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5 Ways co-sleeping helped our sleepless infant

Ciara is a freelance writer and blogger. She's an expat, crossing the globe between the U.S. and whatever new country her family calls home every two years. She's intrigued by relationships and shares what she's learning about marriag...

How to successfully co-sleep with your infant — and why we did it

When I was pregnant with my first child, I must have read every book on pregnancy and caring for a newborn that I could find. You think I’m joking, but ask my husband. I was neurotic, and the only thing that seemed to quell my anxiety was more information. I needed books and to talk to other mothers.

In one of the many books I read, it discussed how baby needed a bed — a safe place to sleep — and it stressed how co-sleeping was the equivalent of a death trap for my baby and needed to be avoided at all costs. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against co-sleeping or bed-sharing due to the increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and suffocation. They do, however, advise room-sharing, so I bought a bassinet and asked my husband to assemble it and place it in our bedroom. Problem solved.

Then we brought home our little angel

She didn’t like the bassinet. She’d only sleep when I held her or when I nursed her. So I spent my first week as a new mom strung out on stress and exhaustion, wrapped in postpartum hormones and completely anxious about everything, including how my perfect little angel (as well as my husband and I) would ever sleep again. Without sleep, life is hugely melodramatic.

Babies need sleep. Right? Isn’t that where the phrase ‘slept like a baby’ started? After yet another night of screaming every time I put her down, I nursed her, and then instead of putting her down in her bassinet, I kept holding her. To my surprise, she slept. I didn’t. I was a nervous wreck: afraid to close my eyes for fear I’d fall asleep and that something horrible would happen. Baby, however, slept peacefully for almost two hours at seven or eight days old. I even thought I saw her smile as she slept.

Being a parent is one experiment after the next

As I kept watch over my sleeping baby, I remembered a conversation I’d had with a lactation consultant before I left the hospital. Without knowing it, she gave me the single best parenting advice I never read in a single book. She said, "Parenting is just one big experiment." You never know what they need or want, even as they age. So you have to experiment. Try something new. If that doesn’t work, try something else until you figure out what baby needs.

Since I decided to nurse, I called the hospital’s lactation consultant office the next morning and asked for advice on co-sleeping — specifically whether I should try it. The consultant provided me with a great article about how to do it safely and she encouraged me to try it.

That next night, I tried my co-sleeping experiment. In my fuddled mind, it stood to reason that if baby was happy when she was close to me, she and I could both get sleep if she slept next to me. But I had to keep her safe.

How we made co-sleeping work

We took all of the proper precautions, and set our bed up for baby. I removed all pillows except the two pillows my husband and I used. I even untucked the blankets near baby to make sure she didn’t accidentally get covered.

Since our little one wasn’t even rolling yet and my husband is a deep sleeper, I slept in the middle. Baby slept to my right and my husband slept to my left. I was always conscious of baby, so it wasn’t the best sleep for me, but at that point, any sleep was better than no sleep.

That night, I got my first 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep. The bonus was that when baby woke up to nurse, I didn’t have to move to nurse her. She was already in the right position for breastfeeding, so, I got to say in bed for 12 consecutive hours.

Why co-sleeping worked for our family

I understand that co-sleeping isn’t for everyone. It worked for us because: 

  1. We had the right environment. We have a non-smoking home, a king-size bed and a firm mattress with fitted sheets. I removed all pillows and made sure to keep the baby from under the sheets or blankets.
  2. Our baby was nursing. She woke up regularly to eat; and because we were nursing, both my body and the baby were in sync. I only fell into a deep sleep once, and it scared me so badly I didn’t do it again.
  3. Increased milk supply. Because we were so close together, baby could nurse whenever she wanted. The on-demand nursing in the first two weeks allowed her to establish a great milk supply for the first year of her life, and I didn’t feel like I spent my whole day nursing.
  4. We all slept! It goes without saying that having a newborn is a recipe for sleep deprivation. By co-sleeping, neither my husband nor I was totally exhausted the next morning — even the baby seemed more rested.
  5. Closeness created independence. The baby co-slept with us for about five weeks. By the 6th week, she was successfully sleeping on her own in her bassinet in our room. By her second month, we transitioned her to her crib in her own room, which is where she consistently sleeps.

One year later

We still occasionally co-sleep when she’s not feeling well or just having a difficult night, but at one year old, she sleeps by herself 95 percent of the time.

To be completely transparent, AAP still advises against co-sleeping because even when done as safely as possible, it’s still not 100 percent safe. Baby is safest on her back in a crib or bassinet where she can be closely monitored. Before deciding to try co-sleeping, familiarize yourself with AAP’s rationale, statistics and case studies and talk to a doctor, lactation professional or whatever authority you trust to support your childcare needs.

While I realize co-sleeping won’t work for all families, trying slightly unconventional solutions as long as you take proper precautions to keep baby safe — is worth it. All recommendations don’t work for all babies or all families, and it’s worth doing a bit of trial and error to find what works for you and your family.

What slightly unconventional solution worked for you and your baby?

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