Co-sleeping can be done safely. Let me say that again: co-sleeping can be done safely. In fact, when done properly your bed can be a safer place to sleep than a crib according to some studies. Dr. Sears notes, "…one independent researcher examined the CPSC's data and came to the…conclusion that sleeping with your baby is actually SAFER than not sleeping with your baby (see Mothering Magazine Sept/Oct 2002)."
Yes, despite what you have heard, co-sleeping offers many benefits both mother and child.
My point is this: educate yourself, and then find what works for your family. Fear is no replacement for education, so do some reading and then make your own educated choice. Both you and your baby deserve as much.
There are two wonderful websites I encourage you to visit as you embark on bed-sharing for the first time. Dr. Sears lays out the guidelines (as well as the facts about how safe it really is to co-sleep) in this fabulous post (note that the co-sleeper is optional). Also Dr. McKenna at Notre Dame has years of data as to how mother and child share sleep to the benefit of both on this site as well as the basics of doing it safely. No, falling asleep together on the couch is not co-sleeping. Nor is it safe. But tucking in beside your child in an appropriate bed is, if you do it right. And it's easy to do it right.
Indeed, mothers (and fathers) have bed-shared with their infants and children since the beginning of time. It's only natural. You are not an inherient danger to your baby. Learn the basics of safe sleep-sharing.
Below is a reflection on co-sleeping that I wrote last year. Enjoy.
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.
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.