On Wednesday, my son Jacob and I appeared on the local CBC evening news, in a story about co-sleeping. Because I am a co-sleeping parent. When I was initially contacted about the story I spoke with a producer who mentioned that she herself had co-slept. All the same, I assumed that some other source would also be interviewed for the story, presenting an anti-co-sleeping message.
I agreed to participate, because I thought it was important to speak out on behalf of co-sleeping parents. I believe many more parents choose to co-sleep than are reflected in statistics on the subject, and I believe that the vast majority of us are not doing it flippantly. I wanted to give voice to that. However, I feel that I was portrayed as being almost dangerously irresponsible. My friend Lorien took up the call with the CBC on behalf of all co-sleeping parents, and you can see her thoughts on how co-sleeping was portrayed.
The truth of the matter is that, in spite of dire warnings from the BC Coroners Service, I’m not entirely sure that I buy the argument that co-sleeping is unsafe. For one thing, as John Hoffman and Annie of PhD in Parenting outline, when a baby dies in an adult bed there is no distinction made between a safe co-sleeping environment and an unsafe co-sleeping environment. Just as a crib filled with stuffed toys and pillows can be unsafe, an adult bed filled with the same things can be unsafe. The difference, though, is that if an infant suffocates under a pillow in a crib the pillow is blamed, and if an infant suffocates under a pillow in an adult bed co-sleeping is blamed.
In addition, there is conflicting information about co-sleeping from a variety of sources. People like Dr. Sears and Dr. James McKenna write about the benefits of co-sleeping. It’s simply not true that there’s a universal consensus on the dangers of co-sleeping.
But even if the data isn’t as clear as one would believe in regards to the dangers of co-sleeping, if so many pediatric societies and medical bodies recommend against it, isn’t it a good idea to avoid it? I avoided deli meat when I was pregnant, for example, even though the actual rate of listeria infection in pregnant women is about 12 per 100,000. Even if the likelihood of contracting an infection was low, I didn’t want to risk the potentially serious side-effects. Why wouldn’t I take the same precautions with co-sleeping?
To answer that question, let me share my experience when Hannah was a small baby. She had a bassinet, and I placed it beside my bed for her to sleep in. My idea was that when she woke up I would bring her into bed to nurse her, and place her back in the bassinet when she was done. In short, I intended to follow the advice of the pediatrician who was interviewed opposite me in the CBC news story. It sounded like a good plan when I hatched it before Hannah was born. In practice, though, it didn’t work at all.
Here’s the thing about babies – they crave human contact. Ask any parent and they will tell you that their baby likes to be held a lot. That desire doesn’t magically end when the sun goes down. So I sat up in bed and nursed Hannah to sleep. I laid her down in her bassinet, and like clockwork she was awake again in fairly short order. I nursed her and tried to transfer her again. And again. And again. Because I was using nipple shields at the time the side-lying position didn’t work for us, so I found myself sitting up much of the night trying to nurse my baby back to sleep.
I became seriously sleep-deprived, to the point that I was severely depressed for the first and (so far) only time in my life. I cried much of the day. I was convinced that I had made a terrible mistake by having a baby. I started to become concerned that I would doze off while I was propped up on pillows in bed nursing Hannah. And one thing that I knew for sure was that it was really not safe to sleep while holding a baby surrounded by pillows.
Things were different when I brought Hannah into bed with me. She slept for longer stretches when I was nearby, so I slept for longer stretches, too. Once I was better-rested I stopped crying all the time. I stopped resenting my baby, and feeling that I was the worst mother ever. I stopped imagining what it would be like to just run away and leave it all behind.
I am not the only parent who makes this miraculous discovery. I’ve spoken at many parenting groups, and chatted with many parents in my daily life. I can tell you that many, many, many parents end up co-sleeping with their baby. They may not do it in the same bed they share with their partner. They may not do it all night long, or every night. But many of us, at some point, cuddle up with our baby just so that everyone can get some sleep.
When the reporter was here she asked if I had blogged about co-sleeping, and I answered that I had. She commented that it must have been controversial, and I said it wasn’t. I suspect most parents understand the very real, very practical issues at play when you just want a good night’s sleep. Many of us swore we’d never co-sleep, and many of us have eaten our words. Just as we’ve eaten our words when it comes to never bribing our kids or never letting them eat sugar.
And so I co-sleep. I have researched safe sleep environments, and I have read position statements from pediatric societies. And then I made the best decision I could for my baby and my family. I would never tell other parents to co-sleep, or not to co-sleep. I would only suggest they do their own research, too, and maintain an open mind when the realities of parenting run smack-dab into their pre-conceived ideas. Because we’re the parents, and that’s what parents do.
Did you co-sleep? How did you come to your decision? And would you do everything the same way again? I’d love to hear!