We never planned to co-sleep with our kids. Like unschooling, and baby-wearing, and regular-length (what the world likes to call “extended”) breastfeeding, the idea all came later… once we were face to face with this first little human we were lucky enough to get to call our son. Spencer – who, though it surely defies all rules of time and space, is 19 at the time of this writing – had a beautiful crib in his beautifully decorated nursery. It was great for holding stuffed animals, and I think he might have taken a nap or two in there, but yeah, it was otherwise never used.
In hindsight, there were many reasons that we brought him to bed with us, but the biggest one was that it simply didn’t make sense for him to be anywhere else. He spent nine months in my womb, completely connected, warm, safe, feeling my heart beat… only to be born to sleep in a dark room all by himself? It was illogical. Plus, in those early days when I was still breastfeeding multiple times a night, what could possibly be an easier and gentler way (on the both of us) than just turning over on my side, and quietly nursing him back to sleep?
Three more kids, and nearly twenty years later, and we have shared our bed more often than not… sometimes with one kid, sometimes with two. It was one of the best parenting decisions we never knew we’d choose to make.
These are just a few of the things we learned in the trenches:
1. They’re bed hogs. No, really. A tiny, 8 pound baby can position itself in such a way that it takes up the space of a thousand Great Danes. And a toddler? Forget it. You get half an inch of mattress space, if you’re lucky. I don’t know how it happens. Nighttime falls and they turn into little Houdinis.
2. If you get up to use the bathroom, all bets are off and you’ll lose your spot. And since you never want to wake a sleeping baby… you cram yourself into a teeny tiny ball and hope for the best.
3. You’ll get peed on. And pooped on. And occasionally, unfortunately, puked on. Everyone who’s ever co-slept knows the feeling of waking up to something… wet… followed by that moment of confusion and apprehension as you wake up enough to determine what variety of wetness you’re dealing with. Is it going to be a “get everyone up and strip the kid and strip the whole bed catastrophe” or a “change a quick diaper and PJ bottoms, throw down a towel, and wait till daylight to deal with it little leak?”
4. You’ll get physically injured. Squirmy sleeping babies and toddlers are quite adept at throwing elbows in your eyes, and feet in your groin, and fists at your boobs. Sometimes you get throat punched. It’s a fun way to wake up.
5. You won’t just share the bed with your child. You’ll share your bed with your child plus their whole entourage, which may include: stuffed animals, matchbox cars, baby dolls, Cheerios, and the pine cone that they picked up on your last nature walk.
6. They’ll come back. None of my kids made an abrupt transition to their own beds. They’d choose to try their own beds for awhile, then came back to ours. Then they’d try their own again, maybe for a longer time period this time … and then come back to ours. All our boys (12, 16, 19), have of course been sleeping on their own for a very long time now, but a period of boomerang behavior is expected and commonplace when you’re letting them move at their own pace.
7. You’ll get criticism if you share. And QUESTIONS. Oh dear Lord, so very many questions. Aren’t you afraid you’ll roll over onto them?** How do you keep them from falling out of the bed? Don’t you worry they’ll never leave? How will they learn to fall asleep without you? And my personal favorite: When/where do you ever have sex if you’re sharing a bed with your child??
8. When it’s actually over, when they’ve officially chosen their own bed over yours… you’ll remember the sweetness of their little bodies snuggled up against you; the smell of their hair in the middle of the night; their warm hand wrapped around your back; the deep, even, and contented sound of their breathing; the feeling of genuine connection and peace and love; the joy of holding them close to your heart; the pure bliss of letting them be your babies, for just a little while longer.
And you’ll deeply, and genuinely, and profoundly miss it… black eyes and mystery wet spots and all.
**Interested in co-sleeping? Always make sure you do it safely!**
- Don’t try sleeping with a young infant in something like a recliner.
- Always use a bed with a firm mattress, one that’s plenty big enough for the both of you.
- Avoid pillows, fluffy comforters, stuffed animals, etc around young babies
- Never, ever sleep beside your baby when you are under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.
- Put your baby on the side of a bed pushed up against the wall. Or, use a bed rail. OR, invest in a sidecar sleeper that abuts to your bed. Fill in any gaps with a rolled up blanket.
- In our house, we always did either wall, bed rail, or co-sleeper (at different points in our journey), then baby, then mom, then dad. As they got older they graduated to sleeping in between us… usually positioned like a starfish, in order to take up the maximum amount of space as possible.