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.
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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