Since the day we brought my Pie home from the birthing center, we’ve been a co-sleeping, family bed, hippie-dippie family. For us it’s what works. I’m a vocal advocate of co-sleeping, because I like it and because people are afraid of it. If it were considered more acceptable in our society I wouldn’t bother talking about it, but I think people are afraid to admit they do it, or are afraid to try it, so I’m going to talk about they whys & hows of my family bed.
I don’t have a lot of time for research to make a super informative post, since I have a 4-month-old wiggly worm, so I’m going to talk about my bed. I have done some reading, but I can’t lend specific citations from memory to the post.
Before we had the Pie, I bought a crib, because babies need cribs, right? And then I started thinking about how cumbersome it would be to have to wake up, get out of bed, go in the other room, and get a screaming babe out of her bed to calm her down before feeding her. I figured that it would be a lot easier and faster if Babe was with us. But I was scared about sharing a bed – what if I rolled over on her? What if a blanket got pulled over her face? What if she fell off the bed?
Some kinds of co-sleeping are quite dangerous, others have been practiced around the world, safely and in fact more safely than the baby alone in another room, for all of human history. That’s over 2.5 million years. And if you think about it, what other mammal sleeps with it’s young so far away that they cannot hear the baby’s breath? Human babies are also neurologically the least developed of all primates, the most susceptible to apneas and irregular heart beats, and are unable to wake themselves from deep sleep if they encounter a physiological problem.
Bed Sharing not really recommended by the AAP, although they do recognize benefits to (safely) co-sleeping babies such as a lower incidence of SIDS, more regular heart rates and breathing, increased levels of growth hormone, and less full awakening for everyone.
Being an INTJ I wanted facts. And lots of them. So I sought out some resources which I pored over. You know, back when I had time to read anything. I read sections on sleep in the AAP baby book, in the Baby Book and Baby Sleep Book by Dr. Sears, I read about co-sleeping in Penny Simkin's book Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn. I got lost reading online, and finally found James McKenna's book Sleeping with your Baby. Being a trained archaeologist, the daughter of a pediatrician and generally a skeptic, I needed to read medical, anthropological, opinion, and scientific information to feel like I was getting the whole picture.
If you don’t have time to read all of these books but want information, Dr. McKenna’s website has a page of interviews and lectures that you can watch/listen to.
I wanted to be close to my baby, to be able to check on her throughout the night by just peeking through sleepy lids. I wanted to be able to feed on demand without having to get out of bed, put on a robe, schlep down the hall, get her out of her crib, settle her down, feed her, get her back in bed, encourage her back to sleep, then get back in bed and try to get back to sleep myself – just to do it all over again in 2 hours. I wanted my baby to have all the physiological benefits of being close to my body – breathing and heart rate regulation, and my ability to wake with her before she wakes fully.
And there’s a bonus. Occasionally I wake up to check on her, and I see her sleepy lids, barely open, showing her pretty blue eyes already checking on me.
I found it hard to sleep early on – but as I got used to her movements, grunts, whistles, breathing, kicks and farts I was able to sleep through the un-important noises and movements. I realized that I was able to wake to feed her before she was fully awake – I learned her pre-waking hunger cues (for my Pie, it was shaking her head back and forth) and respond to her needs before she was awake and having to alert me. Later, I found that I almost always wake up moments before she does for a feeding. It took me a couple of nights to realize that this was a good thing, and that this was connected to my Pie’s sleep patterns. Initially I thought I was waking up to roll over, and then as soon as I got comfortable, she would wake up to eat. Ugh! And then I realized that I was so cued into her needs that I was somehow, magically, waking up just moments before she needed me. Radical!
So here’s our bed life, and how we co-sleep.
When we first got home, we pulled a futon mattress onto the floor, grabbed a pillow and a sheet (it was August when we brought Pie home) and a swaddle, and slept. We chose to sleep on a mattress on the floor because we were concerned about Pie rolling off our bed, which is nearly waist-height on me. I recognized that having the Pie so high off the ground, as we got used to sleeping with her, could be a danger.
We began co-sleeping with the Pie on the outside of the mattress, away from Daddy. Partly because I was fairly certain I could sleep with an awareness of my baby’s position next to me but was unsure about my Mountain Man’s ability to be so aware while asleep. Also, since the futon mattress was just a Queen size, we were able to take the space we needed without the concern of Daddy rolling an arm over her.And a note – we let our cat sleep on the bed with us, since he prefers the Mountain Man to me, he’s always slept on Daddy’s side. He sleeps by our feet or by Daddy’s chest, but never by my chest. “Uncle Bugg” was scared of the Pie, and never went near her on those early days, so we figured it was safe. As he’s gotten more used to her he will poke his nose curiously toward her occasionally, but he’s never ever slept near her.
We slept on that futon mattress on the floor for a month, until we got a co-sleeper from a friend. We hooked it up to our bed and moved into the big bed. We didn’t really get the co-sleeper with the intent of putting her in it, but more as the insurance that if the Pie somehow moves off the bed she will fall into the co-sleeper, just an inch or two below bed level, rather than hit the floor, feet away. Right now the co-sleeper houses our bedtime stories, a box of tissues, and mama’s book.
Now that we’re in the big bed, my Pie sleeps between us, at least to start, but on my side of the bed. We still swaddle her most nights, and I get in bed with her, nurse her, and then read books until she drifts off to sleep with her neck resting on my outstretched arm. This serves many purposes – her sleeping on my arm allows me to awaken to her movements (shaking her head was her pre-waking hunger cue), allows her some skin to skin time in bed (I sleep in a t-shirt) allows me to be alerted if Daddy crosses over into our territory, and gives me somewhere to put my arm.
When she’s asleep, I either stay in bed with her for the night, or slip away to finish cleaning the kitchen, to blog, to read, or to finish getting ready for bed. I’ll crawl back in bed with her and slip my arm back under her neck, so that her neck is in the crook of my elbow. This also ensures that Mama and Babe lay claim to 75% of the bed. Bugg takes up the lower left hand side, and Poor Old Daddy gets about 8% of our king-size bed. For a guy who’s nearly 6’ 5” that’s not a lot of space. Poor old Daddy.
I sleep on my side mostly, with my body curled around my Pie. Her feet against my quads, her head resting on my arm, and sometimes my other arm over her, tucked around her bum. Then when I need to turn over in bed, I just flip over and take her with me. We’re always face to face that way. I don’t feel comfortable with my back to her, ever.
If I want to sleep on my tummy, I lift her just enough to get my arm out from under her, settle her on her back rather than her side, and put my other arm next to her face. This protects her from rolling onto her face (my arm stops her) and it allows me to still feel her movements while she’s getting some skin-to-skin. This position is usually short-lived, but it works when it’s how I want to sleep.
I really don’t plan on putting her in her crib to sleep anytime soon. She does spend some time in there, when I need to go downstairs to do the laundry. There’s a fun mobile hanging above the crib that she loves to watch. And even if she never sleeps in that crib, it turns into a toddler bed.
If you’re dedicated to co-sleeping, I’ve read many places that people don’t bother buying a crib, but instead spend the money up-sizing to a king size bed. Please don’t try to co-sleep on a couch or in a recliner, or on any pillow-top surface or in a bed that the baby can fall off of or become trapped on/in. Please don’t co-sleep if you’ve been drinking or doing any kind of drug that impairs you or makes your sleep altered, prescribed, OTC, legal or otherwise. Please co-sleep with the minimum of pillows and blankets, and wear something warm enough that you don’t need the blanket up to your neck. Please don’t prop your baby up on a pillow. If you cover your baby, please cover from the waist down, and tuck the blanket around her. Please learn about safe co-sleeping, and then enjoy it.
There are many ways to co-sleep, whether in the same room, in a co-sleeper, or in a family bed. For me, a family bed is the only option. We do it safely, without excessive pillows and blankets, without ever going to bed drunk, without fear and with lots of love.
And we’ll do one of those “how do you – you know – do it?” posts another time.