Confessions of a Secret Co-Sleeper

I lie to my pediatrician. At every appointment the doctor or his nurse goes through a whole list of questions regarding our home life with the baby. They asks: What does the baby eat? (Actually, they usually ask how many bottles of formula he gets and I have to remind them I’m breastfeeding.) How many wet diapers? How long does he sleep? And then they ask: Where does he sleep? and I lie. I look my doctor right in the face and say “Oh my baby sleeps in his crib”.

Now, I have no idea if my ped supports co-sleeping but he always nods in approval when I say “in his crib”. I doubt I would get the same nodding if I said “He sleeps in our bed”. Maybe he has a secret button under the counter for people like me that sets off an alarm at CPS headquarters so they’re already waiting by my car to take the baby because OMG TOTALLY UNFIT. But the truth is, where my baby sleeps is not really a medical problem and therefor not something a pediatrician is trained to discuss. Most people’s knowledge of co-sleeping is limited to that story they heard about someone who accidentally rolled over and smothered their child or the mom whose six year old STILL sleeps in the bed… and dad sleeps on the couch. Those are not the norm. I would bet good money there are thousands of people across the country who are secret co-sleepers just like me. If you want more (positive, well-researched) information on co-sleeping I highly suggest www.askdrsears.com or The Baby Book also by Dr. Sears.

The truth is, co-sleeping means a lot of different things. I’ve technically been co-sleeping since the very beginning, since the baby has always slept within an arm’s reach of me. It wasn’t until we achieved success at breastfeeding in the side-lying position that we started bed-sharing. And it is AWESOME. I think learning to nursing lying down is the single most important key to successful breastfeeding (once you get past basic mechanical issues, I mean). Unless you have a partner who is willing to get up and fetch the baby and then get up and put the baby back to sleep EVERY TIME, save your sanity by practicing the side-lying position until you get the hang of it. Here’s my tips: Lie so you’re truly belly to belly, the baby should have to tip his head back and stretch out his neck to latch on. He’ll be tucked into your arm pit, not lying on your arm. And if you’re a roller like I am put a body or king-sized pillow behind your back so you don’t accidentally pull your nipple away if you drift onto your back because, ideally, you’ll be back asleep long before he’s done nursing.

The major concern with co-sleeping is safety, but it has never felt unsafe to me – it just feels natural. There are scary stories out there involving smothered babies and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome being more common among those who co-sleep. The supporters of co-sleeping actually believe it REDUCED SIDS because a baby uses the mother’s breathing patterns to help regulate his own. To prevent accidentally rolling onto the baby there is NO CO-SLEEPING if I have taken anything stronger than a Tylenol. No alcohol before bed, no sleep aids, no drugs, nothing to help me relax. My ability to wake up if I sense something is wrong with the baby is vital to a safe co-sleeping situation. Since I’m not a heavy sleeper to begin with, it took a few nights of bed-sharing before I got used to not waking every time Baby Evan sighed. (He’s surprisingly still when he sleeps though, no tossing or rolling. When we get to that stage of toddlerhood we might rethink the bed-sharing.) Now I sleep just as well as I ever did before the baby.

The other half of this equation is E, but to be honest, he’s really not involved in the co-sleeping. He didn’t even know I had brought the baby to bed the first couple nights! When Baby Evan was smaller I always kept him between me and the actual co-sleeper bassinette*. Now that the baby is a little less helpless I don’t mind putting him in the middle although I still put a pillow between E and Baby Evan. I also unswaddle the baby’s arms so he has the ability to push a blanket or pillow off him JUST IN CASE. (Here’s my other co-sleeping tip: Buy a huge bed. We went to a king-sized mattress after two years of sleeping on a full and cannot even imagine trying to bed-share with anything smaller. Sure it’s a little less cuddly but we weren’t cuddiwee sweepers to begin with.) I actually think E – even though he is a heavy sleeper who doesn’t hear the baby at night – is almost as physically aware of Baby Evan as I am. I’ve seen him roll in his sleep but it’s always away from the baby and when he tosses the pillows around he’s never even gotten close to a smothering situation.

Finally, I have to say I just really enjoy sleeping with the baby. He’s so cute and warm and snuggly when he’s asleep. I know it’s not for everyone – I had no idea it was even for me until I tried it – but for now it is what works best for our family, despite my lying to the pediatrician.

*Our Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper never worked quite as advertised because we have a bed frame with rails and I couldn’t get it flush against the side of the mattress. But with the side lowered and the leg extenders I can still reach Baby Evan without having to get up. I wouldn’t say you HAVE to have one – a regular bassinette or a pack’n’play bassinette next to the bed would work just as well – but we love ours.

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29 Responses to “Confessions of a Secret Co-Sleeper”

  1. lalaland13 says:

    If a warm snuggly baby is anything like a warm snuggly cat, then I totally understand this. Although I’m hoping little E doesn’t purr like my cat, who rumbles like he’s starting his Harley. It’s very soothing.

    Glad to see it’s working for you. I don’t know if I could do it, because I’m such a tosser and turner and grunter and farter and sigher. Even my cat gets annoyed with me and runs off. My other cat will sometimes climb on my legs or stomach, like “Hold still, damnit!”

  2. Shannon says:

    Yeah, we co-sleep b/c it’s the only way to breastfeed and actually get any sleeping done. My lactation specialist always says that pediatricians hinder breastfeeding when they chastise their patients who co-sleep. It is the ONLY way to do it and stay sane.
    And, I’ve read studies that report that the US is one of the only countries in the world where it is normal to have baby sleep apart from the parents…and incidentally has the highest rate of SIDS. So, yeah…

  3. Natalie says:

    I was terrified of telling ANYONE I co-slept after I had Olivia. I thought the world was going to judge me; “YOU’RE GONNA KILL THE BABY!” kept going through my head or my mom’s gentle reminder “Oh, be careful, you were three and still came to our bed to sleep most nights.” But I did it, for the same reasons you are doing it, and I don’t regret it ONE BIT. I miss my co-sleeping days. The soft, gentle breathing of the baby, their breath all sweet with milk (which Bill says smelled yuck, but I thought was sweet).

    But, around 9 months or so, both girls became more interested in playing with us in the bed than sleeping, so we had to sleep train them to sleep in their crib. We did use the CIO method, but it was not as brutal as it sounds. I’m the biggest softie in the world, but it was the only thing that worked for us. I hope that you are able to co-sleep for as long as you want, it seemed to be over too soon for us.

    Granted, we occasionally get 4 a.m. visits from our oldest, but she’s not in our bed “most nights”. (I can count on one hand how many times it has happened).

    Enjoy it, so glad to hear another positive story about co-sleeping.

  4. erniebufflo says:

    I’m not a mom, so I guess I don’t “know,” but I am the wife of a pediatrician. I like you, think you’re awesome, and think you are raising your son very well. I’m not judging, I think you should do whatever you want, but I had to comment a bit, after talking to Dr. Bufflo about this post.

    Your pediatrician is absolutely trained to discuss your baby’s sleeping with you, which is as much a medical issue as his eating, and your ped is as well-trained to discuss sleep as Dr. Sears is. Period. It’s interesting that you trust Dr. Sears, with whom you have no relationship, more than you trust your pediatrician, and maybe you need to find one you trust more? So you can talk about this with him/her? Rather than having to keep lying to your doctor? Dr. Bufflo says there’s no way your doctor would call DSS on you for co-sleeping. Max they will give you evidence-based warnings about SIDS and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations on the subject (which I believe you can find on the AAP’s website). Beyond being informed in that manner, how your baby sleeps is your choice, and your choice alone. And it sounds like what you’re doing is working for you and your baby.

  5. erniebufflo says:

    Also, @Shannon, the UK Department of Health recommends that baby sleep alone for the first six months of life, so it’s not just the US.

  6. Syeira says:

    Good for you. I would have loved to co-sleep MORE, but I could NOT sleep with the baby there. I have to toss a little to get to sleep and it would just end up I was so uncomfortable I could not sleep. But when she was a wee baby and would sleep MUCH longer if she was in bed with us, I would let her sometimes. Or often when she got up wanting her last feeding, I would bring her into bed with us and side-nurse and then we’d all go back to sleep together. It is so lovely and cuddly.

    While the UK may suggest crib sleeping, Shannon is right–nearly everywhere else in the world the whole family sleeps in one bed.

  7. Brigid Keely says:

    Our bed is far too small for co-sleeping or else we would have done similar. We do have his crib in our bedroom (currently the ONLY bedroom), though.

  8. Other Erin says:

    As someone who knows zero details about babies, I wonder at what age do you move away from co-sleeping and toward “kid sleeps in the kids room?”

  9. erniebufflo says:

    :) Glad I didn’t disappoint. Hubs sent me the entire AAP policy statement on sleeping, and, given its extensive footnoting, I’d have to disagree that it’s based more on worst case scenarios than research. I’d also disagree that your ped isn’t keeping up with current research because he’s too busy with sick kids. Most of the docs I know regularly participate in “journal clubs” where they read, discuss, and disseminate current research, as well as participate in continuing ed of all sorts. BUT the bottom line is, we both agree that what you choose for your baby is the best choice. I just wanted to present a somewhat alternative view, as I’m probably going to be a baby-wearing, breastfeeding hippie mom myself.

  10. Erin (i need to think of a fake name) says:

    Wow, this seems like a heated discussion. I couldnt wait to throw my two cents in. Me, the baby, and the hubs are not co-sleepers per-say. Are situation is just like a Brigid’s with a too small bed and a crib in the room, but also a husband that tends to roll over on ME let alone the baby. But I do frequently bring the baby in to the bed with me after feedings in the wee hours of the morning or at nap times, especially when having him lay on my chest will encourage him back to sleep. And I have to say that those are my favorite times. Laying him on my chest while we both sleep seems completely natural and wonderful and MUCH less dangerous than the places he sleeps alone. But I also wanted to share that I also feel the need to leave my pediatrician out of some of these decisions. Although the doctor has never discussed our sleeping situation with me (or at least not that I remember) I was informed by the nurse that the baby was never allowed to sleep in our bed. I just smiled and nodded and don’t offer any information that is NONE OF HER BUSINESS. Since the birth of my child only two months ago I have had medical staff completely interfere with my parenting choices at least 4 times. And why? Not because it was medically necessary but because it made things easier for them. I believe whole-heartedly that we are told certain things only because it is assumed that we are all stupid and therefore must all act on the worst case scenario. I believe that doctors (generally) will put their trust in a stripped-down crib before a parent. And don’t even get me started on breastfeeding!…..

  11. Erin (i need to think of a fake name) says:

    I also wanted to share something that has really bothered me about visiting the pediatrician. Every time I go they ask me about how the baby is eating. They ask me is he bottle fed or breastfed and when I say breastfed they say “Good!” and every time it really upsets me. I understand why they are asking the question but its the judgment that really gets me. If I said formula fed would they scold me and call me a bad mother??? I get really tired of all the judgment associated with how you feed your baby. (I know that’s not really what this blog was about but thanks for listening:)

  12. Erin (i need to think of a fake name) says:

    Suzanne, when I type like a dumbass, is there anyway that you can fix it for me? For instance when I start my comment with the word “Are” instead of the word “I” like in that last one :)

  13. bebehblog says:

    I wanted to add that one of the automated WordPress links above (http://olivesian.wordpress.com/2009/05/23/bed-sharing-rocks/) has FAR better information than I provided, especially when it comes to actual statistics. Although she does use the same Dr. Sears research.

  14. erniebufflo says:

    I also just wanted to say that when I read threads like these, I do share them w/ Dr. Bufflo, to help him be a better, more sensitive doctor for his patients and their parents. I want him to know the mom’s eye view of things that go on in peds offices! I’ll definitely be passing on the weirdness of saying “Good!” about the breastfeeding, though I bet that the doc saying that is just trying to be supportive of your choice, and would HOPE that he or she wouldn’t be heaping scorn on those who are unable or choose not to breastfeed.

  15. Erin (i need to think of a fake name) says:

    I need to clarify….That is actually the nurse that keeps saying that. If it was the Doc. it would not bother me because he/she has a vested interest in my child getting the best nutrition. The reason that it bothers me is because it is the person who is merely filling out a clip board of questions and then leaving the room (as in she knows nothing about you or your situation more than that you are the 9:00 appointment), but not before she has thrown in her own two cents about your parenting first! :)

  16. Erin (i need to think of a fake name) says:

    and I have to also admit that I MAY be a little sensitive about this particular person being that it is the same nurse who told me that my baby must have jaundice because I am feeding him wrong. Sigh!

  17. Erin (i need to think of a fake name) says:

    feel free to fix that one too :)

  18. Mitch says:

    I’m Erin (i need to think of a fake name)’s hubby – for those who don’t know, and on the ped visits I’ve been on the nurses do seem to come across VERY judgmental. Almost as if they can’t wait to shout ‘GOOD!’ at your answer. The other hot topic we wanted to DISCUSS was shot schedules. We felt that hitting the little guy with every shot ASAP was a bit too much – but we didn’t want him being 7 and un-vaccinated either. The one nurse that my wife mentioned this to ( on a visit that I wasn’t there) was very dismissive and “GET THAT INFO FROM THE INTERNET – WE VACCINATE HERE.” (to paraphrase) She was very cold and unfriendly on the next visit where I was there. Luckily the doc we had that 2 mo appt. was absolutely wonderful and willing to discuss not only our questions, but her beliefs and the newest research she had been reading up on. we came to a happy medium and left feeling happy and that our baby was in wonderful care….. with the DOCTOR. I’m hoping that nurse gets scold-y with me sometime so I cant tell her how I really feel.

  19. Erin (i need to think of a fake name) says:

    …..so to summarize, doctor = good / nurse = BAD!

    Suzanne, is this what you meant when you said more comments??? :)

  20. mamajade says:

    Wow, this is quite the discussion!

    I don’t exaclty lie to my pediatrician, but he just asks me how he’s sleeping, not where. Which is good, because I don’t want to have to explain to him that I have done all the research and practice safe co-sleeping and it really works fine for the both of us, thanks.

    Let me just say that I have a really awesome pediatrician, and I don’t have anything against drs. I know they mean well, they’re trying to keep everyone safe, but as it was said before me somewhere, they also come from a knowledge based on the cultural norm (not all of them, but a lot of them). As for the breastfeeding thing… my pediatrician is always surprised that I breastfeed, gives the token, “Well, that’s fine,” and then asks me when I’m going to switch him to milk. I take his “good” to be kind of … the expected response (and, really, he’d probably say “good” either way). I think the slogan is “breast is best” but really a lot of people wish you’d skip the breast and give them a bottle. It’s encouraged, but not expected, and in my experience anyway the drs don’t really know what to do with that information. (And, as a side note, I also have a similar issue with avoiding gluten for my son because I am celiac and he showed signs of not tolerating it well. My dr is not as informed about gluten stuff as he could be, so it becomes this big weird discussion and I finally started just nodding and agreeing with him.)

    And my lie by omission isn’t limited to only healthcare professionals, oh no. Grandmothers, aunts, family members in general… they don’t need to know where he sleeps, and I’m sick to death of defending my choice to breastfeed, wrap, delay solids, whathaveyou. (Dont you know you’re spoiling that child by feeding him when he cries?) I do *not* have the patience to explain that my baby sleeping with me is not something I do out of laziness, or a misplaced need to spoil him, or any of the other misconceptions. I choose to co-sleep because I have read many articles about the extensive benefits of co-sleeping (for the both of us, actually), including that it is believed to lower the risk of SIDS (as long as it is done properly, and not on any sort of meds or alcohol) and helps to establish good breastfeeding, it means that I get more sleep, and oh let’s not forget the basic fact that I *really* love sleeping with my baby.

    And of course it doesn’t work for everybody, there are some people who really should not co-sleep, and breastfeeding doesn’t work with some moms. I want to be clear that I’m not harping on anyone. :) And the drs shouldn’t either.

    All of that said, I actually just wanted to comment that I found your post quite amusing, and thanks for sharing!

  21. Erin (i need to think of a fake name) says:

    @mamajade – well said! I think most moms feel the same way about having to defend their choices (whatever they may be) to family and friends (especially in-laws!!!). People seem to have abnormally strong opinions about EVERYTHING that has to do with your baby (my MIL insisted that my baby was crying because he didn’t like wearing a onesie!…..?!?!?!)

    @bebehblog – i just read that link you posted. It was a good blog post! thanks for the clarification on co-sleeping definitions. So apparently we do co-sleep but we do not bed share (bed is too small. apparently Dr. Sears recommends bed-sharing in a king, good to know!). Thanks for the info and for entertaining me all evening!

  22. mamajade says:

    As a total side note, I did some more research and discovered that this http://olivesian.wordpress.com/2009/05/23/bed-sharing-rocks/ post is actually just a copy of the article found at http://www.ergobabycarrier.com/resources/2008/12/bedsharing-cosleeping-or-separ.html.

    I also found a couple of blog posts (and one paper written for a psych class) that was very anti-cosleeping, and not very well written. In light of that and family comments, I’m writing a response as we speak. Just in case you’re interested :)

  23. […] has come up a lot for me recently.  There’s been discussions with fellow co-sleepers about lying about our sleeping practices, comments from family and friends about how I need to just put him in his own bed, and a couple of […]

  24. sleepnosleep says:

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    We are independent film-makers and need all the help we can get to get our film out there. If you can help… thanks!

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  25. Hanna says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences of co-sleeping! My husband and me co-sleep with our two kids and for us it has been great. When my first daughter was born I planned for her to start sleeping in her own bed as soon as possible but then as time passed I started to get used to her company and now I realize I will miss having kids in bed when they start to sleep on their own. I have a blog where I write about bed sharing and other related subjects. For example I have written about some very common misunderstandings regarding co-sleeping:
    http://healthywhale.com/five-myths-about-co-sleeping/

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