Posted: Apr 03, 2013 12:00 PM
Have you gotten cross looks from your parents, your best friends or even your pediatrician when you mention that your baby sleeps in bed with you? Fortunately, human history is on your side. Your instinct that cries out when you ignore your baby’s cues is telling you something.

Have you always taken your baby to bed with you because you've felt that it was the right thing to do? Don't worry Mama — you're not alone. Not only do countless other families co-sleep or bed share, but I do too.

The evolution of a co-sleeper

I firmly believe that babies are not good nor bad, they just are.

My first baby was born when I was 21 years old. He was a highly adaptable baby and very easy going. I had been advised by our pediatrician to put him to sleep on his back in his crib, and he seemed to really enjoy sleeping on his own. For the first few months his crib was in my bedroom so I was able to awaken at the slightest movement or tiny sound, and I dutifully got up, checked his diaper, and nursed him while sitting in a rocking chair. When he was done, I put him back in his crib and he slept.

I didn't realize how unusual and rare babies like this are. I firmly believe that babies are not good nor bad, they just are. But I was constantly praised for my good baby, and I didn't realize at the time that it was just his natural personality to be a low-needs baby.

However, I realized exactly how low-needs he was when my second child came along. He cried — a lot. He wasn't content to lay anywhere but in my arms, and while he did sleep in a bassinet next to me for the first few months, many times I woke up with him in my bed. The natural state of caring for a baby dictated what happened in my sleep-deprived state, and while he did eventually enjoy his crib, for years he would get up in the middle of the night to join me in bed.

I spent many nights sitting beside her crib waiting for her to fall asleep. I wish I had just given in to my natural instinct to let her sleep with me.

My third child was like her next-oldest sibling, but even more needy. I struggled mightily with her desire to co-sleep and it's one of the things I do wish I had done differently when she was younger. I spent many nights sitting beside her crib waiting for her to fall asleep, and she too would join me in bed in the middle of the night — for years. I wish I had given in to my natural instinct to let her sleep with me. Once she outgrew her crib, I would lie down and tell her stories until she fell asleep.

Seven years after her birth, our last baby entered the family. I made half-hearted attempts to put her in a bassinet but soon gave up and just let her sleep with me all night and every night. When she was born, my other daughter still wanted me to hang out with her before bed and it became a fun, nighttime ritual. Eventually, she gave that up, and I was a full-time co-sleeping mom. I still am. She is 3 years old and still sleeps with me full time.

I have heard a few comments here and there, but I think that people are less apt to speak out when you're 39 years old and have been parenting for 17 years. I know that she will eventually sleep on her own and I've already started gently encouraging that she takes naps there so she will get used to it.

The bottom line

Sleeping with an infant or small child isn't just okay — it's natural. Mammals sleep next to their young. It provides the child with a sense of safety and for both parties, the ease of nursing. I know that not all babies dislike being alone (my first child, for example) and not all parents enjoy sharing a bed with a baby who wakes up before you and smacks you in the face while you're still sleeping. You can co-sleep without sharing the same sleep space by setting up a crib in the same room to have the proximity without having the kiddo in bed with you.

As long as you take care to make sure the sleep space you provide is safe (no fluffy blankets, no stuffed animals, no pillows, a firm surface and flush against the wall) and you don't partake in drugs that make you drowsy (prescription or otherwise) or alcohol, co-sleeping is not only fine, it's totally normal.

More on parenting choices

Attachment parenting cheat sheet
Breastfeeding toddlers: Why extended nursing works
Discover the benefits of co-sleeping