What I Believe: Co-Sleeping and Crying It Out

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I believe co-sleeping is the best sleeping arrangement for a nursing mother and newborn baby. Mother gets more sleep and therefore is able to operate at a higher-functioning level the following day. Baby gets all the milk he needs during the night, along with the comfort and security that the womb used to offer. He spent nine months in a climate-controlled safety bubble, being fed through a tube while floating in warmth and security. Imagine the shock of sleeping on a hard crib mattress far from human warmth his first night out. No wonder babies cry so much.

Benefits of co-sleeping in bulleted format:

  • Babies sleep better. (Ahem, see above.)
  • Mothers sleep better. (My pediatrician tried to convince me this wasn’t true. I allowed my eyes to glaze over at that point. He probably mistook that for sleep-deprivation.)
  • Breastfeeding is easier. (And how! I did the get-out-of-bed-to-nurse with Olivia. Never again. Why wake up entirely when you can simply roll over to switch sides?)
  • Mother and child become more connected.
  • Babies thrive better. (Physically, emotionally, intellectually. I’ve read this from Dr. Sears and so far can’t argue…)
  • Reduces the risk of SIDS (I can hear you all gasping now. Read on for more.)

I believe that the SIDS risks associated with co-sleeping do not apply to the majority of the population. Over-weight, sleep-aid-using, alcohol-abusing, smoking parents should not co-sleep. Waterbeds are a no-no. The firmer the mattress the better. Eliminate extra bedding and pillows. Find a sleeping position that works for you and keeps baby safe. I sleep on my side with my arm under the pillow, supporting my head. The arm on top is curved around behind my back and tucked under my lower back. It took a couple years, but I’ve found this position keeps me at the right angle comfortably so I can completely relax while nursing and co-sleeping. I have co-slept with two children for one year each (and counting) and I have yet to roll over on my baby.

(I have had a baby roll off the bed a couple times, so I would recommend a railing for the side of the bed, or push the crib up next to the bed with the side removed.)

Even more astounding were the studies done in countries where co-sleeping is the norm. In Japan, for example, the rate of SIDS is 1/10 of what the rate is in the U.S. Research shows that babies who sleep in cribs are twice as likely to suffer from sleep-related deaths than those who sleep with their parents. (More on debunking the supposed SIDS risks here.)

That being said, I believe that co-sleeping only works as long as all involved are in favor of it. As soon as one parent is at odds with the other, or one (or both) parent(s) are at odds with the child, something needs to be done to fix the estranged relationships. As soon as the child stops sleeping as well, or turns sideways and starts kicking Daddy in the teeth, something should change.

That “something” doesn’t have to be “put baby in crib.” Maybe one of the parents needs to read more about the benefits of co-sleeping to be convinced. Maybe the baby needs more room in a co-sleeper. Maybe something can be done during the day to help baby sleep better at night. Or, maybe baby needs his own space entirely.

Now for the hard part: How to get the baby out of your bed.

When we moved Olivia to her crib, she was one year old. She was waking every other hour in our bed and spinning around in circles, keeping everyone awake. When the time came, we put her in her crib and left for five minute intervals, always coming back when our timer went off to reassure her of our love, and then leave again. She was not happy, but within an hour, she was asleep.

Does this mesh with my attachment parenting style? Am I comfortable with how I dealt with this situation? Is this a method I would recommend to other co-sleeping parents?

I want to plead the fifth. I liked the result. We all slept better. So here I go pounding out my Cry-It-Out beliefs:

I believe that a baby should not have to cry it out. I believe that a newborn has needs that are imperative to his health and since he cannot speak them clearly to us, he can only communicate these needs by crying. And so his parents should respond to his crying. As the parent-child relationship grows, parents will learn to differentiate between the different types of cries their child has.

As their child grows from baby to toddler, parents will learn the “hungry” cry from the “hurt” cry from the “mad” cry and should respond appropriately. Anger is not as important as hunger. And hunger is not as important as hurt. A mad cry might be able to wait 5 or so minutes. A hungry cry waiting time depends on the age of the child. A hurt cry should be attended to at once, of course.

So, no, a baby should not be left to cry it out, I believe. But a toddler (which is such a relative term, by the way, so enjoy making the ambiguity work for you), whose cries are correctly translated, does not have to be attended to immediately any longer. So perhaps, when being put in a crib, a toddler should be able to cry a mad cry for 5 or so minutes before being comforted.

We used this theory when we moved Olivia to her crib. She cried a mad cry and we never let more than five minutes go by without reassuring her that a) we still existed and b) we still loved her but c) it is time to go to sleep in the crib now. As mentioned earlier, within an hour, she was able to fall asleep.

(Sidenote: We also made sure Olivia was developmentally ready to sleep on her own. She was old enough to not need the night nursings for nourishment. She appeared to be sleeping fitfully due to lack of sufficient sleeping space. We then came to the conclusion that the best answer for all involved was to try to move her to her own sleeping space.)

If a child is NOT ready to move to her own bed, the following day will be an indicator to you. If your child is more clingy than normal or overly withdrawn then she is suffering from some emotional issues most likely related to the new sleeping arrangement and you might want to rethink the change. In our case, Olivia acted completely normal. And when naptime rolled around, she fussed for less than five minutes before falling asleep. That was our cue that we had done the right thing at the right time.

Benjamin is one year old and still sleeping in our bed. Recently, we have tried encourage him to fall asleep in the crib on his own for naptime, as we did for his sister at the same age. We explained it was time to go “night night” and laid him down. We told him we loved him and then left. Every five minutes I went back to reassure and comfort him. After an hour, he was still awake and still just as upset as he was at the beginning. We made the decision to end Session #1 of Crib Sleeping.

The rest of that day, Benjamin was extraordinarily clingy. He would fall asleep in my arms while nursing, but never let himself get into a deep sleep. He always kept himself conscious enough to sense when he was being put down and he would grab the collar to my shirt as soon as I moved. That night, he slept fitfully. He nursed every other hour if not more. It seemed if he woke up and wasn’t touching me he would wake with a start and search for me frightfully.

That was our cue that we had done the right thing… at the wrong time. For the wrong child. Or the wrong thing for the right child at the wrong time. Whichever.

We took a break for a week and tried again. Remembering the side effects of last time, I could only leave him in for 30 minutes, going in every 5-10 minutes to reassure him. His cry was still very mad and I retrieved him after 30 minutes, not wanting to repeat the previous emotional trauma. He was unaffected the rest of the day. We tried again the next day. He cried again, very angrily, and refused to go to sleep.

Apparently, what works for one child does not work for another. I knew that. But it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. (I know: appreciate the differences…)

So if you label the above method “Cry It Out,” then I believe that if you are astute to your child’s temperament, needs, and cries, you may be able to use that method to get your child to sleep in her own crib. If her personality permits it.

If not? I wish I could give you answers. Here are some sites and books that I am looking into for my own answers:

NIGHT WEANING: 12 ALTERNATIVES FOR THE ALL-NIGHT NURSER
The No-Cry Sleep Solution
31 WAYS TO GET YOUR BABY TO GO TO SLEEP AND STAY ASLEEP EASIER
Engage In Nighttime Parenting

Feel free to tell me your own advice and experiences. I am just soaking up all advice right now. What works for you?

Speaking of what works for you… did you write a What I Believe post, as well? If so, add your permalink and brief description to Mr. Linky below. Make sure to link to your post and NOT your homepage or your WIB post will be lost in the archives in days and weeks to come.

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