Friday, July 8, 2011

Our Co-Sleeping Adventure And How We Side-Carred Our Crib

How We Ended Up Co-Sleeping, Even After Deciding We Weren't Going To
When Morgan and I took Aias home for the first time on November 9th, 2009, we had a plan in place for exactly how our family was going to sleep.  We were terrified of co-sleeping  because of horror stories we'd heard (urban legends?) so this was the plan:  we'd acquired a beautiful white bassinet and set it up next to our bed, and we were going to bring Aias home, put him into that bassinet at 9pm, and everyone was going to sleep happily ever after, night after night. 

That's how it should have happened (right? right?). Here's what really happened.

After nursing Aias down to sleep on our first night home, we put him in the bassinet, and he flipped out.  I'm serious; the kid wailed and wailed. And can you blame him? For exactly 40 weeks he was floating around all warm and safe inside his mom, hearing my heartbeat and breathing round the clock and feeling completely content (albeit a little squished).  A few hours later he's pushed head first out of a tube into the freezing cold, his 24/7 source to food is cut off, and he's unable to float or move around on his own anymore.  Crappy deal, right? I wouldn't be super pleased with it either.  Anyhow, upon observing my new child's displeasure, I took him out of the bassinet, nursed him to sleep again, tried to place him back down in the bassinet, and the wailing would start up again within minutes.  We tried this probably 20 times in a row that night, and the next night, the next night, the next night... you see where this is going.  Each night we would try it for about an hour, then we'd go downstairs, sit in the living room, prop Aias up on his nursing pillow while he nursed, turn on a movie, and I'd fall asleep on the couch with Aias nursing in my arms happily.  Morgan would stay up to make sure I didn't suffocate Aias by sleeping on the couch sitting up with him, then when Aias woke up, I'd go sleep in the other room while Morgan sat up with Aias, and we would trade off.  We were petrified of suffocating Aias or of him dying of SIDS, and scared of taking someone so tiny into bed with us, lest we roll over him. 

Days passed and this pattern continued.  We didn't know what day it was or what time it was.  We didn't leave the house.  Our lives were a blur.  Everyone was exhausted except Aias.  All we knew was that we wanted to nurse Aias on demand, and we didn't want him to lay screaming in his crib.  Night after night I'd sleep sitting up with Aias nursing, either on the chair or on the couch (totally dangerous), right while Morgan played suffocation and safety police.

Kodak Moment? Yes. Safe Long Term Sleeping Arrangement? No.
One night I'd had it- well, technically we'd both had it but Morgan was more patient than I was and wouldn't dare say it.  I had Morgan bring the mattress down from our bedroom (the one I hadn't set foot in for days, literally) and set it up on the floor in the spare room.  We had a tight sheet on it and pushed it against the wall.  The plan was that I would lay in the bed with Aias, his body up at my face level but about a foot away from my body so I couldn't roll onto him.  I would use no blankets and there would be no pillows on the bed.  I would wear only my nursing tank top and my hair in a pony tail so nothing could make its way over to Aias and harm him.  This is how we would sleep, and Morgan would sleep on the couch.  My hand would touch Aias so he would know I was there and if he woke up to nurse, I'd attempt to side nurse him (it was hard at first but then got very easy with practice).

I will never forget that first night; Aias slept amazingly well and I think I actually slept for an hour and 15 minutes at a time which was a LOT compared to what I'd been doing in previous days.  When Aias would make any little noise or root, I'd instinctively wake up.  I was shocked at my state of "half-sleep:" truly sleeping but at the same time completely aware of where my child was.  In the same way that you don't roll off your bed while you are sleeping, I didn't roll over Aias.

Side-Carring Our Crib: Our Key to a Good Night's Sleep!
This went on for weeks and finally I decided we needed to just throw in the towel at the "no-cosleeping" idea.  Hell, we were already doing it, we may as well just commit and do it right.  In the hours I was awake, Aias would nurse while I researched co-sleeping safety and SIDS prevention online.  I limited my searches to peer reviewed articles and research by trusted sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO).  I was confident we could do this safely and in a way that would actually benefit Aias instead of putting him in any danger.  If only I'd seen this research before Aias was born.  I had Morgan bring down the whole bed frame so that we could side-car the crib.  Side-carring the crib is taking the crib, removing one wall of it, pushing it tightly up against the bed at the same height, filling the space in between tightly, and laying something over it so that the bed and crib become "one" in a sense.  Here's a picture of what it looked like after we set it up on that first day:

Our side-carred crib on the first day we set it up (pillows and the white duvet removed at night, of course)
In the arrangement you see above, Morgan would lay on the outside so that he couldn't roll over Aias or even access him,  I would sleep in the space between Morgan and the crib, and Aias would sleep in the crib.  When Aias needed to nurse I would move him over to me, either placing him on the "crack" or just next to it while he nursed.  Sometimes I'd even put part of my body in the crib so I wouldn't have to move him at all.  When he fell asleep after nursing I'd unlatch him and go back to my spot in the bed.  Every few weeks we took the time to switch the side of the bed the crib was on so that Aias wasn't always eating off the same boob every night.  As he got older, we were more comfortable with putting him between us so if he wanted a different side or different boob, I'd just pick him up and toss myself in the crib (many nights that crib basically served as a holding space for my butt).

Remember: no pillows at night!!! 

To this day, our crib is side-carred.  When Aias is ready to use a big boy bed, we'll push the crib across the room to get him used to it, and then move him into his own room.  Our biggest regret is spending the money on the crib and bassinet in the first place and not just putting that cash toward a king sized bed and bed rail.  When we have another baby someday, we will start off this way instead of screwing around and being zombies for those first few weeks. 

This arrangement has been amazing for us not only because Aias is right there when he needs to nurse, but as someone who suffered from serious post-partum anxiety and literally spent hours up at night researching SIDS prevention and checking if Aias was breathing, to the point where I was considering taking some sort of anti-anxiety medication, it was reassuring to me that he was right next to me all night and I could check on his breathing at a glance.  If it weren't for side-carring, I'd have simply stayed up all night walking down the hall or across the room to double check that he was ok.  That would have sucked for everyone. 

How To Side-Car Your Crib
If you are nervous about sleeping with your baby in your bed with you but you want your child close by at night for nursing or just because, side-carring your crib is a great option.  This is especially awesome for people who have already purchased a crib that their baby isn't happy sleeping in.  You could always purchase something like an Arm's Reach Co-Sleeper, but your baby will outgrow that quickly and it means spending more money.

You'll need:
- A heavy, solid crib with removable wall (no wheels!)
- A heavy, solid bed (no wheels!)
- Something to fill the gap between the crib and bed (receiving blankets, piece of foam, etc)
- A large, thin, non slippery blanket (we liked fleece blankets for this)
- Some cords to attach the crib and bed (underneath) if you wish

1. First do a safety check.  The following factors must be true if this is going to work for you:

- Your bed and crib must NOT have wheels (they could roll and your baby could fall between the bed and crib)
- Your bed and crib must be able to be at the same-ish height (within an inch)
- Your bed and crib must be heavy, or at least the bed must be heavy and the crib able to be pushed against the wall or vice versa (if they aren't heavy they could move, and your baby could fall between the bed and crib)
- You must have something to put between the gap between the crib and bed
- You must have a large, thin, non slippery blanket to place over the crib and bed (in my picture, the green blanket)

If your safety check is complete, you are ready to begin.

2.  Remove one wall of your crib.  If you have a crib with a drop side, take off the side that drops. Make sure the crib is solid with 3 walls (it shouldn't be floppy or anything like that, the structure should feel uncompromised).  Put the crib TIGHTLY next to the bed on the side of your choice.  If possible, have it so the crib is against a wall.  If the crib mattress is below the height of the bed, you can add a piece of foam UNDER the mattress to raise the mattress. DO NOT put the foam on top of the mattress. The baby should be laying on the mattress. 

3.  Check out the amount of space between the crib and mattress.  Fill that space with the receiving blankets or a piece of foam. This space should be completely filled and whatever you fill it with should not be hanging loosely out of the crack.  

4.  Take your thin blanket and tuck it VERY TIGHTLY into the top of the crib mattress and the side of the crib mattress that still has the wall, and make sure it goes over onto your bed and is tucked tightly at the head of your bed as well.  On our arrangement, the blanket didn't go over to the bottom of the crib, but if yours will fit, tuck it in on that side too.  Make sure the blanket lies completely flat and is not at all loose. 

5.  Finally, check and see that the arrangement is secure.
It's time for another safety check:
- Make sure the crib and bed don't easily move and are tightly pushed together
- Make sure the blanket is tucked in securely in all the places it can be tucked
- Make sure the crack is filled and the blankets or foam won't pop out
If you want, you can attach the crib and the bed together underneath, but be sure that whatever you use is not accessible to yourself or the baby on top of the bed.  

6.  VOILA! Ok, I know it sounds complicated but I swear it will be great.  Make sure that you do the quick safety check above in step number 5 each night to ensure it's safe for your baby. 

When your baby is young, don't use a duvet or pillow.  If you need to use a blanket, use a thin one and don't let it go onto the crib or up past your waist. 

Sleep positions sure change as a baby grows up! 

Here's another blog entry on how to side-car your crib.  This one includes step by step pictures as well as some other photos of people's various side-carred crib arrangements.

But Isn't Co-Sleeping/Bed Sharing Super Dangerous??
On July 5th, 2011 the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General BC Coroners Service released a warning to parents that stating that there have been more sudden infant deaths in British Columbia in the first half of 2011 than for all of 2010.  They continue to please with parents to follow many general rules on how to make sleeping more safe for your infant and how to reduce the risk of SIDS.  Many of their tips are awesome, such as breast feeding your baby and not exposing them to cigarette smoke.
Much to my surprise, they also suggest not sharing a bed with your baby.  As someone who will probably go down in history as being the most paranoid parent to ever walk the earth, someone who has spent probably hundreds of hours reading about SIDS prevention and safe sleeping, I've seen lots of evidence that shows that co-sleeping can actually prevent SIDS because your baby will regulate their breathing by listening to yours, etc.

HOWEVER, you should not share a bed with your baby if:

- You are taking drugs that make you sleepy (benadryl, etc)
- You have alcohol in your system or someone else in your bad has alcohol in their system
- You smoke or your partner smokes
- You are over-tired or completely exhausted
- You have a condition that makes you sleep too deeply

Co-sleeping or not co-sleeping is YOUR choice as a parent.  Bed-sharing or not bed-sharing is also your choice as a parent.  If you are comfortable doing it and believe you are able to do it safely, go for it.  If you don't feel comfortable with it or don't want to do it, don't do it.  There is a lot of research out there that says bed-sharing is unsafe, and there is a lot of research out there that says bed-sharing is actually safer than letting your child sleep alone in a different room from you.  Make sure to research this choice in the same way that you'd research anything else. 

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    1. I'm curious what you're doing for naps once baby is mobile? Also, I understand the hazards of pillows & blankets but who would actually remove them for sleeping? We have been using this arrangement for months now. Baby sleeps either in the crib side or in the middle & we have always used blankets. I can't see how we could avoid it with the cold winters. 1st is 3 years & co-slept for a few months, 2nd is 10 months & has been in our bed since day 1.


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