I’m pretty sure there’s a cosmic rule in parenting: If you preface any statement with “I will never, ever, ever…” before you actually have children, your chances of doing that thing increase exponentially. I had a feeling this was the case when I was pregnant, and by that I mean enough parents told me “never say never” and I had enough sense to believe them. So I kept my “never ever ever” list to a minimum: I only had two. The first was “I will never, ever, ever spank my children.” (So far, so good there.) The second was “I will never, ever, ever co-sleep with my children.” That one has failed spectacularly. Like, really and truly gone down in flames.
There are a couple definitions of co-sleep here, so I feel like I should clarify: Some people define co-sleeping as keeping the baby in your room with you in their own sleeping area; a crib or a bassinet, for example. Some people define co-sleeping as attaching a separate sleeping surface to your own bed so that the baby is directly beside you, but still in his own little bed. But when I talk about co-sleeping, I use it interchangeably with “bed sharing,” where your baby sleeps in the same bed as you. OK, now we’re all on the same page.
Anyone who has ever visited a message board or online group for pregnant women or new moms could tell you that this is a particularly contentious debate. (Of course, what subject isn’t a contentious debate on the Internet, especially on mom boards, right?) Some people speak in praise of co-sleeping benefits, including better sleep for mother and baby, its role in encouraging breastfeeding, and even new research that suggests that co-sleeping helps protect against SIDS. Others will tout the importance of encouraging independence from day one, maintaining a separate space where parents can be by themselves, and associated risks posed to the infant while co-sleeping, both physical and emotional (more on that in a bit).
I used to be in the second camp. Like, vociferously in the second camp. I was convinced that the only people who co-slept were hippies who used their babies as crutches for their own weird emotional issues. (I didn’t say I was particularly nice about being in the second camp.) Then I had a baby, and I figured out I could sleep waaaaaaaaay better if I just brought him into bed with me. Then I realized, “Oh. This is why people do it.” Of course, that realization came with a little bonus of ,“Aww. It’s nice to cuddle up with a baby.” So that’s how I became a co-sleeping mom.
I kept it to myself at first, but eventually word got out and I found myself answering a whole lot of misguided questions (which is definitely karma for what an a**hole I had been about the subject in the past).
“Aren’t You Worried You’re Going To Smother Her?”
So here is one question that I don’t make annoyed faces when people ask, because it’s a completely legitimate concern. It’s also a big reason I had initially said I wouldn’t co-sleep. To be clear, the fine people at the American Association of Pediatrics recommend not co-sleeping because of potential risk factors. I’m actually really not being snarky for a change—the AAP is a great organization and they have some great points, even on this issue. Chief among those very real risks are co-sleeping on unsafe surfaces, such as a couch, waterbed, recliner, or bed that is up against a wall since in each of those cases, a baby could roll and become wedged between the two and suffocate; and co-sleeping while you are intoxicated or on medications that cause increased drowsiness (which is why I didn’t co-sleep until I had finished my course of sweet, sweet painkillers after my c-section). Other risk factors, including loose bedding, pillows near the baby’s face, matress not being tight enough against either the headboard/frame of the bed or crib, or an overly soft sleeping surface (fleece blankets or particularly cushy mattress) are risks that could potentially exist in a crib as well. In short, there are safe and unsafe ways to co-sleep.
On a less scientific note, in my experience, mom sleep is just way different than normal people sleep. You always basically have a sense of where your baby is in your bed. Every mom I know who has tried co-sleeping, whether or not they do it regularly, agrees with me here. (I said it wasn’t scientific.) I realize this argument may sound a bit like, “Actually, I drive better when I’m drunk,” to the skeptics, but there is evidence that natural selection has maintained an alertness in parents sleeping with their children that would cause them to wake up if they were to roll over on their infant.
“Aren’t You Worried You’re Going To Smother Her… Emotionally?”
I mean… no. How exactly can you emotionally smother an infant? It’s not like she’s yearning to have wide open space of her own; Up until pretty recently, she was living inside of me. She’s a baby, not a pioneer itching to take her chances on the Oregon Trail. She’s mainly just interested in sleeping and being able to eat whenever she wants, which is best accommodated by co-sleeping.
“How Do You Have Sex?”
Same way many people do, I’d imagine, only sometimes we do it in places that aren’t our bed. Also sometimes in our bed, when our child is sleeping in her crib, bassinet, rock-n-play, swing, or pack-n-play (yes, believe it or not, co-sleeping parents use more than one option when it comes to baby sleep). Also also, who the hell has time to have all that much sex when they have a new baby? Not to be a stereotype here or anything, but, logistically speaking, it’s not the co-sleeping that’s our biggest bone-blocker, ya know? It’s the baby who saps us of 94% of our energy and who inevitably wakes up from a deep sleep the instant we decide to use that precious 6% on sexy times.
“Aren’t You Worried You’re Creating A Monster?”
Worried?! Who doesn’t want to create a monster?! What kind of monster are we talking about here? Like Frankstein’s Monster? The Loch Ness Monster? Cookie Monster?! Is she going to be the kind of monster I can get to do my dark bidding? That would be great; so much more cost effective and fun than hiring a personal assistant.
For real, though, even if I were worried about this (which I’m not), remind me how this affects you even a little bit? And from the experience of having co-slept with two children and successfully kicked them both out of bed at 10 and 13 months respectively (which is when my husband and I found it to be more annoying than convenient), I can assure you I did not feel they were turned into monsters by the experience. Every parent’s journey on this can be different, but personally speaking I found it pretty easy when the time came. And if a parent is struggling with kicking a kid out of the ol’ family bed, how does this judgy “question” really help them out? Keep it to yourself, people.
“Aren’t You Concerned That You’re Making Her Co-Dependent?”
You mean the child who depends on me to feed her, carry her around, put her to sleep, keep her safe at all times, bathe her, dress her, comfort her, burp her, and wipe her ass? That child? Oh you’re right: the co-sleeping is going to make her totally codependent.