I was very drawn to the Attachment Parenting style while pregnant. I read The Continuum Concept, had multiple Dr. Sears books and was looking forward to many cozy nights with my new bundle of joy snuggled next to me in bed. Well, even though those first few weeks were dreamy, sweet and cozy, I would absolutely never do it again and for one single reason: sleep. That’s my entire post, in a nutshell. You can stop reading if you’d like because this entire post is about sleep, or lack thereof. If this post helps only for commiseration purposes for the sleep-deprived mamas out there, I will be happy. If this post helps give you an idea of how to get better sleep with a new baby, major bonus! (Bear in mind, I am no sleep expert. I would even say I am the expert at how to NOT do it, which is why I am writing this post). Disclaimer: This post is for parents out there that value sleep and need it to function like a normal human being. If you co-slept and your baby woke you up every night for years and you never had a problem with it, this post is not for you and you don’t need to comment on how wonderful that experience was for you. You probably also had a completely painless, all-natural, two hour, intact perineum, unassisted water birth. You don’t need to comment on that, either.
These are the reasons I will never co-sleep again:
- Babies are noisy when they sleep. It doesn’t mean they need help. It doesn’t mean they need to be attended to. It doesn’t mean they need to nurse. It does, however, wake you up. And make you think they need help. And need attending. And need to nurse. Even if you don’t help, don’t attend and don’t nurse, you’ve just been woken up for no reason. This is an absolutely unnecessary disturbance in your sleep which is already being disturbed with legitimate night-feeding awakenings. Clearly, if the child is in a bassinet or co-sleeper next to your bed (or anywhere in your room), you will still experience this, so co-sleeping cannot fully be blamed for unnecessary sleep disturbances.
- Paranoia. Of baby falling out of the bed. Of baby being buried in the blankets. Of dad rolling over on baby. If you are co-sleeping, or planning on it, you are most likely aware of all the safety requirements surrounding this practice. Regardless of how safe you create the environment, you will still wake frequently in the night to check to make sure baby is safe. I remember that every time I rose to semi-consciousness during sleep I would pass my hand over my baby’s face to make sure no blanket had made its way over him. This paranoia created an extra challenge to getting any quality of sleep in the already challenging sleep situation of frequent night feedings.
- Too-frequent feedings. By far the biggest problem with (and main benefit of) co-sleeping is the ease with which nursing takes place, and works like a charm to get the grunting baby to settle back to quiet sleep. Notice I said grunting baby. Maybe this is just me personally, but every time he would start grunting and sniffling and squirming, I’d pop in the boob. Back to quiet sleep he would go. But he probably didn’t need it. Not as often as I gave it, anyway. This created a pattern in which every time he would fuss a bit and move around, he would need the boob to settle himself back to sleep. He may have just been moving around in his sleep! Heck, I move around in my sleep all the time! But my too-quick participation in his sleep kept him from learning the most valuable sleep lesson a baby can learn: how to settle back to sleep without help. He may have been able to do it on his own, but I just was too inexperienced to realize I needed to give him time before responding to his movements and noises.
- Being afraid of fussing or crying. Since I have a husband that shares my bed and has a full-time job, I became concerned about him being woken up at night by fussing and crying. This also was a contributing factor to the too-frequent feedings that I just discussed. I was afraid to let the baby work it out because I didn’t want his fussing and potential cries to wake my husband. In your house, you may be afraid of the baby waking up an older sibling. Whatever the case, there is great incentive to jump in to attending the baby when the baby may not even need it.
- Environmental disturbances. This one just seems so obvious, but it never crossed my mind. Having another person in bed with you, or two other people in bed with you, can be disruptive. Snoring happens. Movement happens. Noise happens. Last, but certainly not least, dessert is lying within inches of the baby’s nose. Babies eventually become sensitive to their environment. You may have a three week old that could sleep through a freight train in the backyard, but that three week old will eventually be a three month old that surfaces into the world of sounds and lights and stimulation. He will wake up, unnecessarily. Oh, and that alarm your husband sets to wake him up for work? Yep. That will definitely be everyone’s new wake-up time, if your baby sleeps that late.
- Destroying ability to sleep. An unexpected thing happened when I started to get REALLY sleep deprived. I couldn’t sleep. It would take me, at minimum, an hour to fall asleep at night. When I was woken up for a feeding, it would again take me about an hour to fall back to sleep. Being woken up 2-4 times a night and having hours of sleep taken from the inability to fall back to sleep was absolute torture. Naps? Forget it. Naps were absolutely impossible. There just was not enough uninterrupted time in the day to get a nap. By the time it would take me to fall asleep, the baby would be awake again. Little Dude has been sleeping through the night just over a year, and I still have problems falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Severe fatigue and lowered milk supply. Eventually you may get so sleep deprived, and so fatigued, that your body has a hard time functioning. There just is not enough energy supply for the demand. My milk supply noticeably decreased by the time Little Dude was nine months old, and since he refused to take a bottle and was not taking to solids, I had no options. For a couple of months I went to acupuncture and took herbs daily, and while those things helped, they were temporary aids that did not last. Little Dude’s growth dropped enough to be of concern to my doctor. Low iron was probably to blame for part of that, but my milk supply was most likely the main reason. At that point I didn’t feel I could even attempt to do any “sleep training” to get him sleeping through the night because I felt he couldn’t do without the night feedings. But I desperately needed the rest for my own physical well being, and for his nourishment. It was a quandary, to say the least.
I have rarely met a co-sleeping parent that had their child sleeping through the night before the age of two. And I mean years. I understand that there are a lot of folks out there that have loved their co-sleeping experiences. I did, too. I was even sad when I decided to put my baby into his own bed in a separate room. There are still nights I would like to take him into bed and snuggle all night long. My husband frequently asks to do this. But I understand now that that is a dream that could not pan out in reality to reach the happy conclusion of quality sleep for us all. And babies need quality sleep, themselves. So much happens for a baby during sleep. They grow and their brains spend a good deal of time developing during sleep. They need it. My son developed incredibly poor sleeping habits, night and day, which made for both a cranky baby and cranky mama. I physically am not robust enough to tolerate severe sleep deprivation. I know it works for some, which is why I titled this post to reflect my personal reasons why I would not do it again. I did not title this post “Why No One Should Co-Sleep.” It’s a very personal decision, and I do not judge others negatively that practice it. I usually nod, knowingly, and give my hats off to those parents because they usually exhibit so much more energy than I was ever able to muster during my son’s first year and a half.
Maybe there are some simple rules I missed out on in the Co-Sleeping 101 research I spent a good deal of time on. What are some of your secrets? I believe I know one of them, now that it is too late. It is to wait. Just wait, a little bit, before responding to those sniffles and grunts and wiggles. This is a secret every mom should know, no matter what sleep arrangement you have worked out. Sometimes babies are just going from one sleep cycle to the other, and don’t need anything at all. It is usually very clear when a baby is hungry and needs to eat. So give it some time. Just wait a few minutes and see how the sniffling and wiggling progresses. But that is for another post: Top Tips For Cultivating Healthy Sleep Habits Without Traumatizing Mom Or Baby. Is that too long of a title?