The reluctant co-sleeper

Co-sleeping used to make me think of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in Away We Go. She plays an eccentric academic with an unyielding commitment to the “continuum family”.

For her, this concept involves a phobic hatred of buggies (“Why would I want to push my children away from me?”) and, of course, a family bed including a toddler. Her hilarious performance pictured co-sleeping every bit as weird and disconnected from reality as many people believe it to be.

None of that ever bothered me. I just always held – possibly naively – that we should start as we meant to go on. While I wanted my baby in Moses basket next to me so I’d not be freaking out about whether she’d stopped breathing or something, I didn’t want her in our bed. That just seemed like it was storing up trouble for later.

What I didn’t anticipate was that the baby would refuse to sleep in the Moses basket. She lulled us into a false sense of security her first week or so. Nights involved feeding her, putting her back in the basket and returning promptly to sleep. Even in the day, she was happy to put in some solid time there.

Then the rules changed. Thinking back it coincided with me becoming the “mummy dummy” or “liquid love”. First, she’d only stay in the Moses basket for 20 minutes, then for 5 and now I’m lucky if she settles there for more than a few seconds. But put her in our bed and le voila! She’d sleep two or even three hours in a row!

So we tried swaddling her since she seemed to wake herself up by moving her limbs. For two nights it worked and we thought: “We’ve cracked it!” Then our baby became an escape artist. I don’t know how she does it. No matter how snugly she’s swaddled, she gets out.

It became apparent that if we were to sleep, it would be in our bed. Maybe I’m lazy, maybe I don’t try hard enough, but at some point you’ve got to pause and say: “Look, I need some sleep.” At any rate, I tend to feed her lying down in the night and usually fall asleep anyway, waking up a bit later to put her back in the basket.

But I haven’t fully embraced the situation. Though it’s quite fun waking up to see this cute little being snuggled up to me, I’d rather she were in her own space.

I miss being able to sprawl out on the bed, something I couldn’t do in pregnancy because I could only sleep on one side without discomfort. I feel sore because my body doesn’t change position when she’s in bed with us. I always automatically curl protectively around her.

And I often wake up checking that she hasn’t got her face caught between anything and that her father hasn’t smooshed her, which I’m sure he won’t.

Even if I could be convinced of a way to do this comfortably and safely, I worry that I’m ingraining habits though people keep saying she’s too young for that to be the case.

I also wonder what this will do to our intimacy. Perhaps it’s another of nature’s postnatal contraceptives.

It amazes me how many mothers I speak to who struggle with the bed sharing thing. None of us want to admit it at first but so many of us are doing it, especially if we’re breastfeeding.

No need to make it political. We all just need a decent night’s sleep.

[she/her] • writer • unschooler • team Soul Farm • Revillaging podcast • breastfeeding counsellor • Trinidadian in Cornwall

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  • I had a swaddle houdini too. The Miracle Blanket was the only one he couldn’t break out of…until he learned to roll.

  • We cosleep,baby  and  my 4.5 year old included. It makes breastfeeding so easier as you mention. I am not worried about the future,in many cultures children cosleep with parents. My daughter slept in her room for a while when she turned 3, then we moved houses. Since then she is  back. As for the intimacy, cosleeping makes you more creative 🙂 There are other rooms in the house, right 😉

  • Reading that sounds like reading the post I wrote about how I came to co-sleep with J. I never planned to but it happened and in the end after reading the research on both sides of the fence I started to embrace it. This time around I am planning on using a bedside cot that gives the baby their own space but its still part of your bed if that makes sense, it also means that when 4 year old gets into the bed I don’t have to worry! Well done on writing about it! Not everyone is willing to for fear of being shot down!

    • Will have to go look for your post. Actually you’ve given me a lightning bolt. Might try putting the cot next to the bed and putting that side down so it’s like an extension of the bed…

  • Agree that you do what you have to in order to get some sleep. I rocked F to sleep for the first 4 months of her life – she just stopped needing it one day and bedtime became a whole lot easier. Everyone has different views on these types of thing, but you just have to go with what feels right for you. And enjoy the sleep when you can! x

  • Some thoughts:

    1) It will be different next week.
    2) Keep trying with the moses basket. Everyone I know had this ‘won’t settle’ thing around this time. Keep giving it a shot. I used to shush Fitz to sleep with my head in the moses basket next to his, as if I was in there. Bonkers.
    3) While this isn’t working, do not beat self up about co-sleeping. Or nodding off while holding baby on sofa for example.
    4) Try feeding lying down during the day too. You might get an extra nap out of it. (I had to feed lying down so was always nodding off.)
    5) It’s very hard. And very tiring. But it does get better. And then you won’t remember when it started to get better.

    • Thanks, all very good points. I keep trying with the basket at the beginning of the night and tend to give up as I progressively get more tired. I’m ok with co-sleeping but know we’re not ready to choose it as a longer term thing. And very very good point about the naps! As for it being different next week, it’s so strange blogging about life with a baby because often, by the time you get around to blogging about something, it’s no longer an issue! 

  • BB slept with us on and off at first, then we evicted her as I needed my star fish sleeping shape.

    maybes buy one of those swish swaddle blankets?

    or gaffer tape?

    J x

  • Stop worrying about the future, it will all work out

    Firstly, here’s a whole lot of stuff on how to co-sleep safely plus the relevant references in one place to reassure you

    Secondly, both of mine have co-slept (didn’t start until 8 weeks with Bigger but once we did it really helped, did from the start with Littler) and now they both (unless ill or under the weather) sleep 12 hours in their own beds – we got more sleep at the start and I think they got reassurance and comfort from it and it may have helped them be better sleepers

  • Try a Miracle Blanket – – it’s designed for people who are a bit crap at swaddling, as we were, and is genius! Atticus still goes in his at night even though he should really be in a sleeping bag now and has basically grown out of it. Really helps them sleep as it tucks them up all cosy and makes them feel safe. 

  • Many things will work themselves out in their own time. My middle one cried for 2 months straight after birth (tummy troubles). Eventually, I think you will have to learn to just let her cry it out (at least during the day). If she understands that she shan’t be attached to you 24/7, you should slowly see an improvement in her self-sleeping habits. I’m not suggesting to be neglectful either dear (I can hear the judgments now). Just decide on a set time (10, 15, 20 minutes) of how long you will allow her to cry before picking her up after you have laid her down for a sleep. The first several times you try this, she will no doubt just cry. But you might find after that that she is able to self-soothe and will fall to sleep. And while you work up to her independent sleeping, there’s nothing wrong with managing your nighttime sleep with the wee one in tow.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience! Yes, I’m sure a lot will just work out as she gets older. I’m already seeing bits of that. There will come a time when she needs to learn to stick it out on her own but at six weeks I feel she’s quite young for that. As you say, “eventually”. We’ll see what happens with sleep in the future. She’s started, unbelievably, staying in her cot. I put my hand through the bars to settle her if she starts stirring. Win, win, we all sleep and we’ll deal with what happens when my hand’s not there later on. 

  • We too worried that letting LLC into our bad would make her dependent on us for sleep.  In reality, while she often slept for chunks of time in our bed while I was night feeding (and then after we both fell asleep) but I persevered in gradually returning her to her Moses Basket each night and eventually, that stuck.  Re the swaddle, do you have a specialised swaddle blanket with velcro etc?  We had this and it was fab, I see you have some suggestions here but if you are still looking let me know and I’ll send you a link x 

    • She started sleeping in her cot but I’m not confident that it’ll last so please do send the link! Good to know that it can stick. I often fall asleep while feeding Talitha. It’s why she ends up in our bed so much.

  • […] The midwife warned us against taking her into bed with us. I hadn’t even considered it might be unsafe. I knew many people in Trinidad who slept with their babies. Out of exhausted desperation, I began to breastfeed her in bed and would accidentally fall asleep. I’d wake up terrified. In the daytime I was unsure about admitting to people that she was in bed with us. I felt guilty about it all. But I became a reluctant co-sleeper. […]