Friday, December 25, 2020

How and why I co-sleep with my baby

The sleeping strategy for every baby depends on the combined needs of the baby and the parents. So, let’s start with my sleep needs:

  • I have a very hard time falling asleep; it can take me up to an hour.
  • If I sleep less than a full cycle (~3 hours), I’m more sleepy and grumpy than if I haven’t slept at all. Hence, I rarely take naps, since I’d need an hour to get to sleep and 3 hours to make it worth while.
  • If I wake up after a single sleep cycle, my mind is energized and thoughts start racing. Of course, despite what my brain thinks, I need to sleep more than 3 hours a night, so I try to not become fully awake in the middle of the night, else I might not get through a second cycle.

With that in mind, let’s go through our baby's sleep journey:

Phase 1: Our initial pre-birth plan was to have our baby sleep in a Halo Bassinest swivel sleeper. I liked that the bassinet would be right next to my bed so that I could watch her; I never had any interest in being in a separate room from her. Alas, this plan did not work for us:

  • She didn’t seem particularly happy in the bassinet. She would often roll over, resulting in a face-in-mesh situation, and she never slept that fitfully. (Correlation != causation, her inability to sleep could have just been due to being a newborn.)
  • Plus, whenever she needed to nurse, I’d have to wake up fully. I couldn’t be half awake, since then I’d risk falling asleep and letting her fall off the bed. I was miserable during those nursing sessions.

Phase 2: Seeing how sleep deprived I was, we tried an approach where I could hopefully get at least one sleep cycle in. At 10 pm, I would pump milk and give a hopefully sleepy baby over to my partner. After feeding her, she would sleep in his lap (on good nights). I would be off in the bedroom trying to get a sleep cycle in. Then at 1am, we would switch off, and I would be in charge of baby care. We got a very cheap portable bassinet that I put on top of our futon and I would snuggle up next to that. This strategy worked some nights, but I didn’t like having to pump so much and I often couldn’t fall asleep anyway since I felt too anxious from knowing my sleep time was time-limited.

Phase 3: In our next iteration, we went for full futon, full mommy care. Baby and I would both go to sleep on the futon early in the night, her in the little bassinet and me curled up next to her. When I needed to nurse, I would sit up, nurse her, then put her back in the bassinet and try to get back to sleep. I wasn’t as nervous about her falling off the bed, since the futon was lower to the ground and surrounded on most sides, so I didn’t have to be as fully awake as before. This strategy was working out better, but I was experiencing intense back pain from trying to sleep on that too-short too-firm mattress.

Phase 4: So I finally went for it: the floor mattress. I bought a mattress that would be big enough for the both of us (queen), not too high off the ground (6 inches), and not so soft that she’d suffocate (firm memory foam). No more worrying about her falling off the bed, no more needing to slap myself awake. This was a massive improvement.

Phase 5: At some point, my baby was both too large for the bassinet and too squirrely for it, so she just slept directly on the floor mattress next to me. I used my own blanket and put a separate small blanket over her. I no longer had to sit up to nurse; I could just use the side-lying nursing technique. I no longer had to be awake to nurse!

My “baby” is now 18 months old, and we still are co-sleeping on the floor mattress. I think that I actually sleep better with her now than I used to sleep on my own, so I have no particular desire to sleep train her and get her sleeping on her own. She’s also still nursing, so this is a way for her to get milk that she doesn’t get so much during the day while I’m working. I imagine one day I’ll have to move back into an adult bed, but for now, I’m loving the floor mattress!

Of course, you should consult your doctor and/or scientific research when deciding to co-sleep. There are definitely associated risks, especially with mothers who smoke or drink. (I do neither). There’s a nice write-up in Emily Oster’s Crib Sheet with some statistics.

I just wanted to share our approach since I see so little online about co-sleeping strategies. Let me know if you’ve tried something similar!

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