The Great Baby Sleep Struggle – Why We Co-Sleep

Of all the hard things that come with having a baby, I don’t know if there is anything more difficult than wondering “when will my baby sleep?” 

(If you’re here at 3 am because you googled “when will my baby sleep” or “why won’t my baby sleep” then Hi + Welcome! Also, I promise it gets better.)

At least for me, baby sleep has certainly been the most difficult thing. I would go as far as to say that my life was controlled by anxiety over my baby’s sleep. Since the day he was born I have been distraught about his sleep – if he was getting “enough” sleep, the “bad habits” he was developing, and whether or not he might suddenly stop napping. I don’t know why. Maybe because the whole time I was pregnant people kept telling me that my days of sleeping were coming to an end.

Related: Encouragement for the Exhausted Mommy
Related: The Mom’s Guide to Baby Sleep Regression (and what to do about them)

Or possibly because from the day he was born I have been awake.

(Kidding. Sort of.)

Or maybe just because people make such a big deal out of how to handle baby sleep. “You must sleep train! It’s the best thing for your baby, teach them to sleep and they’ll be well rested and you’ll be well rested and everyone will be well rested and happy. You can’t be a good parent if you’re exhausted!” 

On the flip side, “You must NOT sleep train, ever – if you do you’re a cold heartless cow!”

(Why is there no good middle ground?!)

I sort of believed I would eventually sleep train. I know sleep trained kids that seem 100% connected to their parents, they don’t seem damaged by it, and yes, everyone in their house is well rested. It looks like a good solution for tired parents.

Plus, who doesn’t want a baby you can put to bed every night at 8 pm and like clockwork they wake 12 hours later, smiling and cooing? EVERYONE wants that baby!

So I tried to prepare myself for sleep training while I was pregnant, reading every blog post and baby sleep theory book out there. I knew ALL THE THINGS I needed to know to make sure this baby would sleep well, from day one.

(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY IS REALLY BORING, BUT YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.)

I even knew that I could make it easy on myself and “teach” the baby to sleep from birth.

That way, sleep training later would be a non-issue.

Related: Will Baby Learn to Sleep Without Training?

For a few weeks my plan went perfectly. I put the baby down drowsy but awake, and let him fall asleep on his own. I didn’t let him doze off while nursing and I was diligent in making sure he got enough “daytime sleep” so as not to get over tired and struggle with nighttime sleep. I made sure that I was at home 98% of the time so he could sleep well. (Yes, 98% of the time. We did not go out – because the baby needed to work on his sleep.)

I rarely held him while he slept, so as not to allow him to become dependent on being held to sleep.

EVERY ASPECT of my life came second to the baby’s sleep.

I did all the things right.

(If you need some help getting through this exhausting stage, check out the FREE exhausted mom’s survival kit!)

And then, almost overnight, he developed colic and that was it.

There was no more putting the baby down drowsy but awake, there was almost no more putting the baby down. If the baby DID go down, the baby would wake gassy and screaming just a short while later.

Even if he was having a decent (in regards to colic) night, he firmly believed 2 am was bed time. Eventually we stopped trying to force earlier sleep, because it was just so frustrating – hanging out in the dark bedroom for hours on end –  not accomplishing anything. So we gave in, and watched back to back episodes of Jane The Virgin until 2 am every night, taking turns holding squishy baby. Having long worried discussions about if we were “allowing” him to develop bad habits that would haunt us for years. (As if we had any say in the matter.) And then we’d sneak to bed for two hours of sleep.

It felt like we would be awake (and exhausted) forever. 

But as time went on and we neared the age where we could start sleep training, I realized… I didn’t want to.

It’s not really about what sort of parent I am, or about the long term effects of sleep training on a baby (I’m still not sure that there are any – who really knows?!). But I just flat out don’t want to let my baby cry himself to sleep, and I’m his mother and I have the right to not want to do that.

For the record, I don’t consider myself an “attachment parenting” parent – I have never “worn” my baby, and I don’t hold him all day. I feed him store bought baby food. I use disposable diapers. I will let him watch TV.

But I do think the internal anguish that I feel when my baby cries is an instinct that suggests it’s unnatural to just let your baby cry. (Not evil – just unnatural.) Part of my subscription to motherhood seems to have come (for me) with the understanding that I don’t want to sleep train. I want to be there for him when he cries, even if that makes me tired.

So we’re not going to sleep train. At least not right now, not while he can’t understand us. And I don’t know if we will want to sleep train later either. I sort of doubt it.

But we were still freaking exhausted – and desperate for a solution.

Related: The Best Baby Sleep Tips

We bought no less than five baby beds in the first few months of our baby’s life.

Yes, FIVE.

No, that does not make us crazy. It makes us desperate. It appears that the number of baby beds you buy is in direct proportion to the amount of desperate you are to find a way to make the baby sleep AND allow yourself to sleep. (I’m here to tell you that buying lots of baby beds doesn’t really change anything.)

(Based on all my “studies” I would tell you to get either this bed for when they are new, or this one, if you aren’t comfortable having the baby in your bed. Those are the two that we really got our money’s worth out of.)

I swore my baby would never sleep in our bed.

I’d read all the warnings and the horror stories, and not least of all, the threats that he will be there until he’s 27. That’s why we bought this baby bed, and it really did work – sort of – until squishy started waking every forty minutes. (If your baby sleeps for a few hours on end, that bed will be amazing for you. But… my baby didn’t do that.)

I found myself putting him into – and getting him out of – his bed up to eight times per night. Sometimes, if it was a GREAT night, I only lifted him in and out of it 5 times.

I’m not the type of person who can fall asleep in a few minutes, and often by the time he woke again I still hadn’t been to sleep since the LAST time he woke.

But, I swore we would never co-sleep, just – you know – forallthereasons. 

There are plenty of times in our lives when we need to decide – is this a hill worth dying on? 

It occurred to me suddenly that this is probably one of those times.

We’re co-sleeping, and hallellujah

Here we are, eight months into this baby raising thing – and where does the baby sleep? In our bed, between our pillows.

But did you catch that? The baby SLEEPS there.

He SLEEPS!

I SLEEPS!

WE ALL SLEEPS!

Two nights ago he slept for FIVE HOURS IN A ROW. That’s the longest he’s slept since he was born. Ever.

The first night that we co-slept was actually an accident. I fell asleep with him in bed – I suppose the sheer exhaustion finally just won – and woke a few hours later to find him peacefully sleeping in my armpit. I was so surprised to find him sleeping that I decided to just see what would happen if I didn’t put him back in the crib. I slid him over and up, between our heads, with his face far away from our pillows or our blanket, and I went back to sleep. I got more sleep that night than I had gotten in 6 months.

When he wakes up in the night I can settle him back down before he is so awake he thinks it’s time to party (a very real risk!), and I don’t ever have to get up and wander around in the dark. I don’t wake up so fully that I can’t fall back to sleep, and to be honest, there is nothing like waking up to his tiny little face 6 inches from mine.

I had been so afraid to co-sleep that I lost out on months of sleep, but I also almost lost out on experiencing how awesome it is to cuddle up with my baby at night or wake up to his happy little face. It makes me sad that this will be a short lived season in my life. One day, my baby will sleep in his own bed. For some reason this doesn’t seem nearly as exciting as it used to.

If I could do anything different, I would read this book before I ever had a baby or at least as soon as we started struggling with baby sleep. UPDATE: Now that we have a 2nd baby, we have co-slept from day one, and she is ALREADY (at just 3 months) a better sleeper- and we ALREADY get more sleep than we ever got with baby #1 in the first year of his life! WOOHOO!

To sleep train or not? To co-sleep or not? Is this something you’re struggling with?

Frankly, everyone is entitled to have their own opinion… and what – exactly- will work for you isn’t something that I can help you with.

I understand being worried about the baby – that’s smart – and I was too. You can read up on safe co-sleeping and you should – if you’re going to try it.  I absolutely LOVED this book that I wish I’d bought when we first started co-sleeping. It has all kinds of studies as to how beneficial it can be for your kids + family, and ideas for how to transition them to their own bed when the time comes.)

Or maybe you are thinking about sleep training – and that’s ok in the end too. You do what you gotta do.

No one but you can decide what will work for you.

But I CAN encourage you to just stop and rethink everything, if you’re working on any pre-conceived notions. If you’re not co-sleeping (or not sleep training) just because you SAID YOU’D NEVER… well, is that a hill worth dying on? Is THIS battle really the battle that you will choose to fight until you’re hardly functioning?

If you’re desperate for sleep and want to try co-sleeping, go for it! It is literally one of the best decisions we’ve made as parents. I LOVE it – and it doesn’t matter if people judge us for it. What’s it to them anyway?

If you think sleep training might be the answer for you, go for it! (There are programs that don’t require CIO – this sleep training program is the one I’ll use if we ever do decide to sleep train, because the creator is the first person I’ve met that does sleep training that RESPECTS a parents decision not to use CIO. She’s the first one to ever offer me suggestions for sleep training that I felt could work for our family. I just don’t WANT to sleep train yet because I LIKE sleeping with my baby.)

It’s ok to do what works for your family, and for that to be something different than what you’d thought it would be.

Regardless, I promise, it does get better. (If you need it to to get better FAST check out the exhausted mom’s survival kit.)

Related: How to Sleep Train Your Baby WITHOUT Crying-It-Out

I can say this, because even tho we still struggle with sleep at 8 months, we are almost ALWAYS in bed by midnight now and he generally sleeps for a few hours at a time. It’s heavenly compared to what it used to be… and I know it’s only going to improve more as time goes on. No one keeps their parents up all night forever 🙂

Hang in there!

co sleeping with baby is the best thing we did!cosleeping tips

 

20 thoughts on “The Great Baby Sleep Struggle – Why We Co-Sleep”

  1. Yay! I’m so happy that you’ve started to get some good, solid sleep <3 You do what works for you!

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    • I am so excited too LOL. We are hanging onto that sleep suit and our next baby will go in it AS SOON AS POSSIBLE lol xx

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  2. Ah yes! I was petrified of co-sleeping with my first (and sleeping them on their belly), but she DID NOT sleep on her back. Woke up every stinking 45 minutes. Finally, I had to try it after hearing success from so many. She was more in danger from me not sleeping than from SIDS (I had a touch of PPD). It worked. She lived. I was fearful for the first week or so and hesitate to recommend it to other moms. I became a hardcore co-sleeper with my fourth child…yet to sleep train. Gonna have to soon. Great post Carly!

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    • Oh my goodness the belly sleep thing – TERRIFYING! My niece was the same way. On her tummy or not at all… I’m so curious as to why you chose to co-sleep with your fourth?

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  3. I love co sleeping and will be sad when that time ends. I hate dealing with people talking to me as if I have made a huge mistake. Or try and tell me how to fix it. I don’t feel there is anything to fix it’s amazing like you said to wake up to your baby sleeping there beside you. My husband will be the one that brings it to an end . I started when baby was 3 months due to gas as well. She would wake every 15 minutes unless she was with me. I think in general it is taught to us in North America to separate yourself as much as possible from baby with swings, strollers, cribs. I think we could learn something from other cultures and just be with baby hold them and enjoy them. They depend on you to feel secure it is nature.

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    • I have such a hard time thinking of bringing it to an end now too… I really do love it! And the time is passing so fast, I know this will be a memory soon.

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  4. I am right there with you on sleep training. I never wanted to cry it out, but I figured I’d do some method of sleep training (a more gentle method). Here we are at 7.5 months and still haven’t sleep trained. I don’t know if we ever will, but the biggest thing I’ve learned by having this baby is “never say never”! You truly can’t understand how things will actually unfold with your own baby. Thanks for this post, I’m off to go share it!!

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    • Hi Brooks! Never say Never – yes that is my new motto! lol.Thank you for sharing 🙂

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  5. Omg! This sounds like us exactly! My first one would not go down, ever, without being held. I had postpartum anxiety, so I didn’t sleep anyway. But the first 2 months my husband and I took turns sleeping because we couldn’t put him down in any of our baby beds. We only had 4 plus a swing. Haha. Then I got fed up and layer next to him in my bed just to get a few minuets of sleep. He slept 3 whole freaking hours. (3 months old at this point) It was the happiest I felt in months. Cosleeping ever since. BTW baby number 2… amazing sleeper. It’s so wierd. Just saying, they’re not all like this. Haha.

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    • O my word I am hoping for an amazing sleeping the second time around. lol. I NEEEEEEEEED that.

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  6. Thank you for such a down to earth posting! There’s just too many “this way is best” posts out there. I happened across this from Pinterest, and it was a breath of fresh air. :). We somewhat sleep trained, but if the crying was too bad or I deemed it too long (always before my hisband) our now 2 year old would share the bed. We have an amazing sleeper on our hands who also LOvES the occasional nights she gets to snuggle with mommy and daddy when she’s having a tough time or not feeling well. To each their own. Love people who get that!

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    • I think I’ve read about 90% of the “this way is the best” articles! I also think not enough of them stress that the babies WILL SLEEP SOMEDAY! <3

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  7. Haha, YES. I was so sure I was going to do everything “right” from the start: I came home exhausted but determined from the hospital and that night put kiddo down on his back in the bassinet. (This lasted for a sweet 20 minutes.) Long story short, I groggily awoke the following morning sprawled across the foot of my bed with the baby curled up asleep on my chest. That was the last of the bassinet. We pretty much held and cuddled him to sleep for his first month of life, then he started sleeping on the boppy, then the rock n play (yes, our home looks like a storage warehouse for baby beds). I think the key is, like you said, being willing to let go and stop fighting it. Once we stopped worrying about the terrible habits we surely were making, things started going much more smoothly. We all sleep very well now! Yaaaaay!

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  8. We’ve co slept in the bed since day 2 of coming home from the hospital. My son is now 9 weeks and sleeps 7 hours straight through the night. We did not train him or have any specific routine. He just really loves our king bed and feels more comfortable near our presence. I’m a big fan of co sleep when done right

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  9. Great post! Your post made me laugh. I also swore I would never co-sleep because I was terrified of SIDS. But our baby never slept much from the get-go (she would be awake for 9 hour stretches and it was a GREAT day if she slept more than 10 hours in a 24 hour cycle), and at 3.5 months, it was just easier to bring her into the bed with me around 3 am and she slept better. And then it was just easier to start with her in the bed and avoid all of the “bringing her into bed” stress. I’m still sleeping with her 2 years later, and it makes night wakings so much easier, and I love the comfort and closeness. She’s very attached to us, but she’s also very confident, and she’s talking up a storm and super active, so I think we’re doing things right even when we feel like we don’t know what the heck to do ever.

    Sleep training doesn’t make sense to me AT ALL. I have to admit that I lose some respect for people when I find out they sleep train. First of all, sleeping is not a skill. That’s like saying that breathing is a skill. Second, most mammals sleep in a pile together. Humans must be the only mammals that try to make their young sleep on their own before they are ready to be independent developmentally. I mean, if you’re a giraffe who walks after 20 minutes in the world, then maybe you’re ready to walk to your own sleeping space and spend the night alone, but that’s not the case with humans.

    My impression with CIO is that many parents are simply overwhelmed and unprepared for the enormous changes that a new baby brings to life. We follow the belief that our baby teaches us how to be parents, and we follow her lead. Anytime we try to “make her” do anything, it blows up in our faces big time. In the end, it just works better if we surrender.

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    • Laura,
      Thanks for your insightful response. I totally agree – CIO was NOT for us either! And LOL at the two-year-old still sleeping with you – we are RIGHT there with you some nights!

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  10. I did not Co-sleep with my older child. I read to him every night, hoping that would put him to sleep. Then I let him cry it out. Would I do that again? If I was a first time mom, probably yes. In reality, no. When my daughter was born, she would ONLY sleep if she was next to me. So, we co-slept. I put a toddler bedrail on my bed to keep her from sliding out. She slept on the edge, I slept in the middle, my hubby on the other edge.
    Luckily, at about 13 months my daughter decided she no longer wanted to nurse or cosleep. She wanted her own space. She knew what she wanted then, and she knows what she wants now!

    Reply
    • Liz – I am glad to hear that, and yes they really DO know what they want LOL. It sounds like you did the best thing for your family. <3

      Reply

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