Buzz Baby is a column about life with little ones. Writer Annie McQueen has three children age 5 and under.
I have been a parent for only five years, but I have learned in those years that what works for one family might not work for the next.
Take family co-sleeping, for example.
I know parents who, almost every night, let their 3 and 5 year olds crawl into their bed. They all sleep together, one big happy family. They have co-slept since their babies were infants. If the parents go to sleep alone, chances are they wake up with one or both kids in the bed.
One mom said it wasn’t their original plan, but in the early days home from the hospital as new parents, it just worked out that way. I heard her say once that she worries when they’ll ever start sleeping in their own beds – which, yes, the parents are ready for.
In the past, my family has slept all together when we’re sharing a hotel room or when our kids are sick. (Middle-of-the-night ear infections are the worst.) However, that’s started to happen more often – and to be honest, I don’t hate it.
Recently, a loud storm rolled into Houston in the night. I rolled over and checked the clock with half-open eyes. It was 4 a.m. I heard “I’m scared” in a soft voice and sat up to see our then-4-year-old son, Cash, standing in our doorway. He was frightened. “You can come sleep with us,” I said. He wasted no time jumping into our bed, where we all proceeded to sleep for the rest of the night. He did squirm quite a bit, and I think we all ended up sideways, but it was fun to wake up to his little smiling face.
Our twins always slept in their room in their cribs when they were babies. It just worked out that way (probably because there are two, I am not sure). Now they are 5. When our youngest, Georgia, now 2, was born, she did sleep next to our bed in a bassinet or a Dock-A-Tot infant mattress. We just did what worked best at the time.
However, for a lot of parents out there, it’s one big happy family in one big happy bed, no matter the age.
While researching, I learned that throughout much of the world, co-sleeping is the norm. It’s unheard of in some cultures to let a baby sleep alone in a room and is even thought to be inhumane. For example, in Latin America, the Philippines and Vietnam, some parents sleep with their baby in a hammock near the bed. In Japan, many parents sleep next to their baby on bamboo or straw mats, or on futons.
Many parents and parenting experts say co-sleeping increases the bond between baby and parent. James McKenna, a biological anthropologist, has investigated mother-child co-sleeping at his Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. McKenna says his research suggests an additional bonding effect between mother and infant when they sleep together.
Co-sleeping has vocal fans and critics.
I’ve heard parents say co-sleeping interrupted their alone time and private couple time or that it felt unsafe. Then again, I’ve heard others say sleep is their most crucial need during that phase of parenting, so if co-sleeping equals sleep, then climb on in, kids.
Julia Horié, a civil engineer, is a fan. She and husband Takeshi have two kids, Clara, now 4, and Isaac, 22 months. Julia said when Clara was born, they were navigating being new parents and desperately wanting some sleep.
The pair tried everything, including turning on a loud blow dryer to shush her to sleep. They realized that lack of sleep for them would not work long term. So, when Clara was about 6 months old, she started co-sleeping with them. It worked great for them and solved the sleeping issues for everyone.
“We still co-sleep with either when one is afraid of thunder or another is having a nightmare. It only happens maybe 4-6 times a month,” said Julia.
Isaac can be a squirmy toddler, so co-sleeping with him is a little more of a challenge. “Isaac is sometimes a Cirque du Soleil performer at night, so we will rock him to sleep and put him back in the crib those nights,” said Julia. “Some nights are peaceful, and other nights are brutal.”
Julia urges other parents who co-sleep not to look back. “Don’t feel guilty. Kids will only be little once.” For now, she says, they’re going to enjoy the extra snuggles.
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