Co-sleeping with Quinn & Milo / by Leslie

Confession: We co-sleep with our kids. Some people think it's a bad idea. For us it's been amazing.

Co_sleep_01 September 22, 2008: In bed with my boys when Quinn (on the right) was just 3 weeks old.

This morning I woke up to 21 month old Quinn rolling around next to me, trying to find a comfortable spot. He finally flopped down on my chest, his head tucked into my neck and his arms wrapped around my sides. He loves to use me as his pillow. We both fell back to sleep for another half an hour. It's blissful to sleep until 8am sometimes, when I'm sure if I wasn't right next to him, he'd be wide awake at 6am.

Yesterday morning I woke up to kisses. He kissed my cheeks, and my eyes and my lips. When I opened my eyes, he quietly said, " Hi Mommy" and kissed me again and rubbed my arm. It was so awesome.

Sometimes it's uncomfortable. I really don't like to be a pillow for too long, and when Milo comes into our bed it can get a little crowded.

Milo is supposed to be sleeping in his bed all night, but it only rarely happens. He wakes up with a bad dream or scared and he'll come into our bed. If Chris is awake enough, he will take Milo back to his own bed, sometimes laying down with him and sometimes not coming back to our own bed. I miss Chris on those nights, but I'm glad that everyone is at least getting some good sleep somewhere.

We have a king size bed, it's essential when you have 2 kids in bed with you. It's pushed up against the wall so Quinn doesn't fall out. Milo has a double bed in the boy's room, so there is enough space for one of us to lay down with him and read books at bedtime and to cuddle him in the middle of the night if he needs it. We just converted the crib to a toddler bed and Quinn sleeps there at the beginning of the night, until his first wake up (around midnight) when we bring him into our bed. With this arrangement, Chris and I still have our alone time after the kids go to bed.

Co-sleeping isn't for everyone, but it works for us. We love the intimacy that we share with our kids in bed. They love to cuddle and snuggle. They feel safe and warm and protected. Our best times are in those first minutes of the day, quietly talking about our dreams and what we have planned for the day.

One of the greatest benefits is if you are breastfeeding. Co-sleeping is essential and often the only way for Mom to get a decent amount of sleep in the first few months and during teething times when a schedule doesn't exist. Ladies: there is no rocking chair out there that is as comfortable as laying down in your own bed.

Of course, you must follow the safety guidelines. We have always been careful to make sure that they can't fall out of bed, or be smothered in blankets or tangled in sheets, especially when they were really small. The babies were always between me and the wall or a bed rail, despite the photo below that shows Milo in the middle. I moved him over after we were awake. If Milo and Quinn are both in bed with us, I am always between the two of them or Milo is on the other side of Chris. If you take the right precautions, co-sleeping can be very safe.

Co_sleep_02September 26, 2006: Chris and I in bed with Milo when he was four months old.  

Dad's need to support co-sleeping for it to work. Luckily Chris loves it more than I do. Sometimes Dad doesn't want to co-sleep, for fear of losing intimacy or sleep. Both parents need to agree on the sleeping arrangements and be flexible to change plans if things aren't working out. Our goals were always to get the most sleep possible, with the least amount of crying. Co-sleeping makes that very easy.

Dr. Sears has such beautiful things to say about his wife Martha co-sleeping with their children and some interesting scientific reasoning for why co-sleeping might work in this article "Co-sleeping: Yes, No, Sometimes?":

In the early years of sleeping with our babies, I watched the sleep-sharing pair nestled next to me. I truly began to believe that a special connection occurs between the sleep-sharing pair that has to be good for baby. Was it brain waves, motion, or just something mysterious in the air that occurs between two people during nighttime touch? I couldn't help feeling there was something good and healthful about this arrangement. Specifically, I noticed these special connections: 
  • Martha and baby naturally slept on their sides, belly-to-belly facing each other. Even if they started out at a distance, baby would naturally gravitate toward Martha, their heads facing each other, sort of a breath away. (...) Researchers have recently measured the exhaled air coming from a mother's nose while sleeping with her baby. They confirmed this logical suspicion that the closer baby is to mother's nose, the higher is the carbon dioxide concentration of the exhaled air, and the concentration of carbon dioxide between the face-to-face pair is possibly just the right amount to stimulate breathing (Mosko 1994). Perhaps the face-to-face position allows mother's breath to stimulate baby's skin and therefore baby's breathing. (...)

  • As I watched the sleeping pair, I was intrigued by the harmony in their breathing. When Martha took a deep breath, baby took a deep breath. When I draped our tiny babies skin-to-skin over my chest, (a touch I dubbed "the warm fuzzy") , I noticed their breathing would synchronize with the rise and fall of my chest.

  • The sleep-sharing pair is often, but not always, in sleep harmony with each other. Martha would often enter a state of light sleep a few seconds before our babies did. They would gravitate toward one another, and Martha, by some internal sensor, would turn toward baby and nurse or touch her, and the pair would peacefully drift back to sleep, often without either member awakening. Also, there seemed to be occasional simultaneous arousal. When Martha or the baby would stir the other would also move. After spending hours watching these sleeping beauties, I was certain that each member of the sleep-sharing pair affects the sleep patterns of the other, yet I could only speculate how. Perhaps these mutual arousals allow mother and baby to "practice" waking up in response to a life-threatening event. (If SIDS is a defect in arousability from sleep, perhaps this practice would help baby's sleep arousability mature.)

  • Then there was the reach-out-and-touch-someone observation. The baby would extend an arm, touch Martha, take a deep breath and resettle.

  • I was amazed by how much interaction went on between Martha and our babies when they shared sleep. One would wiggle and the other would wiggle. Martha, even without awakening, would reach out and touch the baby who would move a bit in response to her touch. She would periodically semi-awaken to check on the baby, rearrange the covers, and then drift easily back to sleep. It seemed that baby and mother spent a lot of time during the night checking on the presence of each other. I did not miss the hours of sleep I gave up to study this fascinating relationship.
Our son, Dr. Jim, an avid sailor, offers a father's viewpoint on sleep- sharing sensitivity: "People often ask me how a sailor gets any sleep when ocean racing solo. While sleeping, the lone sailor puts the boat on autopilot. Because the sailor is so in tune with his boat, if the wind shifts so that something is not quite right with the boat, the sailor will wake up." In essence, the sleep-sharing pair seemed to enjoy a mutual awareness without a mutual disturbance.

It won't last forever. Soon they will be sleeping on their own and I know I will miss the sweet moments that we all shared together in bed. We try to encourage Milo to sleep on his own, but he's just not ready yet. I've let him know that it's uncomfortable for me when everyone is in one bed but that if he really needs me, he is always welcome in my arms. (Or arm, because Quinn is often in the other one!) He will sleep on his own when he's ready and I'm hoping that eventually Quinn and Milo can share a bed (or a bunk bed) and comfort each other in the night.