How Co-Sleeping Builds a Connected Family

Research shows co-sleeping is safe and creates strong family bonds.After the birth of our son, my husband and I learned that co-sleeping was not only safe and allowed everyone to get more sleep, but it also made us feel more connected.

At first, like many families, my husband and I did not consider co-sleeping an option during my first pregnancy. It seemed dangerous and at the least, lazy, so we planned not to make it a habit. Then my son was born.

The first night we brought him home, we placed him in the bassinet next to the bed between feedings. I noticed when he woke up, which was frequently as is normal for newborns, he seemed startled and instantly upset.

So I pulled him into the bed with me to nurse and he calmed down quickly. When he drifted back to sleep, I placed him back in the bassinet, but couldn’t resist the urge to keep my hand on his or my arm next to his body.

I just wanted to be close enough to touch him. During the next few days, I drifted off to sleep during nursing and it became easier to just keep him next to me all night, rather than taking him in and out of the bassinet.

During those first weeks and months, we woke frequently in the night to re-latch, re-situate and resettle, but the wakings were very brief — rarely more than two minutes. All three of us would cuddle together at night and in the mornings, stroking each other’s skin and admiring the features of whoever was still sleeping when we woke up.

Those moments were dreamy, and my husband and I began to cherish them. Over the years, our son has bounced in and out of our bed. There was a time he slept better in his room and a time when we added another baby to our bed —  he felt left out and we wanted him to be included, so he was welcomed back into our room.

Now he and his little sister are used to snuggling up together at bedtime and they sleep so much better (and longer!) when they are laying next to each other. Each night when we lay down, we say prayers and exchange “I love yous” and hugs and kisses and I fall asleep with a full heart.

My husband and I love ending the day all together that way. Some may wonder if our marriage suffers because we don’t have hours alone in the evening. We still make time for each other and are thankfully on the same page about how we enjoy and celebrate the family we created together.

I know this is not the only arrangement that works for families. Some parents may not be able to get comfortable with a baby in the bed or a child in the room, and so co-sleeping (room sharing or bed sharing) may not be the best arrangement for every family.

But I think most Americans think co-sleeping is absurd for cultural reasons rather than considering how it may actually benefit their families. Our culture tends to focus on creating independence from infancy. But other cultures recognize what science confirms: babies and mothers were designed to touch each other during the night.

According to research, babies respond to the touch, movements and smell of mothers neurologically throughout the night. Their body temperature, stress level and breathing all stabilize when they lay next to their mothers. And mothers are physiologically motivated to touch and sleep close to their babies.

One factor may be that sleeping in close proximity promotes breastfeeding. Mothers who co-sleep (whether bed sharing or room sharing) are more likely to breastfeed longer, likely because of the exhausting routine of fully waking up to go to another room, stay awake through a feeding, get baby settled and fall back asleep.

The process is so much quicker when a baby is close by and mothers are more likely to persist. Breastfeeding not only provides sustenance and immunity boosters to help babies thrive, but it also gives mothers a frequent dose of oxytocin and prolactin, which helps mothers feel calm and less stressed.

In general, frequent nursing and co-sleeping both promote bonding. Dr. James McKenna, an infant sleep expert, says babies who lay next to their mothers during sleep are happier and in turn, mothers are happier.

This was certainly true in our case. My first baby night nursed through 18 months old and weaned around 33 months. My second baby night-weaned around 25 months and is still nursing at 27 months.  We have not experienced hours of crying in the night, nor hours of trying to get a little one to lay down alone. Having milk available throughout the night hours is a comfort to us all.

Like other dads, my husband sees the benefits of nursing on demand and how bonded and rested I am. We’ve both noticed that when we lay next to them, they get sleepy, almost regardless of the time of day. Even during nap time, if I sleep next to them, they will sleep longer than if I get up and leave them in the bed.

Dr. Sears talks about how to co-sleep safely and how it actually can reduce the risk of SIDS. He also cites research that shows children who bed shared become independent sooner and have less anxiety. This may seem surprising, but it makes sense that children who feel bonded and secure in their relationship with the their parents gain confidence.

The time families can spend together is so limited, we see the night time hours as an opportunity to continue bonding rather than spending that time separately. When our baby wakes up looking for milk or a little one stirs from a bad dream, they are instantly met with pats and words of comfort or milk. They may sleep more soundly knowing they are close to their caregivers, and I sleep better knowing their needs are met.

I know the day is coming that it will make more sense for them to move on from bed sharing. In the meantime, we are soaking up these precious moments before, during and after sleep. We smell their heads and pull their warm bodies close. We stroke each other’s cheeks and pat each other’s backs.

And when my husband’s eye catches mine just before the last light goes out, we smile and both think, “These are the days.”

6 thoughts on “How Co-Sleeping Builds a Connected Family”

  1. This is irresponsible. It is not safe and it is not ok. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that all babies should sleep on a firm, flat mattress in their own bed with nothing else in it, until at least a year. You can roomshare and have your baby right next to you, in their own SAFE space, without putting them at unnecessary risk for your own convenience and preference.

    1. Chelsie, you should take a deep breathe and ask yourself why you’re so filled with anger and hatefulness. Is it because your mom didn’t co-sleep with you?
      You obviously aren’t trying to help anyone. You’re just being extremely judgmental. If you actually cared about childrens’ SAFETY and really believe in what you’re saying, there’s at least 200 more effective ways of doing that.
      But just to be clear, I know from what I’ve read and lived, that co-sleeping was the best option for my family. We started at around 4 months and I plan on starting around the same time with my next baby. Thanks so much for this article. It’s nice to hear that there are other families like us out there.

  2. This is working well for our family, and using a system to do this safety, has been supported by our Healthcare provider.

  3. Hey Chelsie how about you consider the following: where do you think babies slept for the thousands of years before cradles were invented? Or even after that when families were too poor and everyone slept together on straw mats? How about poor countries even today where the entire family sleeps together including healthy babies? Americans have become backwards when it comes to child rearing thanks to the AAP.

    Ever considered that the rise of SIDS, which has only really been a major concern for the past century or so is because babies aren’t sleeping next to their mother? The benefits including temperature regulation when sleeping next to the mother may actually be part of the mystery behind SIDS cases. It’s not lazy to co-sleep and bed share. It’s actually nature. As the article outlines this family has benefited 10 fold due to longer breastfeeding and stronger bonds.

    And due to the fact that they all sleep better there’s actually less risk of any danger than you would think. Typically adults who roll into their babies while sleeping usually never sleep together and it happens on accident due to exhaustion. If the parent could sleep more regularly their body’s natural instinct will actually remain aware enough to not roll into the baby. It’s when you’re exhausted that it becomes dangerous.

    Also screw the American academy of pediatrics. They’re a bunch of idiots. If I followed what they recommended with my daughter i would have had to hold back her development in order to follow their recommended standards. How is that good for a child’s growth? More often than not it’s better to follow the instincts for child rearing that we were born with than a bunch of crap that only makes sense in a cold lab.

    Anyways, Julia this is a great read for those who may be apprehensive due to all the bogus crap out there about bed sharing. My mom freaked when I told her my daughter was sleeping with me. But then I spent a weekend at my parents place and she saw for herself how easy and peacefully we both slept together and that there was no danger to my daughter. She’s turning 1 year in 2 weeks and though she spends many nights now in her crib, some nights when she’s cutting teeth badly as well as nap times are best spent cuddled next to me in bed.

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