I’ll just get it over with: I love co-sleeping.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably read a million articles about how unsafe it is, how miserable parents are because their toddler won’t sleep in their own bed, strategies on getting baby to sleep in her crib, etc. So much debate, so much anxiety. But I love it and that’s my dirty little secret.
Despite all of my preparation, there were a lot of surprises about giving birth. One was that I was going to feel like the floor of a taxicab for weeks afterwards. Or that turkey baster thing they give you so you can pee without crying. But mostly I was surprised by the strength of my instinctual need to sleep near my child.
For the first few months, my son slept in a bassinet that attached to the side of the bed that is very appropriately called a “Co-Sleeper.” My husband and I agreed that he would sleep there for six months and then would graduate to his beautiful crib down the hall. But I couldn’t shake that bone-deep feeling that we should be sharing sleep. It wasn’t that I was worried, though I would be lying if I said that wasn’t part of it. I was a new mother after all. It was something altogether more basic.
So I read up on the pros and cons of co-sleeping. There is much debate on the safety of sleeping with a child, especially during the baby years. Hell, even the American Academy of Pediatrics is against it. But once I learned the safe way to sleep with a baby, I was sold. We gave that crib away. It was never used.
Here are the reasons why I love co-sleeping:
I was one of those moms who didn’t bond right away with my baby. My first thought after the nurse handed me the child that I had just spent 36 hours (!!!!!!) pushing out was, “Holy shit, there really was a person in there!” Then I spent the next few days in the hospital staring at his little wrinkled face wondering who owed whom dinner (I still don’t know). I felt that he was a stranger to me, someone I’d just met. How could I love someone I had just met?
But after days and weeks of staring at his sleeping face while I lay beside him, I realized that I didn’t just love him. I was obsessed with him. He was my whole life. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t have bonded with him if we weren’t co-sleeping, but it helped.
2. It’s Part of Our Animal Nature
Putting children to sleep in their own bed and room is a fairly new construct. Americans began to give children their own rooms after World War II, during a time when consumerism was taking hold and citizens wanted to use and show off their relative wealth. But for the whole of human history before 70 years ago, people always slept with their kids. In the majority of the world, people still do. Not only was it practical to do so to conserve space and heat, it was sometimes the difference between life and death in a harsh world. We are animals, and all mammals sleep with their young to protect them from predators.
Sleeping with our partners is a given—something we do without expending much thought. It is an act that denotes trust, commitment, and companionship. Sharing sleep isn’t an inherently sexual act, though some obviously see it that way. It is, however, a nonverbal way of telling the ones we love that we will protect them at their most vulnerable, or at the very least not kill them ourselves. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
4. It’s Pleasurable
My toddler is affectionate and always has been. At 4, he is still on my lap as much as he can manage it (and at almost 50 pounds, that’s quite a feat). But no matter where the day takes us, whether we’re together or apart, that time we spend snuggling in bed, sharing our most quiet moments, is when we feel the closest. For anyone who has a toddler, the quiet in itself is pretty damn amazing, but seeing this adorable little person—who until very recently was screaming, “Pika! Pika! Chu!” over and over while jumping on the couch—sleeping peacefully while clutching a Rescue Bot is just what I need to remind me of the tiny baby I once fell in love with. Falling asleep with that little person in your arms is even better. And between you and me, being the big spoon is pretty great.
5. Better Sleep
I can state categorically from personal experience that my kid sleeps better in our bed. But surprisingly, after an adjustment period, I found that I did, too. The extra doses of Oxytocin and Dopamine, hormones that lower blood pressure and cause pleasure, triggered by breastfeeding and the extended touch of a loved one, are enough to send me quickly off to dreamland. I know, this article should have started and ended with that last sentence, right? On top of that, not having to get out of bed when your child needs to nurse or a new diaper (and later on needs a glass of water or feels scared) is worth its weight in gold for a lazy mom like myself.
The choice of how a family sleeps is a very personal one and I would never tell anyone else how to live. But co-sleeping works for my (very small) family. That doesn’t mean there are no drawbacks (Google “toddler sleeping positions”). But all who are involved get sleep every night.
Co-sleeping isn’t just for hippies or for parents who “can’t put their foot down.” Many people secretly share a family bed but don’t tell their pediatrician, family, or friends, for fear of judgment or lectures on safety. For those people, I’m here to step up and take the flak so you don’t have to. Buy me dinner later.