Sunday, October 19, 2008

The case for co-sleeping

The first few weeks at home with a new baby are an intense time. Moms are recovering from the birth of the new baby, but still have to love, nurture and care for that new bundle of joy who constantly needs something. When you're breastfeeding, you really need to nurse on demand, which can mean breastfeeding every hour on the hour, 24 hours a day. Most new parents are sleep-deprived and the advice you constantly get from friends and family is to sleep when the baby sleeps. La Leche League International even insists that rest is required in order to build and maintain a good milk supply for your baby.

So what if your baby is not a good sleeper? For some reason we equate a baby who makes the lives of his parents more convenient by going to sleep easily and staying asleep for long periods of time with being "good." A baby is also "good" if she is happy to sleep alone in a crib.

My son figured out quickly that he wanted to be next to mommy all the time and even a bassinet pushed up to the bed wasn't close enough. By the time he was a few weeks old he was sleeping in bed with mom and dad, where he stayed until he turned 10 months old. He is now sleeping through the night in a crib (in our bedroom), but we'll still sometimes lie down as a family in the bed for naps on the weekends.

Co-sleeping is not for everyone, but it can be a life-saver for moms with high-need babies and those who work out of the home. When I returned to work when my son was 6 months old, his night wakings increased because he missed all those nursing sessions that were replaced with bottles during the day. If I had not co-slept, I would have never been able to function at work. I was able to latch my son on and go back to sleep while he happily nursed himself to back to sleep.

Of course there is a lot of fear-mongering when it comes to co-sleeping. You'll hear everything from "the baby will never leave your bed!" to "you'll crush that baby in your sleep!" There are rules to co-sleeping safely which are outlined nicely on Dr. Sears' website.

If you're finding that your sleep is being compromised, consider co-sleeping. According to Unicef's Baby Friendly Initiative, "bed-sharing encourages intimate contact between mother and baby, which facilitates a close and loving bond. Successful breastfeeding and better sleep are more common among mothers and babies who share the same bed. Evidence suggests that bed-sharing is common among parents with new babies both in hospital and at home."

I think when they're being honest, most parents will admit to co-sleeping, at least part-time. So tell me, readers, do you co-sleep too?

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