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Baby Needs Nighttime Parenting: Gentle Techniques and Co-sleeping

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I have never owned a crib. Or a bassinet. We have one bedroom in our house. There are two mattresses in that bedroom. They are next to each other. One is a king-size. One is a full. We all sleep together. In one big bed.

The Upsides of Sleeping Together
Sleeping next to a newborn facilitates nursing, helps a nursing mom and dad get more rest than they would if they had to physically get up to fetch the baby from another room, allows a mother's body to regulate a baby's body temperature, and allows for complete and utter vigilance by the mother. Sleeping in close proximity to a new-born guarantees that every jumpy or erratic breath that a newborn takes is monitored by the mother (even while the mother is asleep). Using a baby monitor is simply not the same thing as being next to your baby. When you are physically next to them, you can feel their bodies move, you can hear and analyze subtle changes in aspiration, and you are a millisecond away from reaching out to them.

Knowing that my babies were right next to me at night allowed me to rest knowing that I could tell if they were too hot, too cold, not breathing right -- whatever. I felt safe next to them, and I knew they were safe next to me. I know from personal experience, after nursing every night for a combined five-plus years, that if I had to do much more than simply roll over, I think I would have truly lost my mind and seriously considered not nursing anymore. So for me, co-sleeping facilitated what turned out to be one of my best parenting tools: nursing. The way I see it, it is absolutely natural, normal, and healthy to want to be close to your newborn both day and night.

Another tremendous and, frankly, unexpected upside to cosleeping and, in our case, bed-sharing, is that it is indescribably wonderful to sleep next to your children even if you are a light sleeper and love sleep. There is nothing that can compare to sharing sleep throughout the night, even though it takes some getting used to. Kids squirm a lot, and they often like to be pressed right up next to you for what our older son calls "the big cuddle," or they like to lie perpendicular to your body, for reasons I have never quite figured out but stopped trying to. Our older son snuggles very close for warmth at various times of the night and often has to be pried off with a surprisingly great deal of force if you need to extricate yourself from his sleepy grip.

People often assume (erroneously) that I am a heavy sleeper and that all people who co-sleep are heavy sleepers. They describe to me in gory detail how outrageously, obscenely active their kids are and how they can't deal with it because they need their sleep. First of all, I am not a heavy sleeper, so at first I felt every movement, too -- but you do get used to it. And many people decide to forgo that beauty rest because they fundamentally know it is best for their baby. So you haven't convinced me you can't co-sleep yet.

Second, if you are a person who really likes sleeping, I am afraid that you will be shocked and rather disturbed to discover that you never sleep the same way again after having kids as you did before you had them, especially if you are a mama. You get a sort of sixth sense for your baby at night, which gets stronger if you foster it. You are programmed to instinctually seek them out when they are in distress and to be attuned to them and vigilant about them. Many people wish this instinct would go away so they could just get some good sleep. Sorry, folks. That instinct is helpful and serves to keep your baby safe.

So What Does a Marriage Look Like with the Family Bed?
The question I get a lot is about me and my husband. And the sex. The people who ask are usually the people who also had more sex than we did before we had kids, but I understand the interest nonetheless. My husband happens to have come to the conclusion that bed-sharing is the best thing for our family. It fosters closeness, intimacy, and secure attachment, and this from a guy who hates cuddling at night. It feels good and it feels right. I am blessed to have a husband who agrees that this is ideal for us, even though he did not grow up with this concept.

Does that mean he doesn't desire to not have our boys in the bed sometimes? Sure. He wants to sleep in most days but rarely gets to. Our boys sleep in our bed. And we don't get to have sex in it. And that's the long and the short of it. We can be intimate in any other room of the house. And we have done just that. I am aware (and he is, too) that this is not the most convenient way to have intimacy. It's also not always the most comfortable way to have intimacy. But we have collectively and consciously chosen to live our life this way right now. There are worse things in life and in relationships.

My husband and I believe that we need to follow our instincts. And if you feel a desire to be with your children at night like we do, you will try to figure out how to work everything else in around that.

Excerpted from "Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way" by Mayim Bialik, Ph.D. Published by Touchstone.