Co-sleeping Part Two: The Nitty Gritty {Guest Post}

My parents said one of the best things we could get before baby arrived was a king sized bed (we had a queen), but hubby didn’t want to spend that kind of money on a new bed when ours was "perfectly fine." Sigh. I like to snuggle so the thought of us all sharing a queen didn’t bother me.

We used (and still do when we have a newborn) the Tres Tria co-sleeper by Better For Babies (a company that recently closed its doors, but they may still be available at retailers or for resale). It is a half moon shaped, long natural rubber ‘pillow’ (for lack of a better word) that rests on the mattress, under the fitted sheet at the edge of the bed and forms a smooth barrier to keep baby from falling off the bed without forming any cracks to impede breathing. It also works great as a back rest for you when nursing in bed.

In the beginning, my husband was fine with bed sharing. He even bragged to his co-workers who were complaining about not getting sleep with a new baby about how rested he was and that bed sharing was awesome.

My son was really sensitive to any change in position and hardly ever stayed asleep if you tried to lay him down from your arms. I took to nursing him to sleep. But laying down and nursing a child is really soporific and most often I would fall asleep too. I would wake when hubby came in later to bed. But as time went on, he spent fewer and fewer nights in bed with us and more nights sleeping on the couch (the only other sleeping surface unless you count the floor). I asked why he was sleeping on the couch more than the bed but he just said he would fall asleep out there (most often the tv would still be on) so I didn’t think much of it.

When my son turned 2, we conceived our second baby and were also in the process of looking for a house; we were quickly outgrowing our one bedroom condo. We moved into a three bedroom house and got a twin sized bed in addition to the queen we had, hoping to transition our son into it. He did not like the abrupt shift to his own bed in his own room. Hubby was happy to have his bed back and did not want to go back to the way it had been. I tried separate beds in separate rooms: nursing my son down to sleep and then sneaking out and sleeping in my bed for a few hours before he would wake up and cry until I went to him or he would come running crying into our room and want to sleep in the ‘big bed’, unfortunately that would cause hubby to climb out of bed due to lack of space and go to sleep in the little bed.

This ‘musical beds’ happened for a bit with limited success and no progress on our son sleeping in his own bed for the night. Hubby was not happy. He wanted his own bed and his own space, not being crammed together in a bed with a toddler. So I took to spending most of the night in the twin with our son so he would stay in his bed. I was hoping that maybe this would lead to him being able to sleep all night in his bed, in his room, once he could see that it was ok and get used to the new space.

No luck. And as my pregnancy progressed, I couldn’t comfortably sleep in the twin with my son, nor could I sleep in our bed with hubby and toddler. And still less could I stand to go back and forth and get less than no sleep. I decreed, at 7 ½ months pregnant that I needed to sleep too and that I wanted to move the twin into our room right next to our bed to create one giant bed.

Most co-sleeping parents talk about using this method to get kids into their own beds – make a giant bed and put toddler to sleep on the smaller one that is right next to your bed so it doesn’t seem separate, then slowly move it apart in the same room, and finally to their own room. I just knew I couldn’t stand the way that it was going at the moment and with a new baby coming I needed to sleep while I could. This seemed to help a lot. Hubby got his own space, our son still felt close by, and I got space and sleep. I would nurse my son down to sleep on the twin and then roll onto my side of the queen bed, still in reach of my son but with enough space to get comfortable.

As the birth of our second child approached, we talked about what we wanted to do differently. Or more correctly, we argued. He was unhappy with how we had done things with our son, mainly with the sleeping arrangements. He wanted to sleep in his own bed instead of being relegated to the couch or twin bed. While I felt he had a point, he didn’t want to do/use any of the other options for baby/toddler sleep (co-sleeper, bassinet, crib, king sized bed, etc.) nor did he want to share in the nighttime parenting of an infant. So we were at an impasse.

He acknowledged the benefits to bed sharing for me and baby, but didn’t like not having room in his own bed. I told him as soon as he had a suggestion to try and not just a complaint, I would be happy to try it. This was a hard time for us as a couple. Maybe it was just adjusting as a couple to having kids. Maybe it was the clash of different parenting ideals. I really idolized my friends who both had similar parenting styles (whether more traditional or more attachment style) as I felt they had less conflict than we were having.

What we didn’t count on with our second was how much our son would want to sleep by the new baby. I always assumed he’d want to be close to mama again with the new baby here and demanding so much of my time and attention, but it was her that he wanted to be by. He cried for almost 2 hours the first night she was born, begging to sleep next to his sister. While it is not recommended for toddlers to sleep next to a newborn, we gave in and let them sleep next to each other in our queen bed with me until he fell asleep. Then I moved her to the outside and I slept in between them.

She was a much easier sleeper than my son, and I was able to nurse her to sleep and then get up and she would still sleep for an hour or so. This was a turning point for us. As she got bigger, and we acquired another twin bed, I would nurse her to sleep in that bed and then be able to move to the ‘big’ bed with my hubby for a few hours until she woke.

Sometimes I could nurse her back to sleep and get up, and other times she just wanted me by her. Being able to have her sleep some of the night in her own bed has helped to re-establish intimacy with hubby and to give him his bed back. Sometimes we still play musical beds as the kids want to be in bed with us. And we are now expecting baby #3 so I am getting back into needing more of my own space, rather than being able to sleep comfortably in the twin with my daughter.

Co-sleeping has been a benefit overall to our life and to our babies. Breastfeeding has been better and easier, I get more sleep, and the kids have the security that they are not alone – rarely do they have nightmares or refuse to go to sleep. They are only going to want to be close to us for a short time in the scheme of things. I won’t be going to college with my son because he needs to sleep in the same bed as me. He is four and a half and sleeps most nights in his bed. He wants us to lay down with him, read stories and talk to him until he falls asleep; and that is precious time.

It has been harder than I expected due to my and my husband’s differing ideas of child rearing. And, as I said before, being honest about what we want and what is important to us as a couple, as individuals and as a family is one of the most important things to making it work.

What are your thoughts on co-sleeping?