Co-sleeping, Feed-Sharing and Second-Parent Bonding

Karolyn and Iris Nose Kiss

Co-sleeping is one excellent way to have two attachment parents in the family (instead of just one). Unfortunately, the family bed doesn’t always work for every family member.

Co-sleeping usually brings a more restful night for families but if you have a baby who wakes crying frequently to nurse (my daughter), it can be hard on a parent who was already a light sleeper (me) and on a parent who has to be sharp at work the next day (my partner). Still, my family finally found our little attachment-friendly solution.

When our daughter never slept more than an hour at a time and was eventually diagnosed with a sleep disorder- nobody was getting any sleep in the family bed and it was a strain on every aspect of family life.

Why Us?

Friends, family and doctors all told us to do Cry It Out.  But by then I had already adopted the attachment parenting philosophies and any methods of breaking the nighttime bond seemed cruel.  I was definitely asking “Why us? Why does it have to be my family that co-sleeping isn’t working out for?”

My wife worked all day and wanted to spend more bonding time with Iris at night but didn’t want her work to suffer from lack of sleep. I cared for our home and baby all day and had my life coaching practice in the evenings and I was exhausted and worried that the sleep deprivation was beginning to cause some odd little bits of late-stage postpartum psychosis. Something had to change.

Adjusting Co-Sleeping to Fit Us

So we set about co-sleeping…in separate bedrooms. The baby’s room has a full sized mattress on the floor. Every night, one mother sleeps for at least half the night. In other words, Iris always gets to sleep with her mother but it is usually a different mother every night.

Since the best and deepest sleep happens in the first 4 hours, I nurse the baby at 10pm and give her to Poppy. Hopefully our daughter only needs one bottle in the next four or five hours. I sleep with earplugs (had to learn to truly trust her other parent to do this) and am I woken up whenever Iris wakes around 3am.

Though I was at first so sad to sleep alone on my “off” nights, I now feel grateful that Poppy has one-on-one nights feeding and cuddling our child. Because she works outside the home, taking over the duties of sleeping with and feeding Iris allows her the space to do her own mothering.

My mental health was dramatically improved by my hours of consecutive sleep every other night. We moms will probably never repay our sleep debt, but with creativity we’ve avoided the mental institution.

I’m sure many dads also covet the co-sleeping and feed-sharing tasks, but since my partner is a woman and probably won’t be birthing a baby herself, I felt more compelled to share feeds. I’ll admit that I had to fight my urge to keep that bond for myself.

Adjusting to the Bottle

It was a while before Iris would even take the bottle. At first the feedings with her other mother were pumped breast milk, of course. When reading about how fathers can better bond with babies, the Lactivist in me was appalled that BabyCenter’s first suggestion is to give the baby a feeding with formula (flanked by formula ads, of course).

But we were doing well with solid foods except for dairy and couldn’t find the time to pump while chasing a crawler who didn’t like to nap. I very reluctantly allowed her “Poppy” to feed Iris little bits of a soy formula (brown rice sweetened, not corn syrup) and she liked it.

The fact that she liked the formula was bittersweet for me. I felt like my crunchy parenting points dwindling. I didn’t tell my friends.

I was afraid she somehow wouldn’t like breast milk anymore; I was afraid that my supply would diminish on the nights that I slept; and I was afraid that the formula wasn’t the healthiest thing for her. But we are now many months into our routine and I am heartened that now my wife has her own special milk to feed Iris.

It is not the most natural milk but 12 oz of formula a week small price to pay for a little sleep, a little sanity. And of course this is not the family bed ideal and it is not ideal for our marriage, but co-sleeping is the healthiest arrangement for our daughter and we hope it is a short-term solution until our child sleeps more.

Our Unique Bonds

Each parent has a unique bond with their child. Karolyn has been more of a baby-wearer than me. She has worn Iris on a walk almost every morning of her life.

Iris would always prefer to sleep with a handful of my hair in her right hand and handful of Poppy’s in her left; so occasionally we all get in the big king bed together and forgo the good sleep in exchange for a little family togetherness. I nurse the baby, Poppy does the diaper changes.

Though it may be taboo for an attachment parent to say it, the traditional family bed just doesn’t work for every family. That doesn’t mean that one parent has to miss out. The second parent could also do baby massage, get in the bath with the baby, do skin-to-skin, be the silly one, and of course, co-sleep to strengthen their own unique bond.

Does your family have an unusual sleeping arrangement?  Are you a breastfeeding attachment parent whose partner does some feeds with bottles? What are the ways the second parent in your house bonds with baby?

Photo Credit: Author


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About The Author: Moorea

@mooreamalatt My NPN Posts

Moorea Malatt is the founder of Savvy Parenting Support (and MamaLady blog), an online resource for gentle and naturally-minded early parenting challenges. Moorea is an expert and Parent Educator in gentle (and early) potty learning, gentle sleep learning and gentle discipline. She authors online learning programs, books and blogs, leads sold-out workshops and provides private phone consults. Moorea has 20 years of experience with parents and young children as a preschool teacher, certified postpartum doula, infant nanny and mom. Moorea also wrote an album of songs called, “Whip It Out: Songs for Breastfeeding.” Moorea continues to study the behavioral sciences and anthropology. She is a bit of a flop as a dinner chef loves a good sugar-free “paleo” baking experiment!

6 Responses to Co-sleeping, Feed-Sharing and Second-Parent Bonding

  1. Melissa  

    The family bed definitely is not for everyone, but as you illustrate, there are so many ways to find a solution that does work for each family.

    My toddler is squirmer and my husband a light sleeper. We all slept together for a time, but the husband was being disturbed regularly by the babe’s movements, and I was having a hard time sleeping because I was so busy trying to keep husband-guy comfortable. We were both exhausted.

    I was hesitant, but eventually we decided it made the most sense for my husband to sleep in the guest room and me to sleep with our toddler in what was the family bed. This has worked wonderfully – we’re all getting much more restful sleep!

  2. Lauren @ Hobo Mama  

    This makes total sense, and I’m glad you found a solution that works for where your family is at right now. For us, a family bed made plenty of sense when it was just the three of us, but having another baby has made things a little more flexible. Some nights we all sleep squished into our king size (we really are squished, too, despite the wide mattress!). Some nights Mikko and his dad sleep in the other room on an air mattress or downstairs on the couch, as if they’re having a fun sleepover. Sometimes they both start out away and then Sam comes back into the main bed after Mikko’s asleep.

    And I agree about having the co-parent feed the baby while you get a few cohesive hours of sleep if you’re feeling the drain. I had Sam do that when Alrik was a newborn (fortunately for us, he sleeps great now!), and it made all the difference in my energy and sanity levels.

    These changes were hard on me in terms of feeling like it wasn’t “ideal,” as you say, but after they worked so well and everyone was still happy and well cared for — well, shoot. It’s just fine to figure out what works best for each stage.

  3. Alicia  

    My husband doesn’t like co-sleeping with a baby. He says that it’s hard enough for him to sleep with me in the bed, it’s too hard with a baby there too. So we ended up moving our guest bed into baby’s room, and baby and I slept there together and left my husband alone in our room. At some point, we let baby start the night alone so that hubby and I could have some time together at the start of the night, and then I would move into baby’s room when she woke.

    When my second was born, this switched up the situation a little bit. My oldest would start the night in her room, and when she woke she would join my husband. I would start the night with my husband and join the baby when she woke. Musical beds all around! My husband has admitted now that he actually finds that he enjoys co-sleeping with the kids once they are a little bit bigger!

    We are still doing this system today, though the kids are phasing out of it. The 5yo still finds her way into our room about 50% of the time, but the 2.5yo actually sleeps through alone about 90% of the time now. So in the morning it is often my husband and I with the 5yo in our bed, but the 2.5yo in her own bed.

    The “family bed” doesn’t have to mean the whole family all in the same bed!

  4. Momma Jorje

    It is important that each family find what works in their own situation. Co-sleeping is certainly not a requirement of being an attached parent!

    Our current solution as we prepare for a new baby to sleep in our bed: Sasha (2yo) has been moved to a toddler mattress next to my side of the bed. Sasha usually stirs at some point while Daddy gets ready for work (around 3am!). Especially since I’m pregnant, he comes and moves her from her bed into our big bed where she sleeps the rest of the night. She usually nurses, but not always.

    He gets home from work (most days) before she actually wakes for the day. So as she begins to wake, he gets into bed with her for cuddles and play. I love to watch and participate in this, but I think it is really good bonding time for them.

  5. Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings  

    Love this article! And I love how you were able to make cosleeping work for you! We had very similar issues, and tried something similar for awhile when Elsie & Delia were little and I felt like I was dying from lack of sleep. It worked well for me, but at the time they cried A LOT with my husband, so it didn’t last long for us. I wish we had gone back to it once we were over those initial separation issues — sharing the nighttime duties seems really wise but was not something we figured out well. Kudos to you for working it out! And hooray for sleep!