Why moms lie about co-sleeping
“Put the baby down on her back, in her crib, while sleepy but awake.”
You’ve heard it a thousand times, right? From your pediatrician, from the pamphlets sent home with you from the hospital, from the smug parenting books you’re supposed to read while pregnant. I just want to go on the record and say that IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. Well, at least it didn’t for us. Let me level with you and tell you what actually happens and why more parents co-sleep than are letting on.
This time a year ago, we were putting the finishing touches on Baby G’s nursery. I had delusions of putting the baby in her crib and watching her escape to dreamland by her whimsical mobile.
Then when Baby G arrived, I tried it. Within 30 seconds my 3-day-old infant was screaming herself to oblivion, choking on her spit and splitting her vocal chords in two. WHAT DO I DO NOW? The hospital pamphlets didn’t mention what happens next. You just put the baby down in her crib and she falls asleep!
Not so for Baby G, and I suspect we’re not alone.
Because I’m not a sadist, I wasn’t cool with letting my 3-day-old cry until her lungs collapse. So I pick her up and rock her and she calms down. I put her back in her crib. The screaming ensues. I pick her up and hold her close. She quiets down. This pattern continues for hours until we are both so sleep deprived I carry her to bed with me, and hold her on my chest where she sleeps soundly for a 3 hour stretch. Then she stirs and I nurse her and we both doze off again. My sleep is fitful. Am I doing something dangerous and horrible? I went against everything I had read.
But the only way Baby G would sleep was tucked next to another warm human. So Joe and I took “shifts” and held her so the other one could have a break. My mom and mother-in-law also stayed over a few nights to take shifts as well. After a few weeks, we fell into a rhythm where Baby G would sleep next to me in bed and I would nurse her every few hours throughout the night. The whole family got sleep (albeit, interrupted for me) and we never had to let Baby G “cry it out” in her crib.
I started doing research on co-sleeping and found that the research on its safety is much more mixed than western doctors let on. I confided in a good friend who has two children, and she said she did it too for the first eight weeks. As I opened up and talked with other women about co-sleeping, it turned out that most of them had done it or were still doing it with their own children.
But still, in many circles, I felt compelled to lie about our co-sleeping habits. Here are five reasons we mothers do this:
1) Your doctor will lecture you. Some mothers I know said their doctors turned their heads when they heard their patients were co-sleeping. One doctor even confided in my friend that she herself co-slept with her infants but that the American Association of Pediatrics forces her to advise against it. My doctor warned me against co-sleeping, but when I asked him what I’m supposed to do when my baby is screaming her head off in her crib, he didn’t have any valuable advice.
2) Idiots will tell you things like: “Better kick that habit right now or else she’ll be sleeping with you when she’s 16!” Even my lactation consultant told me that, which kind of floored me, considering co-sleeping is one of the best ways to support a healthy breastfeeding relationship early on. The thing is, this kind of sentiment is said by people who really have no idea what they are talking about. There is research out there to say that co-sleeping actually fosters independence, not dependance. I am glad to say we proved them wrong, because at six months, she made the transition to the crib and it was not nearly as much of a struggle as I thought it would have been.
3) Somehow, deep down inside, we worry that we are putting our baby at risk for SIDS. The thing is though, there are safe and unsafe ways to bed share, but the whole thing has been lumped into one. Modern Alternative Mama separates the two and gives tips for safe co-sleeping and Kindred Community really breaks apart the research on both sides in this article on co-sleeping.
4) You’re sick of people telling you you’re spoiling your baby. If meeting the needs of my newborn baby is “spoiling” her, then I hope she is the most spoiled baby in the world. The funny thing is, the whole “cry it out” method is more steeped in patriarchal 1950s culture than science or medicine, as described in this Psychology Today article on crying it out. (Seriously, read this article. It’s enlightening.)
5) You just KNOW that people wonder when/if/how you are intimate with your partner when you share a bed with a baby. But this is no reason to hide the fact that you co-sleep. Most people are way too scared to ask, so I say let their imaginations run wild.
Maybe this has not been your experience. Maybe your baby did just as the books said – maybe he fell asleep on his own, by himself in his crib. In that case, hooray for you! But I so identify with “Thirty Something Mummy” in her story about how she judged moms who bed shared and swore she never would herself … until she had her first baby.
My favorite saying about the whole crib vs. co-sleeping debate is the arrangement that gives the whole family the best sleep is the best arrangement for your family.