When I first found out I was expecting our darling dear daughter, I had visions of "normal" nighttime babyhood and parenting. What did "normal" mean to me then? Our baby would have her own room (our guest room/nursery), her own bed (a crib), and she would sleep peacefully by herself from a young age.
Through the sessions of our Bradley birth class, however, and in talking with the other expectant parents there, I realized that there were some other options. People actually regularly and legitimately plan to sleep with their children (as opposed to it just happening on accident or out of desperation)! I also began to put the pieces together on the whole babies and nighttime thing: it is a rare newborn who is able to sleep for long stretches without assistance and comfort from a parent. Also, even if a baby is formula-fed, her stomach is not large enough to contain the amount of food needed to get them through the night, so they must eat several times during that period. Breastmilk digests even faster than formula, so breastfed babies typically must eat even more often! So babies need nighttime care, and where they are at night has a lot to do with what kind of care they get.
For those outside the newborn universe, there are typically three options when it comes to where your baby sleeps: in his or her own room (either on a floor-bed, in a crib, or in a bassinet); in your room but in his or her own bed; or in your bed. These each have their distinct advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of what you feel comfortable with, having a baby totally rocks your world. It changes any visions of peaceful nighttime sleep permanently. I used to wonder how parents always seemed to get up so early and it never bothered them. Now I am that mom who gets up at five thirty and it doesn't faze me anymore.
When we brought the baby home from the hospital, it just seemed right that we all snuggle up in bed together, as we had been in the recovery room after birth. The baby seemed so small and vulnerable and I just needed her there tucked under my arm. Doing some internet research, I found out about safe bed-sharing, even though they acted at the hospital like it was a sure way for our baby to die. Our Bradley instructor had said that mothers don't lose track of where their babies are in their sleep (or really ever) - it's just a part of our animal brain that functions at all times. I found this to be true for me from the start. Additionally, she needed to eat all the time - every two hours or even more often! Once we learned how to lay on our sides together and face each other so she could nurse, life became much easier. We figured this out on about day five.
At first, nighttime parenting was a lonely experience for me. After all, I'm the only food source in our eating arrangement, and there was no point to me in waking Jeff up just so there could be two miserable sleepless adults in our household. Eventually, though, the baby and I figured out how she could get what she needed from me in the night without either of us really waking up. Then the issue began to be space.
The dog has slept with Jeff and me for years, and adding the baby into that mix put three good-sized creatures and one tiny one in a queen-sized bed. It just wasn't working that well, and I found I was always the one scooched to the edge, as I didn't want the baby on the outside where she might fall off. So, eventually, we moved to the guest bed. And that's where we've been ever since. The baby and I sleep soundly and peacefully, and Jeff and the dog snuggle up upstairs. Is it ideal? Not really. But what does ideal even mean anymore? Will I have a heck of a time getting her to sleep by herself someday? Probably. But is it worth it for all the amazing night and morning love, and looks, and caresses we get to share? I think so.
For now, I've decided to put off making any serious decisions about changing our arrangement until Babe stops needing to nurse at night - so, probably until she starts eating solid food. And I've decided to stop feeling any guilt about it, because I need all my emotional resources right now!