I told myself that as a mother, I was going to do everything right. I would breastfeed (check). I would go to mommy and me yoga (soon!) And I would not let the baby get used to sleeping in our bed.
That resolution was tested the first night and every night of her existence so far, as I found out how easy it is to fall asleep with a happily nursing baby in your arms. The hospital and the Internet had supplied me with plenty of information on SIDS and all the well-intentioned advice on what I should do—have the baby sleep near you but not with you. What no one ever explained to me was how you get a tiny baby that’s only ever known your body to fall asleep anywhere else.
For weeks, she screamed. For weeks, I tried to put her down in the bassinet, the pack’n’play, the cosleeper I insisted on buying on a family trip to Pittsburgh. I began having panic attacks as it grew dark, not knowing how I would keep her safe throughout the night and not trusting my body not to fall asleep and abandon her to something horrible. I slept in the living room for three weeks to avoid falling asleep with her in bed. I read everything on SIDS I could find. There was one inescapable thread of truth.
As long as I kept bringing my baby into my bed, I was unfit to be a mother.
Eventually, I had to reconcile that “truth” with something else—when my exhausted, still healing body would give out on me, I would wake up to a soundly sleeping, peaceful baby. She slept far better with me than she did anywhere else. I slept better with her than I did with her anywhere else. And I desperately needed to sleep.
This drama culminated after my husband got sick of camping out in the living room with us every night (which I had fully planned to do until she was three months old). He went to bed, and I stormed upstairs after him, accusing him of manipulating me, threatening our daughter’s life, abandoning me and finally, collapsing on the floor clutching the edge of the bassinet in tears.
Did I mention I needed to sleep?
I stumbled upon the the research of Dr. James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. He argued that co-sleeping with your child was safer and more beneficial than any other sleep arrangement if it was done with certain guidelines in mind. These included non-smoking, sober parents who were at a healthy weight, a breastfeeding mother, and a comfortable room temperature. I read on to learn that under healthy conditions, a mother would actually function as a pacemaker for her child, helping to regulate the baby’s breathing, heartbeat and sleep patterns.
I write all this to say something a little controversial. SIDS is a real tragedy. It affects thousands of infants a year. There are important steps that must be taken to ensure the health of any child, and even more so if you’re going to cosleep. However, cosleeping does not make you a bad mother or an irresponsible parent. Your babies thrive and depend on your proximity. Most other cultures in the world recognize this and routinely sleep with their babies. Japan, where cosleeping is the norm, has one of the lowest incidences of SIDS. Do they practice these other precautions? Undoubtedly. But many of those are essential to raising a healthy child anyway.
Even after deciding to bring her into bed with us, I still worry and stress about her safety, and I wake up a million times a night to check on her. But you know what? She gets her needs met immediately, doesn’t scream at night, and wakes up smiling. And I’m a better functioning, happier mother.
What piece of parenting advice did you have to reevaluate, and how did it turn out?