Co-sleeping is a term that is used to describe parents sharing their bed with their infant. It’s nothing new, it’s been done since the beginning of time and many cultures even have a family bed where everyone in the house sleeps together. Today it seems like most parents think a crib is the place for their new one to sleep but it definitely isn’t necessary and they may be unaware of the many benefits of co-sleeping. Co-sleeping was widely practiced until the 19th century when the idea of giving babies their own bedroom came into place. Cribs were designed to keep the baby safe while not being supervised, since parents were in a separate area of the house. Co-sleeping seems to be a little more popular lately as part of the attachment parenting concept. Many parents just realize that it makes life easier, definitely a plus the first few months after their infant is born.
All humans benefit from physical contact especially newborns who have spent 9 months growing inside their mother. They want to be close to their parents and most enjoy sleeping in the same bed. Compare that to being alone down the hall in a barred crib and it’s safe to assume babies would like to be near their mom and dad. A co-sleeping infant will not need to scream or cry out in the middle of the night when they are afraid or hungry. They feel safe knowing where their parents are and may wake slightly when they need something but are quickly soothed as no one has to come get them. Less crying and frustration means a bigger trust in their caregivers and their world.
The convenience factor is one of the biggies for parents, especially new moms. Many believe that once you have a baby your nights will be sleepless and you will be up all hours caring for your newborn. This does not have to be the case. If you are co-sleeping you don’t even have to get out of bed. A quick, quiet change of the baby’s diaper if necessary and then nursing to sleep is easy. And after the newborn period, most babies can stay in the same diaper all night so comforting them is as easy as turning on your side and latching them on to breastfeed and you both can fall back asleep in a matter of minutes. When you have to wake up, turn on lights, walk down the hall and pick your baby out of the crib to be changed and fed it’s a much longer drawn out process. This scenario also tends to lead to a more fully awake infant who does not get back to sleep as easily. This is especially true if lights turn on and noises are made.
Co-sleeping is extremely helpful when you are breastfeeding. Like I said, it’s as easy as turning to your side and sleeping tummy to tummy so you can fall back asleep while your baby nurses. With all three of my babies I did not have nights where I didn’t get enough sleep because of them being awake and hard to comfort. If I had to get up and fully wake up, sit in a chair and feed them until they were done then it would have been a different story. Especially when newborns tend to wake every 3 hours, sometimes even more frequently, blocks of uninterrupted sleep would have been impossible.
Even if you have to bottle feed your baby, co-sleeping would still be an advantage. If it’s possible you could have room temperature water in a bottle and add powdered formula when it’s time for a feeding. This would eliminate the need to get out of bed. Of course you’d have to sit upright and hold your baby but I imagine falling back to sleep is easier if you don’t have to move around much. The closeness and bonding of co-sleeping is a life long benefit.
There are ways to have your baby near by and not necessarily in the same bed as you. You can buy products such as a co-sleeper made by Arm’s reach which allows your baby to sleep in a bassinet that is attached to your bed. This means when they awake you can simply reach over and scoop them up and feed them until they fall asleep. The downfall of this is that it will mean remaining awake until your baby is asleep so you can put them back in the bassinet. I would guess that many parents intend on using a Co-Sleeper but end up actually co-sleeping for most of the time. Thus the piece of baby furniture ends up being a very expensive night stand that holds blankets, clothes and diapers. Another alternative to the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper is to side-car your crib if you have one. This can be done by making the mattress the same level as your own bed and taking off one of the side rails. You attach the crib to your bed and it’s the same idea as the Co-Sleeper only the rails are higher and it’s level with your bed. The Arm’s reach co-sleeper has a ridge that gets in the way so there is no possible way to actually nurse your baby while they are laying in it, you must pick them up and bring them into your bed.
So how do you co-sleep with your baby safely? A firm mattress is better than a plush one, and less bedding is better. Keep your baby away from pillows and don’t put the comforter over them, at least not while they are still really small and unable to move themselves around. Many co-sleeping parents place the baby between themselves to keep from worrying about falls. Some may place their mattress directly on the floor so that the drop is just a couple of inches and as the baby becomes mobile they are able to get on and off the bed themselves. Don’t overdress your infant. Co-sleeping babies get the added benefit of their parent’s body heat so they will usually be warm enough in just a diaper or lightweight pajamas. Make sure there is not any space that your baby can be trapped in, between the wall and the bed or the mattress and the headboard for example. Also never leave baby alone in an adult bed, even surrounded by pillows a young infant can fall off or get stuck somewhere. It’s not a good idea to co-sleep if either parent is an extremely heavy sleeper or has been drinking or using drugs that can impair their judgment. In normal situations your instincts will keep you from rolling over on the baby or hurting them while co-sleeping but only if you are sober and aware of what’s going on. If you are co-sleeping with a toddler and a newborn it’s better to keep them separated, because a toddler won’t realize how they are moving and should lay on the other side of a parent instead of right next to the baby.
There are many benefits to co-sleeping; however it’s not ideal for every family. It’s definitely worth a try though, and some may share a bed for part of the night, on occasion or during certain timeframes. It’s whatever works best for your situation. I do think spending hundreds of dollars on a crib can be a waste and the money could be better invested in a bigger bed that the whole family will benefit from.