I think sleep-deprivation is one of those things that comes with the territory when you’re a mom. When I was pregnant with my son, I was so sure I would have a baby that wouldn’t sleep well that I think I may have willed it to happen. I read blogs and checked out all kinds of websites until I decided on a sleep-training method that I was comfortable with (not realizing that it had to be something my baby would be comfortable with). When my daughter was born, I did no such thing. I made a lot mistakes with my son in terms of sleep, and I’m still paying for them regularly four years later. At least I learned from those mistakes and didn’t make the same ones with my daughter.
There are some important things to keep in mind when considering sleep with your little ones. Ask yourself, “Do I want to co-sleep?” or “Do I want my baby to sleep in his own bed?” It’s important to discuss your choices with your spouse, as well.
If you choose to co-sleep, make sure you do it safely. Notre Dame University has a very helpful section on their website regarding safe co-sleeping. They have a printable pamphlet with tips that should be common sense—avoid certain medications and alcohol use, do not use fluffy bedding, and loose sheets or blankets that can entangle your baby.
Another nice resource for parents who are considering co-sleeping is Dr. Sears’ website. On his site, he mentions the seven benefits of co-sleeping. The first benefit is that babies who co-sleep tend to go to sleep and stay asleep better. I think with some children, this is certainly the case. I tried very hard to with my son to get him to sleep by himself, but time and again he ended up in my bed. It was the only way anyone got any sleep in my house. He was one of those kids who just could not sleep by himself. Now, at four years old he co-sleeps with our dog—if the dog isn’t in the room, my son will not go to sleep. Hand in hand with baby sleeping better is the next benefit—mom sleeps better. I definitely slept better with my son in my bed—mostly because I wasn’t up every five minutes dealing with a crying baby.
Some other benefits of co-sleeping involve increased closeness between mom and baby. With so many mothers working, co-sleeping offers mom and baby a chance to reconnect. In addition, it certainly makes for easier breastfeeding.
The benefit I found most interesting, is that according to Dr. Sears’ website, co-sleeping reduces the risk of SIDS: “New research is showing what parents the world over have long suspected: infants who sleep safely nestled next to parents are less likely to succumb to the tragedy of SIDS.” Since the risk of SIDS is between .5 and 1 infants per 1,000, Dr. Sears cautions that the reduction in the risk of SIDS is not reason enough to co-sleep.
Baby’s Own Bed
I fall more into this category. While I love the closeness of co-sleeping, I prefer to have my children in their own beds. My husband has a hard time sleeping and having the kids in the bed makes him nervous—and it makes me nervous. I remember one night our son couldn’t sleep and I had him in our bed and my husband almost rolled onto him. Somehow I instinctually reached out my arm just in time and using mom strength threw my husband back.
If your baby sleeps in his own bed or crib, then there will certainly be some challenges. I read several books about sleep and methods for getting your baby to sleep. My library of children’s sleep books includes Elizabeth Pantley’s The No Cry Sleep Solution, Eduard Estivill, MD’s 5 Days to a Perfect Night’s Sleep for Your Child, Polly Moore, PhD’s The 90-Minute Baby Sleep Program, Richard Ferber MD’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, Marc Weissbluth MD’s Health Sleep Habits, Happy Child and my personal favorite, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sleep Training for Your Child by Melissa Burnham PhD and Jennifer Lawler. The number one thing I learned from all of these books is “don’t read books.”
On a serious note, with my second child I didn’t use the books. As a more seasoned mom, I was more aware of my child’s sleep cues. When my daughter started to look sleepy, I immediately put her in her crib. At two years old, she prefers to sleep in her crib (or in her car seat if necessary). When she was sick with a stomach virus, I tried to get her to sleep with me, but she refused. She screamed “I want my crib!” I think my success with her sleeping in her own bed is partially due to me being more in tune to her cues, but also because of her personality—she is a very independent child.
My son is a completely different sleeper. He has a routine that he insists upon every night. All of the books recommended a routine and I followed they’re recommendations. To this day, I have to follow all 9 steps to get my son to go to bed. I’m not sure if I had done things differently it would have mattered. I think every child is different and some prefer to sleep close to mom while others prefer to sleep alone. I think the most important thing we can do is follow their cues.
As with co-sleeping, there are benefits to having your baby sleep in his own bed. Many parents who choose to keep their baby in another bed do so because of safety (think parents who take sleep medications). The Baby Bond Fact Sheet reports crib industry data shows “60 accidental infant deaths have occurred per year in adult beds for age birth to 2 years.” According to the Fact Sheet, some of those deaths occur when the baby is sleeping alone in an adult bed. With that in mind, if you are not prepared to sleep when your baby sleeps, then keeping your baby in a crib is probably a better option.
Another reason parents may choose to keep baby in his own crib is for the intimacy of their adult relationship. According to eHow (and common sense), spontaneous love-making is not really an option when a baby is sleeping in your bed.
Transitioning baby to his own bed may also be more difficult if you have a child who co-sleeps, and many experts suggest children should be transitioned to their own bed at two years old. My daughter is two years old and still sleeps in a crib, so I’m not sure how realistic it is to transition a two year old into a bed, and the idea of starting the use of a crib at two years old seems wasteful. Of course, if you keep your child in your bed longer, it will probably be harder to transition.
No matter where your child sleeps, there can be hic-ups. The trick is to find sleeping arrangements that work for your family. If your child has trouble sleeping, then I suggest trying different things. Here is what has worked to keep everyone sleeping happily and in their own beds in my home.
1. Music- my children have classical music playing on a loop in their rooms all night long. The music is soothing and since it plays throughout the night, if they have (common) night wakings, they will more easily fall back to sleep since the room conditions have not changed.
2. A favorite stuffed animal—my kids both have stuffed animals they love and sleep best when they have those to hold onto. Some kids may prefer a blanket. I’ve also heard of a great doll called the Ookie which mom sleeps with first and it takes on her scent making baby feel close to her.
3. Reward System—I said before that my son has always been a challenging sleeper, and every so often there will be a setback. Since my son thrives on the reward system, we use it. My son is reminded each night before bed that he needs to “sleep all night, in his own bed, by himself.” Upon doing this for a set amount of nights, he “wins” something. I like to reward him with a favorite food that we don’t have as often, or maybe a trip to a park that we don’t visit as often as he would like.
When it comes to sleep, there’s no one method that works for every child. If there was, then you would see far fewer sleep-deprived moms. These are some of the things that have worked for me. I mentioned the books I liked before, and I was serious when I said the best book for me was The Complete Idiot’s Guide. It offered a brief overview of each sleep method and the short of it. You don’t need to know the entire science of sleep or all about the circadian clock. If your child is not sleeping, then you’re tired and already have little time for reading about sleep (it’s like a sick joke if you think about it). You need a book that will give you real methods you can try, and this book gives you several to try. Try finding it in your local library before you buy it, though and you could save a tree.