Co-sleeping has many benefits for parents and children. However, as any co-sleeping parent will tell you, co-sleeping is far from perfect. There are some cons that vary from family to family. From babies that kick to restless sleepers to circumstances that make co-sleeping a danger, there's plenty of issues that can make you wish you never tried co-sleeping in the first place. That said, co-sleeping really is a wonderful way to connect with your baby, so here are some helpful tips about how to overcome those pesky co-sleeping hurdles.
An Unsafe Environment
While we here at Inhabitots do not agree that co-sleeping is attune to sleeping with fat butcher knives, we do admit that co-sleeping is not the right choice for every family. In some cases, the sleep environment itself may not be safe. If you have an extremely tall bed and aren’t willing to let your baby sleep in the middle, don’t co-sleep. Waterbeds or very soft mattresses aren’t safe either, as your baby may roll into a bed ditch. Excessive bedding is unsafe, as are loosely fitted sheets that may roll up. Also, although it may happen occasionally, try not to co-sleep on a couch or chair – too little space makes co-sleeping less safe. Parent issues that may contradict safe co-sleeping include being very overweight, being an overly restless sleeper and taking medications that induce heavy sleep. You should also never, ever co-sleep if you’ve been drinking alcohol or if you smoke in bed. Well, don’t smoke in bed no matter what, but you get the picture. You do need to make sure the entire bedroom environment is safe before you try co-sleeping.
You Don’t Really Want to Co-sleep
Co-sleeping, over the last few years, has become more fashionable. This alone is not a good reason to co-sleep. You actually have to want to co-sleep or it won’t work for you. In my case, I couldn’t imagine having a baby then putting him far away in some other room to sleep. Co-sleeping was a natural decision for my family. However, I have known parents who feel pressured into co-sleeping – yes, even attachment parents can be judgmental, and these parents often express frustration towards their baby or partner surrounding co-sleeping. I’ve also known parents who are overly anxious about co-sleeping because they don’t think it’s safe, but because they’re feeling pressure, they do it anyway. If you’re nervous about co-sleeping, you won’t get much sleep, which can be far worse for your mood and your child than if you put your baby in a crib and got some shut-eye. If you want your child close by, but don’t honestly trust that co-sleeping is safe, don’t lose sleep over it, try a bedside bassinet instead.
Parents (or Others) Disagree About Co-Sleeping
If friends or family disagree with your choice to co-sleep, it’s not that big of a deal. Welcome to the world of judgmental parenting. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, will have something to say about your parenting style at some point. Ignore others – you know what’s best for your own family. A bigger problem is when parents disagree about co-sleeping. In most cases I’ve seen it’s usually the dad who doesn’t want to co-sleep. If you find yourself in this position and you still really want to co-sleep, point out some of the many benefits of co-sleeping to your partner, such as…
- Co-sleeping is cost effective – no crib needed.
- Co-sleeping may reduce stress.
- Co-sleeping is just as safe, if not safer than crib sleeping.
- Co-sleeping is kinder than letting a child cry it out.
- Co-sleeping does not negatively impact development.
- Co-sleeping encourages longer and more successful breastfeeding.
- Co-sleeping is a biologically and historically sound practice – only very recently have babies slept alone.
- Co-sleeping may reduce SIDS risks and result in better baby-parent bonding.
- Co-sleeping is easy, allowing you to care quickly for your baby without getting up all night long.
Your Baby is a Crazy Active Bed Hog
Before I co-slept with my son, I had no idea how much space an eight pound baby could take up. Seriously, it’s like sleeping with two extra adults. Babies tend to sleep sprawled out and they move all the time. Sometimes my son would start out normal and two hours later he’d be laying sideways, halfway down the bed. On top of this babies make a lot of noise, wake frequently and may even kick you. Research shows that very young babies sleep mostly in the REM stage, i.e. the active sleep stage with more dreaming and movements. Luckily, part of this problem will be solved as your little one ages. Older babies start to have more mature sleep patterns with less REM and much more solid sleep time.
Before kicking your baby out of your bed, consider that all this early waking and movement will happen regardless of where your baby sleeps. If he’s in a crib and you’ve got a bedside baby monitor, you’ll be kept up just as much, only now you’ll be leaping out of bed every half hour or so to check on your baby. The best solution, in my opinion, is to get a larger, preferably close-to-the-floor bed. For example when my son was born we had a smallish bed. After he arrived we quickly learned that babies take the bed over so we got a huge futon and placed it directly on the floor. This helped a lot, giving everyone more space and if someone got pushed off in the night, it was just inches, not feet, to the floor. You also may want to see who your child favors. In my case, my son would kick and push at me all night, and sleep more soundly next to his dad. If your child sleeps better next to one of you, consider something like the Humanity Family Bed which allows a baby to safely sleep on a side vs. in the middle of the bed.
Sex Becomes a Worry
Not that this will come as a surprise, but there are other places to have sex besides in your own bed at night. Still, even if you remember sex beyond the bed (hello early adulthood) you may have some major issues surrounding sex and co-sleeping. Face it, new parents are already exhausted and seeing your partner in bed at night may be the only time you even remember that sex is even a possibility. Except now you’re looking at your partner over the head of that cute, innocent little bundle (that makes adorable coos and sighs), which isn’t the best intimacy motivator ever. You shouldn’t blame co-sleeping though. Even non-co-sleeping new parents have sex issues due to stress, exhaustion and other stuff. Motivation is key. Try the following…
- Try having one or two baby-free nights a week. Co-sleeping benefits are still substantial, even if 15% of the time your baby sleeps in a crib or bassinet.
- I’ve heard stories of people who happily, um, partner up in the same bed or room with a baby, but for many of us, a baby nearby can seriously kill the mood. Not only can a baby interrupt you at the worst times, but having him nearby may make you so uncomfortable that you rush or have a downright horrid time. If you’re in this camp, grab your partner and head to the couch, the kitchen floor or the shower – whatever floats your boat.
- Take a night off. I swear, leaving your baby with a sitter or Grandma won’t hurt your baby and it’ll give you some free time to enjoy with your partner. You can spend a couple of hours at a hotel or even go parking like when you were a kid – fun!
- Schedule sex. This isn’t very romantic, but sometimes scheduled sex is better than no sex at all and may lead to increased spontaneous feelings later.
- Most importantly realize that intimacy comes in many forms. With kids in the house, co-sleeping or not, your sex life will likely change. It’s important to focus on what you can do, rather than what you’re missing. Kissing, hugs, little love notes and time alone aren’t the same as sex, but do take less time, while contributing to a healthy relationship.
Nap-time is a Problem
One of the biggest problems with co-sleeping, for my family anyhow, was that my son was so used to sleeping with a parent that he had a hard time sleeping alone, for example at nap-time or when we were away from home. Be aware that this is a natural human response, not just a baby issue. Think about yourself. When you’re used to sleeping with a partner, doesn’t it sometimes suck when they’re gone? Still, there are times your baby will need sleep without you around. It’s hit or miss, but following are some tricks that worked for me when my son was a baby…
- Normally I don’t advocate playing jokes on babies, but to get my own son to sleep alone, sometimes pretending to sleep worked. I’d lay down with him, close my eyes and then his little eyes would close too. Babies do mimic adults! The only downside of this was that sometimes I’d really fall asleep when I had planned to use nap-time for laundry. That’s okay though, new parents need sleep.
- Schedule nap-time right after feeding. Babies often fall asleep naturally during or right after feeding time, so plan naps to correlate.
- Let your baby sleep wherever. My son wasn’t good at falling asleep in bed alone, but he would pass out in his baby swing or car seat just fine. On days I couldn’t trick my kid into sleep, I’d place him in a safe bouncy seat, car seat or swing and let him sleep there.
- Give your baby something new to love. My son used to play with my hair as he fell asleep. I think the constant rubbing motion soothed him. After we was old enough to sleep with a blanket, he’d rub the corner of the blanket tag instead of my hair, thus soothing himself to sleep. Finding the right baby lovie can help your child fall asleep alone.
- If you’re not against them, a pacifier can help your baby to fall asleep without you there.
- We always slept with music on when my son was little. In this way, I think he associated both us, his parents, and music with sleep-time. Luckily this meant that once in a while a record was enough to get him to sleep, even without a parent in the room.
What co-sleeping hurdles have you run into and how did you solve them. Share in the comments.
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