A Co-Sleeping Journey

"Let me outta here, Mom!"

I have thus far, avoided this topic on my blog because, turns out, co-sleeping is a pretty contentious parenting practice.  Many of us co-sleep with our kids.  Some of us do this openly; some do it defiantly, as a counter-culture, kid-centered practice; some of us don’t want to get the grief that comes from admitting our kids sleep with us.  Some of us have the support of our pediatricians; some of us don’t.  Some of us planned to co-sleep; some of us co-sleep as a default, because we’ve tried everything else and nothing worked.  In any case, this blog isn’t intended to serve as a source of debate.  If you co-sleep, feel free to share your experiences.  If you don’t, that is a very fine choice, well supported by your local pediatrician, and I’m glad you were able to find a solution that works for your family. I know the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against co-sleeping, and that there are folks that connect co-sleeping with small children to an increased risk of SIDS.    I consider myself to be a thoughtful parent who has certainly researched the topic carefully and I’m here to share our co-sleeping journey.

Moving on from my massive disclaimer…

My husband and I researched co-sleeping as an option prior to the arrival of our little one.  Like most moms, having a gripping fear of SIDS, I felt strongly that I wanted to be able to have our little one near to me at night so I could easily check on her in a half-groggy state rather than wearing a path between my bed and her crib.  So we planned to put our little one in a separate, bassinet style co-sleeper that attached to our bed for easy transfer of our daughter once she nursed to sleep.  Naps would take place in her crib.  This was the plan.

Then we had our daughter, V.  I had a relatively smooth labor that went awry after delivery, as I hemorrhaged and bled out to the point where my blood pressure was dangerously low.  I was highly drugged in order for them to make quick repairs and given a shot of something to get my heart pumping.  My husband, M, was with our daughter in the NICU as she was getting an IV of antibiotics to deal with some issues that happened during labor.  My mom was in the room with me, arms wrapped tightly around me to keep me from vibrating off of the table as I was so shaky with the epidural drugs and the blood loss that I could not get control of my body.  Eventually, my husband came back to check on me, switched spots with my mom, and I fell, exhausted, asleep in his arms, until I woke up 4 hours later, desperately longing to hold my little girl.

Our little pumpkin getting ready to leave the hospital!

Exhausted but yearning for my sweet baby, I was wheeled to the NICU, where M and I picked up our little gal.  The NICU nurse informed us that she had quite a set of lungs!  Being a rather outspoken couple ourselves, we giggled somewhat proudly and eagerly drank in the experience of being together as a family (in a non-emergency state) for the first time.  Little did we know that nurse’s statement foreshadowed our sleeping experiences for the next….well, still counting!

When we finally arrived in our mother-baby room, it was 5 am.  At 6 am, the procession started.  Doctors, nurses, hospital photographers, pediatricians, NICU nurses, family, food service delivery folks, kept an ongoing stream through our room for the entire day.  It appears that when you are on the verge of a blood transfusion and your child is receiving a course of antibiotics, that there is little rest to be had in a hospital.  Everyone is constantly checking.  By the end of the day, after being up for pretty much 40+ hours, and pushing an 8lb 9oz kid out of my body, I was depleted.  And our little one kept screaming.  My milk supply was low, and she was hungry.  And she let us know.  At the recommendation of the nurses, despite our misgivings, I was supplementing V with formula by dripping it onto my breast, so at least she would get something.  Then I would let her finish the bottle.  It was a nursing and sleeping nightmare.  Finally, with the 6 am hour approaching, we sent her down to the nursery, so I could get an hour or so of sleep before I collapsed.

About 20 minutes later (it felt like), her bassinet came wheeling back into the room.  With V still screaming.  They sent her back.  I have yet to hear another parent tell me that their child was sent back from the nursery for screaming.  This means that despite the experienced care of multiple pediatric nurses, my child was still inconsolable.

Eventually, exhausted after a longer than normal hospital stay, with constant sleep interruptions, we took our little baggage and went home bleary-eyed and in love with our little girl.  But no matter how much love you have for your child, there comes a point, usually when your body is still traumatized by labor and the sleep deprivation that accompanies it, when you just need some sleep.  A week later, V would still sleep no longer than 10-15 minutes anywhere but on my person, occasionally in M’s arms or in the presence of company, or sometimes, fully supervised on her Boppy pillow.  The 10-15 minute interval was when we actually were able to get her physically in her crib, rather than to have the mission aborted at the treacherous inch above the co-sleeper or crib mattress. We were getting desperate.  We called our friend Megan, at the time, a veteran mother of 3 (now it is 4) for some advice.  “Learn to side-nurse and take her to bed with you,” said Megan.  After reading the factors that increase the risk of SIDS with co-sleeping, (being overweight, drinking, being heavy sleepers), and determining that none of these factors applied to us, we hesitantly and desperately gave it a try.  Finally, FINALLY, V slept.  She slept most of the night, waking up once or twice to nurse.   It was heaven.

V in one of her rare off-human sleeping places...on her Boppy. With constant adult supervision.

We did not immediately succumb to the heavenly lull of co-sleeping sleep, though.  No, we fought to get our kiddo to sleep on her own.  We watched the “Happiest Baby on the Block” and shushed, swaddled and rocked her.  I read every baby book from “The Baby Whisperer,” to “The No-Cry Sleep Solution,” to Kim West’s sleep books, to finally find a little comfort and support from the Sears’ parenting series, which advocates co-sleeping as an option.  We tried a strict sleep and naptime schedule, endless rocking, music, white noise, walking to no avail.

In the meantime, we packed up our house and moved out of state as my husband took a job in West Virginia.  Between the ongoing construction on new townhomes in our neighborhood, frequent though enjoyable visits from family and friends, and the utter exhaustion we encountered as new parents unpacking a home far away from our support network, we had our share of challenges.  We soldiered on, trying various methods, generally a relaxed variation of the cry it out fare, with little success.  I admit I had little stomach for the crying it out.  V screamed louder and longer.  She threw up.  One or the other of us would cave after less than 5 minutes. One afternoon, after spending two weeks of days trying to get my little gal on a nap schedule where she would nap, then nurse, (so as to separate the eating-sleeping connection per the “experts”) I left my baby in the crib to cry, out of pure frustration.  For five minutes.  Hearing the volume ramp up, my frustration finally gave way to agonizing guilt as I swung the door back open to find my precious one cowering in the crib, heartbroken.  Looking at her face, I realized this solution was just not for us.  It may work for others, but for our relationship, it felt devastating.  V confirmed this feeling, as she clung to me with anxiety, nursing constantly for the remainder of the day.

To remind me, after the worst "cry it out" moment, why we would continue to co-sleep

So we were a co-sleeping family…for the most part.  We had our moments where V started to sleep for a half-hour, an hour, a rare and glorious two hours in the crib.  These moments were punctuated with periods where we had guests in our house, and the schedule went to heck.  Then my father-in-law fell gravely ill and we fell back into exclusive co-sleeping during our frequent out-of-state travels as he went through a long and precarious recovery. And we went through yet another, this time, local move.

We had fought it, listened to all the voices challenging co-sleeping as a parental practice, and ultimately, chose sleep and co-sleeping to survive.  V is a 22 month old partial co-sleeper now.  We recently bought her a “big girl” bed which is still in our room to help us deal with her semi-frequent wakings.  Our current goal is to keep V in her bed and to have my husband assume more of the night shifts so we can break the nighttime nursing dependence.  We have gotten a few nights where I have been able to take the bedtime and 5-6 am shift while M handles the in between waking.  We have gotten a handful of nights where V has slept through from 8:30 pm to 5am and a smattering of 8:30 pm to 2 or 3 am nights.  On those nights when V sleeps “through” to 5 or 6 am and I wake at that time to snuggle in with her on her mattress for her nursing requests, I find I am grateful for that morning cuddle.   Even though it has seemed like a long and sometimes impossible situation, co-sleeping means snuggling through the night, easy nursing, smelling the smell of V’s sweet baby head, feeling her little arm thrown over mine or her nestling into one of us in the wee hours.  Those moments are ones we’ll remember when the sleep struggles are past.  In the meantime, we cope as we go, and we have learned not to judge parents for whatever sleep practices allow them to function.  Except to feel a little exasperated at those folks who smugly say…”my daughter or son slept through the night at 6 weeks, 2 months, 5 months…”  To those folks, I parry, “just wait for your next one…”Our angel, sleeping.

Linking up with Shell at Things I Can’t Say for Pour Your Heart Out Wednesdays.



20 responses to “A Co-Sleeping Journey

  • Juliana

    Happily co-sleeping with our third child in a row! Most people say the Newborn stage is where you get the worst sleep. For us it is the opposite. Our newborns sleep awesome snuggled next to me. All three of ours rarely cried at night because they were sleeping next to me and I would just feed them when they started grunting and moving around obviously hungry. When the crappy sleep starts(for us) is when they get older and move around a lot. When this happens, we move them to the crib and that is when the really crappy sleep happens. Annalise had the worst transition. Caroline’s wasn’t so bad. And we will see how G does. Like you said, they are all different. But one thing is for sure, co-sleeping feels like the most natural way to sleep with my babies and I can’t imagine it any other way. Good luck to you and M as you soldier on through the transition phase. I know it’s tough.

  • pmlevitt

    Yep, I agree. V slept great as a newborn co-sleeper. Then about a year old or so, the thrashing began. That made it really hard and we’ve had to try to be creative to make the transition. Thanks for the good wishes; appreciate it!

  • Lilly

    Thank you for writing about this, I went through a similar process of researching co-sleeping and deciding that we were not at high risk for SIDS. Side-nursing and co-sleeping were the two sanity savers for those first weeks and I felt like it was the perfect solution for me and both of my children. I also remember getting mixed messages about it from friends and doctors, but as you start to realize during your pregnancy everyone has an opinion. Some are valid and some are not, it’s up to each parent to do what’s best for their family. I remember asking my midwife what she thought and her response was “when was the last time you fell out of bed?”. She meant that unless you have a sleep disorder or are under the influence of something, you will be aware of your surroundings. Also as someone that had their first child 10 years ago I can also attest to the fact that advice relating to sleeping and SIDS is constantly changing. First it was side sleeping, then back sleeping, not to mention the risk factors kept changing. The reality is they just don’t know why this horrible thing happens and as a parent you need to do what makes you feel safe. For me that was having my babies right beside me. I’m not saying this to criticize those that don’t co-sleep, I just hope this will help a Mom who is trying to figure out the sleeping arrangements or who wants to co-sleep but is feeling guilty/worried about that decision.

    • pmlevitt

      That was me…the guilty mom. Because even though my pediatrician at the time and his doctor wife still co-slept with their nearly two year old, he still felt the need to print out articles on sleep training. And look guilty himself. As new parents we often listen to every one else at the expense of ourselves, or if you’re like me, you do what your child needs but still feel like you are “failing” if it’s not the status quo. Really, I can’t imagine how we could have coped any differently while still being sensitive to the personality and needs of our little gal. Thanks for sharing your story; it’s nice to have co-sleeping parent support!

  • Anastasia

    We co slept with my first one. It wasn’t a plan or a parenting choice. It was laziness and then it was hard for me to sleep without her little warm body curled up next to me. She’s 5 and sometimes I still let her come cuddle in the middle of the night.

  • pmlevitt

    That cuddle time is so precious. When we first started transitioning V, I had a hard time sleeping because I was used to snuggling her. I was restless and checking!

  • Tara R.

    When my kids were new borns, don’t remember there being so much debate over co-sleeping.. but again that was about 20 years ago. Our kids both slept with us, mainly because of late night nursing issues, and it was just easier. The transition to a separate bed was far more traumatic for me than my kids.

    I believe that whatever works best for your family is the right thing to do, and it’s no one else’s business whether you choose to co-sleep or not.

    • pmlevitt

      Yep, nowadays, it feels like everyone thinks they can be an authority on every one else’s parenting, so totally I felt it. I had words with a nurse practitioner over it, because she thought I was a naive, uneducated mother who of course, would not have researched the pros and cons of co-sleeping. I flat out told her I felt judged by her as a mother. I was livid. Survival as a parent in today’s judgy world can be brutal!

  • Complacent in Chaos (@Mama4Cha0s)

    I didn’t bedshare with my first. I did with my son, but my husband was against it and slept on a mattress in the living room (our “room” was a den at the time). My third slept with me from day one, this time my husband got past his fears. For the longest time he was vehemently against it, but since he didn’t have to stay up at night with them, he didn’t get much say. Just the other day, he admitted that he really likes it now. He (we) love waking up to their slumber-faces being the very first things we see. They’re happier, we’re happier. Honestly, it’s what I feel is what nature intended…

    I won’t deny though. I’m a bit worried about this next one due in a few months. My youngest, too, has begun the nighttime thrashing. She has her own bed next to ours, but frequently ends up back in ours (and hogging the bed). It’s not going to work with a newborn… =/

    • pmlevitt

      I think it is easier for the husbands to say, no, put them back in their beds, because, often the nursing moms are the ones up losing the sleep. When the kids are in bed, the husbands lose some sleep too and they feel it. Throw in the whose going to work outside the home tomorrow debate in the mix and it can get tricky. For us, it was frustrating for my husband because he couldn’t nurse V, and V wouldn’t take a bottle, and V wouldn’t go to sleep without nursing. So he was pretty much helpless, and sleepless as well. It is a challenging situation for sure. We are incorporating V’s sleep habits into our family planning efforts for a potential number two because having two sleep challenged kids at once would probably send us over the edge! I wish you much luck and many happy wishes with your new little one. You will find a way to make it all work, I know:)

  • Kristin @ What She Said

    I never realized you went through such a difficult post L&D experience – I’m sorry you had to deal with all of that.

    I know we’ve talked about this before and noted how our kids are at two different ends of the spectrum when it comes to sleep. Lil’ Bit did sleep through the night, in her crib, at five weeks. And I recognize that we were very lucky in that regard and try not to ever sound smug when it comes up in conversation (and therefore apologize if I do). And even if she HAD had sleep issues, I think we would have persisted with sleep training vs. going the co-sleeping route, even if it meant struggling through the CIO method (I never liked that either and was thankful we rarely had to do it). But whose to say if it would’ve worked or not? Luckily, we never had to find out. And my heart goes out to you and M for all the frustration and sleepless nights you endured – what you described may very well have brought me to my knees.

    My point is that everyone has to do what they feel works best for them, and they should never feel like they have to apologize for it. I personally cannot imagine co-sleeping – we were forced to do it once, during a weekend away a few months ago, and it resulted in a comically bad night of sleep for Hubs and me both (which I later chronicled on my blog). But I don’t believe others are “wrong” for choosing to go that route. To each their own.

    Good luck as you guys transition V to her big girl bed!

    • pmlevitt

      I remember your post on that weekend! I secretly thought, “If she only knew…” I have envied the moms with kids who slept through the night, and even those who did CIO successfully. None of it worked for us, and I had to struggle with a lot of feelings of failure about that through the past few years. I think this post is my way of owning our experience and being ok with it. Having been through it, I can certainly understand why many other parents cannot go that route, and certainly don’t fault them for it:)

  • angiegazdziak

    For a while, we were “co-sleeping” in that my daughter would cry, I’d stagger to the pack & play, bring her to bed so she could nurse, and I’d fall asleep. I’d wake up a few hours later, she’d be asleep, and I’d move her back to the pnp. I don’t think co-sleeping is the best solution, for us anyway, but our situation worked for the first few weeks. And I gotta say, there are times when I miss being able to kiss my baby in the middle of the night.

  • Shell

    I coslept with mine- though it was mostly due to survival. I needed SLEEP.

    My youngest was the most laid back and would sleep wherever. Though he LOVED his boppy… with supervision, of course. 😉

  • MEL

    I totally forgot about V being rejected from the hospital nursery! Ah, a preview of things to come indeed…

  • Annie Boreson

    I think each family should do what works for them and toss the guilt out the window! Without sleep no one is very happy and raising kids becomes a power struggle. No fun! Although it has been years I do remember those days quite well. Everyone was telling me how to raise my girls from the minute they crowned. You would think there is only one way and if you deviate from the manual you will screw them up. You sound like wonderful parents. Just enjoy that beautiful little girl! She is adorable!

    • pmlevitt

      Yeah, sometimes, it does feel like there is this looming ideal? I’d like to meet these “ideal” parents and “ideal” children….still waiting! Getting better at getting rid of the guilt; I think like with any new “job,” it takes a bit to get your bearings and your confidence. Unfortunately, with parenting, that’s the time when others seem to give the most…”feedback!”

  • Poets Rally

    a new baby, wow. blessings.
    what an angel.

    hope all is well.

    come join us if you could.

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