What I found when I got home from the hospital was that when I put my baby down, she cried immediately. She felt alone. She wanted to be held. When we slept together, it was like magic, she slept practically through the night, and so did I. Surprisingly, I found that being separated from my daughter through the night was counterintuitive for me, and I didn't sleep as well either! But I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want the judgment... I felt ashamed I guess.
I was afraid that, even though co-sleeping was clearly working well for us, I was "doing something wrong." Clearly, it was against medical advice...but it was instinctive, and I couldn't shake the feeling that what I was doing was right, at least for us. The funny thing was, I was totally against co-sleeping before my daughter was born. I didn't want a baby in my bed because I wanted that to be a space for my husband and I, and yet there she was, night after night.
We would wake, well rested. We would breastfeed seamlessly through the night. How many times did she wake to eat? I don't know because we were in sync and just doing the eating routine in tandem as we slumbered. Not that I didn't worry about SIDS, I did, and so did my husband. We made adjustments in our bed to be sure that we were practicing safe co-sleeping, including putting a bumper on the side of the bed to prevent falls. I also read up on safe co-sleeping positions (provided by my La Leche League book, which, strangely advocates co-sleeping.)
In time, both my husband and I got more comfortable with the arrangement. Maybe it was because I wasn't as sleep deprived as I had excepted to be. The system was working. Despite the fact that it was working though, I still felt this pressure to get her out of my bed. So I began to try by putting her in the bassinet when she fell asleep in the evenings. This led to two very frustrating weeks of trying to get my baby to do something that she clearly wasn't going to do. I was frustrated, she was unable to sleep and everyone suffered for it.
Then it occurred to me: my husband and I are the parents. No matter what the hospital says, or what other parents say, or any other external pressures, we have to do what works for us. She has demonstrated she isn't ready for her own bed and is still breastfeeding through the night...so why was I trying to fix something that wasn't broken? Some of this is my nature; over analyzing a situation is just what I do. But it doesn't always work.
I noticed that I felt imaginary judgment based on what I thought I should be doing with my child in regard to sleeping. But co-sleeping works, doesn't prevent my husband and I from having a healthy sex life, and we are all quite happy. So there it is. We plan on transitioning her to her own bed when she can sleep through the night without eating or when the time is right. I don't plan on having a two year old in my bed...
I'm not suggesting that everyone go out and co-sleep with their babies based on my great experience with it. What I am saying though is that mothers (and parents) have an instinct about what to do with their babies, and that following it isn't always a bad thing. For me, putting my newborn into a crib away from me wasn't right. I'm convinced that it was unnatural for us to be separated in this way. There are studies that back me up citing that it helps regulate the baby's body temperature and breathing patterns. In fact, it may even reduce the risk for SIDS. *
Most of all, I want to let other parents know that co-sleeping isn't barbaric or wholly dangerous. It's just culturally unacceptable in the United States. Around the world, lots of other cultures co-sleep as a matter of practice. In fact, our parents co-slept with us, and we seemed to have turned out just fine. So what is your experience? Did you co-sleep or put your baby in the crib? What was right for you? Share your experience (unashamed!) in the comments section below!
*If you are considering co-sleeping, please know that there are risk factors, including drug use, weight issues, and alcohol use that may be unsafe for babies. Know your risks and do your own research before co-sleeping with your child.