My lovely friend Leigh co-sleeps with her husband and three children—meaning, they all sleep together in a family bed—and I wanted to ask her a few questions. Here’s what she told me…
Who sleeps in your family bed?
My husband Taro and I sleep together with our three kids: Jackson, 5, Walker, 3, and Hazel, 1.
You sometimes hear scary things about co-sleeping, like that controversial Milwaukee ad campaign a couple years ago. What are your thoughts?
Co-sleeping is definitely not for everybody. Parents have different approaches for their families, so I will speak to my experience. Lots of people co-sleep with their kids. It’s instinctual and feels good. But then they feel guilty because it’s frowned on by people in our country. My main reason for wanting to talk about it is to normalize it and let people know that it’s healthy and great. That way, maybe more people will plan for it—or embrace it if it’s happen to them organically!—and think, "How can I make this work best for our family," instead of "My mother in law thinks I'm crazy…"
Are you able to sleep well with adorable but wriggly kids next to you?
Surprisingly, I’ve never experienced that all-consuming sleep deprivation that you hear about from new mothers. The reality is that I sleep well when I have little kids. It’s not always a restful night—someone might be sick or fussy—but the overall feeding part is so easy when your baby is right there. They don’t even have to cry for you, they just whimper and you say, here’s my boob. Neither of you even have to fully wake up. I can’t imagine summoning the energy to stand up to get your baby.
Do you worry about rolling over?
When our first son was born, I realized that there’s a position that just kind of happens. Your arm is crooked, your baby’s head is there, your boob is right there. It’s as easy as can be. The position helps you have a constant sense of the physical wellbeing of your child. It’s funny when you see those hyperbolic ad campaigns against co-sleeping, because what could possibly be safer than having your baby that close to you?
How big is your bed?
We have a king-sized bed with a twin-sized mattress on the floor next to it.
Who sleeps next to whom?
I sleep between Hazel (1) and Walker (3) in the king bed. Walker isn’t nursing anymore, but he still wants to be close to me. He’ll say, “Cuddle me, Mama.” My husband Taro and Jackson (5) sleep together on the twin mattress on the floor. It’s a little crowded, but it’s cuddly. And I’m lucky: none of my kids are real flailers or starfish sleepers.
How do you keep the little guys from rolling off the bed?
We have a Tres Tria pillow on either side of the bed. You put it underneath the fitted sheet. That’s one of my top baby purchases I ever got.
What’s your typical bedtime routine?
After dinner, the kids try to cram in as much play time with Daddy as possible. Then we’ll all read a book in bed and try to have lights out by 9pm. We lie down as a family until the kids are asleep, and then if Taro and I have energy we’ll get up again. We have a video baby monitor, so we can keep an eye on them while we go downstairs and hang out until 11:30pm or midnight.
What are some cons of co-sleeping?
My husband brought up that the con for him is sacrificing having our own private space that allows us to cuddle. It’s sweet to hear him say that he misses that. He wants to whisper to me late at night and first thing in the morning. My husband probably misses it more than me because I get so much touch from the kids all day that I’m not craving as much snuggling at night. But of course a husband’s snuggle is different, and when it does happen, it’s so delicious.
But there’s another type of intimacy, closeness and bonding you get with your kids that fills you up and satisfies that need for human touch and connection. They’re so vulnerable and small and needing of your milk or comfort or presence that it feels good to offer that. So, it’s a trade off and we know it won’t last forever. Having these small kids in our lives is fleeting, so I think it’s worth it to have the bond of the family bed.
We just have to work a little harder to make sure our relationship doesn't suffer in the physical department because of that. It changes, but you don't lose it.
How long do kids generally co-sleep?
Until your child feels ready to sleep in his or her room. When I was growing up in Mississippi, I moved out of my family bed when I was seven. We actually have a separate room ready for the kids with bunk beds and dressers. Right after we built the bunk beds, it was really exciting and the boys slept in there a good bit. But now we’re all back in the family bed together.
Thank you, Leigh!
What do you think? Would you try co-sleeping, or would you prefer separate spaces? Perhaps you have a family bed already? I'd love to hear...If you’re interested in co-sleeping, you might check out the websites Ask Dr. Sears and Mothering. And, of course, Leigh has written about co-sleeping on her blog Marvelous Kiddo.
P.S. We did sleep-training with Toby, which is a very different approach. Also, a funny book for tired parents.