Before Sebastian was born, we never talked about co-sleeping as an option. We bought him a baby cot and set it up next to the bed. It was a big decision; which bed do we buy for our unborn baby. We didn’t know how much shipping allowance we would have when Ali’s company would transfer us, so we went with something small. Of course, looking back we now know we could have gotten a crib or one of those cribs that go right up to the bed so it’s like co-sleeping, but the baby still has his own bed. And then eventually the crib would turn into a baby bed. But I digress. Like I said we went with the baby cot.
When Sebastian was born, he did not first fall asleep on my chest. Nor did he first fall asleep in his baby cot. He was sedated from anti-seizure medicine in the hospital and sleeping in his incubator. In a room full of preemies who hardly filled their clear, plastic beds, Sebastian barely fit in his. After the incubator, he moved to a plastic cot on top of something with wheels, so he could keep moving up from NICU to SCBU and eventually out of the SCBU (special care baby unit for those of you lucky enough to not know what that stands for) altogether. We decorated it with a special bear from Ali’s friend D and some soft receiving blankets with animals on them from B. We tried to make it special so when he woke in the night or early in the morning when we were not there, he would have something familiar, something that smelled like mama and daddy.
Eventually we took Sebastian home. The first time he fell asleep, it was in my arms. We placed him in his baby cot, which we had moved to the living room so we could be in the same room as him as he slept. We were too nervous to have him out of our sight yet and also wanted to be near him to make up for the hours we couldn’t be while he was in the hospital. When I read about babies being in the hospital for months after birth, I don’t know how the parents survive this as 16 days was traumatic enough for me. Not long after he fell asleep we heard a choking sound and ran to his crib. Sebastian was spitting up (later we would confirm that he had acid reflux) and it looked like his entire meal was on the cot and the floor. That was the end of the cot. (In America we just call it a crib, or even a cradle if it’s small. But in the UK, they call it a cot. And since that’s where Sebastian was born, that’s what I learned to call it.)
After the spitting up mishap, we created a bed for Sebastian in the middle of our bed. We had a baby pillow to elevate him so that if he did spit up again while he was sleeping, he wouldn’t choke. We had his special soft blanket beneath him and the blanket his grandma (my mom) had made for him. We stared at him as he slept and left the room with the door open. Even though we had a monitor, we weren’t quite ready to rely on it fully. We climbed into bed quietly later in the evening and slept on either side of him. Ali was surprised by how aware he was of Sebastian sleeping next to him and I was already on his feeding schedule and sometimes woke before he did.
Sebastian slept best this way. In the mornings after a night of waking every two hours and having little sleep (some of you recall that I was still pumping back then and after I fed Sebastian a bottle, I had to stay up and HAND PUMP before I could go back to bed again, to do it all over in another hour or so. Life got easier after I rented the electric pump and started to have extra milk and didn’t have to pump EVERY TIME.) So in the morning, after Ali left for work, Sebastian would fall asleep on my chest and we would sleep that way for a little while.
Health care workers came to our apartment once a week for the first month Sebastian was home because he came home with a feeding tube in his nose (NGT-he took it out after a week and promptly went to the bottle). Sometimes they would arrive when he was sleeping and tsk tsk at the fact that he was still sleeping in the middle of our bed and ‘it wasn’t a good habit to get into because really he should be in his own bed.’ I didn’t want to care what they said because finally we could be the parents we wanted to be out from the shadows of the routines and nurses at the hospital. But what they said made an impact because then I started to have him in his cot again. And it worked for a little while. But getting him back to sleep and putting him back into his cot got harder and harder to do.
We could never do that nursing position where you get to lay on your side in bed and fall asleep while your baby is nursing. Sebastian’s body couldn’t relax in the right position. So I was always sitting up, I mean, I am always sitting up, crossed legged as he nurses and falls back to sleep. I’m not sure when I started keeping him in bed with me after he first woke in the night to eat. Maybe it was when he was two months old, when we were living in S. London for the summer before moving to Egypt. But we started it and haven’t stopped.
I’ve read a lot about co-sleeping on different websites, in different books and in magazines. Of course the professionals poo poo on the idea. But the best I read was in a Mothering magazine. Basically, studies show that if you do it correctly, it’s perfectly safe for your child. That means no smokers in the bed, no drinking/heavy doses of medicine. For me, these things are easy. I don’t drink. I’m still nursing, so I don’t even take medicine. And when you are nursing, your body clock is on the same one as your baby. Sebastian has recently slept through the night THREE times in one week. Each of those nights I woke at the same time, wondering why he hadn’t woken. It was almost bliss, except even when he can sleep through the night, I can’t!
I definitely don’t think co-sleeping is for everyone. I think you have to be dedicated to making sure you do it safely. But it’s not my place to tell people to co-sleep, just as others shouldn’t tell us we shouldn’t. I fall asleep with Sebastian curled up next to me, sometimes up on the pillow (he still has reflux) or in my arms. I wake to him stretching his body out and a big yawn follows. I open my eyes to see him looking at me. He smiles and I scoop him up in my arms for his morning milk time. Now that’s bliss.