Co-sleeping and the Family Bed: Why I'll Miss It

Today I'm flying to Salt Lake City for the Altitude Summit summer conference--a meet-up for bloggers and designers. I didn't expect to attend because of the cost, but a corporate sponsor gave me a ticket after one of my posts for Every Mom Counts.* I'm so incredibly grateful, and I can't wait to meet Gabrielle Blair of Design Mom and to hear speakers like Martha Stewart and Joy Cho. But as excited as I am to go, I expect I will miss sleeping with my family the most.

Chambre d'hôtel by Frédérique Voisin-Demery

That sounds a bit odd, I know, because we Americans (and okay, the French too) are not a family bedsharing culture. Unlike most of the world, we generally give our children a separate bedroom starting from early infancy. While preparing for motherhood, I didn't have any reason to think my children would be raised any differently. My husband and I bought a crib and figured our little one would use it at some point, if not right away.

Nursery photo by Stupid Clever

But the more I read about infant care around the world, the more I realized that the Western habit of isolating babies and young children at night is unusual, and not truly beneficial. Co-sleeping is actually far better for breastfeeding support (co-sleeping mamas and babies get far more uninterrupted sleep in the early months, and babies get more high-fat milk) and it helps regulate the infant's heartbeats and breathing (often in sync with their mama's). Co-sleeping is also believed to be much healthier for babies than the physiological stress of crying until a parent arrives.

Average person needs more sleep quote Wilson Misener

I didn't know if I would be able to get any sleep with a baby near or in my bed, but I was willing to try. And actually, it wasn't so different from all the other ways I needed to adapt as a new parent. Whether you co-sleep or not, healthy parenting always involves adapting and being willing to try the approaches that could work well for you and your children, so long as those approaches are loving ones.

In any case, we gave away our crib long ago even though we hope and plan to have more children. We needed to make room for an exchange student to sleep in the room that held the crib, and our daughter had become accustomed to sleeping beside us anyhow. When our second child was born, we were four to a room, and a few months later, we were four to a bed. Upgrading to a king-size bed was a luxury for which I am still grateful!

Currently our children start the night in their own beds in their shared bedroom, and at some point each night, each child wakes and joins us in our bed. For now, we're all happy with this solution. I'm definitely looking forward to a few nights of (hopefully) uninterrupted sleep at the Alt Summit conference this week, but I'll be glad to drift off to sleep with my kiddos and husband after I return.

  Petits pieds by  MMarsolais

Petits pieds by MMarsolais

Sleep is such a personal matter, but I'm amazed at how many people believe co-sleeping is "not putting your marriage first" or is something they "could never do." The topic of co-sleeping certainly brings out our defenses and fears around sleep. And I see how co-sleeping could cause marriage issues if one spouse were adamantly against it (though this would probably be a sign of a deeper and more widespread ideological divide about parenting.) But I'm really glad with the choice that we've made to co-sleep, and I see the benefits in both our marriage and in our children's confidence and sense of trust.

Did you wrestle with the co-sleeping question when your child was young? Did you change your sleeping choices if you had a second child?

* Regarding my Every Mom Counts posts, I'll include an update about Julie Engeman, the midwife in Zambia, in my next post with weekend links. In the meantime, if you're interested in making a donation to her vehicle fund to help her reach laboring women in remote villages, click here.