I co-sleep. It’s okay if you don’t. My kids are welcome in my bed but I totally get why families would make different choices. Nonethelesss, I will share my biased and at times sarcastic pros and cons of bed-sharing with you now:
My husband and I can’t have sex in our bed.
My husband and I don’t have boring “well we’re both in bed, might as well do it” sex. We both possess the ingenuity to overcome the “obstacle” of an occupied bed with gusto. The bed is great for missionary, the rest of the house is awesome for other stuff.
Children create a spousal cuddling barrier. Occasionally I’d like to fall asleep in the cozy nook of my husband’s arm.
No pressure to cuddle. You’d think more bodies = less space = more cuddling, but your kids just want to be near you, they don’t need to embrace you. I’m a stomach sleeper, which is not at all conducive to cuddling. Pre-kids, rolling away from my husband to happily sleep on my stomach made me an asshole, now it's just part of being a loving parent.
TOENAILS. About 5 days post-trim my children sprout dagger talons fit for pterodactyls. If you forget to trim those nails there will be a 2:00a.m. reenactment of Psycho under your sheets.
BABY SKIN. If silk and cashmere and heated blankets and every pure and good memory you’ve ever had culminated in some sort of lovechild, that being would be almost as magical as the skin of a sleeping child. If you could cuddle up to a doll-sized flower petal that emanated warmth and angelic goodness, wouldn’t you seize the opportunity?
Unsafe co-sleeping: If you have a ton of blankets, a ton of pillows, a super soft cushy bed, and/or you are a smoker, intoxicated, sedated, or sleep heavily to the point you are totally unaware of the precious bundle of joy lying next to you, it’s not safe to co-sleep. If you’re sharing the bed with someone who is any of those things it may not be safe to co-sleep. The younger your infant is, the truer this is.
In my experience as a mother, my awareness is so ferociously tuned in to the well-being of my children it makes me feel like I have a f!#%ing superpower. I thought I was a heavy sleeper, but I leap out of bed, ready for action, at the softest murmur. After years of sleeping with 2 kids, the concern that I could roll over on to my own baby seems totally ridiculous. Research shows breastfeeding mothers naturally co-sleep on their side, creating a safe pocket for their babies to nestle into. Sleeping near your baby syncs your breath and actually decreases the risk of SIDS when done safely.
Breastfeeding at night. Some people tell me their baby started sleeping through the night (without eating) as early as (insert whatever number here) months. My one year old still nurses a couple times a night. This interferes with my stomach sleeping which occasionally bums me out.
Dream feeding. Dream feeding is hippy speak for breastfeeding at night time. It doesn’t require sitting up, or picking up a baby, or even staying awake. At our house, the baby fusses, I’m roused immediately, pull out a boob, the baby attaches, we both fall back asleep. When I worked 50 hours a week dream feeding was a way to bond and keep my milk supply strong. Plus, it turns out, the milk mothers produce in the nighttime often contains elevated levels of tryptophan (the stuff in turkey that makes us sleepy), which helps regulate sleep, establishing healthy circadian rhythms, and essentially teaching night-nursers that nighttime is sleeptime.
My kids rely on me to sleep. They rely on me to comfort their fears and provide them with security. They do not realize they are utterly alone in a sometimes cold and horrible world.
My kids know they can rely on me. I’m their mom all day long, then, at night time, when they have physical needs like warmth or hunger, or emotional needs, like a finger to hold, or a soothing touch, I’m still on duty. My hope is they can rely on me as long as they need to in order to secure a worldview where they’re loved, they’re safe, and their feelings at all hours of the day are important and valid.
Who knows how long this madness will go on. If I had a nickel for everyone who’s warned me “If you don’t get them out of your bed by ____ months, you never will!” I’d probably have the money to convert my entire bedroom into one big bed (so we wouldn’t have to squeeze the 4 of us into a mere king size).
This too shall pass. Even the most avid co-sleeper usually chooses to sleep on his or her own by the onset of puberty (13ish). I know it’s hard to fathom that one day they’ll recoil from our touch, that jumping into our arms will be replaced with stiff side-hugs, the endless stream of consciousness speech will morph into shrugs and grunts, and we’ll remember the way their bare sticky skin felt pressed against ours in the middle of a summer night with a longing so intense we’d trade 20 years of sleeping soundly for one more night to rock them to sleep. But that day is coming. So tonight, my bed is a family bed.
I know I’m missing a lot of pros, and a lot of cons! Please feel free to share yours in the comments.