Co-Sleeping, Night-Waking, and Growing-Up.

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We co-slept with both of our kids until they decided they were each ready to move out into their own room. Now most evenings Pete and I enjoy having our own bed to stretch out in. That space feels luxurious to us these days. By morning we are sometimes still two, often three, and occasionally four (or even just one), depending on what if any night-time parenting was required before sunrise. There is flex and flow in our sleeping world.

Last night Sage decided to fall asleep in the "Big Bed". (The Big Bed is Pete's and my bed. We casually decided not to call it "our" bed because all of us are welcome there and we want the kids to know that just because they have their own rooms doesn't mean that aren't welcome in ours.) When I crawled in to go to sleep, there was my little boy, all legs and arms sprawled out across the covers.

In the darkness I snuggled in beside him and was stunned by how far his legs reached out from his torso; how grown-up the tempo of his breathing; how Big he has become. In that moment I traveled in time to a yellow house in Baraboo to a tiny boy just hours old (born one floor below) asleep beside me in the moonlight. That night my eyes were wide-open and awe-filled as I watched this tiny person sleep. Perfection in physical form. Smiles flickering across his baby face, eyes darting beneath sleeping lids.

As those early weeks and months of parenthood unfolded, night was not the sanctuary of peace I had anticipated. Sleep was broken, and tears were shed nightly by one or more of us. It was hard. Harder than anything I had imagined. But I held him and danced him and nursed him and did countless deep-knee-bends throughout the night. And he would fall back to sleep, over and over and each morning we would wake together and begin our day.

He was so small. So open. So dialed in to my every vibration and emotion and to those of our house, our community, our planet. I know – heavy, right? But Sage is an tapped-in child. And he feels everything. So many of the children being born today are. And because of that I saw no other option than to keep him by my side, close and safe. His crib down the hall stayed empty and unused until we packed it up and gave it back to its original owner. He told me (as best as he could) to keep him close. So I did.

All babies wake at night.

As parents how we respond to these wakings (or don't) determines if our babies will trust us to be present for them in the night. Our action or inaction determines if they will continue to reach out to us when they are in need. If not they aren't sleeping through – they just know not to ask us to help them.

I chose to have both of my kids know that I was there and I was their mama, no matter what the clock said.

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And now? He sleeps. She sleeps. We all sleep. For those of you who read this through bleary sleep-deprived eyes, up throughout the long, tear-filled nights, know that this too shall pass. Hold them and kiss them and nurse them and comfort them. And then – like magic – one day you'll wake to discover that it's morning and you've done nothing but sleep since you laid your head down in the sweet darkness.

And while you won't likely miss all of those wakings, you might just miss the sight of their tiny perfectness lying in the moonlight beside you, peacefully dreaming.

46 thoughts on “Co-Sleeping, Night-Waking, and Growing-Up.

  1. Deirdre says:

    This sounds so much like our house, right down to the tears (mine) during some of those long newborn nights. We are still co-sleeping with our 20-month-old son who is now down to only one or two wakings to nurse and have a pee. Our girls (7.5 and almost 5) sleep together in a double bed across the hall. But anytime one of them is sick or needing nighttime parenting somehow, we play musical beds a bit until we get a combination that works for all of us. Lovely post – thank you! πŸ™‚

  2. Kate C. says:

    Exactly what I needed to be reminded of today…as I did read this with extremely tired eyes after a long night next to a restless 1 year old…some day, she will sleep! πŸ™‚ Thank you!

  3. Ami says:

    Rachel, I love this post. I have a vivid memory of being all in a row in bed with my parents, and the security I felt in the night knowing i could sneak across the hall and snuggle in. My boys feel this comfort when they wake at night, and Loki (almost 7) now wakes at night, comes in our room, tells me he loves me and needs a kiss, and wanders back to his bed. He chooses not to join us these days, as his instinct tells him that neither he nor the his 9 month old brother will sleep much if we were all in a row.
    Here in Milwaukee, we co-sleeping mothers feel more attacked than ever for our parenting choices, from people looking down their judging noses at us to being called child abusers and neglectful parents. In these sweet moments of reflection on the joys of co-sleeping, I am often pushed to defend my choices, and to explain that co-sleeping is not as simple an idea for some. There are some rules that are hard and fast that must be followed, and the vast majority (if not all) of the “co-sleeping” deaths here in Milwaukee, and around the country, are often not following these rules. We put it out of our minds thinking that these mothers are drinking or using drugs, but in reality it is a socio-economic driven problem, with mothers given neither the opportunity nor the information to co-sleep safely, let alone the resources.
    Sorry for my rant. I wish all mothers (parents) had the ability and knowledge to sleep blissfully and safely next to their breastfeed infants if they so choose. Until then, I consider myself blessed to know what I know and fall asleep with the sweet breath of my baby on my chest.

  4. Lori says:

    Wow Rachel what a beautiful post. I never co
    slept with my daughter who is now 6 but when
    I recently had my sin (who is now 8 months) it
    just felt right. So I followed my mommy instinct
    and let him stay cuddled up on my chest. Now
    at 8 months he still finds his comfy spots and
    cuddles up to sleep with me at night. Yes he has a
    beautiful crib that has yet to be used (as my husband
    points out to me) but in my heart I so love feeling
    and hearing him breath, feeling his arms around me,
    seeing him smile at me when he wakes up. So,
    for now, despite the critics, his crib will stay empty.
    Thank-you for your encouragement.

  5. Lindsay says:

    This post is just what I needed this morning. Not that I’ve ever regretted cosleeping or wanted to be done with it, but I did have a fairly sleepless night last night. πŸ™‚ We bought an extra queen mattress and our bed is now actually two queen mattresses together on the floor. It’s fairly fluid who actually sleeps where. Most nights my three year old starts out in her own bed, but she often ends up in ours by morning and the last couple of nights she’s wanted to start in ours too. Sometimes it’s my husband and the three year old in one and me and the baby in the other, sometimes the two kids in one and my husband and I in the other (though that doesn’t often last as long as he might like these days), sometimes the two kids and I in one, and sometimes we even end up all squished together in one. Your post made me think back to our first night with my three year old, when I tried to put her in the cosleeper we had bought, she cried, and I immediately picked her up and put her on my chest, and then stayed awake most of the night just watching her in awe. We ended up selling the cosleeper.

    I really like that you call your bed the big bed instead of our bed. I think we might have to borrow that too. I want both my girls to know they’re always welcome in our bed no matter their age.

    I found your blog through Deirdre at Continuum Family and really enjoy it.

  6. Laura says:

    I like the “big bed”…we’ve been calling ours the “family bed.” Every night I go to sleep wondering how I could ever put my little one (now 16mo)to sleep in another room. It breaks my heart to think about it, b/c I know I cried myself to sleep A LOT as a baby…sleeping alone in another room. My Mom has verified it, but I truly feel that I needed to be loved and snuggled when I was a baby. I’m glad we can teach our kids to be comfortable in the family bed. The older kids (10 & 7) know that they can come snuggle whenever they need to…they like to snuggle next to their baby sister too, and she gets the biggest smile on her face to wake up next to them. Thanks for being open and sharing about this important wonderful part of parenting πŸ™‚

  7. Sara Adams says:

    This is lovely. Thank you. I was up very early the last two days with both my kiddos. This morning my eldest asked if I could tuck her back into her own bed and I said I would after nursing little sister. By the time I got back to big girl she was tucked in and asleep all by herself. It was sort of a relief and sort of sad at the same time.

  8. Casey says:

    Lovely, lovely post. Our “big bed” sleeps 4 (plus one cat) most nights, too.

    I didn’t plan on cosleeping, but those first nights in the hospital I didn’t sleep. I held my (early) baby and just watched him, not trusting him to be safe anywhere but in my arms under my watchful gaze. At home, the first night I laid him down in a bassinet (at my mom-in-law’s bidding) and just laid there staring, watching him breathe…I couldn’t do it. I needed to physically feel him breathing and safe next to me.

    And that’s where he stayed from that night on. He decided to sleep in his own bed (or at least start there) at about 18 months, as he’s very much into his own space. His little brother will probably be in with us much longer, although the crib is used for naps now that he’s almost one.

    I know I will miss their warm, sweet little bodies next to me…

  9. Jessi says:

    I’ve followed your blog for a few months now, and never commented before. This post really spoke to me! I never co-slept with my first son (preemie with health issues), and now am blessed with a healthy 7-week-old who sleeps best curled around my breast at night. This freaked me out at first (I am a public health nurse and have counseled many women to not co-sleep and/or to do it safely). But Mama instinct is driving me to respond to his request. I am still sleep deprived, but more grounded in the knowledge that we are healthiest and happiest when we are together. Thanks for the beautifully written post that so many of us needed to read! πŸ™‚

  10. Natalie says:

    Lovely. Our 2 1/2 year old has just started sleeping through the night regularly and in his own bed… but some mornings he joins us and his little sister very early for a few more hours of all family cuddle time.

  11. Kimberly says:

    This: “He told me (as best as he could) to keep him close. So I did.” got me. We also have a “big bed” and last night after nursing my 13-month old to sleep I stood in the door, suddenly aware of his size, aware of how far his legs reached and I was shocked. There are moments when I think night-nursing needs to be over, and moments when I nuzzle in closer and am so thankful that it is not. Thank you for the reminder that one day, I will get sleep, and in the meantime, I’ll continue to cherish every moment.

  12. Kim Miller says:

    We didn’t co-sleep with our older 2 but did with our youngest because he made it very clear that being in bed between us was what he needed to feel everything was right with his world. Nothing like feeling his little warm toddler head snuggling in under my chin. They grow so fast.

  13. Rachel Wolf says:

    Ami,
    Hello friend. Thank you for this thoughtful response on so many levels – your childhood, your motherhood, and your political reality with regards to where we sleep. I know that the Milwaukee co-sleeping scene is intense and your reflection that in reality it is a socio-economic driven problem, with mothers given
    neither the opportunity nor the information to co-sleep safely, let
    alone the resources. gave me goosebumps. So true. I talked to a social worker we mutually know and was told that shes not allowed to offer it as an option. What a shame.
    Love you.
    Rachel

  14. Rachel Wolf says:

    Lindsay,
    We were a two-queen or king-twin household (called the Viroqua-King around here) for years. We called the extra one the Magic Bed to make it more enticing for whomever woke in the less desirable one in the morning. More real estate for sleeping is always advantageous to a good nights rest.

    ~Rachel

  15. Rachel Wolf says:

    Meg,
    I thought of you while I was writing this because I know youve had a hard week (on many levels, sleep included). Wishing you sweet, safe, and restful nights with your arms around your wee ones.
    xo Rachel

  16. Rachel Wolf says:

    Kimberly,
    I, too, remember that moment with Lupine when she was 16 months old. I called Pete to come in and look at how very big (and not so baby) she was becoming. Those moments keep rushing in…

    ~ Rachel

  17. KC says:

    Thanks so much for this post! We are co-sleepers as well and for the last two months we have been having all night nursing marathons! It’s becoming a bit draining for me. I’ve considered night weaning, but I’m not sure if it’s right for her or not. I think she is sucking just for comfort. What do you or the other readers think? Thanks again for the inspiration.

  18. MaeKellan says:

    I slept in the family bed until I was about 7-8 and then all 5 kids would jump in the family bed of a morning for snuggles with mum and dad. My husband is very traditional about certain things and in his family children wernt encouraged in to the parents room let alone bed and children were weaned ASAP, so we have found a happy medium for us. We coslept for the first year for both children. With my first I had unwanted conversations with well meaning parents about the problems associated with cosleeping and how I should wake up and breastfeed on the couch so my husband could get a proper nights sleep, stuff the husband I was tired so sleeping with babe just felt normal to me. The kids fall asleep in our bed, their bed or each others bed and we tranfer them into their own when we come to bed. We welcome them with open arms throughout the night and once they are calm or back asleep my husband carries them back to bed and then when they wake at about 6.30 in the morn they wonder in to jump on dad or just for a snuggle before we hop up to start our day. Most of the time nowadays we find that we wake in the morn after a full nights sleep.
    Lovely post Rachel.

  19. Rachel Wolf says:

    KC,
    I so remember those moments of maybe nightweaning is the answer. And for some, perhaps it is. For me, I chose to night wean sage and it didnt improve our sleep scene at all. In hind sight I wish I had not. But I know other who are glad they did. I suppose it just comes down to your parenting style. There were moments with Lupine when I wondered if Id be able to continue night nursing and I did – and with time things settled down. I hope others provide you with some input!

    Best, Rachel

  20. lisset says:

    living in an area where you are better off keeping most of your AP choices in the dark (and then using what feels like key phrases and secret handshakes to talk to other AP mamas) it is so nice to know there is a like-minded community here in cyberspace. thank you rachel. again and again for giving us a safe haven to share this parenting journey.

  21. Kate says:

    I’ve been reading here for awhile but have yet to comment. What a beautiful post! I was to scared to co-sleep with my first son – I remember the nurse in the hospital sternly telling me to never, ever, have a child in bed with you – but now that my second son is here and I feel more versed as a mother we are co-sleeping, and enjoy every second of it. I find it hard to get out of bed in the mornings, not only because I’m sleep deprived but mostly because I love the feel of his body next to mine. Thank you so much for writing about this and being an advocate for co-sleeping mama’s.

  22. Rachel Wolf says:

    Kate,
    We do such a disservice to our mothers and babies with our fear-based education. How about teaching safe co-sleeping strategies rather than what we are offered? I was so blessed with a midwife who gave me the book Family Bed during an early visit after she asked where we thought baby would be sleeping. (Thanks, Gretchen.) And your second is so blessed by the lessons youve learned since then. Hooray for growth, confidence, and love.

    ~ Rachel

  23. Jeannette says:

    I shared this post in my Facebook status and two of my sisters made some sweet comments that I wanted to share here:

    Sister #1: Nettie, what a beautiful post. I literally have tears in my eyes. I love how she said “flex & flow in our sleeping world.” [My husband] and I have often said that “consistency” is over-rated–not consistency in loving, but in having to sleep in a certain place, etc. All humans have different needs depending on the day, the mood, health. I love that the girls have snuggled in our bed off & on throughout the years. They are great sleepers. And now, I’m a little bit devastated that Baby E actually settles & soothes better all on her lonesome. She is so easily stimulated. So she’s close to our bed, of course, but sometimes when I can I sneak her in just to stare at her “tiny perfectness in the moonlight.”

    Sister #2: [Sister #1], those tears flow so easy when we are exhausted, don’t they? πŸ™‚ I loved the post too, what hit home especially to me was the part about her child being “tapped in…He feels everything, etc.” Child #4 was my most intense infant….and he needed to sleep by my side the longest. Only with hindsight have I been able to see how badly he needed that, and am so glad I “smothered” him then……he is still a very intense young man, but we have a strong bond from those beginning years. I may just be a few years older than you guys, but the trend when he was a baby was to let them “cry it out” starting at just a few weeks old, etc. Yay for motherly instinct and not following the latest craze in parenting! …this baby stuff really does go so fast! Enjoy every minute!!!

  24. amy says:

    your beautiful post just helps me believe that i am doing what is right for my son, amidst a swarm of family and friends (whom are good intentioned of course), but seem to have such different opinions about parenting than i.
    i have always done what has felt right in my heart, and what i’ve been able to read in my little love’s eyes. no doctor, friend, or family member can truly no what is right for ‘my’ own baby, only his mama or daddy really know, i believe.
    thank you for letting me see that i am not alone in my thinking, and that my baby needs me, and when he does i will jump to do whatever i can, what ever time it may be, to help any of his many needs. never would i ‘ignore’ his cries or let him ‘cry it out.’ those trendy ways of parenting just seem so bizarre and unnatural to me (despite them being somehow so popular and commonplace in so many households around??)
    im happy i found a commonplace in a beautiful place called clean πŸ™‚

  25. Susan says:

    Of course I’m a couple of days late in reading this, but this post could not be more timely for me. I think my daughter (now 27 months) must be much like your Sage was. She has always woken again and again and again every night since she was born. How many times have I heard people tell me to just let her cry it out. But I decided early on that such a response was contrary to my mothering instincts and would only serve to damage our lines of communication. And I still wake many times a night and roll onto her “big girl bed” (sandwiched between our family bed and the wall) for nursing and nighttime parenting. I am still on her bed nearly every morning. And this week (or the last few weeks) have been extremely trying sleep-wise, and I’ve found myself in tears wondering how long it will take before I get to sleep, REALLY sleep. Thank you, thank you for the reminder that we will all sleep soundly again some day. I really needed to hear that. And despite the ups and downs, I wouldn’t trade my co-sleeping experience for all the sleep in the world.

  26. Kelly says:

    This is so beautifully written and so exactly how I feel about it. You brought tears to my eyes. (Although I’m so tired I almost wrote “tears to my ears”) We are a co-sleeping family and I could never imagine it any other way. It would have gone against all my instincts to sleep separately from my baby, especially when she was so clear that she needed me. When I was pregnant with my second we considered moving our then-two-year-old into her own bed but it was so clear that she still needed to be with us (and still does, at age 3.5), so we just put another double bed next to our king. She is now sleeping through the night, thank goodness, but snuggled safely next to papa, and this helps me remember that we will make it to the other side as I now spend each night nursing my 12-month-old. We make mistakes as parents, but parenting through the night and having a family bed is something I’ll always know we did right.

  27. Kelly says:

    KC-
    There’s no right way to handle this situation, and that’s one of the hard things about parenting, right? I can say that I night weaned my first at 18 months because she was waking every hour to nurse and I could no longer function. It felt like the right decision at the time, but looking back I just wonder if I could have found a more creative way to get more sleep without completely night weaning. And part of me still thinks I did the right thing and that I did need to set that boundary to save my sanity. I guess now that I have my second baby and my first is a preschooler, I am really understanding that “this too shall pass”… and SO quickly at that. I’m savoring the good parts and also finding the good parts about the hard parts.
    So take your time with the decision and listen to your instincts (though they may be hard to find in that fog of sleepiness).

  28. stacy borman says:

    my only babe, just turned 10 and is still sleeping with us most nights – i still savor waking up next to her now long body and beautiful face – the 10 years have passed so quickly

  29. Katie says:

    Rachel- Thank you for this post. It is heartwarming, inspiring, and authentic.

    KC- My little one went through a period of about two months (at about 4-5 months) where she stopped sleeping through the night and woke 4-5+ times to nurse. Once or twice a night she would wake up hungry, but most of the time, she just wanted to nurse for comfort. (It is during this period that we decided to co-sleep. Even my doctor husband was convinced it was safe and what we all needed.) I let her nurse. Sometimes, if I knew she wasn’t hungry and had been sucking for awhile, I broke the latch and snuggled close to her for comfort. Gradually, her night wakings diminished. And now, she’s back to sleeping through the night most nights.

    I have a feeling we will have another few months down the line where she starts to wake up more again. When that happens, I’ll be more prepared- I’ll dial down the business around the house during the day, I’ll ask for help when I need it, I’ll eat nourishing food (including chocolate), and I’ll try my best to listen to what she and I need.

    Letting her dictate the timing was less stressful on me (and her) in the end. I encourage you to listen to your baby and your body. And know that this is a season (which I hope is drawing to a close for you).
    Best wishes!
    Katie

  30. Rachel Wolf says:

    Susan,
    I always wished I could be the person to say We sleep perfectly because we co-sleep. But I cant. Like you, weve had some rough nights. What I can say is what you said so beautifully above. I wouldnt trade it for the world, and there is no other option for me.

    Blessings,
    Rachel

  31. Shari says:

    My babies were in bed with us for the first 3 or 4 months. With my oldest I think it was more my need than his. I was so worried that I was going to miss something or not hear him if he needed me that I just couldn’t put him in crib down the hall. With my youngest it was more out of my need. I knew that he was going to be our last child and I wanted to hold on to those moments for as long as I could. Now that they are 10 and 8 they still want to snuggle with Mom (I love that they do!)and I’m going to hold on to that.
    You also talked about how tapped-in Sage is, My oldest is the same way. He feels very deeply for others. He always seems to know when you need a hug or just an I love you. I hope as he grows and gets older that this is something he holds onto. I hope that he never loses his compassion and love for other people.

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