I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I currently co-sleep with my daughter, Ryley. I have also mentioned that this is not something I ever thought I would do. I know in fact that I said out loud several times that I would never do it. I’m a nurse. I know the laundry list of reasons why co-sleeping is “dangerous” and increases the risk of SIDS and yada yada yada. I also like my own space to sleep. We bought a bedside bassinet. We got the nursery ready for when the baby moved in there (at the time I naively thought this would be a few weeks after birth). I was ready to be a fully committed non co-sleeper.
And we were the first few days home from the hospital. This honeymoon phase was when the baby was still in newborn coma mode and slept for long stretches no matter where we put her (other than that darn bassinet, she never slept on that thing). I remember somewhere in the first two weeks literally bragging to friends that my baby had slept four hours in the rock n’play the night before. What were people talking about newborns being hard at night? Clearly not our newborn. She was obviously a sleep prodigy. I still woke up frequently at night, but for a brief period of time I slept in the bed and the baby slept happily in the rock n’play between feeds.
And then the coma phase wore off. And it wore off HARD. Suddenly our sleeping angel who would conk out for long stretches of time in the good old rock n’play no matter the noise around her, was instead an alert little infant who did not like being put down, at all. If we did manage to transition her to the rock n’play at night, she would inevitably wake up in 10-15 minutes and no amount of shushing and rocking in our arms would get her to sleep again. The only thing that would let her sleep was my boob (aka the human pacifier).
I still was firmly in the non co-sleep camp, but out of desperation one night I nursed her in the bed and then once she fell asleep on the Boppy, I let myself snooze as well (propped up with pillows as well as a little makeshift pillow fort surrounding the Boppy on the off chance our 10 day old suddenly discovered the ability to catapult herself into the air). I slept this way for like three solid nights, which was long enough to absolutely destroy my spinal cord.
So one night after multiple failed attempts to get the baby to stay asleep in the rock n' play, instead of nursing her in the Boppy, I did what a very kind nurse in the hospital had shown me to do when I called her into the room at 3am because I was so physically exhausted that I literally did not know what else to do. I lay Ryley next to me in the bed and nursed her while I was lying down. I kept the blankets far from her face and positioned myself on my side. She fell asleep. I fell asleep. And we stayed that way all night (minus feeds when I would turn her to my alternate side).
That night both the baby and I slept better than we had since she was born. For a couple of weeks I still tried every night to get her to sleep in the rock n’play or pack n’play (why does every baby item apparently end in “n' play”?). And sometimes she would sleep for little stretches, but never longer than 30 minutes. Inevitably I ended up taking her into the bed with me where she would fall asleep quickly into a nursing session and sleep soundly and happily between feeds all night long
Almost three months later and this is still our happy routine. I still attempt each night to put the baby to sleep elsewhere. We do a little bedtime routine with a bath and books. I rock her and shush her in her nursery, turn on the white noise, zip her up in her little magic sleepsuit (more on this in another post), and lay her down in the crib (she naps like a champ in her crib during the day). But at this stage crib sleeping at night does not last long. At most she will sleep 45 minutes to an hour in the crib before waking. Some nights I try to put her back down, but most nights I take her into the bed because let’s face it, we are both tired and fighting her all night is not something I’m ready for at this stage.
However because I work some night shifts and my maternity leave is rapidly coming to an end, I know this will have to change. I am already anticipating a pretty rough week of some kind of (gentle) sleep training so that when I work a night shift both the baby and my husband are able to sleep without me. Our nights together snuggled in bed our numbered. And even though I am now faced with the challenge of transitioning her to a crib, which will be a struggle, I honestly would not take back the last 3 months of co-sleeping for anything. Because:
1. I will never have this much time with her again. I am going to be back at work soon, and even though it will only be part time, I will still be away from my baby for long days/nights. And eventually at some point she will start going to some kind of school or we will have another baby. Life is going to move quickly, and there will be reasons why I will not physically be with my daughter all the time. The last three months, except for little excursions here and there, I have physically been with my daughter ALL the time, even at night. This might seem like overkill to people without children, but if you have a baby I think most people can understand how it’s possible to spend that much time with a baby and still feel like it’s not enough. I am so grateful I have been able to have so much time with my daughter. I am grateful for every minute of time with her, even the ones spent next to each other sleeping.
2. Both myself and the baby have been far better rested than we would have been otherwise. In the early weeks especially people asked a lot about how I have been sleeping, and I think they were probably surprised when I answered pretty well. I honestly have slept better since having a baby than I did the last couple of months of pregnancy when I was waking every freaking half hour to pee. It’s not like sleep was before I got pregnant (I don’t think I will sleep like that again for probably another couple of decades, if ever), but other than brief awakenings to reposition the baby and help her to latch when she’s hungry, I sleep consistently through the night. We both do. I cannot imagine how I would feel and would have felt if I had spent the last three months waking up to a baby’s cries, dragging myself out of bed, sitting upright to nurse, getting the baby back to sleep, again and again every night. I think I would dread nights and spend a huge chunk of my day feeling anxious about the night to come. Instead since I started co-sleeping I look forward to nights. Especially between 4-8 weeks when the baby was at her peak fussiness and days could really be a challenge (some days were spent pretty much either feeding the baby or walking/dancing around the house with her), nights were always a reprieve. At night things didn’t have to be hard or exhausting. Co-sleeping made nights easy, peaceful and actually restful. And because I was reasonably well rested physically it’s made it a much smoother emotional transition. I haven’t had the crazy mood swings or hormonal meltdowns I anticipated. I’ve felt pretty calm and good even amidst the seismic change of bringing home a newborn, and I attribute a lot of that to not being up all night long fighting to get a baby back to sleep.
3. Baby snuggles. There really is just nothing better than when I wake up in the middle of the night and look and see her little face sleeping next to me, the way her eyelids flutter or how her mouth softens so totally in her deepest sleep. Or when it’s morning and she wakes up, blinks furiously, looks into my eyes, and smiles. Some of my happiest moments on this earth have been our mornings together when my husband is off work and before anyone has gotten up or gotten coffee we just hang out in bed snuggling as one big family.
Listen, I do want my bed back in the near future. I know my husband does (we do have a king size bed and he can sleep far enough away from the baby to worry about him rolling on her, dad’s don’t quite have the same instincts as moms about these things). I know that it will be good for her to have a long, uninterrupted night of sleep in her crib as soon as she is ready to give up night feeds. I do not plan on having a “family bed” when the baby is a toddler and can ninja kick me in the face. Soon, very soon, we will have to move her into the nursery in preparation for my night shifts.
I think it’s totally fine if you don’t co-sleep, if the idea seems crazy to you and you prefer to have your baby out of your bed from day one. Like I said that is always how I imagined it would be for me. And I’m sure that works great for a lot of families. It just plain didn’t work for us.
I will be 100% honest, for me a lot of it came down to what was easier at the time, which I’m realizing more and more as a parent is how a lot of decisions are made. So much of having a baby is hard so when something is easy you often just take that route. It came down to needing time to recover from labor and not wanting my nights the first few weeks at home to be these long and exhausting ordeals. It came down to it just feeling right and natural, way more than I would have ever thought possible. I knew the risks and was as safe about it as I could possibly be. I would never in a million years keep her in the bed next to me if I was intoxicated or took sleeping pills or was a crazy heavy sleeper.
There are a lot of choices I will make as a new parent that I will probably regret or at least second guess. Co-sleeping these last few months is not one of them. I fell into this accidentally and unexpectedly, and I have loved it more than I would have thought possible. The nights I have spent with my daughter beside me are nights I would not trade for anything in the world, because I will remember those nights and cling to the memory of them when she is a teenager who thinks her mom is the worst.
I'm a thirty-something mom of two, wife, pediatric RN, and writer with a passion for all the big and little things in life.