A note on bedsharing

I read several articles and books on how to teach your child to be independent. Some said to put your baby in the crib from day one because you should start that as soon as possible. Many parents I’ve talked to felt they could not sleep with their baby in the room and therefore put them in their crib right away. One thing I have learned from being a mother so far is that you have to trust your instincts. What is right for one is not necessarily right for the other. The first nights after we brought Nate home were terrible for me and I could not properly identify why other than the obvious sleep deprivation and general shock of being thrust into the world of parenting literally overnight. In the hospital while Nate  was in the bassinette I felt nervous and anxious watching him all alone. I felt like it was so wrong that I wasn’t holding him. We tried the crib the first night home and I did not sleep at all.

We moved him into a cradle next to my bedside and this did satisfy my need for closeness for a week or two, but I still felt so much anxiety. I barely slept. I spent the wee hours of the night dodging infomercials and knew exactly what time certain channels switched from regular programming, jumping to the next. (NBC is an infomercial-free zone, by the way, and has news on as early as 4 am.) Finally, after a few middle of the night breastfeeding sessions I accidentally fell asleep during and woke up to a clearly healthy, breathing and not smothered or fallen victim to SIDS baby, a light went off in my head. Bedsharing was the answer for me. I felt very guilty at first like I was doing something wrong. When people asked how I was sleeping, I sheepishly tiptoed around the fact that “Nate sleeps next to me” meant quite literally, next to me on the bed and not next to me in a bassinette.

When Nate was about a month old I enlisted the help of a lactation consultant to help with what turned out to be an overactive letdown/oversupply issue (which by the way is still an issue today). She asked about my sleeping and night nursing habits and I admitted that sometimes I may or may not let him sleep in the bed with me. To my surprise she seemed very excited that it was the choice I had made and told me she coslept with her children. I breathed a sigh of relief. She gave me this link to safe cosleeping guidelines, which pretty much summed up everything I was already doing. Even the position I naturally assumed, snuggling up to Nate with my arm outstretched above his head and legs drawn up below his feet, was what was suggested. I truly believe there is just a natural and evolutionary desire and inherent knowledge on how to safely sleep with your little one. It is a protective position that reminds me of any animal you’d see on a documentary protecting its young. I imagine for thousands of years humans slept with and guarded their young in this way.

While I know SIDS is a very serious issue, I am slightly perturbed at how much it is sensationalized in every new mom book/package I received from the hospital. Even in the hospital room I was so frightened by all of these warnings that I constantly stared at Nate in the bassinette terrified that he had suddenly stopped breathing because his receiving blanket was too tight, too warm, too much in his face, etc. Even though the primary SIDS risk were mostly common sense, something about these pamphlets kept making me feel like no matter what I did to protect my baby he would almost certainly stop breathing in the middle of the night and there was nothing I could do about it. Okay, so maybe some postpartum hormones and stress had something to do with that irrational interpretation, but still it was quite frightening for a first time mom.

I won’t lie, I do feel a lot more comfortable sleeping with Nate as he gets bigger and more “sturdy”. It’s purely a mind trick I’m sure, because obviously whether he is 7 lbs or 17 lbs, rolling over on him would hurt him. But logistically I don’t understand how I would be able to roll forward on him in the position we sleep in. I would have to “run over” my arm and onto my usually full breasts (I struggle to even lie on my side without tilting slightly toward my back to take pressure off of them) before I could even get to a point where I would be able to hurt him.

The benefits of bedsharing have far outweighed any nervousness I may have had initially. Nate struggles with napping during the day and as frustrating as that is, I will gladly take that issue over a night sleeping issue. From the time he was born, he never fully wakes at night. Being next to him, I always hear his first hunger whimpers no matter what point in my sleep cycle I’m in, and I am able to either offer him a breast or warm up a bottle of breastmilk and get it to him before he ever cries or wakes up. For weeks, regardless of what is going on with him developmentally, he consistently sleeps until 7:15 or 7:30 every morning. It’s amazing how well he sticks to this schedule. For me, that is priceless. My husband and I both sleep better and so does Nate.

The couple of times I have attempted to transfer him to crib sleeping, it did not end well for anyone. And it makes complete sense to me why that is. The first three months of a baby’s life have been referred to as the “fourth trimester”. An extension of the world of pregnancy where mother and baby are one. To me it felt completely unnatural and shocking to create too harsh of a separation between us. Each night Nate is the last thing I see. Any time I wake up I can hear the soft ins and outs of his breathing and it is music to my ears. In the early morning after my first pump of the day, I drift off for my last short stretch of sleep before he wakes up to his soft sighs, mms ahhs and squeals. I can smell the intoxicating sweetness of his hair and skin. I can’t even describe the comfort and happiness I feel the times he’s hungrily scooted toward my chest and buried his face in my breast. He’s all about subtlety.

Bedsharing is the right choice for us. The people we talk to will have their opinions and will agree or disagree, but in the end this is what feels right for us. I’ve read that the cosleeping arrangement can go on as long as all parties involved are okay with it. As long as all three of us sleep better at night with this arrangement, I can’t possibly argue with it.

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