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How We Accidentally Became Co-Sleepers

Despite my crunchy leanings, I never planned on sharing a bed with my babies. I'd heard horror stories about infants being smothered to death when sleeping with a parent. So we had a bassinet set up next to our bed, and that was as close to co-sleeping as we'd get, thank you very much.

On our first night home from the hospital, I nursed my new baby boy until he fell into a milky sleep. I slowly eased him into the bassinet and stretched my sore body out on the bed next to him, ready for some much-needed rest.

But within a minute, he startled awake, howling.

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We swaddled him, bounced him, shushed him and nursed him, but each time we tried to set him down in his bassinet, he'd wake up again.

Despite the fact that we were finally stringing together some much-needed sleep, I felt ashamed.

We repeated this cycle for several nights. During the rare times when our son did sleep, I couldn't—the baby goat noises he made, all soft snorts and snores, had me bolting awake.

I was exhausted by the time my husband asked, "Why don't we just bring him into bed with us?"

"Because I don't want to smother him," I said. "And I don't want him sleeping with us until he's 19. And because he could fall off the bed."

"Why don't we just try it and see if it works?" my husband responded.

Despite all these reasons, I was more tired than I'd ever been before, more tired than I'd even thought possible. I acquiesced. I moved the pillows aside, pulled the blankets down, far away from our son's tiny face, and snuggled in.

We slept.

Our son still woke up every few hours, but after a quick nursing session, he'd fall back asleep instead of jolting awake like he did when I'd try and sneak him back to his bassinet. And, with an arm curled around his little swaddled body, our breaths seeming to synchronize, I finally slept too.

Despite the fact that we were finally stringing together some much-needed sleep, I felt ashamed of our arrangement. This hadn't been in our plans. I worried that we were endangering our son as well as committing to at least a decade of bed sharing. Despite reading up on safety tips for co-sleeping and knowing that parents all around the world sleep with their babies, I couldn't totally relax with our triaged sleeping arrangements.

I wasn't the only one who felt torn about co-sleeping. At the new mom groups I frequented, the topic of sleep often came up. "He sleeps in bed with us," one mom whispered to me. I nodded, smiled and confessed that our son was sleeping with us too. "It's the only way we're getting any sleep," she said. I had versions of the same conversation with several moms; many were conflicted about their discovery that co-sleeping, while not their initial plan, allowed them more sleep.

I wish I'd known earlier that whatever sleep choices we make with our babies can be reversed later.

We continued this way for several months, my son and I heading up to bed each night at 7 p.m. Despite the stretches of sleep my son and I got, he was still waking up frequently—and months of interrupted sleep were catching up with me. And I missed my husband. Our bedroom was on a different floor from the rest of the house, and I was afraid to leave our son alone in the bed. What if he fell off?

Slowly, and over several attempts, we weaned our son into a crib near our bed, and then later moved him into his own room. Each step was painful, for him and for us. But eventually, he slept. And I did, too.

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Now, he is almost 7. The cranky baby who woke up several times a night for the first 18 months of his life goes to bed easily and sleeps until dawn.

I wish I'd known earlier that whatever sleep choices we make with our babies can be reversed later. It might not be easy, but let's face it—what part of parenting is? The nursing to sleep, the co-sleeping, the nights when it took hours to get them to sleep—these all pass. I wish I'd embraced our decision to co-sleep a little more, knowing it wouldn't last forever.

Photograph by: Pixabay

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