How My Family Sleeps Is No One's Business

Co-sleeping may be controversial, but does that really matter if it works for you?

Becoming a parent for the first time is completely crazy. If you’re anything like me, your entire prior experience with children was cooing at them from a safe distance, and maybe babysitting the odd toddler or two. When we had our first child, I knew only one thing: I could not function without a good night’s sleep. All the books I read gave specific instructions on how to get babies to sleep, so I was pretty sure I had it all covered.

As it happened, the model I birthed didn’t come equipped with fully functioning sleep features. And nobody tells you they’re final sale, do they? What do you do with a baby that doesn’t follow the rules? I tried convincing her, I tried the soft line and the hard line and every line in between.

To be honest, it felt like our daughter never slept. We could bounce her, walk her, stroll her, snuggle her, trade her off to grandparents, beg her . . . nothing could convince her to sleep if she wasn’t in constant contact with a warm body.

I read every piece of research and every opinionated article I could find, trying to find a solution to getting a good night’s rest. I reached out to other moms on mommy boards, I asked family and friends. Should we sleep train her? Let her cry it out? Should we cuddle her till she fell asleep? Apparently, we may have scarred her for life no matter which option we chose. For every article praising a sleep plan, there were three denouncing it. All we wanted was to sleep, but all we found were conflicting theories and opinions.

A lot of people told us crying it out was the only way to go. I remember sitting outside my daughter’s room while she screamed for an hour and a half solid. Her tiny hiccups as her breath caught in her throat nearly killed me on the spot. That was enough of that. So naturally, I felt like a failure. I wasn’t tough enough to wait for her to adjust, and I wasn’t a good enough mom to convince her to sleep.

Oh, Mommy guilt is powerful, isn’t it?

Some people suggested a sleep doula, but paying someone to teach our baby how to sleep just wasn’t in the budget. Some suggested warmer clothes, or maybe cooler ones, or maybe put something that smells like us in the baby’s crib. Or perhaps white noise, or no noise at all, or close the door, or maybe keep it open. Who knows, it’s all a sleepless blur, really. A big, guilty, sleepless blur.

As if new parents don’t have enough stress, I was worried we’d created a monster by not having our baby sleeping independently by three months of age. The words “self-soothing” and “good sleep habits” haunted me, and I wondered how she’d ever survive now that I’d failed at probably the easiest parenting task given to me.

Then, one day, I realized the only thing that mattered was what worked for us, for the three people under my roof, and nobody else in the world. And so if our arrangements didn’t seem right to others, I was okay with that.

What worked for us was sharing a family bed. We did so safely, and happily. Of course, I’d read all the reports and terrifying news stories, but I’d also read about cosleeping in other countries, and throughout history. Just as importantly, we all slept well when we were together.

That’s not to say it works for everyone, but knowing my baby soundly slept through the night when I was next to her made my daytime hours so much easier. We all woke up refreshed, and ready to tackle whatever the new day presented us – no longer in an overtired haze.

When our son came along three years later, we didn’t even fight that battle. We welcomed him into our bed, too. And again, we all slept soundly and safely. We were actually featured in a segment CNN put together on “Extreme Parenting” because sleeping together is just so extreme, isn’t it? What a crazy concept, to cuddle the ones we love most while we sleep.

Of all the things to fret over while learning to be a parent, I really don’t think sleep has to be one of them. I promise you that whatever way your family chooses to safely sleep is the best way. I promise that your child won’t be scarred whether you let them cry it out, or you rock them to sleep, or you share a bed. I promise you that your child won’t want to sleep next to you forever.

We all have to do whatever gets us through, and for my family, that was cosleeping. I’ve been a mom for nine years now, and it’s been some of the best sleeping of my life.

Alex Durrell is a freelance writer, blogger, speaker and entrepreneur. She does in fact blog at I Don't Blog and she covers everything allergy-related at Irritated By Allergies.

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I'm convinced that so many people have sleep issues now because the "thing to do" was the "cry it out" option. All that stress around going to bed so early in life....just my thoughts.
Gilly Bean (not verified) - October, 16, 2015
So refreshing to read your post/article/blog on "How my Family Sleeps is No One's Business". We started our family almost nine years ago also. Before my first was born, I read voraciously about what was "best" for my kid(s). Through my research I also discussed options with other new moms. One in particular led me down a path that just felt right. She encouraged me to explore "Attachment Parenting". The more that I explored this option, the more natural it was, like following my own instincts. I knew that wearing my baby, breastfeeding on demand, and co-sleeping in a family bed were all the right choices for us. My babies were all heathy, happy, loving, and well-adjusted little beings. I have no regrets, although I have had to explain and justify my choices to family members such as my parents and siblings who just did not understand. We've made informed choices that work best for our family and we make no apologies. Four children in total and only now because our king sized bed is not big enough for all of us, our oldest 2 children sleep in their own beds...except when there is a storm or Daddy is working late at the hospital. I love cuddling with them all, and I don't take that for granted. I know that they will only be little for such a short time and I relish evey moment. It just never seemed natural to me to put a newborn or any baby in a room down the hall in a bed all alone. After all, they just spent 9 months inside of you and all they really want is to be close to you and feel your love and warmth. I also never understood how getting up to get them in the night was easier than just soothing them back to sleep from your own bed. I have had friends who have taken every different approach and I do not judge them for the way they raise their children. They are doing their best. We are too. Love your kids and follow your heart. R.
Attachment Pare... (not verified) - October, 16, 2015
Such a refreshing article! We love co-sleeping with our 2 year old. Same story. We tried many options, but they weren't right for our family. Now we all sleep well and wake up refreshed and happy!
karmin (not verified) - October, 16, 2015
I absolutely love this....I felt terrible through the first 3 months of my oldest daughter's life. I read every book, took everyone's perfect advice and my daughter and I were miserable and so exhausted I don't remember much of it. I said enough is enough I miss sleep and my husband so I went back to my bed with my daughter and haven't looked back. My daughter will be 3 next month and my second is 15 months. Everyone sleeps great and now my oldest sleeps in her own bed, in her own room all night and my youngest sleeps in her own bed in her own bed most of the night. I enjoy cuddling and sleep better with them when they need it, but they have outgrown it on there own. Plus my life was much better once I gave in. It doesn't matter how you get through it as long as it works for your family!!!!
melissa (not verified) - October, 16, 2015

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