Why co-sleeping was the best parenting choice we made

Shortly after finding out that I was pregnant, I told Michael we would be saving lots of money on a crib. I wanted the baby in our bed. Michael was hesitant at first. He, like many people, worried about smothering the baby. He was also unsure about how it would affect the quality of his sleep, especially when he had to get up for work in the morning.

Three months in and we both agree it’s the best parenting decision we’ve made so far.

Luckily for us, co-sleeping is widely practiced here in Austria. It’s still quite taboo in North America, and many people who have unintentionally fallen asleep with their babies in their bed feel guilty about admitting it. I was happy to discover that not only is it acceptable here in Austria, it’s even institutionalized. While I was in the hospital recovering from the delivery, there was a co-sleeping mattress attached to my bed for Liv. We were sleeping next to each other right from the get-go.

why and how we co-sleep

I think what helped convince me the most is how prevalent co-sleeping is in cultures all over the world. In most of southern Europe, Asia, Africa and Central and South America, parents share their bed with their babies (and toddlers and children!). Canada and the U.S. are among the only countries in the world where people think it’s acceptable or desirable to have babies sleeping alone. And I think we can thank two prevalent phenomenons for that: fear-based parenting, and consumption culture (beautiful cribs are all the rage right now!). A year ago, the LA Times published an article on why North Americans should be more open to the idea of co-sleeping.

I can honestly say that Liv waking up in the night is far less exhausting than I ever expected it to be. I owe that to co-sleeping. Breastfeeding is just so much easier when I don’t have to stand up, walk to her room, get her out of a crib, sit in an upright position while she nurses, and then help her fall back to sleep.

Instead, I hear her stir next to me and simply pull her over to my breast. At night, I only ever breastfeed in a lying down position. By the time she’s finished eating, she’s usually asleep again. I simply slide her back to her side and doze back off myself. I don’t have to get up at all.

why and how we co-sleep

During that first month, when she was feeding at least every two hours, we would often fall asleep mid-feed. Both of us. I would wake up some time later and find her on her back nestled between my body and my arm. When I told the midwife this during one of her home visits, she simply shrugged it off and said “of course you do”. It felt so reassuring to know that not only was that ok, it was normal. Of course I needed my newborn close to me…and my newborn needed that closeness too. We felt bonded, and we felt rested.

Michael is also glad that we decided to co-sleep. He’s naturally a very deep sleeper. More often than not he has to ask me how many times she woke up in the night, simply because he slept through it all. If she really starts screaming then yes, he hears it. But that usually only happens if I’m changing her diaper (which I also do in the bed because I that badly don’t want to have to stand up in the middle of the night!) and girl is HANGRY. But that was a rookie mistake. Now I know that if she needs I diaper change, I need to feed first, change second. More nights than not, he doesn’t hear a thing.

Sometimes she doesn’t fall asleep right after eating. Even so, I still slide her over to her mattress and fall asleep. I don’t know how long it takes her to fall asleep herself, but that’s the point. It doesn’t matter. She’s full, content, and feels secure. It’s enough for her to know that I’m lying next to her as she drifts off.

So here are the facts, and the way that we co-sleep (there are many options out there):

  • The largest study to-date conducted on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) found that the risk of death for infants who slept in their parents’ bedroom was half of what it was for infants who slept alone. Studies from Great Britain, New Zealand, and a number of other Western-European countries agree that babies who do not room-share, but rather are left alone in a separate room for long periods of time, are nearly twice as likely to die of SIDS.
  • One of the greatest causes of postpartum depression is not getting enough sleep. Adequate rest is soooo important for a new mother’s mood, and helps increase positive feelings rather than resentment toward her newborn.
  • All contact while sleeping, including through touch, sound and scent, promote feelings of connection and attachment between parent and child. This type of closeness can also help children feel secure and bonded to their parents when they spend long hours away from them during the day (because of daycare, for example).
  • All mammals sleep with their babies. Wouldn’t it be strange to see a box full of whimpering kittens left alone while the mother-cat sleeps in another room? You would probably feel sorry for those little babies. Wouldn’t it also be strange if your partner slept in another room each night? People might wonder if there was something wrong with your connection to one another. So why should a tiny, helpless baby be expected to sleep alone?

As is common in Europe, many people raise their families in apartments and condos (this is completely different from what I’m used to in Canada, where there is space galore and most people equate having a baby with owning a home). So space is an issue for us. We haven’t done anything to the condo without first asking ourselves “Is this efficient?”. We have to be extremely picky about what we bring into our home. There simply isn’t room for stuff to accumulate without quickly living like hoarders. Not only did co-sleeping save us a lot of room, it also saved us a lot of money.

We opted with a side-car that attaches to our bed. It looks like a small, three-sided crib, with one side left open where our two mattresses join. There is no risk of me rolling onto her, or my blanket sliding up over her face. This is the same type of bed that they used in the maternity ward at the hospital.

Another option is an infant lounger, a cushion that the baby sleeps in. If placed up near your head, there would be little chance of your blanket or arm landing on the baby’s face, and you would have to be a very deep sleeper to roll over it without noticing.

If bed sharing just isn’t for you, room sharing is another option practiced by many families. There are lots of beautiful bassinets out there that the infant can sleep in next to the bed, bringing comfort to mommy and baby by knowing they’re nearby. It’s also it easier to retrieve the baby when he/she wakes.

If you do opt for co-sleeping, here is how they instructed us to do it at the hospital:

  • Never lie your baby between you and your partner. Babies can’t regulate their temperature as well as adults can. Sleeping between two adult bodies could cause the baby to overheat. Overheating is a risk-factor for SIDS. Plus, it increases the chances one of you will sling an arm or a blanket over the baby’s face.
  • Make sure your baby can’t roll off the edge of the bed, or become trapped in a space between the mattress and the wall.
  • Lie your baby on his/her back.
  • DON’T co-sleep if you’ve been drinking, doing drugs, or smoking (or if your partner has been smoking). Smoking and SIDS are just too closely related.
  • Put your baby in a sleep-sack. No blankets for bebe. Ditto for pillows. Keep an eye on where your blankets and pillows are, in relation to your baby.

Ideally, I’d like to co-sleep long enough that Liv goes right from our bed to a toddler bed. Or who knows…I also think the idea of a “family bed” sounds pretty great. All I know for sure is that whatever works best for everyone involved will be the right decision for us.