Generation Gap: Where to Sleep


December 7, 2011 by Leah

Another frontier in child safety that seems, suddenly, to have a lot of new rules is sleep. Since my brother was a baby (he’s 10 years younger than me and as well as being a cool guy, he’s a handy reference point), the American Academy of Pediatrics and everyone else has flip-flopped on sleep positioning. We are now all to put our babies to sleep on their backs. I’m cool with that, but I know a lot of parents of my mother’s generation (Mom not included) are horrified by this idea and completely certain their grandchildren are going to aspirate their own vomit and die, sad and alone, in their sterile cribs. I think the Wikipedia entry on the NICHD’s “Back to Sleep” campaign is a rather compelling summation of why putting babies to sleep on their backs is a good idea. In a nutshell: the incidence of SIDS has declined 50% since the campaign was introduced in 1994.

Okay, so, baby is supposed to sleep on its back. That’s no problem for any of us. The next question is: where is it supposed to sleep?

On a firm, flat surface, nowhere near pillows, blankets, quilts, stuffed animals, crib bumpers, or other people, is how I read the NIH recommendations. My mom did have a problem with this one, as it means coordinating crib bumpers and bedding are out (she loves to shop), and she wondered where the fun in this was. I am thrilled to have an excuse to avoid buying “cute” crib bumpers (don’t expect a swanky nursery in this household), but I’m kind of annoyed by the government’s recommendation that babies not sleep with their parents. (Particularly when said government is of the City of Milwaukee. Oy vey.)

Before I got pregnant, I’d done a lot of reading about the benefits of various practices when it comes to baby-rearing, and I just assumed we would co-sleep (bed-share, whatever you want to call it) with our infant. I’m a big fan ofย  Dr. Sears and liked his take on co-sleeping and how it can be benficial. Then I became pregnant, started reading about safe co-sleeping out of more than just passing interest, and quickly realized that bringing a baby into our bed would be difficult.

For example: Our bed is several feet off the ground. We could get a safety net thing to keep baby from rolling off the bed, but those are all designed to keep toddlers in toddler beds, not for co-sleeping with your infant, and baby might get wedged between the net and the mattress, and that would not be good. We could put our mattress and box spring on the floor, but I slept on the floor for a number of years and it’s really not my favorite thing, and we’d still be a couple of feet off the ground. (Can you imagine if, God forbid, I have to have a c-section and then come home to face a mattress on the floor? I’ve had major abdominal surgery. I would probably cry and try to run away, but be hampered by lack of abdominal strength and pain meds and end up in a sobbing heap on the floor with a squished baby and anxious dog.)

If I were enthusiastic about any of these safety options, I still have the people who already sleep in the bed to contend with.

I’m an incredibly heavy sleeper. The elusive “they” say my maternal instinct will kick in once baby is in bed with me, but I don’t want to rely on that. I’m not so much worried about rolling over on baby (I tend not to move when I sleep – cue numb extremities) as I am about missing distress signals.

I don’t really know what kind of a sleeper Aaron is because I sleep so heavily, but I do know he occasionally has violent dreams that cause him to lash out, punching and kicking. Once, ages ago, I woke up to find a sleeping Aaron on top of me and his forearm across my throat like he was trying to strangle me. (It was alarming, but not as alarming as it sounds.) He woke right up when I freaked out, and the bed was soft. Also, his violent dreams are genetic and not his fault. Still, I am equipped to fight back. Baby will not be.

Finally, Duke sleeps with us and has no respect for personal space.

We have a crib already, and a separate room for baby, but since I’m planning on nursing the baby until it goes to college, I have no interest in getting up and hiking to the second bedroom every time baby is hungry. Our house is cold, and it’s a long hike.

I’ve heard you can night-wean babies, and I’ve also heard that it can be nice to have the baby sleep in a different room (for reasons ranging from “you only wake up when it actually cries and aren’t distracted by random movements and snuffling” to “it helps you remember you have a husband with whom you’re supposed to be in love”), but if we go that route, it won’t be right off the bat.

I think I’m going to order a co-sleeper off eBay. (Anyone know if they’re really as easy to travel with as advertised?) And, then, if I get lucky, baby will like it. Or, maybe I will end up like a friend of mine who carefully planned out all this same stuff and then had a baby who would only sleep for over an hour if she was touching one of her parents or in her swing, of all places. The one thing I feel confident expecting (other than a baby) is that all my expectations will be challenged or thrown out the window once the baby actually arrives. Which is why I’ll keep reviewing safe co-sleeping habits; the more we know, the better we’ll be able to improvise.


Previous post in this series: BPA


8 thoughts on “Generation Gap: Where to Sleep

  1. lahancock says:

    I love your posts! As for the sleeping on the back thing….you may have it covered, but guess what, some babies don’t sleep on their backs, i.e. my second kid. So although you could spend the entire night flipping the baby back over, sometimes your kid has other plans. If you have a crib already, that has one of those “illegal” drop sides, you can always position the bed next to the crib, having them on the same level, saving an extra baby device in your house. When you are ready to move the baby out of the room… (if ever, sigh) then they will already be used to sleeping on said mattress. I think, that ultimately, you guys will find whatever works best for you. Sometimes, we ended up sleeping in separate rooms, my husband and I. That way he was able to get a good nights rest and I could sleep with no problems next to the baby. I never really thought about co-sleeping. I should have questioned it more when my midwife asked me what a pack n’play was. I thought, of course, the baby will just sleep in there, I will get up at night, nurse baby, of course, baby will fall back to sleep and I will be able to set baby back down in crib, no problem. Liam taught me a lot about just going with the flow. Before him, I was very much a planner, well I still am, but kids fortunately teach you as much as you teach them. Good luck in your search for a sleeping arrangement. P.S. I hate the cute bedding as much as you do. Simple is better and won’t clutter your house.

    • Right, babies have their own sleeping arrangements sometimes. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d forgotten. And, of course, we can’t use any pillow props or anything, because they will kill our babies. I was just reading about chemicals in mattresses and SIDS research like you suggested – fascinating! Also, love the idea of putting the crib next to our bed. We have to assemble the crib to see what kind of sides it has, but I’m putting off all actual baby prep (like assembling crib or moving the boxes out of “the baby’s room”) until after the holidays. I’m guessing the crib has fixed sides as it meets current safety standards. Hmm. Maybe we could just leave off a side and bungee it to our bed? Glad you love the posts. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. lahancock says:

    Ohh and our dog sleeps in our bed too, by our feet. The boys love waking up next to her in the morning. Granted she is a schnauzer so a bit smaller.

    • Duke is pretty compact – he’s 45 lbs and I can lift him fairly easily (so far…). He thinks he’s a lap dog, though, which is sweet but sometimes painful. He loves keeping his head or a paw on my stomach these days, but then he’ll step on me if he has to go bark at the paper delivery guy or the mailman. I’m not particularly worried about him with a baby, because once he figures out that the baby is part of our “pack,” it will be his baby, but I’m a little worried about how the transition will go. We’re actually kind of thinking about getting another dog after Christmas (crazy? possibly) for purposes of doggie entertainment/socialization. Hmm, I think this all merits a blog post.

  3. Cait says:

    All of my friends who have had babies recently have used some kind of bassinet in their bedroom until they are ready to transition the baby to it’s crib. Seems like it’s worked pretty well for them, and then you don’t have to try to mess with the crib too much.

  4. Lizza says:

    I’m certainly not the authority, but I think your plan to do research and wait and see is the best option. Lou and I slept with Mom forever until I gave up due to her nasty habit of feeding the dogs in bed and Mom basically psuedo-nursed Lou until she was in elementary school and I think Lou still sleeps with her periodically and she is graduating this year — but its also a single parent household. For us, I was pretty open and Sam made the decision for us — he decided he would not sleep unless with one of us. He has gotten better about sleeping in the crib or on the bed for a time but he rarely sleeps for over an hour when in his crib alone, and he doesn’t sleep for much over 4 hours at a time yet, although one night he slept for 6.5 hours and I was in total shock. I think he is starting to get the picture about not nursing a ton at night, but he still sleeps in one of our arms the whole night. Sam is a side sleeper so I guess I chose the happy medium. He does not like being on his stomach and while he doesn’t mind his back for hanging out, he will not stay asleep that way. We end up putting him down on his side and then stuffing blankets and pillows around his back so he is sort of stuck in that position. I also tend to use blankets to cover him because it is so cold sometimes, but I only put them around his bottom half and I kind of tuck them in so he cannot grab at them. He definitely does not need them when he is sleeping with us as D and I both run hot all the time. He moves a LOT in his sleep though and I think we will all sleep better if he starts to spend some time during the night in his crib. I wonder if we are actually the ones keeping him restless. I also worry about him being too attached to us and/or nursing to go to sleep. I remember as a child on the rare occassions that there was not a familiar adult to lay down and stay with me until I fell asleep I was quite petrified and unhappy. So, as much as I love having Sam sleep with us and D is also quite hesitant to transition to the crib I think we may start that so he has the option. I am thinking we may do a half and half type thing for a while — start in the crib and then come to the bed. For the most part he sleeps between us because D did not want to buy a co-sleeper, etc. because he was concerned about the dogs getting on top of him and he is in my arms so I know he isn’t going anywhere — however he is also not super mobile yet so that is easy. Plus the dogs sleep with us too and they know they have to move when I come with the baby. They like sleeping under the covers near the bottom of the bed or tucked in the crook of my legs so it hasn’t been a problem yet. If Aaron has violent dreams then that could be an issue and a co-sleeper might be a great option to have the baby close but not near enough to Aaron to possibly get hurt. I hear stories of amazing babies that are already sleeping through the night (5-7 hours) almost right off the bat, so maybe you will get one of them. I did not. But I like what I got – despite the lack of sleep and the ridiculously early teething! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. David G says:

    I think the co sleeper gives the best of both worlds, if your baby will sleep in them. The baby gets to sleep near you, so no getting up to go to another room to feed them, The baby is not in the bed with you to get crushed or suffocated, and the co sleeper doubles as a bassinet/play pen later. I think it would be a hassle to travel with our cosleeper, but I don’t think a play pen or crib would be any easier.

  6. Deborah says:

    Great post! Did you read the study that said having a fan in the room reduced SIDS too? Interesting stuff! We used the Mini Co-Sleeper (by Arms’ Reach) for both babies, and I think it made nighttime a relative breeze. I advise new moms on safe sleep practices as my job, and so had all the latest info to freak myself out about SIDS and such. Thankfully, the co-sleeper satisfied my worries (i.e. firm mattress, nothing soft/fluffy around, no risk of me suffocating baby while asleep), and made it SO convenient to nurse (eventually didn’t even need to sit up all the way nor turn on a light! just slightly lift and scoot baby near). Not to mention, baby was close enough to my head that I’d wake soon after the first fussy noises, so hubby was never really awakened by a loud, crying baby.
    We never took it down and packed it with us; we had a separate, travel Pack ‘n Play for that. Also, since it was the Mini (the regular size is as big as a regular Pack ‘n Play and took up too much space in our room), it made the transition of moving baby to her own room a bit easier, since she’d literally outgrown the Co-Sleeper (at about 9mos old).

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