When a couple prepares for the birth of a new baby there is almost always the creation of a nursery complete with a rocking chair, a changing table, pictures of cuddly animals on the wall and most importantly, a crib. However, when the little baby is brought home the new parents notice that the baby doesn't like being alone in a crib or a bassinet--and with good reason! Baby's been sharing the bed with Mommy and Daddy for 9 months and then very suddenly she's expected to be alone. Womb one day, solitary crib the next--talk about a tough transition!
The decision to co-sleep is one that should be made wisely and it truly isn't for everyone. Some parents can't sleep well with baby in bed and some babies do sleep better in their own bed. Some parents aren't willing or are unable to give up things that would make for a safe co-sleeping arrangements. Others simply don't want to do it and that's fine too. But, if you're on the fence, here are some wonderful benefits afforded to co-sleeping families.
Better (and more!) sleep for mom and baby: While studies show that mothers who co-sleep with their babies are awakened more frequently, the wakings are usually briefer and occur in lighter stages of sleep. This allows for mother and baby to both return to sleep quicker. Often times mom is able to respond to baby without even fully awakening. This was especially helpful for me, personally, because when my new baby would wake up and I would tend to him in the next room, I would be wide awake by the time he fell back asleep. I began suffering from bouts of insomnia. Once I began co-sleeping with my baby, I was able to quickly tend to him and return to sleep. In the morning, both of us were much better rested.
More bonding time: This is especially worthwhile for working parents who feel they do not see their children enough during the day. Being a stay-at-home mom, I obviously have lots of time during the day to spend with my baby but a lot of that time is spent doing housework, running errands, or otherwise taking care of the to-do list. Co-sleeping affords us some quality time together when that is our only concern--being together. Also, it allows my husband more time to be near his son. Some absolutely beautiful moments have been spent with my husband putting his arm around me and holding our little baby's hand.
Developmental benefits: Studies have shown that children who co-sleep are more independent and have better self-esteem than those who practice solitary sleep: “routinely sharing the parents’ bed in infancy has been associated with greater self-reliance and social independence at preschool age than a history of solitary sleeping (Keller, M. A., and Goldberg, 2004).”
Makes Dad aware of night wakings: While I don't have any scientific or developmental reasons for mentioning this, having my husband more aware of our baby's night wakings and nighttime needs helps me to feel greater support from him. He has also been more involved with helping to soothe our little baby if he briefly awakens, helping him to easily go back to sleep with a gentle pat or a soothing touch.
Easier breastfeeding: C0-sleeping babies breastfeed more frequently and with greater ease than solitary sleeping babies. More frequent feedings can be especially helpful for newborn babies who are struggling to gain weight or for mothers who are not producing enough milk. This can be especially useful for working mothers who are pumping. Night feedings also ensure that older babies who are otherwise too distracted or too active to take full feedings during the day are getting enough breast milk. Co-sleeping mothers are also more likely to continue breastfeeding longer.
Reduced anxiety: Any mother will tell you that the most ridiculous thoughts concerning your baby will pop into your head in the middle of the night. When my baby was sleeping in a separate room, I would have irrational thoughts of someone stealing him in the middle of the night. I would also worry that maybe he had stopped breathing. I seriously would get up 4 or 5 times in a one-hour period to make sure he was still there and still breathing. I had one friend tell me that she would concoct thoughts of her baby finding a Cheerio in her bed and choking on it in the middle of the night. Whatever the thoughts and no matter how silly we know we are for having them, mommies worry and worry keeps a person awake. Having my baby next to me allows me to check on him easily without waking myself up or filling myself with anxiety.
Greater safety for baby: In conjunction with the last point, co-sleeping babies are actually safer than solitary sleeping babies when safe co-sleeping precautions are taken. Co-sleeping mothers are much more aware of their babies and are easily aroused if something is amiss (i.e. choking, caught under a blanket, etc.) In countries where co-sleeping is the norm, the rate of SIDS is significantly less than it is in the US and in some of these countries there has never been a SIDS death.
Co-sleeping babies and mothers are biologically connected: Studies have shown that when a breastfeeding mother and her baby co-sleep, their circadian rhythms align. This is why co-sleeping mothers report feeling better rested than those who practice solitary sleeping. When baby awakens, mom was in a light sleep as well and therefore awakens easily and falls back asleep easily. Mothers seem to be wired to share sleep with their babies.
Greater satisfaction with baby: Polls have shown that mothers who co-sleep are less likely to believe their child's night wakings are problematic than those who practice solitary sleep. I can add personal testimony to this. While there are certainly nights when my baby's night wakings seem like a hindrance, since we have started co-sleeping, those nights seem far more the exception than they did before.
Again, co-sleeping isn't for every one or every family. Before making the decision to co-sleep, both parents need to be on board. Having Mom and Baby in bed with Dad on the couch certainly isn't conducive to wholesome family relationships. If one or both parents are opposed to the idea of co-sleeping, you can consider some other possibilities including an Arm's reach co-sleeper, a sidecar crib arrangement, having baby in the same room but not in the same bed, or moving baby to his own room all together.
Another thing to consider in the decision to co-sleep is couple time. Many couples worry about how co-sleeping will affect their time for emotional and/or physical intimacy. Obviously, that is an arrangement that is best made between partners. Some people are perfectly fine sharing those moments with baby next to them but most of us are a little squeamish. If having baby in bed with you while being physically intimate is fine by you, then by all means, go for it. Baby certainly doesn't know what's going on and isn't going to remember a thing. If it touches a sensitive nerve for you, then consider playing musical beds. In our family, baby sleeps in his crib for the first part of the night so my husband and I can spend some much needed time together without having to worry about waking baby up. It also ensures that we can leave the room (baby shouldn't be left alone on a parent bed, especially once she can get up and explore!) and come and go as we please. When baby wakes up, he's welcomed into our bed. Strangely, I look forward to that first night waking.
In summary, do what works best for you and your family. For us, co-sleeping has been a wonderful way to increase our closeness as a family and to provide for our nighttime needs.