[Portions reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood also now available on Amazon.]
Last night I had a horrible nightmare. I woke up in the middle of the night, shaken and scared, heart pounding, and instinctively reaching out for my husband’s hand. I just needed that warm, human connection for a moment to reassure me, and then I’d be able to go back to sleep. But I couldn’t reach him.
My hubby is all elbows and knees when he sleeps, so we’ve got a mini-mountain out of a rolled-up comforter down the middle of the bed to protect my little nursling, who sleeps tucked against my side every night. Last night she was a bit restless from teething, poor thing, and I couldn’t reach around her far enough to touch my husband’s hand. I tried shifting her, but she started waking up. I tried stretching my leg out just to touch his foot…well, his knee, actually, since he’s about a foot taller than me. But I just couldn’t reach him, no matter what I tried.
As I lay there, trying and failing to reach him and too scared to go back to sleep, I thought about how it would be to be a helpless baby or small child, scared and alone in the dark, unable to reach out for the comfort of human contact from those I trusted and loved the most. And my heart broke at the thought of parents who’d been misled and intimidated by self-proclaimed parenting ‘experts’ into sleep-training their precious babies instead of responding to their cries.
Love has many faces, I think we can all agree. Sleep-training parents love their little ones as much as cosleeping parents, of that I have no doubt. All of us are simply trying to do our best, with the knowledge and experience and belief system we have, to give our children the best start in life possible.
In our home, love dances through our days in many forms, from a hard-working man to a homeschooling mama, to a gaggle of silly, messy, adorable children who make every day an adventure.
And at night, love takes the form of cosleeping. Love whispers quietly in the soft snores of a big bear of a man I’ve coslept with for more than 25 years now and in the snuggles and dream nursing of our newest little blessing. In the deep of the night, love is a six-year-old stumbling sleepily into our room and settling onto the always-available pallet beside our bed or a teenager, woken by the 4 am thumping and bumping of their father getting ready in the dark to head out for work, slipping into my room with a quiet, “Mom, are you awake? Can we talk?” (The best conversations with teens always seem to be those wee-hours-of-the-morning talks )
It does my heart good to see that, as science reveals new facts about the dangers of crying-it-out (CIO) and the value of cosleeping (whether it’s bed-sharing, a side-car, or room-sharing) in improving breastfeeding success, more and more parents are turning away from the separation-style parenting popularized in the 1950’s with its forced-independence and baby-training emphasis and are moving back toward following their God-given instincts in raising their children.
Just as I, an adult mother of six, yearn to have my needs met even when that need is a simple touch to soothe me back to sleep after a nightmare, I want to always try fill those spaces for my children, day or night. Cosleeping with our children won’t be forever. It’s a brief season in a lifetime of ever-changing needs. But it is one face of love that, for us, meets so many needs simply and naturally that I can’t imagine life without it!
Interested in learning more about safe cosleeping? Check out the links below. If you’re looking for ways to gently wean your little one into their own sleeping space, here are a few ideas:
1.) Place a mattress beside your bed and start out each night there with your little cosleeper, then move up to your bed when they are fully asleep. When they wake, be sure to either take them back into your bed with you or join them on the mattress to make the transition as seamless as possible. (You can also start out the night in your bed as usual and move them to a small toddler bed beside your bed once they fall asleep fully if that works better for your space.)
2.) When you feel they are comfortable with the new arrangement, move the mattress a bit farther from your bed, either against the wall or at the foot of your bed, and repeat the same process of starting the night with them and welcoming them into your bed or joining them on the mattress if they wake.
3.) The next step is to move the mattress into their room and repeat the process.
4.) When you feel they are spending enough time in their room each night to feel comfortable with it, you can try staying with them until they are almost asleep and then telling them you are going to the bathroom or to brush your teeth (make sure you actually do what you say you’re going to do!) and will be right back. Come back quickly so they will be reassured that you can still be trusted. If they follow you or get upset, wait and try this step again in a week or two.
5.) When they are happy to stay in bed waiting for your return, start letting them spend a bit longer alone. Always tell them what you are going to do, and always do just what you said. Make sure to return when you are done so they know they can trust you and don’t need to come get you.
6.) Over time, this gradual weaning will result in them falling asleep on their own, and you can move on to the stage of books and cuddles and hugs and telling them goodnight, then leaving them with the reassurance that you’ll be back to check on them in a bit. Of course, always come back and check like you said you would!
7.) I can’t emphasize enough that this is a trust issue. The more that you honor what you say and stay in tune with their needs, the smoother and easier the process will go for both of you.
SIDS: The Latest Research on How Sleeping With Your Baby is Safe | Dr. Sears Official Website | Pare
Dr. Sears is considered the leading authority on gentle/attachment parenting and is a proponent of co-sleeping. Here he examines the research linking decreased SIDS risks with the increase in co-sleeping rates. Dr. Sears~ ”Here are some ways to educate parents on how to sleep safely with their baby.”
Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone
“In Japan where co-sleeping and breastfeeding (in the absence of maternal smoking) is the cultural norm, rates of the sudden infant death syndrome are the lowest in the world. For breastfeeding mothers, bedsharing makes breastfeeding much easier to manage and practically doubles the amount of breastfeeding sessions while permitting both mothers and infants to spend more time asleep.”
Why frequent night-waking is normal and protective.
Sleep Safety from Dr. Sears
Links to research and safe cosleeping guidelines.
Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple – Breastfeeding Reporter – Unintended Consequences
“By emphasizing how to create a safe sleeping environment—rather than trying to browbeat parents into avoiding bedsharing—more babies’ lives would be spared. And as an extra plus, more families would also get a better night’s sleep!”
How They Do It In… Japan
“Whereas many Western parents view a child’s sleeping in his own bed as an important milestone toward independence, the Japanese emphasis is on promoting a sense of closeness and security in small children to help them become more confident and capable in the long run.”
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood , Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages , and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline the first three books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.