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Where Should Your Baby Sleep?

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.

24 comments to Where Should Your Baby Sleep?

  • Allie

    This was very comforting for me to read, because I’ve even had someone with no kids telling me what’s best for sleeping arrangements! We don’t have a choice, in a way, as the baby can’t have his own bedroom – we’re living in a very small one-bedroom suite, so, me being 36 weeks along in my first pregnancy, the cradle is ready and waiting in the one place it fits, which is about a foot away from the foot of our bed, against the bedroom wall. Thank you for the post about being flexible, because I guess we do still have 2 choices – baby in bed or baby in cradle, whatever seems to work best!

  • Wow! I don’t have kids yet, but I am definitely saving this post for when I do :) It just makes sense!

  • Sara Weaver

    I don’t condemn, but do see it a little differently just based on my personal experience. I am big chested and even more so when my milk comes in. I do like to nurse laying down at night, but can’t risk falling asleep with the baby at my breast. For risk of suffocation. I have also had times where I have tried to sleep with the baby next to me and fallen asleep so deeply I had forgotten the baby was there. I choose to play it safe and keep the pack and play right next to my bed so I can comfort by patting if needed. I have to say it is so precious to sleep with an infant, and I regret not being able to for one reason or another, but fully support a parents choice in how they want to raise their baby. Thanks again for your post.

  • Tina B

    I love that point of view. I tried to train my first baby to sleep in his crib but didn’t get any sleep myself until I finally gave up and brought him to bed with me. After that we bought a king size bed and all of our babies sleep with us. btw-my husband can sleep through anything so he left the choice up to me and we did not find it got in the way of intimacy until they are much older.

  • So true. I had my ideas going in – and then those ideas were revolutionized by the personality of my son – and so I had new stronger ideas as my daughter’s arrival approached – but then God allowed life circumstances to confront those ideas and blessed me with a baby girl who’s personality he had tailored to meet those circumstances (and I had spent so much time worrying about how I would coordinate a “baby” – aka a baby just like my son – with the circumstances beyond my control that probably would not have worked well with my son). Sleep choices – yet another issue of life that can grow our trust in God’s wisdom, knowledge, and provision.

  • Exactly! After eight babies, we have definitly settled into our pattern. In answer to the question “Do you co-sleep or put the baby in his own bed?” we answer “yes.” Hubby and I are both light sleepers. We rest best in the first two months with Baby next to us, but after that, baby’s squirming keeps us both awake so we move him to the cradle in our room (2 whole feet from my bed). After six months, Baby usually moves enough in his sleep to keep us awake, which causes us to wake him up. So at that age baby goes into one of the dc rooms so we all sleep better. Works great for us!

  • We too have slept with our children and have enjoyed the sleep that we are able to get because of it. As of last week now that Noble is 10 months he has been sleeping in his own bed and doing great. It is always bittersweet…I love being able to sleep alone finally but miss his little body next to mine so much. Overall though, the timing always works out well for transitioning for each child and we all sleep great in the end as well. Anyways, great post as always! :)

  • My fifth baby is the first one that I have done a great deal of co-sleeping with (all night as a newborn and now I usually bring him to bed if he wakes up in the middle of the night and doesn’t go right back to sleep) and I am a convert! I am able to contrast it with my first who I followed the CIO method with. I didn’t sleep for 3 years! With co-sleeping, even partially, I’ve believe I’ve been up for more than 5 minutes just a handful of times in 10 months! I’m amazed with how much more energy I have and how much more I can get accomplished by getting a full nights rest.

  • Oh I think Daddy and baby should sleep together and I’ll take my own room! Just kidding. I love the IDEA of cuddling, but I am just too uptight to have people touching me when I’m sleeping. I envy these laid back gals who could do what you do/ are doing. I like to have them near me, though. Once I have already fallen asleep, Will got (this is all in the past since we’re past this stage) the baby and put him/her next to me and we all slept together about half of the time. That’s after I’ve already reached a deep sleep and don’t care anymore. I think being relaxed enough to have a baby in bed with you is a gift from God. People who criticize it are just uptight and jealous (like me, for example)..:) Nice post. Where were you when I was fending off canons?

  • Kindra

    I love this — I started off anti-cosleeping as well. My oldest wouldn’t sleep with me or without me — he just wouldn’t sleep! I tried everything in the book. Finally, we decided that *someone* in the family needed to sleep, so we put him in his own room.

    With my second, we started her off in the bassinet and then when she’d wake to nurse, I’d bring her into bed and then she’d stay in bed with me until morning — I never really felt sleep-deprived with her. There was one or two times when I felt her kicking me and I woke up to find that I had put the covers over her face :( That was scary. thankfully I’m not that deep of a sleeper, otherwise I couldn’t have done it.

  • I wish I read this post 7 months ago when my son was born!

    It took us a few weeks (I think…I was so sleep-deprived I don’t know exactly when) to figure out that co-sleeping is what works for our family.

    The first few weeks, my son wouldn’t sleep anywhere unless he was in my arms, on my chest, or touching me.

    Later, we saw that he would sleep a little in his swing.

    I tried sharing a bed with him, making it as safe as possible, and found that we all slept better.

    I too dream-nurse and I have no idea how many feedings my son takes during the night. Sometimes I’ll wake up and watch him, and he’ll reach out and touch me and then will fall into a deeper state of sleep.

    If I move too far away, he wakes. It’s amazing.

    Now, we’re having a hard time getting him to sleep by himself. I have no need to go to bed at 8 p.m. and I don’t need several naps in a day.

    He’ll sleep in his crib a little bit, but it’s hard to get him to fall asleep for nights and he usually doesn’t sleep long.

    I’m sure it’ll change eventually.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Mrs. Parunak

    Kacie,

    You’re absolutely right! It will change eventually, probably overnight. Before you know it, your little snuggler will be just like my first baby is now, sleeping in her own bed (on the top bunk, no less). Making the transition takes patience, but it does happen. I found that if I lay down and nursed my babies to sleep, that I could then sneak off quietly, and they usually wouldn’t wake up right away. That way, I could put them down when they were tired, and then get up for a couple more hours myself.

  • Ah, I was blessed with a great sleeper in our little girl. When she first came home we had set up the second bedroom with her crib and a single bed. That way she could go to bed after the late night nursing and when she awoke (usually 4-5 hours later) I would just climb into the single bed with her and nurse. We would sleep snuggled up until it was time to rise. Worked great for us! And, I miss it!

  • Mrs. R

    Mrs. Parunak,

    At what age do your babies sleep through the night? IOW, how long do you co-sleep? Just curious, about your experience. We’ve only co-slept w/ the last 2 of our 5 babies, and it has been SO HARD to figure out when they no longer have a legitimate need for nourishment during the night. Thus, very difficult to get them to sleep through the night. Don’t get me wrong… I wasn’t trying to get them to sleep through the night for the first several months. After awhile, though, we were in desperate need of some sleep!

    Mrs. R

  • Mrs. Parunak

    Mrs. R,

    I would be very careful about cutting out a night nursing that the baby really seems to want until you are near weaning, simply because depending on your milk storage capacity, your baby may not be able to get all the milk he needs during the day. It really depends a lot more on your capacity than on the baby’s age. (I wrote about that in detail here.)

    My babies are usually done by the time they turn one or so. When we get towards the end, I transition to giving a sippy cup of water instead of nursing. There are always two or three hard nights with lots of pacing and patting and not much sleeping, but eventually they do give up on being nursed at night. (One child had a much harder time. With her, we had Daddy be the one to tend to her at night. Then she COULDN’T nurse, and she knew it, so she was much happier to accept other forms of comfort if she woke up.)

    I have also learned that what often wakes babies up is a full bladder. Taking my toddler to the bathroom when she first woke up at night, virtually eliminated all subsequent awakenings, and she would go right back to sleep, whereas before I had learned that trick, I would struggle for an hour sometimes to get her back to sleep, only to have her wake up again in a few minutes.

  • We’ve co-slept with all 3 of our children, and it has worked very well for us. I’m a very light sleeper, but if I had to get up and go get the baby, I had trouble going back to sleep. Dh was a heavy sleeper and never woke through anything (he has slept through an earthquake!). We’ve had 1 wiggler and 2 snugglers, and expecting again in a few weeks. I think you have to be flexible and do what works best for your family.

    We moved Kendra out of our bed around age 2. I stopped nursing her when I got pregnant and we just made her a bed on the floor next to us. If she needed me, I was right there and just reached down to pat her.

    Vannan moved out of our bed around 18 months. My mom gave us a cradle which she LOVED. She hated the crib. We set it up with a crib matress on the bottom bunk of Kendra’s bed. I would nurse her at bedtime and put her in the cradle. Around 2 or 3 AM, she would crawl out of her bed and come to our room and I would scoop her into bed for a nursing and she would stay the rest of the night. She self weaned just after her second birthday. Then she slept in her own bed until around 4am before coming in with us. … Until we moved and one of the big kids in the church was telling ghost stories and scared her silly. She was barely 3. Now she wanted there ALL NIGHT. Tim would shift her to her bed, but by 1am, she was usually back. Being cold winter, we let her stay. Then 6 months later we moved to live with Tim’s parents and it was never an issue there. IF Tim’s away, she still likes to come sleep on his side of the bed.

    Joel moved into that cradle around his first birthday, but it was right next to my bed. It was summer and we slept better that way. Come winter, the nights got so cold, he moved back in the bed with us (our trailer is very drafty). He just had his 4th birthday. He moved out of our bed each summer and back in each winter – I weaned him just after his second birthday when I got pregnant, when I miscarried, he was no longer interested. He often goes to sleep in our bed at night and Tim shifts him to his bed later, but he only gets up to use the bathroom and goes right back to his bed afterwards. Recently he’s been putting himself to bed either on his bed or the couch.

  • Thank you so much for this post! As we’re expecting our first little one in January, this is something that I’ve thought a lot about and my husband and I discussed some. At first I was pretty opposed to co-sleeping (for us…I don’t really care what others want to do in their families! :)) because I was afraid I would roll on the baby, smother it, etc. But after reading your post (and I hope to get to the safe co-sleeping links you gave), that doesn’t seem to be an issue and I was very intrigued by what you mentioned co-sleeping helping everyone sleep through the night. I hope to read your post to my husband soon and I think it will be something we’ll be reconsidering…thank you so much for again presenting such a balanced perspective of the issue!

  • I am curious where your babies sleep for naps. Do you have to sleep with them?

  • Mrs. Parunak

    Jessalyn,

    All my babies have been a little different in how much cuddling they wanted for naps, so I’ve done things a little differently every time. My little babies who liked to cuddle usually slept in their slings. I had one who took a lot of naps in the baby swing. And my current baby likes to fall asleep in my arms, and then I lay her down. Older babies and toddlers usually like me to lie down by them while they fall asleep, and then I can tiptoe out.

  • I know this is an OLD post, but I remembered you writing on this subject and now that I have an infant, I wanted to look back on it. I have a question that I am hoping you can answer. Our family has enjoyed partial co-sleeping and in room sleeping (baby bed in our room). Our son is 8 months old and we just found out we are expecting. We are feeling a lot of pressure to let him cry it out in a crib in his own room because we don’t understand how we will be able to have both a 17 MO and a newborn sleeping with us. First due to space and secondly because we think the 17 MO will wake up if the newborn cries and vice versa. Do you have any experience with children this close together? Any advice or options that you know of besides “crib training”?

  • Stephanie,

    Congratulations on your new baby!

    I don’t have any experience with babies as close together as yours will be. However, I did have three out of my four children weaned and into their own beds full-time by around thirteen months, so I do have lots of experience on training babies to sleep in their own beds before the seventeen month mark.

    My first piece of advice to you is wait a little while. You won’t believe the difference a few months makes. An eight month old is still very much a baby, but a twelve month old is much more a toddler and much more ready to branch out in independence. You are very wise to be thinking about this before your new baby is born, but you have a whole nine months to work with, and at this point, there’s no rush. In my experience, if the child is ready, it only takes about a week to make the transition to sleeping alone.

    The method that we have used results in a few nights with greatly reduced sleep for at least whichever parent does the training. (And if you are exhausted in your first trimester, that could be another reason to wait. You might find that you handle a little lost sleep much better in your second trimester.) We have always done this in connection to weaning, but you wouldn’t necessarily have to. When the baby is about a year old, and seems to be gaining a little more independence at night (nursing less often, more content to have Mommy roll away from him), we decide that the time has come and put the baby to bed in his own bed in his own room for naps for a few days, so he gets used to the new space. We always make a big deal about how exciting, and cozy, and fun the new space is, and make a fuss over what a big boy or girl our baby is to be sleeping in the new space.

    I do whatever works to help the baby fall asleep without crying: singing, patting, reading stories (note that these are all things you can do while holding your new baby). Once we have switched naps to the new space for a couple of days, we start putting the baby to bed there at night, too. After that, we don’t let him back in our bed for any part of the night for a few weeks to a few months to make sure the change sticks. At first, the baby will likely wake up several times a night because he’s used to our bodies being near him. So I get up every time he cries and pat him, change his diaper, or snuggle him a bit (We don’t use a crib. We put the crib mattress on the floor, which makes it really easy to lie down next to the baby for a few minutes during the transition.) Usually, the baby gets used to the new place within a few nights. And by “used to,” I just mean, happy to sleep there and doesn’t usually wake me up more than a time or two a night to briefly pull covers up or put him back on the mattress after he rolls off.

    In the month before a new baby is born, we have the children get used to Daddy’s help at night so that I can concentrate on the newborn.

    And that’s what has worked for our family. I hope it gives you some ideas of what might work for yours.

    I also wanted to encourage you that we’ve almost never had a baby wake an older sibling or vice versa. Children very quickly get accustomed to night sounds, and unless you are letting your infant cry a lot and for a long time, your older child probably won’t notice after the first few nights. And newborns will sleep through anything as long as they are snuggled up by you and can nurse the disturbance away.

  • Han

    Sort of on this subject, a few questions from a nosey lady who may potentially be doing research for future reference :)

    1. What do you think about the stuff on the internet regarding adult bedding material not being safe for babies? Do you have an expensive organic mattress so that you babies don’t breathe toxic gasses, or do you figure that you can’t protect a baby from every potential danger that anyone might come up with?

    2. What kind of blanket/duvet arrangement do you use in order to avoid smothering your babies whilst keeping everyone sufficiently snuggled?

    In no rush for an answer, I know you must be crazy busy.

    Cheers :)
    x

  • Han,

    Thanks for your comment. In answer to your questions:

    1. I do actually have an expensive organic mattress, but I got it because I was concerned about flame retardants present in ALL mattresses (including crib mattresses). I have never heard that adult bedding has more chemicals in it than bedding designed for infants. Maybe this is a difference among countries? I did a quick (very quick, so I certainly could have missed something) search after I read your comment and couldn’t find any info on crib mattresses in the U.S.’s being safer than adult mattresses. I’d be interested in links if you have any to share.

    2. We have to dress a little more warmly (long-sleeves are a must for me), and we don’t turn the heat down as far at night. And then we just have to keep blankets low enough that they are way away from the baby. It did take some getting used to and some effort to keep my upper body warm, but now I hardly even notice the new arrangement.

  • Han

    Mrs P,

    I stand corrected, I hadn’t noticed that the chemicals were also found in crib mattresses.

    Thanks for your reply :)

    x

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