There's no shortage of unsolicited advice out there for moms, especially when it comes to the topic of sleep. Unfortunately, the people giving it don't necessarily consider all the things they don't know about the intended recipient of their advice, which is why most of that advice goes in one ear and out the other. That's definitely what I did with most of the unhelpful co-sleeping advice I've heard since pregnancy and, honestly, I'm much better off for it.
Personally, I’m a pretty poor sleeper. (For the record, I was sleep trained, so before the co-sleeping haters descend: not co-sleeping is not a guarantee of solid sleep down the line. Turns out, our lives are shaped by more than the decisions our parents make when we are babies. Who knew?) It takes me a really long time to fall asleep, and if something disturbs my sleep I'm screwed for hours. By the time I manage to get sleepy again, it’s almost certainly time for me to wake up. So having to endure crying every couple of hours, every single night — even if my partner was the one who actually went to handle our son — would make it impossible for me to get decent rest. I prefer not dying in a fatigue-related accident to not co-sleeping, so that's my choice.
Like everything else with parenting, choosing your family’s sleep situation involves trade-offs. You have to do as much research as you can and figure out the best, safest way to balance your priorities and needs with the practical realities of your specific situation. Unfortunately, there are folks out there who think that what they believe, or what worked for their family, must be the One Right Way™ for all families. (Even worse are the people who don’t even have kids, who nevertheless feel compelled to share all their parenting non-wisdom with the rest of us.) For my own sleep and sanity, I'm glad I tuned out the following advice (and admonitions).
“Don't Co-Sleep, Because You'll Ruin Your Relationship…”
Actually, I'm pretty sure being an angry, sleep-deprived zombie would threaten my relationship more. My partner's pretty open-minded and all, but the whole bleary-eyed, resentful thing really isn't a good look for anybody.
“...Or Your Sex Life”
Waking up to cross the room or walk downstairs to nurse my crying son every two hours or so, and being chronically exhausted, cranky and resentful as a result, doesn't exactly strike me as as aphrodisiac. Fortunately for me and my partner, we realize sex doesn't necessarily have to happen in a bed, or at night.
“Don't Co-Sleep, Because Your Kid Won't Learn To Sleep”
Nobody has to “learn to sleep.” They may have to learn to sleep alone, or learn how to settle themselves back to sleep, but those are skills I can choose to help him learn when he's older and developmentally more mature, and better able to be reasoned with.
Contrary to popular belief, babies don't need to learn to do everything for themselves immediately after birth, or be doomed to never learn these skills at all. It's OK to sleep train babies if that's what works for their family, but it's not mandatory.
“Night Wean As Soon As You Can”
I totally get why some folks night wean, especially if their child is mostly comfort nursing but not really eating. However, for me, the ease of dreamfeeding is part of the appeal of co-sleeping (and particularly bed sharing). Some kids need a lot more food than others, and my son appears to be one of them. He just eats all the time unless he's sick or teething, and I'm not trying to mess with what's working for him unless it really starts to become a problem for the rest of us.
“All Babies Need To Be Swaddled To Sleep”
I'm not sure why, but there are some folks who believe that things like swaddling are mandatory for babies, when they're really not. Swaddling can be dangerous while co-sleeping, especially if you're bed sharing. It was also totally unnecessary for us, because as long as he's close to me, my son has no trouble falling asleep.
“Get Rid Of All Your Blankets”
Some folks have gotten a little overzealous when it comes to safe co-sleeping tips. It's good to get rid of some unnecessary blankets, and make sure that there are no heavy blankets that a baby wouldn't be able to bat away from their face. However, you don't have to shiver all night on a totally bare mattress in order to co-sleep or bed-share safely.
“Have Your Partner Sleep Somewhere Else”
Nah. There's no reason to force your partner out of the bed on an ongoing basis. That may happen incidentally from time to time, because sometimes older babies and toddlers are extra squirmy and partners without sleep-inducing boobs decide to chill elsewhere.
However, there's no law that says moms can either sleep with their babies or their partners. That's not a thing.
“Don't Co-Sleep Because You're A Danger To Your Baby”
I am not a heavy drinker, a smoker, a waterbed, a chair, or a couch. So no, I'm not putting my child at high risk by co-sleeping.
“You Should Still Sit Up To Nurse Your Baby During The Night”
Why do the unsolicited advice givers always suggest things that make life less convenient? Laying down and dreamfeeding — also known as not needing to fully wake up to feed the baby — is basically the best night-feeding arrangement when it's possible. Sitting up or sitting somewhere else would not only be less convenient than dreamfeeding, it could increase our risk of falling asleep together somewhere far less safe than our bed, like a chair or a couch.
“Don't Co-Sleep Because You’ll Spoil Your Baby”
I still don't know what, exactly, people mean when they suggest babies and toddlers will be spoiled by any of a number of gentle parenting choices — co-sleeping included. As far as I can tell, my child is not a vegetable or any form of dead meat that needs refrigeration.
Beyond that, there doesn't seem to be a clear, agreed-upon definition of what it means to be "spoiled." But whatever. As long as we're all well-rested and well-fed, all the folks in my family are fairly friendly, pro-social people, co-sleeping toddler included. That's all that matters, in the end.