As with all of the principles of Attachment Parenting, there are a variety of different ways to “ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally.” Yet again, everything comes back to respecting the individual child’s needs. One child may sleep beautifully between both parents each night, and another may show their preference for a more well-defined space of their own. One may need an extremely specific bedtime routine in order to relax into sleep each night, and another may be happy to drift off after a book and a cuddle. There are no rules when it comes to listening to our children’s needs. For families practicing attachment parenting, ensuring safe sleep usually means two things: responding to the child’s needs no matter the hour, and choosing a sensitive sleep arrangement, whatever that may mean for the individual child.
Responding to the child’s nighttime needs with sensitivity
According to Attachment Parenting International:
“Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents.”
Neuroscientists and clinicians have documented that loving interactions that are sensitive to a child’s needs influence the way the brain grows and can increase the number of connections between nerve cells. The Australian Association of Infant Mental Health advises: “Infants are more likely to form secure attachments when their distress is responded to promptly, consistently and appropriately. Secure attachments in infancy are the foundation for good adult mental health.” So, when you adopt the perspective that your baby’s night howls are the expression of a need, and she is not trying to “manipulate” you, and you respond appropriately (this will vary depending on your baby’s age and needs), you are not only making her smarter, but you will be hardwiring her brain for future mental health. (full article here)
Co-sleeping or choosing a sensitive sleeping arrangement
As for ensuring safe sleep physically, it’s interesting to note that even the mainstream American Academy of Pediatrics admits that, “the safest place for your baby to sleep is in the room where you sleep,” (link) and it’s true that one of the many benefits of sleeping in the same room with our babies is that it helps them to regulate their own breathing. For this reason, among others, many families choose to put their babies to sleep beside the parents’ own bed, or to bedshare, cosleeping with their child in the same bed. Great info on cosleeping here, here, and here. While this practice is common, not all attached parents find that it works for them, and that’s okay. Each family and each child is different.
Different for everyone
In my ridiculous number of hours spent reading blogs, and my conversations with personal friends, I have seen many creative sleep arrangements among attached families. Some create a large space on the floor and everyone sleeps together, from the outest, regardless of age. Some families start out in the same bed and transition after a certain age, when night nursing stops, or simply when they feel it’s time. Others, like Shae of Yay for Home! and her family sleep across multiple beds in the same room. Some mothers sleep with their babies while the fathers sleep elsewhere and some fathers sleep with their babies while the mothers sleep elsewhere. Some families place their babies to sleep in a cosleeper, crib, or bassinet in their room, while others put their baby to sleep in another room entirely for their own reasons, and sensitively respond when they are needed.
Our sleep arrangement
On my daughter Annabelle’s first night of life, when we slept in the hospital, I kept her in my arms. She slept soundly on my chest and that was her preferred place to sleep for several days. During those early days, our family of three (the husband, the babe, and I) slept together in bed. I tried to place Annabelle in a “Close and Secure Sleeper” between us, but she wouldn’t have it. She wanted to snuggle.
As a new mother, I was a bit worried about having us all in one small space, but I quickly relaxed as I saw how incredibly aware both my husband and I were during the night. The three of us didn’t sleep together long, since my husband had to leave for the middle east when Annabelle was only ten days old. For the next seven months or so, it was just Annabelle and me. I slept on one side of her, and used a cosleeping pillow on the other. This worked wonderfully. When the husband returned, we all slept together for a month or two, but I was cramped and more awake at night from always trying to keep from waking him, and he was still being awoken. Eventually, he moved to the guest room and there he stays. This sounds awful, or at least it sounded awful to me, but with a nursing toddler, sleeping together is not the sweet, romantic act it once was and I’m okay with that. We keep different hours anyway: a night owl and a forced early riser, so we were waking one another up getting in and out of bed anyway. Everyone sleeps better this way, and the husband and I will be back to sharing a bed before we know it.
Nowadays, Annabelle goes down for her first stretch of sleep in her own bed. I work while she sleeps and depending on the time, usually take her and head to bed at her first night waking three hours or so later. This works as wonderfully as it did when she was a newborn, though she kicks my covers off now. We do our dance of nursing, stopping, rearranging, occasionally popping in to the bathroom, and so on. She is able to get all that she needs from me and I’m able to sleep mostly through the night, since she never needs to cry out for me. Currently our plan is to switch to a king size bed when we move back to the mainland, and go back to sleeping as a family then, but we’ll see. One of these nights, Annabelle just might keep on sleeping instead of waking and needing me. At that point, she’ll be in her own room, but always welcome to come to ours for anything she may need during the night.
My experience is by no means representative of all attachment parents, so please tell us: What does safe sleep look like in your house?