Should I Let My Baby/Toddler Sleep with Us?
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Is the Family Bed for Us?
Is the Family Bed for Us?
I've never been one to listen to other people's opinions on much of anything - especially not parenting. The way I see it, if someone had figured out the way to parent every child in every situation, they would have written a book by now, they would be rich, and we would all be required to follow it or risk penalty of death. Since that has yet to happen, I'll do my own research and follow my own instincts. I did that with my older two (now 19 and 16) and I will do it again with my 17 month old - and yes, I said 17 month old. One of the more controversial things that I have done - with all three children - is allowed them to sleep in bed with us. Now, if you admit this to someone here in America, they will frequently look at you as if you just admitted that you put tequila in your baby's bottle every night. So why do people react like that and what is the truth about the "family bed"?
History of the Family Bed
For as far back as we have records, and in every known culture, babies and children regularly slept in the bed with their parents. This was done for practical as well as health reasons. Most families could not afford separate beds -- much less sleeping quarters --for all their children. Keep in mind that until recently families typically had 5, 6, 7 or more children. Additionally, by letting baby sleep with mom and dad, you were assured that your little bundle of joy wouldn't freeze to death in the night. Also, until the advent of formula less than 50 years ago, moms found it much easier to feed baby in the middle of the night since baby was already in bed with her. In most parts of the world today, co-sleeping is still considered the norm. Even in places where it is not the norm (United States, Europe and Australia) it is coming back into fashion and can be considered a significant minority.
Is it Safe for Baby's Physical Health?
As with most controversial topics, you can find a study to support either side of the debate. Opponents of the family bed claim that it raises the risk of suffocating baby. Those in favor of letting baby sleep with mommy and daddy say it helps prevent SIDS. Both sides have a point and both can site statistics to back them up so I won't bore you with them. The bottom line is that if baby is in the bed with mom and dad, baby is less likely to fall into the deep sleep associated with SIDS. On the other hand, it is possible to suffocate a baby that is sleeping in the bed with mom and dad. In my experience, moms don't move in the night when they know baby is in the bed with them. I don't know why or how we do it, but we do it. We can fall asleep next to baby and wake up in exactly the same position 5 hours later. I am convinced that there is an internal maternal gauge that just KNOWS there is a baby next to us. Of course, if you don't want to rely on your internal gauge, you can always buy a sleep positioner. This allows baby to be right next to you but reduces the risk that you can roll over on baby.
Is it Safe for Baby's Mental Health?
Again, you can find a statistic to support either side of this issue. I will, however, argue vehemently that allowing a baby to sleep with her parents DOES NOT IN ANY WAY produce an overly dependent child or adult. My 19 year old and my 16 year old both slept with me until they were about 3 years old. I distinctly remember moving my son into his toddler bed (still in our room at first) to make room for his sister. Not only are they two of the most INDEPENDENT teenagers I know, but they were like that back in Kindergarten as well. My theory was - and is - that if my children feel secure with me then they will be more secure venturing out into the world. It worked for my older kids. They didn't wet the bed, they didn't have nightmares, they didn't scream and yell when it was time to go to bed, and they weren't clingy. Maybe I just got lucky - who knows. I will say though that I have asked them, now that they are older, whether they felt scared to explore the world when they were little. They have both told me in so many words - "no...because I knew you would be there if something went wrong". Those are all the statistics I need.
What about My Relationship with My Spouse?
Here's the big question. How does your spouse feel about the idea? In my opinion, it is CRITICAL that both spouses are in favor and fully support the idea of having baby in the bed. My older children are from my first marriage and their father basically agreed to whatever I decided - that worked at the time. My current husband thought I was crazy when I was pregnant and mentioned that my older kids slept with me. He couldn't fathom the idea and instead insisted on buying a rather expensive - but beautiful - crib for our daughter. I'm glad it's so beautiful to look at because it has never been used by our daughter! From the moment she arrived in the hospital, he couldn't imagine her being even 10 feet away. At first it was "well just for the first few days - maybe you were right". Well the first few days have turned into a year and a half and he will have nothing to do with putting her in her crib. He insists that he can't sleep if she's not there. There really is nothing more intimate than snuggling up with your husband AND your baby at bedtime. As for sex, well all that requires is a little creativity.
In the end, you have to make the decision yourself - with your spouse. Just remember that if you do decide to let baby sleep with you - you are hardly alone!
UPDATE: My daughter is now 3 1/2. About 2 months ago she decided that SHE wanted to start sleeping in her big girl bed. She transitioned to it easily. She is still in our room and can climb into bed with us in the middle of the night if she wants, but most nights she sleeps peacefully in her own bed. This makes three children that have slept with me and made the transition to their own bed with ease.