When my husband and I first began discussing baby sleeping arrangements when I was pregnant with our daughter, we knew we wanted her to be in our room for a number of reasons, among them, easier breastfeeding access and being closer for nighttime wake-ups. We eagerly decorated and set up an entire nursery complete with crib (thank you, nesting!), but figured she would mostly be in the attached-to-the-bed co-sleeper we set up in our room. Little did we know that we would end up using neither option, as from night one she nestled into our bed (and hearts), and continues to (mostly) sleep there today at almost 2 years old. Here is a look at how our family bed has evolved over those 2 years.
Our daughter was born at home (in our infrequently used nursery), and when the midwives and doula and photographer all trickled out of our house, leaving us alone with a tiny, helpless, sleepy newborn, it seemed only natural to keep her with us in our bed. Shortly after birth, I realized how much of an extension of my body she was, and that any amount of separation was almost physically painful for me, and equally distressing for her. Her natural environment was curled up on my chest, skin-to-skin, not only for frequent breastfeeding, but because to have her anywhere else just seemed wrong. We made sure to set up a safe bed-sharing environment, and she and I spent the majority of that first week in our new family bed. It is also where she napped, on the rare occasion she wasn’t napping on one of us. The attached co-sleeper did come in handy as an extra large nightstand. It held my basket of snacks, water bottles, nipple cream, diapers, wipes, and burp cloths. It also occasionally held our cat.
That set-up worked well for us for many months. My husband works out of town two-thirds of the year, so often it was just her and I in our king sized bed. When she was around nine months old, she became much more mobile, and the small co-sleeper that was still attached to the bed as my nightstand wasn’t quite enough to ease my fear of her rolling off the bed. So we took away the bed frame, leaving just the boxspring and mattress, took off one side of the never-used crib, and side-carred it to the bed. This gave us a lot more room so she could roll and crawl around to her heart’s content, latch on when she needed to nurse and then roll back over into her own space, and often I ended up with half my body in the crib at some point during the night too.
When our daughter was about a year old, my husband coming and going for work became too disruptive for her sleep. He’d be home for a week and she’d get used to sleeping with both of us, and then when he left she wouldn’t sleep as well for a few days. She’d then get used to sleeping with just me again, and have a few days of disruption when he’d come home. For us, this meant hubby moved into the spare room most nights when he was home. This allowed me to wake up for nighttime nursings and let him sleep, and then he could get up early in the morning with her and let me snooze uninterrupted for a bit. Again, this worked well for us for quite a while.
The next, and most current, evolution came around 18 months, when both she and I were ready for a little more space. I had begun to wake her when I would come to bed later than her, and she seemed more disturbed by my often restless sleep, and I by hers. This time, we took away the crib and added a twin mattress on the floor right next to our bed, about 6 inches lower than the height of our mattress. To ease the transition, I made a big deal about how exciting it was that she was getting her very own bed with her very own blue sheep sheets, and I started out putting her down for naps in it. The first night I put her to sleep in her bed was scary for me, even though she was only an arm's length away. She and I, in our entire relationship history of a year and a half, had never slept on a separate surface. Even when traveling, we’d find some way to set up a safe family bed in our hotel room. That first night, she started off in her bed, and when she woke, moved to our bed to nurse and cuddle for the rest of the night, and that’s about where we’re at now. Sometimes we play bed roulette. If I’m feeling the need for some more space and she’s in our bed, I’ll move to her bed. Sometimes she’ll come into the big bed and, at some point, roll back down into her bed. Occasionally we’ll both fall asleep in her bed and stay there the whole night.
Our sleeping arrangements may not look like I thought they would in the beginning, or like anyone else’s but we’re happy with them. Done safely, co-sleeping or bed sharing can be a wonderful tool for early parenting, and even longer than that, I’m finding. Do you have a family bed? What has the evolution of your sleep arrangements looked like? Let us know in the comments!
Kelsey Voelker is a labor doula and lactation educator with Full Circle Birth Collective. Learn more about Kelsey here.
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