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Before six months
The science of co-sleeping
Safe co-sleeping
After six months

Sleep is the holy grail of parenting. Some crazy people have propagated the idea that once you're a parent you can easily go back to your pre-parenting life of sleeping in, sleeping uninterrupted at night, and sleeping on your own schedule. Let's face reality here - your sleep is no longer in your control. Best to accept that and move forward to solutions that will help you feel more rested - in spite of this loss of control.

By the way - I will freely admit that there are some lucky moms who have babies who sleep for hours on end at a very early age. It's not impossible - but it is unusual. If you're awake every three hours at night, please remind yourself that this is normal infant sleep. If you really can't stand it, check out The No-Cry Sleep Solution for great ideas on helping everyone get more rest. In the meantime, read this page for ideas on how to make the nighttime feedings more manageable.

Before six months: Infants need to eat at night, that's all there is to it. Their little bellies are just not built to store enough for eight hours, no matter what any "sleep expert" may tell you. Once your baby is somewhere around 5 or 6 months old, they will gain the physiological ability to sleep longer, but until then, you're pretty much stuck with nighttime feedings. The trick is to make them as painless as possible. Painless, for me, means that I have to wake up as little as possible, and have to stay awake as short a time as possible.

When my first was born, we accomplished this by nursing in bed and having my husband do all the nighttime diapering and burping. Once I went back to work, I had this idea that my baby had to be over in the other room, and that I needed to sit up in my rocking chair to feed him. Let me tell you, it took about three nights of this to break me of that bright idea. The way I got enough sleep was pretty simple - I never got out of bed, and neither did my son. We slept together, the whole family.

I know, some of you may think that so-called "co-sleeping" is just for hippies, or you may worry about rolling over on your baby, but I've found (as have countless other working moms) that sharing a bed with your baby is the best way to get your rest. And - as a scientist I can tell you that it's never been shown that breastfed babies in bed with a non-drugged parent are at any greater risk for SIDS than babies who sleep alone. (In fact, the new statement from the AAP - american academy of pediatrics, that is - states that infants should be in the same room as their parents to protect against SIDS)

If you're not comfortable with your baby in your bed, there are many other good options. Commercial co-sleepers hook up to the side of your bed, or you can put a crib or basinet next to your bed - where you can reach your baby without getting up.

Much of this page is a repeat of what's on the Reverse Cycling page, where you'll find an explanation of why sleeping near your baby also reduces the amount of milk you have to pump. 

The science of co-sleeping: When babies and moms sleep near each other, your sleep cycles start to synchronize. That means that when you are in deep sleep, so is your baby, and when you are in lighter sleep, your baby will be more likely to wake up. This is good - because if you're in a light sleep state, you wake up easier and fall back to sleep faster. If your baby is right near you, you'll wake up at the first little noises, instead of having to wait for your baby to cry. When a baby cries at night, everyone wakes up all the way, and it's harder for both mom and baby to get back to sleep. All of these things are important when you have to be up, perky, and bright-eyed for a 9am meeting!

Safe co-sleeping: Sleeping safely with your baby is easy to do with a few common sense precautions. For more information, check the recommendations of Dr. Jack Newman and Dr. James McKenna - who have both researched infant sleep extensively. Here's my short list of recommendations:

  • Use a firm mattress - no waterbeds, feather beds, or deep mattress pads
  • Keep bedding away from your baby's face. You can use a pillow, but make it a firm one, and keep it well above your baby's head. If your baby's head is at the level of your breast, this is not hard to do. Keep blankets away from your baby (I wore a flannel nightshirt and kept the blankets at the level of my waist).
  • Don't overdress your baby. Your baby will be kept warm by your body heat. She'll move closer if she's cold, away if she gets too warm. Baby should only have a light blanket over her.
  • Don't sleep with your baby if you smoke. The science of this has not been explained, but moms and dads who smoke are not as sensitive to the presence of their baby in the bed with them.
  • Don't sleep with your baby after you drink alcohol, take any drug or medication that could make you sleepy, or if you're a very heavy sleeper. Put your baby in a co-sleeper or crib next to your bed.
  • Never sleep with your baby on a couch or stuffed chair! So many parents are confused by the recommendations that they don't sleep with their baby that they start sleeping with their baby on the couch. This is very dangerous! The baby can easily roll off of you and get trapped in the cushions.
  • Don't let older siblings sleep in bed with your baby.
  • Don't let a baby sleep alone in an adult bed.
After six months: There is no magic age where you have to move your baby out of your bed. My pediatrician told me that if I didn't move my son out of our bed by the time he was six months, he'd never leave. Well, six months didn't feel right to me, but I did start putting him in his crib for part of the night when he was about eight months, and it went just fine. We gradually increased the amount of time he spent sleeping alone, and just did what felt right for us. Or, you can just buy a bigger bed and let them stay with you - you and your family are the only ones who can figure out the right answer.

Moving your baby out of your bed doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. We started putting the kids in their own bed for the first part of the night so my husband and I could "fall asleep" alone together, but then would bring them back to bed to nurse  when they woke up. Gradually they can get used to sleeping alone for longer periods of the night, and my two kids, now three and five years old, do indeed have their own beds and actually sleep in them. We still let them come in bed with us in the morning for snuggling, and it's a precious time for all of us. I can't imagine wishing they would stay out, sharing that morning sleep is my favorite part of the day.

There are lots of great ideas for your whole family getting better rest in The No-Cry Sleep Solution, the only book I really loved about sleep. With this book, you can do some very gentle "sleep training" to help everyone rest better.


Copyrightę 2005 Kirsten Berggren. All Rights Reserved.