When CoSleeping Means NoSleeping

Cosleeping out of desperation

What percentage of families who co-sleep are happy about it? Put another way, how many made the conscious parenting decision to co-sleep BEFORE their baby was born? And how many weren’t able to get baby to sleep anywhere else and thus “decided” to co-sleep because they had no other option? I don’t actually have an answer. But I know that there are lots and lots families sleeping with babies in their bed who never wanted them in there and are worried about getting them out.

Not Everybody is Happy Co-Sleeping

A brilliant episode of Raising Hope recently dealt with co-sleeping and sleep training. And since baby sleep so rarely shows up in popular culture (babies and sleep have the sex appeal of a fax machine) I thought I should take this chance to pause and enjoy.

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Favorite Quote: “We always let him come into our bed. All the way to junior high school. The only good part was that I was never late for work again. Nothing motivates you to get out of bed like the sight of your 12-year-old son’s morning wood.”
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I live in Vermont which is the mecca for everything attachment/organic/hippy parenting: co-sleeping, nursing, cloth diapering, making your own baby food from local organic produce, etc. Don’t come to Vermont if the sight of a woman wearing hand-made hemp shoes, snacking on local artisan cheese, and proudly nursing her 5-year-old is a problem for you.

Vermont families like to co-sleep for life and I’ve met many parents who currently sleep with all of their children like one big pile of puppies. They’ll tell you about how their first child never wanted to sleep in the crib so they just decided to embrace it. I’ve never quite figured out how they managed to produce subsequent children in that bed full of kids (theory: the shower gets lots of action) but they do and they’re happy with it and thus so am I.

Sort of.

And so I close my blinds and whisper furtively as I admit that….I’m not a big fan of co-sleeping. In fact I’ve worked with many MANY families who are co-sleeping out of desperation. Who never wanted to do it in the first place. Who don’t know how to get out of it. Who may even feel a bit resentful about it.

Let me share with you some actual conversations I’ve had with parents over the past few weeks:

“Our baby started sleeping with us when he was 2 months old because it was the only way anybody was getting any sleep. Now he is 5 and he’s the only one happy about the current sleep arrangement.”

“My husband felt our baby should sleep with us. But I can’t sleep with him on the bed. So I’ve been sleeping on the living room couch for the past 8 months.”

When Co-Sleeping Keeps You From Sleeping

Co-Sleeping Doesn't Work for Everybody

“We put our baby to bed in his crib but when she wakes up at midnight the only way we can get her to go back to sleep is if we bring her into our bed. My husband can’t sleep with her so he moves into the guest room for the remainder of the night.”

“My 6 month old daughter can only sleep latched on to my breasts so she literally nurses all night long. My back is killing me and my nipples are sore, but what else can we do?”

Is Co-Sleeping Right For You?

I don’t know if co-sleeping is right for you. But I do know when it is WRONG for you. If you are thinking about bunking up with baby, first consider these simple rules for co-sleeping:
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  1. The vote must be unanimous.

    Everybody must be 100% supportive of co-sleeping. A single “no” vote means that it isn’t the answer for your family. Sleeping in the guest room/couch counts as a “no” vote.

  2. If it’s not safe, you don’t do it.

    Your bed may not be a safe place for your baby. If you aren’t prepared to make an honest appraisal of the risks of co-sleeping then it’s not for you. Are you or your partner obese (let’s face it, 34% of us are)? Is anybody taking prescription medication or drinking? Smoking? Was your baby born extremely premature? Is your bed a safe environment for an infant (hint: if there is a 90 lb dog also sleeping in your bed the answer is “no”)?

  3. Agree on the end-date before you start.

    Are you in it for a few weeks or do you expect your child to sleep with you when they get home from the prom?

  4. Have an exit strategy.

    Kitties get stuck because they climb the tree without thinking about getting back down.

  5. Nobody makes good decisions at 3 AM.

    Everybody – EVERYBODY – has that horrible night where they pull their newborn baby into bed out of simple desperation. It’s totally OK. However if you’ve made the long-term decision to co-sleep out of desperation in the middle of the night, it’s probably not the right decision. Big decision + desperation + 3 AM = bad decision.

  6. Everybody needs to get enough sleep.

    Sleeping like a pile of puppies is fine as long as everybody is actually sleeping.

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Still ready to go ahead with co-sleeping? Then pick up a copy of Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Co-Sleeping by James J McKenna, PhD. This is a very PRO co-sleeping book and I don’t agree with everything in it. There are some glaring omissions. Like the book never discusses how to get OUT of co-sleeping (perhaps the assumption is that you’re signing up for life?). However it does have a comprehensive chapter on co-sleeping safety which is the best I’ve found.

Over the next few months I’ll be writing more on:
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  • Co-sleeping and SIDS
  • When and how to stop co-sleeping
  • Co-sleeping and the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP)
  • Problems solved and problems created by co-sleeping
  • Don’t judge the successful co-sleepers

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{photo credits: A.A and Karen Roe}