies (see here) with a small lamp and maybe a book. It moves easily and can’t wedge baby.
- No pets in the bedroom
We kicked our cat out of the bedroom, for obvious reasons! Pets in the bed can pose harm to baby by smothering and animals aren’t exactly hygienic for a newborn. They’re wonderful snugglers, but not for babies.
- Learn to side-nurse
I’m a breastfeeding mom, so co-sleeping is wonderful. Having the baby nurse in the crook of my arm while I laid on my side was advice given to me by our primary care providers and turned out to be safe and comfortable. After a few weeks postpartum, all I would do for a night feeding was roll over, switch baby to the other breast, and fall asleep. Baby could nurse as much as he or she wanted and we both slept well.
- Don’t drink and don’t smoke (this includes your partner)
I know, you just went through nine months of these restrictions, but if you’re going to co-sleep, keep it going! Drinking can impair your awareness (no shocker there) and inhibit your sensitivity toward your baby while you’re sleeping. The risk just isn’t worth it!
Smoking lingers on your skin and clothing and can be very harmful on the developing body of an infant. My husband did become a bit of a teetotaler, but because we had discussed no drinking and smoking before going to sleep with an infant, he would choose to sleep somewhere else if he had anything to drink that evening.
- No other children in the bed
This may be tough to enforce if your kids are already used to sleeping with you. Our toddlers or pre-schoolers were never allowed to sleep in the bed where there was a baby. They sleep too deeply and have no awareness about how much they move. My husband usually ends up sleeping with them in their own bed to help with the transition until they are ready to sleep on their own. We start this practice long before a new baby arrives just to make sure they’re ready when they have a new sibling.
The first year of my first son’s life, it was easy to co-sleep because my husband was mostly deployed. I didn’t have to worry about the awareness of my partner while we slept in the same bed with our baby. Now, since our kids are really close in age, I sleep alone with our youngest (I call it my “postpartum suite”) and he sleeps with whichever older kid(s) still need it.
Much of the guidance we followed came from Dr. James McKenna. His book (find it here) was really helpful in learning what safe co-sleeping is and why it should be considered. I also appreciated Dr. Sears’ The Baby Sleep Book (here) and Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Sleep Solution (here).
Co-sleeping isn’t just a list of things to take away from your sleep area. It’s a good, nurturing experience for you and your baby. It’s leads to better maternal bonding, breastfeeding success, and better sleep patterns! Scientific studies have been exploring how it promotes safe breathing in baby and good arousal patterns so they can eat often (see here). It helps you, the mother, survive sleep regressions and nurture baby’s emotional and mental health when it’s not obvious they feel scared, nervous, or unhinged. Although you may not commit to co-sleeping day-in and day-out like we did, don’t neglect knowing and preparing for safe co-sleeping.
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.
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.