December 15, 2011

four in the bed

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This post was written for inclusion in the Safe Cosleeping Blog Carnival hosted by Monkey Butt Junction . Our bloggers have written on so many different aspects of cosleeping. Please read to
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So have you seen that ad they ran in the Milwaukee area about co-sleeping? Yeah, pretty disturbing and uh, uneducated? Because parents need to feel more ill at ease with their newborn. Because parents need to feel like at any moment the decision they make is going to kill their child. How about we educate parents on safe, healthy parenting? How about we give them the confidence they need to parent in a way that is best for their whole family, regardless of what their city thinks? (and really, really? the city put out this ad? i bet their constituents are hella thrilled they paid for that.)
When we decided to co-sleep we didn't really do it out of a place of academic or parenting philosophy. We did it because we'd had a fairly traumatic few days as a family during Guthrie's birth and we really needed that closeness. It was an intensely emotional decision.

And then we read some books. I got on the internet and figured out how to do it safely because we'd never done it before. Then it became a philosophical parenting decision. One that we intentionally chose. One that definitely had it's high and low points and frustrations and joys. Five years later we're still happily co-sleeping - and as a family of four.

One thing that's not talked about a lot in co-sleeping is the family transition from one child to two. You made this decision with your first child, but how will you make the same decision with your second especially if you're first is continuing to sleep in the family bed? I found two things made it easier: 1. providing our family with a lot of sleeping options and 2. remembering that it is a transition. Of course flexibility is always the key.

Guthrie got a 'big girl bed' in her room (she always had a room, she just never slept in it) when she turned 2. In theory we were going to going to stop co-sleeping with her because we were hoping to expand our family and had no idea how four in our bed would work. Except we didn't realize that none of us actually wanted to sleep separately. When she did sleep in her bed none of us rested well. So, we made a half-hearted effort to transition on and off. I bet you know how well that worked! But having an additional bed in the house was helpful. Sometimes John would get frustrated at being assed off the bed (either by Guthrie or the cat) and go sleep in her room, sometimes I slept in there when I wasn't feeling well - or a year later when I was super pregnant and could not get comfortable. And it was fine. It didn't mean John and I were less married or whatever. It did mean that we had to remind ourselves the nights may be long but these years are so very short. For the couple rough nights a week we'd have five that would be great.

And then Laithe came along. So, Guthrie was still mostly in our bed and so was a newborn. And so was a mom who was recovering from a c-section. And then there are the two cats - and let's not forget dad! It was a busy bed and there were a few things we did to make it more comfortable and more safe for all of us. We do have an Arm's Reach c0-sleeper that we attached to my side of the bed. Those first few nights Laithe did sleep most of the night in that because I was still on a heavy dose of oxy and when I did sleep it was drug induced. Not safe for baby! When I was down to ibuprofen Laithe slept in our bed, it went John, Guthrie, me, Laithe so as not to put Guthrie and Laithe next to one another. This went on for awhile. It helped Guthrie feel like she hadn't been usurped, it made us still feel close to her. I was not prepared for the dramatic change in Guthrie and my relationship when Laithe was born. I missed her so much! Sleeping in the same bed helped me to feel like I was still close to her. Eventually, Guthrie made more of a transition to her bed because it's tough to sleep with a newborn when you're not the one responsible for his care! And the co-sleeper? We kept it up for quite awhile and used it for the reason I like it - to hold my crap. Water bottle, books, picture books, diapers, wipes, burp cloths, and extra set of clothes or two, baby blanket. It's handy when it's within arm's reach! Ha ha get it?

So, did I ever let the kids sleep together without an adult? Yep I did. Once Laithe was a few months old - probably 3-4 I would put him next to the co-sleeper and give him a good foot of space then one of our firm pillows, then Guthrie. I felt safe with this. Not every parent of every kid would. But here's the deal, I know my kids, I know how they sleep. And I was comfortable with it. He was totally a stomach sleeper too. We know how to break all the rules, I tell ya!

I'll be honest though, that first year with two kids was a tough one, especially after I went back to work. They were both very in need of our attention and a full night of sleep was not to be had. However, the sleep we did get was good. I was not worried about Laithe one bit because he was always with at least one parent. Nor was I worried about Guthrie, wherever she was sleeping, because I knew she'd yell if she needed us. She was old enough to communicate her needs to us and know that we'd respond - which I think means it was an appropriate time for her to be in her own bed, in her own room.

These days? In the kids' room is Guthrie's bed and a crib mattress on the floor for Laithe. Sometimes they request to be put to bed in there together, sometimes they request to be put to bed in our bed. And I'm good with that. My opinion is that they know what they need and location is the only thing in our routine that changes. Laithe has spent a few nights in Guthrie's room - not all night, but a good portion before crawling into our bed. I'm not surprised he's starting this transition much earlier than Guthrie did.

I no longer put a pillow between them though because at 21 months Laithe is really more the threat. Case in point:
I have no idea how long our co-sleeping will last. I'm sure one day it will end and it will be bittersweet. And then we'll stretch out and turn on the tv or leave the light on fully while we read and it'll be less bitter. I will never regret that we've done this with our family though. I think it has helped create an emotional bond we would not otherwise have. Breastfeeding while co-sleeping, well, it goes without saying that it's so much easier - past about 6 months there has been little effort on my part. Although I'm pretty sure you could hook yourself up a nice system for bottle feeding too without much effort. For certain c0-sleeping is not for everyone and I do not believe that you are slighting your child by having them sleep separately from you. For our family though, this works.

Now - time to go get that steak knife out of my bed! Apparently it's dangerous!


for good quality research and statistics on co-sleeping i like Dr. Sears - and they have many, many links. for mentoring, and getting ideas when what you're doing isn't working for you i like the forums on

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Aprille said...

Thanks for this great post, Darah. We cosleep too (for the time being, Denny and Miles in one bed and Tobin and me in another), and it works out pretty well for us.

One (progressive, female) health care provider of mine was a lot more concerned about our sex life than the safety of the kids. As if any parent is under the impression that at night, in bed is the only way to get freaky!

Erica @ ChildOrganics said...

Your bed situation, sound very similar to our family's situation.We had a plan to move the kids out and into their own room...well, it's a work in progress. We're loving the snuggles in the mean time. That photo with the big green diaper butt is priceless, LOVE IT!

Gretchen said...

Love it - thanks so much for sharing all the details of four in a bed :)

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

First - I love your LOs' names!
Second - we just transitioned to having two kids, and we're completely happy expending our family bed as well :) I think if we would have tried to get our son out before his sister arrived, it would have been more trouble than it was worth. But we are also very fortunate to have a king sized bed - plenty of room for 4!

melissa v. said...

Wonderful post! I really enjoyed this! I wrestled with the idea of adding a fourth to the bed; I wanted things to be safe, didn't want to kick out my five year old, and didn't want to keep out my baby... Eventually I figured out that being the peanut butter in a sandwich worked best...
Great idea about the pillow! I should have thought of that. And the photo of your son climbing over your sleeping daughter was hysterical!! Yup, it doesn't take long before the baby is the threat around the house!


melissa v. said...

...and I second Dionna's statement that a King Sized bed is awesome for a family bed (ours now sleeps a rotating gaggle of six; four kids, two adults...rarely do we have everyone in there anymore, but the odd time we will have one of the older two join us!). King sized bed + queen sized pillows = safe spot for baby

darah said...

we are actually buying ourselves a king sized bed for christmas! we're officially middle age aren't we - when that is SO exciting!

Anonymous said...

We have four kids. While the olde rtwo have transitioned to sleeping in the kids room on some nights over the past 6 months, most of the time we have 6 people in our family bed at night. Luckily, we have a monster bed that can accomodate it. I love it.

Jeckab said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sierra said...

Love it-- the post and cosleeping.

darah said...

@Aprille - I know! people are always so concerned about our sex life too! it's so weird. I usually tell them, well, there's always the dining room table (which is actually on wheels so, you know, that'd go well) and it keeps them quiet and out of our business! and really - who has sex at night? that's so pre-parenthood!

Cytherea said...

Hey there! I know this post is pretty old but I'm hoping you can help me with a question. I'm expecting my first in May and plan to bed share, but we do have three cats, all of which enjoy their "bed sharing" time with us too. It varies from night to night the arrangement, and they come and go. I love sleeping with my kitties and I would hate to kick them out of the bedroom and make them feel even more ostracized than I'm sure they'll already be feeling with all the changes. You mentioned there being cats in your bed as well- how did you deal with this? Did you have any issues with the cats/babies in the same bed? Thanks so much! =)

darah said...

@Cyntherea - first Congratulations! What an exciting time! Excellent question though - people get all freaked out about cats and babies. We had more than a few concerned people in our life! So babies have a Moro Reflex for the first several weeks/couple months and it causes them to flail randomly. Even when our daughter was swaddled tightly she would fling a little bit. It's enough of an unpredictability that the cats stayed away those first weeks. Our midwives said they've seen this over and over. They would sniff around, but wouldn't sleep near the kids for a few months at least. We have one fairly aggressive male cat and a totally docile female who we don't see too often. The male cat was irritated about being usurped from his place between the pillows in the bed, but he started sleeping by our feet. I do think that having the baby in my little "nursing cove" - the cozy area made by nursing on your side in bed - helped. Neither cats tried to poke their way into our space.
I will say though that we had to take our male cat to the vet after our son was born because he started spraying and peeing outside his box. The vet said it was probably in response to a change with the adult in the house he had bonded with - which I bet was me! We tried a few things and eventually put him on some prozac - which was just embarrassing, but totally helped!
Good luck and feel free to email me if you have any questions! darah7atgmaildotcom


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