Co-sleeping. One of the most controversial parenting topics out there. My beliefs about family sleeping arrangements have shifted several times since I became a mom. I understand the push for babies to sleep alone, in a crib, on their back. I get it. And I’m sure we can all agree that as parents, all we really want is what’s best for our children and our family.
But what happens to families like ours, whose babies REFUSE to sleep like that?
Both of my children could be completely asleep in my arms, but the second their body touches the mattress they’re screaming. It’s hard for a mom like myself to believe that there are actual, real babies out there that are totally ok lying on their back in a crib and sleeping for long periods of time. If you’re a mom with a child like that, please email me immediately about how and where you obtained your magical powers.
And yes, I’ve tried the cry-it-out method, even though it goes against every fiber of my mom-being. I actually feel some jealously towards mom’s that take a hard stance on this and let their kids scream for a couple of nights until they’ve learned to sleep in their own bed. We’ve tried in times of desperation and it just hasn’t worked for us.
I sought advice from our pediatrician multiple times about the collective lack of sleep in our household, especially when our babies were too young for any kind of real “sleep training.” I totally admire and respect our kids doctor, but I was disappointed by usual platitudes, “just keep trying” and “eventually this will get better,” and the lack of real, personalized advice.
Those words are hard to hear, and frankly not very helpful, to a mom that literally hasn’t slept longer than an hour at a time, for WEEKS. I was getting by on a level of exhaustion that I didn’t know was humanly possible before having children. (And I use the term “getting by” very loosely..) If you’re a mom out there, reading this because you are exhausted and desperate for answers, I’m sharing my experience because of you. I don’t have the answers. All I can offer you is an uncensored account of our experience to let you know that you are not alone.
Plenty of parents are doing things their own way, but we’re still so secretive about children’s sleep habits. Friends would tell me in hushed voices about how they slept with their newborn on their chest, or how their toddler wakes up at 1 am and cozies into bed with them on a nightly basis. It made me realize that we’ve all been led to believe we must be doing things wrong.
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With our first child, it took me a total of 5 weeks to admit that what we were doing wasn’t working. I was routinely in tears by 5 AM from the lack of sleep the night before. Multiple times my husband had to be late for work so that I could squeeze in a couple of precious hours of shut-eye before I could manage to start my day.
One morning, I’d had enough. I took a couple of pillows, a receiving blanket, and our baby, and marched to the living room. I set myself up on the couch with pillows under my arms, put the baby on my chest, and strapped her to me with a receiving blanket across her back, tucking it under my arms. Then we both immediately went to sleep. And we slept, and slept. For 3 hours to be exact. When we woke up, I felt more refreshed than I had for my daughters entire life so far.
Ok, this may not have been the best idea. When you’re beyond exhausted, it’s obviously not the best scenario to be co-sleeping with your baby. But gradually I became more rested as we continued to sleep this way, sometimes for the entire night. She was right there when she wanted to nurse, and then we’d both fall right back to sleep. It also granted us lots of skin-to-skin time. As she got bigger, we transitioned her into another sleeper that kept her at an incline, and eventually she was ready to sleep in her crib.
When our son was born, I wasn’t about to mess around with spending weeks trying to get him to sleep in ways that didn’t seem natural to me. With 2 kids now, “sleeping when baby sleeps” was no longer an option (as if it ever really was…). I spent three months, THREE MONTHS, sleeping in the living room with our boy. Same technique as before. I’d strip the little guy down to a diaper, prop myself at an incline on my back, and secure him to my chest so he couldn’t slip to the side. This was a beautiful thing, because it salvaged the sanity of our entire family. My kids need me. My husband needs me. And I need sleep. If I had been as sleep deprived as I was the first go-around, our house would have likely crumbled into a pile of rubble.
Sleeping in another room also allowed for my husband to get solid sleep from the get-go. Fortunately, he is more than willing to get up at night with baby, but that only goes so far when mom is exclusively breast feeding. Instead of us both being chronically exhausted, my husband was rested and had the energy necessary to wrangle both kids while I napped during the day, slept in on the weekends, etc.
Co-sleeping with my son was precious because it bought us a lot of one-on-one time. If you have more than one child, you can relate to the amount of mom-guilt that comes with splitting your time and attention between kids. No matter what I’m doing with one child, there is this nagging feeling that I’m failing the other one. When our first was born, I spent five months nursing her, snuggling her, staring at her. (I held her while she napped for a solid 5 months. Some of you think this is crazy, but I have absolutely no regrets about it.) Then our son came into the world, and our daughters reality was shaken. While I think this is a gift in the long run, it’s painful to tell your 2 year old that she has to wait her turn for your attention. And even worse, it’s painful to yank your sleepy, nursing newborn off of your chest to tend to your toddler. There were days that our son ended up with more breastmilk on his forehead and in his eye than in his mouth. Sleeping with him on my chest, skin-to-skin, gave us hours of time together that were just about him.
Our son is 7 months now, and we have yet to achieve a full night of uninterrupted sleep. He sleeps for a couple of hours on his stomach in his crib, and at some point in the night I move him into the same sleeper that his big sister used that keeps him at an incline. He still wakes up several times every night to nurse. Sometimes he goes right back to sleep, and sometimes it takes effort. It’s far from perfect, but it’s where we are right now.
So far our kids haven’t slept with us in our bed, but I can’t say for sure what the future holds. I can tell you that I feel strongly about the fact that our children are only little once. While the idea of sleeping a solid 8 hours a night in a kid free bedroom sounds incredible right now, if they have a bad dream or need to feel close to mom and dad, I will never turn them away.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t listen to the advice of professionals. They have education and insight that is invaluable. But we have to do things within reason to keep our children happy and healthy, and to safeguard our happiness and sanity as parents. Hearing about the struggles and strategies of moms I trust gave me the courage to make the changes I needed to make for our family. It probably won’t be perfect or pretty, but you got this, mama.