I was ready to be a mom long before I became pregnant. I’ve been around kids my whole life. I knew about the soft spot on their head and meconium poop. I was prepared to burp my baby after feeding to avoid spit up and work around their umbilical cord for a few weeks. I’d already begun to collect resources to learn about cloth diapers and breastfeeding. Yet there was one question I couldn’t seem to get a clear answer to: Where does a newborn sleep?
I’d seen enough decked-out Pinterest nurseries to know that most babies have a crib in their own, typically with themed sheets that coordinate with other accessories in their own, separate room. I’d always imagined and dreamed about setting up a room like that for my baby, too.
Yet when I found out I was pregnant with Baby Bear I couldn’t fathom putting the child growing inside me in a crib in a room across the hall and shutting the door. I guess I planned to do that eventually, but I figured that would happen when she was much older.
I also couldn’t fathom myself getting out of bed every 2-4 hours, walking across the hall to feed and change my baby and then walking back across the hall to go to sleep. Do parents actually do this? If so, how do they survive?
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Where Did My Newborn Sleep?
Turns out that the answer to “Where does a newborn sleep?” varies pretty drastically from family to family. Most families do room share (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics) with their baby for at least the first few months. Some families put the crib in the parent’s room to start, then move it to the baby’s room. Other families have a pack and play or rock and play setup in their bedroom until their baby is big enough to be moved to their own room.
While these are all good options, longtime readers will know that my laziness runs deep. I don’t like extra steps in a process, especially in the middle of the night. I didn’t even want to sit up in bed or bend over to pick up my tiny baby. After running through a few options, Mountain Papa and I were drawn most to the idea of attaching a sidecar to the side of our bed. Hoping to save some money and extend the length of use, we opted to make a DIY sidecar using the Ikea Sniglar crib.
I loved having Baby Bear sidecar’ed to our bed – I could wake up in a haze and see that she was still sleeping soundly, or pull her over to me to nurse her and go right back to sleep.
Is Co-Sleeping Safe?
Initially, suffocation and SIDS was a constant fear of mine, as it is for most parents in their baby’s first months of life. In the earliest days of her life Baby Bear was insistent about only sleeping right on my chest. I would stay awake in fear that she would slide to the side and suffocate. As she grew older and began to spend more time in the sidecar I grew more comfortable.
Then I read a book that reaffirmed everything that my instincts had told me about sleeping with Baby Bear. Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family is a book put out by La Leche League International. I highly recommend it for every breastfeeding family. The book teaches safe co-sleeping practices and discusses the current research on co-sleeping in detail. It completely put my mind at ease.
Dr. James McKenna at the University of Notre Dame runs a mother-baby sleep lab and is considered an expert on co-sleeping (or breastsleeping, as he dubbed it). He shares his safe co-sleeping guidelines on his website.
How We Co-Sleep
From the time of Baby Bear’s birth until she was around six weeks old, Mountain Papa and I were up with her every few hours for a diaper change and a feeding. We kept extra diapers and wipes near our bed, changed her, I nursed her while sitting up and we all went back to sleep. Like all parents of newborns, Mountain Papa and I were like walking zombies during those first few weeks. It was rough.
At around six weeks old, Baby Bear stopped pooping in the middle of the night and we didn’t have to wake to change her. She and I also learned to nurse in the side-lying position. It took a few nights of practice, but once we mastered this we were golden. Neither she nor I ever woke up in the middle of the night again.
Baby Bear still isn’t fully night-weaned now at 18 months but I can happily say that she and I have both been sleeping through the night since she was six weeks old. At around nine months I started nursing her to sleep in her own room. Mountain Papa brings her into our bed at her first wakeup.
Getting my sleep makes me a happier and more patient mama and wife. I’m not sure our family or my sanity would have survived Baby Bear’s first year if we had tried to do it without co-sleeping.
What About Mountain Papa?
Much of the criticism of co-sleeping comes from people empathizing with the partner’s point of view, so here is what Mountain Papa has to say on the subject:
Co-sleeping has its pros and its cons. I love knowing that she’s with us and safe all night. I love being able to cuddle with her and wake up to her smile when we sleep in. However, I do miss cuddling with my wife. I would do it all over again with a future child, though. It is definitely the easiest way.
He’s a man after my lazy, sleep-loving heart. If we were waking to bottle feed in the middle of the night, he would be taking 50% of the shifts. Mountain Papa knows co-sleeping is the easiest way to preserve his sleep, too. Every month or so, he and I revisit our sleeping arrangement and chat about how we might want to change it. We have yet to make any big changes because we’re mostly happy with how things are now. As in all things parenting, there are pros and there are cons. You just need to weigh the two and figure out what works for your family.
There is a reason families have slept with their babies for thousands of years: it is the easiest way to get through the newborn stage with the most sleep.