Coming Out of the Cosleeping Closet (and Why That’s Okay)

That’s right: I cosleep with my baby.  It is not something I do because I’m too lazy or inept to make him sleep on his own, or because I have some unhealthy need to make him overly dependent on me, or because I am simply too stupid to know better.  It was not a “bad habit” that we formed.  It is a conscious decision that I made based on research and what felt right for us.

This is a topic that has come up a lot for me recently.  There’s been discussions with fellow co-sleepers about lying about our sleeping practices, comments from family and friends about how I need to just put him in his own bed, and a couple of blog posts condemning cosleeping as unsafe, unhealthy, and even abusive.  Frankly, I’m sick of it.  I’m tired of constantly explaining my parenting choices.  I’m tired of feeling like I need to hide something that is very rewarding and healthy for my child and I. 

There were two blog posts in particular that inspired my response.  One, which I cannot seem to find again, angrily condemned all cosleeping parents and claimed that the practice is a form of child abuse.  (What, you provide loving care to your infant all night long from the warmth and comfort of your own bed!  What horrible parenting!)  The other is somewhat less offensive, simply stating that the practice is too risky to be beneficial.   It mentions that cosleeping encourages more breastfeeding, helps both mothers and babies get more sleep during the night because wakings are more frequent but shorter, and helps build a strong attachment between mother and baby–all of which he claims are unimportant.  Oh, yes, sleep, nourishment, and attachment are all unimportant to a growing baby. 

Interestingly, both of these posts were written by men.  I have no idea if either one of them have children or not.  Everyone has a right to their own opinion, and I respect that.  However, I would like to take this opportunity to present the other side of the story. 

The number one point that is brought up against cosleeping is that is unsafe. As stated in the above blog, according to the CPSC, there were 515 deaths of children under two that were linked in some way to bedsharing between 1990 and 1997.  So… in seven years, about 500 deaths occurred while cosleeping.   That’s about 70 per year.  Most of the deaths that occur while bedsharing are linked to overly soft bedding, sleeping with more than one child (toddlers are not aware of their movements and can roll on top of an infant), drug or alcohol use, sleeping with someone other than the primary caregiver (ie, the mother), sleeping with someone who smokes, or sleeping on the couch–all of which are discouraged because they are known to be unsafe.  The issue wasn’t that they were cosleeping: the issue was that they were not being smart about it. 

Compare that to the 2600 infants that die each year due to SIDS.  (For a more recent comparison, in the three years between 1999 and 2001, there were 180 infant deaths that occurred while bedsharing.  That’s only 1.5% of the total SIDS deaths.) That’s right, folks, more babies die in their cribs or in child care centers than while sharing a bed.  (In fact, a high percentage of SIDS deaths occur in child care centers.  And we won’t even go into the other injuries and deaths that are reported while in child care settings.)  That’s not even including the number of injuries or non-SIDS related deaths that have occurred while an infant is sleeping alone.  As Dr. James McKenna said in his article published in Pediatric Respiratory Reviews:

Most USA and other western infants die from SIDS or from fatal accidents during solitary sleep outside the supervision of a committed adult. Moreover, the overwhelming number of suspected accidental overlays or fatal accidents occur not within breast feeding bedsharing communities but in urban poverty, where multiple independent SIDS risk factors converge and bottle feeding rather than breast feeding predominates. 

If you want to argue that all cosleeping is unsafe because there is a risk of injury or death, then the argument would logically need to be extended to crib sleeping as well.  How many times do we hear of a crib being recalled because of reported injuries or deaths? My portable crib was recently recalled because there had been over 10,000 reports of the sides collapsing and injuring the infants–and killing several of them.  Of course, that argument won’t be made, because there is a profit to be made by selling cribs.  Isn’t it interesting that one of the main campaigns against co-sleeping (and for crib sleeping, of course) is run by the JPMA?  Let’s see… the JPMA is a group crib manufacturers, right? Who do you think benefits from pushing crib sleeping–oh, perhaps the JPMA? 

I think the problem here is not where the infant was sleeping, but lack of education.  Just as we have learned about the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs, we need to learn about safe cosleeping practices.   Just as you would a crib, check to make sure there’s no gaps that the baby can fall through or get stuck in.  Sleep on a firm mattress, and skip the heavy blankets and extra pillows. Dress the baby appropriately so s/he doesn’t get overheated.  Don’t cosleep if you are a smoker, are using medications, drink alcohol, or use drugs.  (And this is where I refrain from a well deserved “No shit, Sherlock.”)  Point is, if you follow some simple safety guidelines (and have a little bit of common sense), cosleeping can be done safely.  It was put very well in an article written by Young and Flemming:

“There is no published evidence of any increased risk to a baby from sharing a bed with a firm mattress with parents who do not smoke and have not consumed alcohol or other drugs providing the bedding is arranged so that it cannot slip over the baby’s head, and the baby is not sleeping on a pillow, or under an adult duvet.”
 
Now that I have fully covered the safety issues (some might say, too fully), there’s still the question of why cosleep at all?   There are many benefits to cosleeping for both mother and baby.  For one thing, it encourages breastfeeding, which means more nourishment and also reduced risk of SIDS (since both breastfeeding and night sucking have been linked to reducing the risk of SIDS, hence the AAP’s recommendation to put baby to bed with a pacifier).  In fact, cosleeping infants nurse twice as often and drink three times as much milk as crib sleepers. Parents get at least as much sleep while cosleeping, if not more, because waking periods are more frequent, but shorter.  (As a mom, I know sleep is very important to me.)  Cosleeping babies tend to cry a lot less at night than crib sleepers (actually, J almost never cries at night, and when he does, it’s usually because of an illness or teething).  There’s an increased sense of attachment and a chance to reconnect for working moms.  When babies sleep in the same room as their primary caretakers (which is a form of cosleeping), the risk of SIDS is reduced by 50% (which is why even the AAP recommends that babies sleep in the same room as their parents for the first few months of life).  
 
The benefits of cosleeping last long after the transition to solitary sleeping.  Multiple studies have shown that children who shared a bed with their parents as infants tend to be less fearful, have fewer tantrums, and exhibit more independence than those who were never allowed to share a bed.  Later on in life, it is linked with higher self-esteem, self-confidence, and intimacy, as well as a lower incidence of mental health issues.  While these findings cannot be said to be directly caused by cosleeping (and are probably due to a combination of factors, such as the type of parenting style that tends towards cosleeping), it’s important to note that cosleeping does NOT cause children to be overly dependent, fearful, sexual deviants, or any of the other claims that I have heard about the emotional impact of cosleeping.  In fact, it seems to be that the opposite is true.

 

Besides all of this information, the bottom line is this:  I treasure the time I spend sleeping with my baby, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  I take all the necessary safety precautions, and I know that I am caring for my baby in a way that works well for the two of us.  There are some people who do not feel that way, and I would never suggest that they should share a bed with their baby.  (Especially if you fit one of the criteria on the bedsharing no-no list, such as being excessively overweight, smoking, drinking, having sleep disorders, or basically anything that could impair your ability to sleep safely with a wee one.)  I do not want to seem like I am saying that cosleeping is the only way, or even a better way, because it’s not for everyone.  I know several wonderful, loving, attached, kick-ass parents who choose not to bedshare, and this is the right choice for them. 

If you’re looking for more information, here are some amazing resources:

Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory

The Natural Child Project

Attachment Parenting International

Mothering Magazine

 

Happy sleeping, everyone.

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22 Responses to “Coming Out of the Cosleeping Closet (and Why That’s Okay)”


  1. 1 bebehblog September 22, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Amen! I’ve found it so much easier to just leave our sleeping arrangements out of 99% of conversation. Luckily the only thing strangers or family ever seems to ask is “is he sleeping through the night?” To which I answer “yes”. Because they don’t need to know my definition of through the night is waking up twice to nurse in bed. I’M sleeping through the night, so it totally counts.

  2. 2 mamajade September 22, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I think that sleeping through the night question gets everyone, including folks who don’t cosleep. That’s a whole ‘nother example of misconceptions at work… and I can honestly say that yes, J does sleep through the night, because he sleeps for more than 5 hours at a time. 🙂

    And you’re right, you sleeping *totally* counts.

    • 3 phdinparenting September 24, 2009 at 9:20 am

      My children both sleep through the night most of the time if they have someone with them. Neither of them will sleep through the night consistently if they are sleeping alone. That makes sense to me though. I know that when my husband is away or out late, I have trouble sleeping. I don’t understand why people think children need to be able to sleep alone when most adults have trouble with it.

  3. 4 Katie September 22, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Lol, yes dear, we differ on this point. . .only for one reason though. I don’t quite know how to put this point to you without risking being seen as pouring lemon juice on a paper cut, but here goes: What about those of us who are married?

    My hubby and I talked about co-sleeping briefly; I never really wanted to co-sleep, but I wanted to breastfeed, and tried for nearly 4 weeks to no avail on that score. Also, we knew dd would be in our room with us till she was at least a year old because of our limitations in affording housing, so why not in bed with us? It became apparent long before we actually tried that there was not going to be enough room in the bed for all three of us. (It became apparent when she was about 6 months old that there would never be enough room in any bed for Suz and anyone else, ever, little bedhog!) But truly, what happens to the intimacy between parental partners when the baby is in the bed, too?

    Now, this is not to say that there was a whole lot of sexual intimacy going on for us anyway; I’m noisy and Suz in the room was a damper. But at least we could cuddle, and sometimes more. . .that wouldn’t have had a chance if Suz were in the middle. And the connection between the parental units is extremely important. I don’t wanna put the baby’s needs second, but I’m a strong believer in that the baby’s needs don’t get met by parents who don’t maintain a strong intimate connection with each other. A single parent is way better than a pair that may as well be strangers for the level of contact with each other they have. And we won’t even go to the constant bickering category; it goes without saying, that is an undesirable situation.

    Frankly, for my part, I feel just as defensive about my decision NOT to co-sleep. I have a lot of friends who are for it that inadvertently made me feel like an ice-cold bitch for “making” my kid go it alone in a crib from the start. It also happens that they were single, or in unhappy relationships that were about to end for one reason or another. They preferred their baby to their partner for obvious reasons, but none of them would ever admit that had any effect on their decision. And I don’t think any of this was factor for you personally, but I do wonder? What if you met someone? If things were to develop to a level where you were ready for intimacy, how would that happen? How much of one’s personal needs should one put on a back burner for the sake of one’s child? When does denying one’s self become a detriment to one’s child?

    • 5 phdinparenting September 24, 2009 at 9:18 am

      Our bed is for sleeping and any family member who wants to sleep is welcome to join us there. The rest of the house is for being intimate. Why should married couples limit themselves to the bed?

  4. 6 Lynn September 22, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Agree completely. And for all of the advice about how I’d never get my son out of our bed, and all of the researching I did about how in the world I would do it, when we moved into a new house at 18 months and I asked him where he wanted to sleep, he gestured to his own room and that was that. Never asked to come into our bed again (although I still occasionally take him there when he’s tired and wants to nurse). Wonderful post and beautiful photo.

    • 7 mamajade September 22, 2009 at 11:17 pm

      That seems to be another common misconception: that if you start cosleeping, you’ll never be able to stop, or there will be a huge fight before your child will finally sleep in their own bed. Not necessarily. While I know of some families that had a rough transition period, most of the feedback I’ve heard is that transitioning went really smoothly and it wasn’t the big deal they were expecting. I think a lot of it depends on the attitude of all involved, how it’s approached, and of course the individual child. I also know that some developmental periods are harder to transition than others. It sounds like your wee one was ready to make the transition.

      Thanks for the compliments! I think there’s nothing sweeter than the sight of my sleeping baby…

  5. 8 mamajade September 22, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    First of all, Katie, I hope you know that you, specifically, were one of the kick-ass moms I was thinking of when I wrote the bit about choosing not to cosleep, and how it’s perfectly fine. (And besides, you DID cosleep, just not bedshare:)

    (I’m going to stop right here and put in a bit of a disclaimer: It is probably too late and I am probaby too tired to be writing this response, but I’m using this baby-free opportunity while I’ve got it, )

    I actually meant to touch on this, but I somehow didn’t. Partner’s feelings absolutely come into play here. I am (haha) lucky in that this isn’t a factor for me, but I agree that this is something that needs to be taken into consideration. For one thing, it’s their bed too, and for another, intimacy and parental relationships are VERY important to a child’s well being. Making your relationship with your partner one of your priorities does not mean you’re putting your child’s needs second, not at all. I agree on all your points there. One of the articles I have linked up there talked about how the *intention* of the cosleeping parent was a big factor in the benefit of cosleeping… in other words, if a parent (I’m trying not to be stereotypical and write “mom”, there’s a wonderful blog out there by a single attachment parenting father, I’m hoping someday we become friends) is only cosleeping because they feel like they should and not because they really want to, or if they would really rather be having that alone intimacy time, then it would be much better for the infant to let her sleep in her bassinet.

    As for how other cosleeping partners manage to cosleep and have intimacy and connectedness in their relationship, I know that a lot of them put the baby in the bassinet/crib if they’re not ready to go to bed yet, or if they would like some alone time with their partner. (Boy, it really helps to be so active in various forums, I get a lot of feedback I wouldn’t otherwise. Suddenly, I “know a lot of people.”) I think it’s like having kids in general: you have to make the time, you have to get creative with your solutions. I suppose my other cosleepers will have to chime in there, maybe they’ve got other points that I just don’t have.

    As for me personally and any hypothetical future relationships (which I’m completely skeptical of, btw)… well, first of all, if it were to happen, it’ll be so far in the future that cosleeping won’t be an issue… but I know that’s not even the point. I don’t know. I suppose it would have to depend a lot on how much of an issue it was for the partner, if they were willing to make it work with cosleeping and be creative with making us time, and space. Space is a big issue. But I will say that at this point, it would be very hard for me personally to give up cosleeping. In the future, yes, but now… we both enjoy it so much, and there will be time enough when he will be sleeping on his own.

    I do want to also mention that you brought up a point that I somehow didn’t fit in there: one of the safety factors is having a big enough bed for everyone. (Seems pretty obvious, but apparently…) If there’s not enough room for everyone to sleep comfortably in their own space, there’s a much higher risk for someone rolling on the baby.

    You know… looking back… I was one of those people who was really against the idea of cosleeping. My nephew slept with my sister until he was four (although she points out that he often started out in his own bed), and I remember thinking she was just spoiling him, or that she needed to get up and put him in his own bed. And when I first got with my ex, I was against cosleeping. It wasn’t until I started reading more that I realized that I had a lot of misconceptions and changed my attitude (although I still discouraged cosleeping in that instance, because of the space issue!). And when I got pregnant… well, I knew I wanted to cosleep. I didn’t know how long, I just knew I wanted to. But that’s a personal thing, and I certainly don’t think less of anyone for choosing not to cosleep, for whatever reason.

    I do hope I was not one of those people who made you feel like an ice-cold bitch. You’re a wonderful mother, and your daughter is smart, strong, independent, and perfectly attached (seems like a contradiction, but it’s not)… well, read what I said up above. You kick ass. And I love having discussions with you. Ask away, my friend!

    • 9 bebehblog September 23, 2009 at 5:37 pm

      I’ll weigh in again, since I’m a happily married co-sleeper. Since the bebeh is too young to understand what’s going on his presence in our bedroom hasn’t hurt our…intimacy at all. When we want the bed to ourselves we pop him in the Arm’s Reach co-sleeper. It’s not like having a newborn is really conducive to tons of sex anyways, but I’d say we have at least as much as we’d have with the baby in his crib. Aaaaand that was TMI.

      Really, the time we spend snuggling as a family is just as good for our marriage as any amount of sex.

      Also, I know one mom who co-sleeps in a king sized bed with a side-car crib – and has three kids under three. So clearly the advice to “get creative” works.

  6. 10 phdinparenting September 23, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Thanks for the great post. It is a topic near and dear to my heart and I have several similar rants on my blog. We’re not in the closet. We’re out there, proud and outspoken about our choice.

  7. 11 pinklilybit September 23, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    It really is a struggle to make the decision whether or not to co-sleep, breast feed, wear your kid, make organic babyfood, any of those things that we know are better for them, but not neccessarily in the cards for our families. I’ve told you before, but for the beneift of posting online, i’ll rehash the story, I was a mom with the best of intentions, I had a co-sleeper bassinent, and I was totally ready. Then along came my giant baby that slept like the dead. The space issue which you addressed, my husband is a thrasher, and I am a kicker and a talker, we are the worst people on earth to share a bed with, not safe for baby. So the bassinet was our next best option, then she came home and she wanted to nurse every 5 mintues in the first couple of days, so that was great, but then, all the sudden, she didn’t. She would sleep long and hard all the way through the night, while i knew i was very lucky, i couldn’t stop waking up every 10 minutes to make sure she was breathing. everytime she moved, i woke up, everytime she made a noise, i woke up. I was completely sleep deprived for someone who had a baby sleeping through the night. I was CONVINCED she was dead at least three times everynight.

    We would try brining her in again everyonce in awhile, but then, i got so spoiled by having my own bed, and my really limited alone time with my husband, who worked nights and slept days making “creative alone time” all but impossible. I think you are right to say that co-sleeping isn’t right for some families, and i think, especially when you are single and able to really enjoy it and not have to worry about cramping anyone else’s style, go for it. No one shoudl condem you for co-sleeping anymore than we should be condemed for not. There really is no wrong way to raise a child so long as they are loved, healthy, and cared for.

    • 12 mamajade September 23, 2009 at 2:35 pm

      Amy, you’re another of the noncosleeping mommies I was thinking of. You made the right choice for you, and yay for that!

      I will say something here though… it is handy that I don’t have anyone besides my wee one and me to consider in the decision making process, I know a lot of cosleepers who *are* in relationships, and it works well for them. And when I started my cosleeping journey, I was in a relationship. We were just both on the same page about cosleeping, and had a big enough bed, and didn’t have the thrashing issue. 🙂

      I just don’t want it to come across as I’m single, so I cosleep.

  8. 13 Holly September 23, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Great Post! I just wanted to chime in as a Mama who has chosen to co-sleep and is married. We had a crib side-carred to our king sized bed. Most of the time that just meant that DD slept on the outside of the bed with no danger of falling off.

    For intimate times, I made sure she was in the crib area and we put enough pillows to block her from my husband’s view so he could “forget” she was there. LOL Other times we moved her to another room or moved us to another room. But as far as general cuddling, she wasn’t usually between us so we weren’t inhibited.

    My daughter slept full-time in our our bed/attached crib arrangement until 17 months. Then we put her to bed in her room and she’d come in sometime in the middle of the night. At 17 months… it was more like 10 pm. The time has gotten later and later. At 36 months, she comes in to get help going potty or getting a drink of water and then goes back to her own bed. But she usually comes in around 6 am for morning snuggles.

    My husband LOVED co-sleeping partly because he had absolutely no night time duties at all, ever. In fact, he frequently asked me if our daughter woke up during the night. Even in the same bed, he didn’t know. But then again, she never cried. She just wiggled over close enough to latch on and back to sleep we’d both go.

    We are having another baby in January and our crib will once again be attached to our bed! Very much looking forward to it!

  9. 14 Katie September 23, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    You rock too babe!! And I never realized that having the girl in the room counted; I thought co-sleeping was defined specifically by having the baby IN THE BED!!

    In the middle of cooking dinner, so must be quick; if Suz had latched properly and quickly, and we had a superking bed, things might have been quite different for me too. I was also an adamant anti-cosleeper for years before Suzi. . .now how I wish I could take naps so I could take them with Suz. . .she’s TOTALLY open to it, invites me to go to sleep with her all the time. . .but nope, gotta take advantage of her downtime to do the things I can’t when she’s up. Now that I realize that sharing the room counts, I was never actually against cosleeping, since I always assumed that my kid would share our room until he/she was old enough to be aware of and maybe kind of participate in the switch to the new “big kid room.”

  10. 15 Joy September 23, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I also want to chime in as a happily married cosleeper. My daughter is 3.5 and still in our bed with no plans to move. My husband is thrilled with the situation. While some people make intimacy work with the child in the room, as Holly posted above, others get more creative. I would say this: if the bed is the only place you can think of the get busy, your marriage has more obstacles than just the baby. 😉

    Once our daughter goes to sleep in our bed, the rest of the house is free for fun!

  11. 16 Adventures In Babywearing September 23, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Same here. I LOVE co-sleeping and forget what a big deal it is to others until someone is surprised we don’t have a crib and decides to dole out their parenting advice about how wrong it is of me.

    Steph

  12. 17 Katie September 23, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Oh, and btw, no you were absolutely NOT one of the people who made me feel bad for not wanting to have Suz in bed with me from day one. Come to think of it, I don’t recall ever having the topic come up between us, tho if it did, I probably shot my mouth off about how glad I was that I didn’t bedshare and would therefore not suffer the woes of friends of mine who did choose bedsharing. . .well, and there really is only one woe possible among responsible healthy adults who choose this option; kid who never wants their own bed. I know two women personally who still have kids in bed with them on a regular basis. In both cases, male is the gender of the child, and in both cases, the boys are over 8 years old and are regular midnight interlopers in mom’s bed. In one case, the mother is single, or was last I knew, and in the other, the partner doesn’t mind as long as mom is good with locking the door when they are feeling frisky….and as I recall, in both cases, the kids have learning disorders. . .wonder if there’s a connection?

    • 18 mamajade September 23, 2009 at 9:49 pm

      Hmm… I don’t know about the connection, I haven’t come across anything about that. I did find one study that looked specifically at male children between the ages of 6-11 who coslept, and found similar things–meaning, a general lack of negative effects and a boost in self esteem and whatnot. Also, they seemed to get higher marks in school, which I thought was interesting.

    • 19 phdinparenting September 24, 2009 at 9:15 am

      Having a learning disorder may result in a need for nighttime parenting. I wouldn’t say that nighttime parenting results in a learning disorder.

      • 20 mamajade September 24, 2009 at 11:15 am

        That would make sense. The same could probably be said of any high-needs child, or any child going through stress,or dealing with an illness: they may require more parenting (night time and otherwise) than others.

  13. 21 Summer September 23, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Great post! I’ll stand up as another cosleeper, a happily partnered one. We coslept and still managed to have more kids, so where there is a will there’s a way. 😉


  1. 1 Between the Headlines: Cosleeping is Not to Blame « Strained Peas (and other messes) Trackback on October 15, 2009 at 10:49 am

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