Trust Yourself, Trust Your Child, When It Comes to Cosleeping

I remember thinking the same thing many of you are thinking, “When will this baby (or child) sleep through the night? Am I doing something wrong by cosleeping?” Just like you, I was criticized by anyone who knew I coslept – family, friends, doctors. I even had one doctor tell me that every child he knows who bedshared grew up to become a psychopath. And he was serious.

As I wrap up on the spring issue of The Attached Family magazine (available later this spring to subscribers), a thought has popped into my head that I wanted to share with everyone and it goes along with the age-old saying, “This too shall pass”: Learning to sleep, to your child, is much like learning to eat solids or learning to use the potty. It’s a process. It’s something that is under none of your control. It’s something that has to happen when your child is ready.

And when it does happen, which it will, you’ll wonder why you spent so much time worrying about sleep when your child was younger. And for many of you, you’ll grieve for the time you spent cosleeping, because it is so wonderful to have that closeness at night and to stretch the time you have with your child around the clock, instead of trying to fit it in during just the daytime hours when we have other tasks or perhaps work outside the home.

You’ll look back, perhaps much the same as I’m doing now, and wish a little that you had just tried to enjoy the time with your baby, rather than worrying about trying to get as much sleep as you could, that perhaps being a little (or a lot) tired during the day wasn’t really that bad because it was only for a relatively short time. Because, you did have a baby and a baby really, truly does change everything – and it should! We shouldn’t be allowed to have the life we had before children, because that life didn’t involve little ones and likely revolved around only our own wants and needs. Raising children has the capacity of radically changing a person’s perspective on life and other people, of truly teaching us what love and commitment is, that a relationship is not just about our comfort level but about giving of ourselves and enjoying the connection that creates.

I struggled with Attachment Parenting the first year of my oldest daughter’s life. I coslept with her until about nine months and then caved in to peer pressure to try cry-it-out. It was the worse decision I ever made; it haunts me to this day. And it backfired badly: My lovely baby had extreme separation anxiety at night – screaming and clawing at the door frame if I even wanted to leave to go to the bathroom. She finally transitioned to her own bed in a room right next to mine at three and a half years old. And you know what? I miss her. I respect her decision, but I do miss the time we spent cosleeping. I try to bring it back – inviting her back into my bed – but it’s not the same. She’s past that stage, and even in bed with me, she prefers not to cuddle but to sleep slightly separated.

Her sister and I have bedshared since birth – even in the hospital, I ignored the nurse’s warnings and brought her into bed with me. My youngest is now two years old, and we have creative sleeping arrangements to allow for my work-from-home hours. My youngest falls asleep on my lap while I’m laying on the sofa watching the nightly news, and then I extract myself and go to work for a couple hours on the computer just a few feet away. Later, I pick her up and take her to bed with me. If she wakes up before I’m done working, I finish what I’m doing at the time and go to bed then.

No, this isn’t the traditional bedtime where the child just goes to sleep. But I don’t care, and neither should you: What you do at home, how you’re taking care of sleep issues, is what works for you and it really doesn’t matter if anyone else approves it because they’re not you, their children aren’t your children, and their home and lifestyle aren’t yours. What may work in another home may not work in yours, because just as every child is different, so is every family. I used to care about what everyone else thought – I used to spend an hour or more every night trying to get my child to go to sleep and stay asleep on her own until I was ready to come to bed myself, or to adjust my work schedule to allow this to happen. But, ultimately, the arrangement we have now is what works for us – at this time.

See, the thing is, parenting situations are always changing because our children are always changing – they’re growing and developing, and their needs change over time. So, you may think you finally have a sleep arrangement that works and then a few weeks or maybe a couple of months later, you’ll find that it’s not working anymore. This is normal. And the best, least-stressful approach any parent can take is to accept this and expect it and work with it when it happens.

Just understanding that what your child is doing – wanting to cosleep, waking up at night, etc. – is normal is half the battle; the other half is trusting that by practicing Attachment Parenting, everything will turn out well, that you won’t hurt your child in any way by cosleeping or night nursing, and that in time, your child will learn to fall and stay asleep on his own. Just be sure to enjoy that nighttime closeness while you can, because while it seems now that time is just crawling by, you’ll be surprised by how quickly your baby grows up and out of your bed – and you’re lying in bed missing that little body snuggled against your own.

Author: Rita Brhel

Rita Brhel, BS, CLC, API Leader, lives with her family near Hastings, NE, USA, where she works as a WIC Breastfeeding Counselor. She also writes for Mothering and La Leche League's New Beginnings.

16 thoughts on “Trust Yourself, Trust Your Child, When It Comes to Cosleeping”

  1. I love that you said you just let her fall asleep on the couch with you and take her to bed when you go. This is exactly what we do every.single.night because it works for us. We don’t have to go to bed when she gets tired, yet we’re right there if she wakes to rub her back and help her quickly go back to sleep. If we have company or something, we will put her in bed and she does fine, but if I’m just lounging and winding down, I love having her right there with tme.

    I also think a number of benefits have come from our arrangment. For one, when she gets tired she goes to sleep. No fighting it, she just lays down and drifts off. Secondly, she will sleep anywhere. Her nighttime comfort isn’t in a time or a routine, it is with us being near her (or anyone really – she isn’t picky) so if we’re out at bedtime, we just find a cozy spot or rock her and she has no trouble being out of her realm.

  2. AMEN!
    I find it odd that for so long were scrutinized as parents for doing what comes SO natural, as mothers, as nuturers, AS MAMMALS! We nurse and sleep with our young. Why is that such a taboo?
    Very well written and unbiased. I look back 20 years at my first born, and the ol’ Dr. Spock book my mother gave me… thank goodness even a young mothers instinct knew better! 🙂

  3. I have a 2 ½ year old daughter who i have been co-sleeping with off and on her whole life. At first i was so for AP and did it with my other 2 kids. Then I look at other parents I know and don’t really want my daughter in my bed for years to come. I do however love having her in my bed currently but feel what if I don’t stop now..will she sleep in my bed for a longer period of time?
    I know it’s hard when I do have her sleep in my bed for nights at a time then try and put her back into her bed. She has a hard time with that and it takes along time for her to get to sleep in her bed. What can i do? I am frustrated with having to stay up late if I do that. I love sleeping with her but am torn on what to do!!

  4. Thank you…I really need some reassurance some times. I doubt myself and wonder all the time if cosleeping is right but it works for us. It really is nice to hear other people’s stories and feelings.

  5. My wife and I talk all the time – when we are not dragging around exhausted from our choppy sleep co-sleeping with two kids – how this is just a tough, tough four years or so. But that is it. A couple years of bad sleep, probably more than we got in college. And the rewards are so deep and so meaningful.

    I can just drink the extra cup of coffee in the morning …

  6. Just wanted to say I loved your comment Nathan, so well-said. I think as Attached parents we all need a little reassurance now and again.

  7. AMEN!

    I sooo needed to read this today. Over the week-end I caught up with an old school friend who used CIO with her daughter at 3 months (!). She was so trying to convince me that her method had worked well and her daughter was falling asleep every time she put her in a cot and would sleep through the night. I’m still co-sleeping with my 15 m.o. since when she was 2 months and actually enjoying it (except from waking 3 times at night thing). It was really re-assuring to read your article.

  8. I really do have tears in my eyes.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! It made me feel so much stronger!
    It’s just so difficult sometimes to struggle with the society and their criticism, to struggle with yourself not knowing if maybe they’re right, it’s difficult to be different.

    Thank you once again!

  9. That made me cry! i love co sleeping with our 15m old. i know i will miss it when he sleeps in his own bed. i don’t even tell our pediatrician that we co sleep, nor do i tell people who are not supportive. it is great to hear about all of the parents co sleeping!
    Thank you for sharing!

  10. Im so happy to have found this info on co-sleeping. All these stories are so inspirational to me. Society really puts pressure on parents to do it their way also i feel like in a sense the pediatricians are trying to run my home. Thanks for reaching out to parents who want to spread nurturing love and prefer co-sleeping.


  11. This was so sweet. We sleep with our now 8 month old baby girl and it makes me feel like we have a really great bond as a family. She feels safe and I can see that. I don’t know how moms put their new born babies in a crib alone. It’s sad. 🙁

  12. I really needed this tonight. Thank you for reinforcing what I already know deep down to be the right choice for my first born. Thank you !

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