When it comes to sleeping arrangements, the Mommy Warriors can bring in some pretty heavy artillery.
Where should your baby sleep?
In your bed, of course! Otherwise, you’re a terrible mother, who will never be fully bonded to your baby.
Where should your baby sleep?
In his own bed, of course (and preferably in his own room)! Otherwise, you’re a terrible wife, who will never be fully intimate with your husband.
Anybody feeling guilty yet?
Of all the choices my husband and I have made as parents, our babies’ sleeping arrangements have produced some of the rudest and most inappropriate, condemning comments from other people. For some reason, this is an especially emotional issue. Some people like to set it up as a sort of competition between Daddy and his infant with the winner getting the lion’s share of Mommy’s love and affection. As if the choice of where to put Junior at bedtime dictated whether Mommy was going to be a good mother or a good wife. In reality, though, you can be both, and your baby’s sleep place has no more to do with how good a wife or mother you are than it has to do with how good you are at making egg foo young. All these passionate assignments of deep spiritual and emotional significance fail to take into account something crucial: when everyone is asleep, the only thing that’s happening is sleep. Bonding and intimacy actually happen when at least someone is awake. It may be convenient to use a sleep place for double duty, but no one has to in order to get either job done, and done well. And that means that bonding and intimacy, despite the huge deals that everyone makes out of them when discussing sleep spots for babies, are NOT the main issues to take into account in deciding where to tuck your baby in for the night.
The main issue is sleep, and how to get everyone in your family as much as possible. And to figure that out, you need to answer three questions: Where should baby sleep so that Daddy gets the most sleep? Where should baby sleep so that Mommy gets the most sleep? And where should baby sleep so that baby gets the most sleep?
When considering Daddy, what you’re really trying to do is to figure out which is going to bother him at night more: having a baby in his bed, or having a baby cry. Some men find that having a baby in their bed keeps them awake because they’re afraid that it isn’t safe. This can be mitigated by reading up on how to make an adult bed a safe place for co-sleeping (lots of websites have information about this, for example here, here, and here.) Other men are light enough sleepers that having the baby wiggling in bed can keep them awake. But, on the other hand, some men find it much more tiring being awakened several times at night when their baby wakes up in the next room and gets worked up to crying loudly enough to wake up Mommy for a nursing session.
What gives Mommy the most sleep is a little more complicated. In addition to the fears that Daddies can have, and the trouble with a wiggly baby, Mommy has to figure out how well she’s going to cope with the sleep deprivation of getting up (and possibly going into another room) to nurse the baby. A lot of co-sleeping mothers (myself included) experience virtually no sleep deprivation at all. People often ask me if my baby is sleeping through the night, and I always reply that I sleep through the night. After only a few weeks for a first time co-sleeping mom, to only a few days for an experienced co-sleeper, latching on to nurse can happen in a semi-sleep state, and then the nursing itself can go on with Mommy completely asleep, so that many co-sleeping moms are not even aware of how many times they have nursed in a given night, IF (big “if”) they can sleep with a baby beside them.
A major factor in determining whether a mother can tolerate waking up in the night is the mother’s milk storage capacity. This is the amount of milk available at any given feeding, and it determines, far more than baby’s age or weight, how often a mother will need to feed her baby, and when that baby will be able to sleep through the night. (I wrote about this in more detail here.) This is a purely physiological factor, despite all the rhetoric that gets spewed around about both “nurturing” and “routines.” Women with larger milk storage capacities are going to be facing far less sleep deprivation than women with smaller capacities, and that is going to have an effect on their choices for night time sleeping arrangements. It may be tolerable to get up once a night for a few weeks, but getting up three times a night for several months may drive you to the brink of insanity. This has nothing to do with parenting styles or with who is or isn’t a good wife or mother. It’s just simple biology.
And lastly, you have to figure out where your baby sleeps best. My husband and I have thus far produced cuddlers who will sleep peacefully for hours as long as they are touching me. But once they lose contact with me, they’ll be squirming fitfully and waking up crying in no time. Other babies like their space and truly don’t sleep well wedged up against anyone, even their own mommies.
If you haven’t had a baby yet, it’s probably a good idea to stay flexible and not get too attached to any one sleeping plan. You have no idea yet what your baby’s personality will be. A cousin of mine was totally committed to co-sleeping before her daughter was born, only to discover that her baby not only would not sleep next to her mommy, she wouldn’t sleep if anyone was even in the same room. She was several months old before her parents even knew what she looked like asleep because if they ever snuck into her room after bedtime, she would wake up instantly.
I, on the other hand was totally against co-sleeping right up until the day my first baby was born. But after a long and difficult labor, she was having trouble breathing, and the midwives told us to put her in bed with us so that we’d be more aware of her breathing patterns. I was exhausted, so I just complied, thinking it was temporary. I used a sleep positioner to try and keep my little baby in her own “safe” space where we couldn’t roll over on her. I would nurse her next to me, then move her up into her space to “sleep” only to have her crying again five minutes later. This happened over, and over, and over again. In tears, I woke my husband up. “She falls asleep when she’s nursing, but then she wakes up as soon as I move her,” I moaned.
“Well, just don’t move her,” he said. I stopped moving her, and she stopped waking up. Several hours later, I woke up, feeling refreshed. Five and a half years and three babies later, I haven’t gone back.
Every family is going to solve these very practical issues differently because every family is different. Once you get the sleeping part figured out, you can get creative about making sure that bonding and intimacy happen given the sleeping arrangement that works best for your family.
So let’s roll back our cannons, ladies. I think we can all support each other in our quest for a good night’s sleep and stop casting condemning glances in the directions of families who’ve found that a different system works best for them.
Where should your baby sleep?
In the place that best allows your baby, and you, and your husband to actually sleep.