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The Great Debate

In doing a casual surf of daddytypes today, I discovered that the New York Times ran an article about the resurgence of co-sleeping.  The article declares that Dr. Ferber, long known as the “cry it out” guy, has supposedly reversed himself on co-sleeping, now stating it’s not so bad, and his “conversion” has encouraged parents who have been co-sleeping in secret to come out of the closet, so to speak, and declare the family bed proudly.
As you can imagine, this has sparked quite an internet debate.  Parenting-related bloggers everywhere are weighing in (myself included, obviously!) and posted comments to each entry are flying fast and furious.

Baby sleep habits are right up there with breastfeeding as one of the hot-button topics of early parenting; hardly anyone exists who doesn’t have a strong opinion on the subject  What gets me here is that people on both sides of this issue are becoming so militant and judgmental in this debate that many people are feeling attacked and accused no matter what they choose to do!  I’ve read several books by Dr. Sears, the big advocate of co-sleeping and attachment parenting, and I’ve read Dr. Ferber’s book cover-to-cover and can honestly say that we use elements of both sides in raising our child.  (Truthfully, I found Dr. Brazelton’s book the most rounded and least pressure-filled advice-wise on this issue.)  I have girlfriends who co-sleep and girlfriends who don’t, and you’d never know which child is which if you saw them playing together.  Why?  Because whatever the parents are doing is obviously the right thing for that child!  No one can tell you the absolute right thing to do for your child; the best thing you can do is gather as much information as you can – reading books, talking to girlfriends, having an open discussion with your pediatrician – and then make a decision based on all that information and, oh yeah, what your gut says is the right thing to do.

We tried co-sleeping in the early first weeks, and it didn’t work.  We had made the decision not to share a bed before baby girl showed up, but then of course she arrived and all bets were off.  I thought nursing lying down might make it easier for her to go back to sleep in the middle of the night; she was waking up hungry, eating, then wide-awake screaming for an hour or so each time.  Turns out kiddo had reflux and the reclining nursing just made it worse, so there you go.  We had her in a bassinet by our bed for the first three months, after which time we transferred her to a crib in her own room.  She’s never spent a night with us, though we’ve napped together and occasionally bring her into bed with us in the morning if she’s awake before we’d like to get up.  Pure laziness on our part, as well as a selfish desire to cuddle with a sleepy baby.  I have to say, too, that the older she gets, the more I enjoy co-sleeping.  I don’t worry so much about her, she snuggles happily into me rather than impersonally using me to get to sleep, and she’s sleeping deeper so my rolling over doesn’t wake her.

On the other side of the fence, we have deliberately helped her learn how to fall asleep by herself, and that’s included some crying.  (See my ---entry.)  We’ve had a couple times of crying up to a half hour before she fell asleep, and we’ve chosen those times deliberately.  If she’s been sleeping through the night and suddenly starts to wake up, we err on the side of assuming there’s a reason.  At 4 ½ months she went through a growth spurt; after two weeks it seemed to be habit and we “sleep trained” her.  While traveling for Thanksgiving, she woke up in the middle of the night the whole week, and we comforted her assuming it had something to do with a strange environment and lack of routine; it fixed itself when her routine went back to normal.  When I worked every day for a week, she began getting up at night and nursing was the only thing that would comfort her.  We assumed she needed more mommy time and gave it to her until it again began looking like habit, and after I’d been home a few days we again sleep-trained her, with very little problem.
So you can see we’re all over the map on the sleep thing, using what seems best at the time.  We try to discuss what we’ll do that night during the day, when we’re awake and tempers aren’t as short as they are at 3 a.m.  Brian tries to leave the final decision up to my instincts and I try not to be too crabby when I get up at 2 a.m.  And I’ll be the first to admit we’ve got it incredibly easy; Maddie seems to be a pretty independent baby and has been very easy-going as a whole, so she’s doing half the work for us.  Plus, I’m surrounded by friends and family who don’t try to tell me what to do or make me feel bad if they disagree with my choices.

Bottom line, you know if you’re bringing your child into your bed because they need more contact time or if it’s because you’d rather cuddle with your child than your husband.  You know if you’re helping your baby learn to self-soothe because they’ll sleep deeper and better for it in the long run or because you’re sick of getting up for the kid and want a full night’s sleep already.  If you’ve got your child’s (and your marriage’s) best interests at heart, any decision you make will be the right one.

And as a final note, I humbly submit that before you tear apart an expert for their teachings, either Sears or Ferber, you should read the whole thing and not just sound bytes.  Dr. Sears is intelligent and knowledgeable and backed by extensive research, not a hippie-loving granola-cruncher, and Dr. Ferber, who clearly recognizes that there are different solutions for different needs, offers solutions far more complex and fleshed out than “leave the kid to cry it out.”


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