Cosleeping is a controversial practice these days. You’ve probably heard the warnings: it will ruin your sleep, destroy your marriage, prevent your child from developing independence, and give your baby an oedipal complex. Not to mention raising the risk of SIDS, asphyxiation, and overlying.
These accusations are untrue. Done properly, cosleeping can be very safe. Just like with crib sleeping or carseat use, you need to follow guidelines. But more babies die in cribs than in adult beds. And nobody’s throwing out all the cribs. (Wait, actually they did. But that was just so they could make us all buy new ones with safer standards.) And instead of issuing blanket condemnations of cosleeping, we ought to be issuing cosleeping safety recommendations.
And then, maybe, if the cosleeping guidelines for babies were more widely known and practiced, we could move on to make cosleeping safer for parents. Because right now, it’s a little dangerous. No, you won’t suffocate from it. But you are likely to suffer some injuries. And the current cosleeping safety guidelines don’t even address these dangers.
Don’t believe me? Let me explain. Here are some of the dangers you risk by cosleeping.
1. Cramps and aches. These stem from the fact that you cannot choose your sleeping position. For as long as you cosleep, your baby will choose your position for you. Amazingly (and rather beautifully), most cosleeping mothers end up sleeping in almost exactly the same position.
You will probably be most comfortable (I use the word loosely) lying on your side, facing the baby, with your arm above your baby’s head, your boob conveniently exposed, and your body curved protectively toward him with a slight twist of your back to make your boob more accessible to his mouth. If you think this doesn’t sound dangerous at all, you’re right. This is an extremely safe position for your baby. Your arm serves the double purpose of keeping pillows and blankets away from his face and preventing you from rolling toward him, and your facing him keeps you aware of his movements throughout the night. But it is an pretty uncomfortable position for you. Especially if you sleep in exactly the same position every night for three years. You will wake up with arm cramps, neck cramps, back cramps, shoulder cramps, leg cramps, and possibly carpal tunnel. Get a good chiropractor. You’ll need it.
2. Repression. Well, either that or regression to your wild pre-baby ways. Yes, I’m talking about sex. Your sex life could become either nonexistent or really creative. Don’t take this the wrong way, because I don’t want to imply that cosleeping partners never — or can’t — have sex. Obviously, it’s perfectly possible to have sex outside of your bed, right? And what better way to get out of a sex rut than to be forced to find different locations?
Not to mention the spark added by the possibility of interruption. Nothing spices up your sex life like the fear of getting caught. (You used to be scared you’d get caught by your parents. Now you’re scared you’ll get caught by your toddler. See? Circle of life.) What with the fear of the baby waking and the excitement of getting busy on the kitchen table, cosleeping can actually be really good for your sex life.
Not that I have ever done the kitchen table thing. Don’t need to. We have a guest bed.
But if you are neither lucky enough to have a guest bed nor adventurous enough to christen the rest of the furniture in your house, then your sex life — and your relationship — could suffer.
3. Bruises. As your baby gets older, he may get more wiggly at night. You may get kicked in the teeth. And the boobs. And the ear. And the chest. And the arm. And the mouth.
This is when many parents decide their cosleeping days are over. If that’s you, be assured you’re not alone. Nobody wants to wake up with toe-shaped bruises on their face.
In the meantime, keep your toddler’s toenails trimmed. At least then you won’t get scratches with your bruises.
4. Overcrowding. You will have no space in your bed. Almost. Actually you’ll have about five inches. Your spouse will have the same. Your baby will take up the rest. This is true no matter how wide your bed is. You could have three king beds all in a row, and your baby would still take up all the space, minus about five inches on either side. Cosleeping babies are like gaseous molecules. They expand to fill all available space.
Learn to sleep in a small space. It’s good practice for if you ever have to downsize your bedroom. You and your spouse will both be able to sleep in a twin comfortably, with room to spare.
5. Insomnia. I’m not talking about the lack of sleep you’ll experience while you’re cosleeping. Of course your baby will wake you, but he’d be doing that no matter where he was sleeping, and cosleeping parents actually get more sleep than those who sleep in separate rooms. No, I’m talking about the long-term danger of cosleeping: the insomnia you’ll suffer for the rest of your life. Because no matter how uncomfortable and difficult cosleeping seems while you’re doing it, and no matter how impossible it seems that your baby will ever move to his own bed, eventually the day will come when he no longer sleeps with you. You will wake up one day and discover that you can sleep in any position you want, and no one is kicking you or grabbing you or chewing on you, and no one is waking you up in the middle of the night because they want to eat. You will stretch out your arm across what feels like an endless and empty stretch of bed before you find another human, who will feel so far away he might as well be in another country.
And when that day comes — that day that you long for so eagerly now — you may discover something. You may discover that having your bed to yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You might find that you miss the warm, cuddly softness of a baby pressing against you in the middle of the night, the sweet smell of a baby’s breath on your face, the comforting feeling of a baby rooting against your chest. You might even find that it’s hard to sleep without your baby snuggled next to you like a human teddy bear.
Besides, by the time your baby finally quits cosleeping, he’ll probably be a teenager, so you’ll be lying awake wondering when he’ll get home and worrying that he’s crashed the car.
And that is why they tell you that once you have kids you will never sleep again.