Some questions from a mom-to-be today reminded me again how much I enjoy our family bed. It is kind of funny, because I believed at first that mom and dad should have their own room, and while it was fine for newborns to share it (the room, never the bed!) in the early days, it wasn't a habit you wanted to start. Then Ariana was born.
She slept in a bassinet next to us, and I soon learned that if I wanted to sleep, the easiest way was to respond as soon as possible to her cries, before they even turned into cries, if possible. That way we both went peacefully back to sleep once she finished nursing. Once or twice I gave into the pressure to "let her fuss" a minute. Ha! Within seconds, she went from whimper to full-blown scream. I'd pick her up as soon as she started to really cry, and even so, it took her awhile to calm down. Then, because of the gulped air, she didn't nurse right, had to be burped more. We were both wide awake and grumpy.
Of course, like all new moms I know, I got the endless questions from everyone, even total strangers, if she was sleeping through the night, and advice to let her cry it out. It is funny, though. I'm in my thirties, and I don't sleep through the night every night. Sometimes I need to use the bathroom, sometimes I get hot or cold or thirsty. Sometimes I have a bad dream. Sometimes my mind just keeps going and won't turn off. And even at this age, I prefer to sleep with the people I love most.
As far as crying it out, that didn't make sense to me, either. I was told that as long as she was fed and had a dry diaper, it was perfectly fine to let her cry, because I had met her needs. Ummmm, so, emotional needs aren't real? I tried to imagine a friend calling me, crying, and me saying, "Listen, you ate just awhile ago, your clothes are clean. Don't bother me until morning." I wouldn't treat an adult friend that way, someone who was capable of communicating clearly and meeting her own physical needs. How could I justify doing it to a helpless infant who relied on me for everything? We actually learned later that Ariana had reflux. She wasn't spitting up, but she was still in pain from the acid. She just couldn't tell us.
As a Christian, I believe God's promise to never leave us or forsake us. The Bible is full of verses describing how God answers us when we cry out to Him. In Proverbs we are specifically warned against closing our ears to the cries of others. We are instructed to comfort others with the same comfort that we have received. It seemed clear to me that Jesus would comfort a baby.
But wait! They must learn to self-soothe, right? And they'll get used to it and never learn to sleep on their own, right? Balderdash. First of all, the American obsession with self-sufficiency in infants is both recent and often unhealthy. If you are really going to follow that, don't change diapers when they are dirty, either. The babe just needs to learn to hold it longer! You'll get her used to having a dry diaper! Let her sit in it, and eventually she'll stop fussing and learn to clean herself. (Of course, you could practice EC, but that is totally different).
The truth is, the baby probably will stop crying. Eventually, they learn that we won't respond to their cries. Is that really what we want to teach them? That we only care about them when it is convenient? Does God want us to be independent from Him, and not bother Him? When needs are met, babies grow, physically, emotionally, and in every other way. The baby won't always need to nurse at night (although if you were going to nearly triple your weight in a year and grow several feet taller, you might snack at night, too!). As for sleep associations, we look at it as teaching our children that bedtime is a cozy, peaceful time of rest, not a frightening or lonely time.
What happens when a baby is left to cry it out? Among other thing, their brains are flooded with cortisol, which can cause permanent damage (see the links at the end). Their heart rate and blood pressure show the stress they are under. Have you ever cried yourself to sleep, even as an adult? Your stomach aches and is knotted up, your throat hurts, your head throbs... If it is that miserable for you, how must it be for a baby that developmentally can't even understand concepts like object permanence and the idea that you will ever return?
Thankfully, we got enough solid information to counter all the advice to let our babies cry it out. Still, sleep deprivation is a serious thing, too. For us, the solution was just to bring Ariana into bed with us. It was Carlos' idea (yes, he is an amazing dad!). We did when she outgrew her bassinet, and the difference was remarkable. We slept so much better! Joel and Elena slept with us from the very beginning.
From a breastfeeding standpoint, it was great. It insured a strong milk supply (the hormones that govern milk production respond more at night). I would wake up seconds before she did, she'd latch on, and we'd both be back to sleep in moments.
I didn't worry about SIDS, knowing that research shows that my proximity helps protect my babies. I never came close to rolling on any of them. Just like you know where the edge of the bed is and don't roll off, I was always aware of where my babies were. There are basic precautions to bed-sharing that I would recommend, listed in the links, but when they are followed, I think it is much safer than having a baby in another room or crib. When one of them vomited in the night, I was so glad that I was near enough to be aware.
Ariana on her own chose to sleep in a bed of her own in our room before Elena was born. I expect that before long, she'll choose her own room, too. Although, honestly, if she doesn't, I won't mind. Some of the best times of our day are as we go to sleep. She opens up and shares things that we might not hear otherwise. Joelito makes us laugh and giggle together. It is one of our most connected times.
What about connecting with Carlos, you ask? Well, for me, not getting enough sleep sucks any romantic feelings away pretty quickly, so this actually helps in that department. Also, finding a variety of times and places just adds to the interest. We have learned to delight in spontaneity!
I know that different things work for different families. Some might get more rest in separate beds or even separate rooms, and I am in favor of everyone getting more rest. For us, that means sharing sleep and snuggles. :)
Here are some great links: