Why we co-sleep and the benefits of co-sleeping

Father and baby sleeping

How we ended up co-sleeping;

Co-sleeping wasn't part of our "perfect parents" plan. It wasn't something we knew much about or ever planned on doing. Everyone kept telling us that it is wrong so we never thought to educate ourselves about it.

When our daughter was born, we quickly realized that we need to keep an open mind and adapt our parenting plan to what works for our family.

This is the story of how we came to co-sleep and also what I have learned about it since;

The first 6 days of my little girl's life, I didn't sleep. Not one minute. I don't know how long the human body can go without sleep but my body felt like I was testing the limit.

It's not that I didn't want to sleep, I was tired, so so tired, but I couldn't. My mind wouldn't let me.

She was no longer safe and sound in my tummy, she was exposed and vulnerable out in the world. I had to protect her and care for her. I didn't trust anyone else.

The only times I started to dose off were when she was on my chest. Where I could feel the weight of her tiny body, feel her breathing (something I felt compelled to check every 3 minutes), safe, close to me.

It felt like it was where she belonged. But everyone kept telling me it's not safe. It's not appropriate. It's not allowed.

She needs to be swaddled and put down in her own cot, in her own room. She needs to learn to be independent.

The first 3 nights in hospital, my husband and I took turns sitting up, watching her sleep. We'd place her in the little cot they provided but would have to pick her up every 15 minutes when she started to cry. It was a cry that no amount of patting on the bottom would lull.

When we got home, we continued to try to teach her what's appropriate and have her sleep in her cot.

It just didn't work.

We were so tired, we got the little in-bed co-sleeper out and placed her between us in bed. It went a little better but still not ideal.

The next night, I watched as she slept next to me in the little co-sleeper but the urge to touch her grew stronger each minute. Like a naughty child, asking for something she knows she's not allowed to do, I asked my husband if I can place her next to me, out of the confounds of the co-sleeper pod. He agreed.

It felt good but still didn't completely work. She kept waking. So I placed her on top of me, propped pillows either side of me and slept.

It was the most amazing sleep that I have ever had. It felt wonderful having her close to me, feeling her breathe. It also made breastfeeding much more convenient.

So that was how we slept, first with her on top of me and as she got older, next to me.

We were happy with the decision but that first night I told my husband that we should just be sure not to tell anyone. Since everyone said it is wrong and they'd expect her to sleep in her own room.

After copious amounts of reading and research, turns out it's not wrong. It's actually very natural and beneficial for her development!

I'm also glad to report that the family have made peace with it.

At first it took me some adjustment to get used to sleeping with her near me but I think no matter where she would have slept, I would have been aware that I have a human life I am responsible for, sleeping somewhere.

It's as if you find a new kind of sleep. You do eventually feel rested when you are used to it but on some level you are aware of your little one. It's something I can only describe as a super power because I can be fast asleep and if she rolls or something is near her, I immediately react and am awake.

The benefits of co-sleeping and why babies want to sleep close to their mothers;

Co-sleeping is a wonderful tool that many families use to get a good nights rest.

The reason being that babies are born helpless and "need driven". They know they need to remain close to their food source to survive. This is why they cry when they are not near you or not being held.

Dr. Nils Bergman, a specialist in perinatal neuroscience and founder of the Kangaroo Mother Care movement also explains how sleeping in contact with their mothers lead to optimal brain development in infants.

When baby is not near you, she knows that she is vulnerable and needs to be able to call you for nutrition if she wants to survive. She knows she has to put some energy aside and save it for when she needs to cry. That is energy and brain power that she is then keeping aside and not using for brain development.

That is why co-sleeping is beneficial for brain development. Babies that sleep in contact with their mothers can spend 100% of their energy on brain development and are much more content and self assured.

They know their food source is right next to them and they can reach it on their own. This also contributes to them growing up more confident.

Co-sleeping also reduced the risk of SIDS says Dr. James J. McKenna, a professor of anthropology and the director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. He is a world-renowned expert on infant sleep — particularly the practice of bed sharing in relation to breastfeeding.

His research confirms that "the breathing of the mother and infant are regulated by the presence of each other — the sounds of inhalation and exhalation, the rising and falling of their chests, and the carbon dioxide being exhaled by one and inhaled by the other expediting the next breath! This is one more signal to remind babies to breathe, a fail-safe system should the baby’s internal breathing transitions falter."

He also explains that "the human infant is the most vulnerable, contact dependent, slowest developing and most dependent primate-mammal of all, largely because humans are born neurologically premature, relative to other primate mammals. In order for the human infant to safely pass through its mother’s small pelvic outlet, which is an architectural requirement to walk upright, the infant has to be born with only 25 percent of its adult brain volume. This means that its physiological systems are unable to function optimally without contact with the mother’s body, which continues to regulate the baby much like it did during gestation."

It's important to note that there is a difference between co-sleeping which can mean sleeping in the same room as your child and the act of bed-sharing. In this article as well as the research mentioned above, I define the term co-sleeping as bedsharing as it relates to the mother sleeping in contact with her infant.

Is co-sleeping safe?

As with all things, there are guidelines to follow to ensure that it is done safely.

Safe co-sleeping guidelines:

  • No one in the bed should be a smoker.
  • No one in the bed should have consumed any alcohol or be under the influence of medication.
  • No one in the bed should be overly tired to such a point where they won't wake up easily.
  • No one in the bed should suffer from any sleep disorders.
  • The mother should be breastfeeding (Has to do with the hormones and level of awareness - see links below for more information).
  • Older siblings may not sleep next to babies under a year old, there needs to be an adult between them.
  • The surface should be firm and no blankets near baby's face. Baby may not be swaddled.
  • Very long hair should be tied up.
  • An extremely obese parent who has a problem feeling exactly how close baby is should consider having baby sleep nearby, but on a separate sleep surface.

Additional Information: