The end of our cosleeping era

By April Wallace, nwaMotherlode contributing writer and local mama

Two weeks into life as a brand new mom, my husband took our new baby out of my arms and gently placed him in his crib.

Baby Henry slept peacefully for a little bit while my husband continued to get ready for bed. When he came back out of the bathroom, Sam found me in tears. I was unable to articulate how far away our tiny newborn baby seemed, being out of my arms now; how much he constantly needed me, not to mention how fearful I was that he would wake up with one of those needs and I would miss it, failing him already.

Thanks a lot, hormones.

So Sam simply lifted Henry out of the crib and placed him back into my arms. My crying stopped, my baby did need me soon enough after that anyway, and that’s the last time I felt conflicted about cosleeping for a good, long while.

Flash forward three years and I think we are finally ready for a little more space and independence—both of us. Henry’s gone from cosleeping to spending the night in his own room in a big boy bed over the course of a month.

How did we get here?

First of all, let me say that this was not the plan. I took all the prenatal classes and read a ton of baby books. I knew that cosleeping was not officially recommended and that it came with certain risks. But I also knew that many people had been doing it safely for generations, some even—God forbid—enjoying it.

So we took precautions while Henry was a baby. We kept the heavy blankets and extra soft pillows away; laid him in a spot where he couldn’t roll off the bed or get trapped under a pillow; kept the room cool and dressed him so he couldn’t overheat. Neither my husband nor I drink much to begin with, but did even less of it during this period.

No one was going to sleep too deeply in this bed so we could take good care of our baby.

Maybe I first gave in to cosleeping because my new, emotional little mama heart couldn’t take it, but I quickly learned that cosleeping allowed all of us to sleep more. Instead of wasting time running upstairs to the nursery (where the only other bedrooms were) or spending time getting him to lay down and stay down on his own in a crib in the corner, we’d pop up for a diaper change, feed and lie straight back down.

I’m not exaggerating when I say an extra 15-30 minutes each night is truly meaningful during the baby stage.

Once Henry reached the toddler stage and began sleeping better, cosleeping got better, too. I loved having him next to us sleeping deeply while we watched a show before bed and being able to easily check on him in the middle of the night.

Pretty soon I was pregnant again, and I looked forward to our midday naps together. I thoroughly enjoyed my first boy curling up next to my ever growing belly while we passed an hour or two snoozing together. He always woke up as peacefully as he went down.

Shortly before his baby brother arrived, my husband and I acknowledged to each other that it wasn’t quite time to get Henry out of our bed. It might be too much, adjusting to a new family member while being kicked out of the place he felt safe enough to sleep easily for every night and every nap.

We purchased a California king-size mattress and accepted the extension of this phase. Again, we ditched the dangerous bed items. And again, I felt like it definitely afforded us more minutes of sleep at a time when we needed every minute we could get.

My husband got more enjoyment out of cosleeping the second time around than he’d previously had because while I took care of the new baby, Henry was now snuggling with him through the night for the first time.

I liked my boys sleeping next to each other from the beginning of Elliott’s life because I hoped they would eventually share a bed together without us and take comfort in their brother’s continued presence.

As much as we’ve loved the snuggles, I’ve sensed the end of this phase coming for a while now.

Even with an extra extra large bed, our nights have been increasingly crowded the past few months. At the ripe new age of 3, Henry is 30 pounds and just over 3 feet tall. Elliott’s growing fast, too. Suddenly our babies are no longer baby-sized.

Renovation construction on our bedroom gave us the added incentive when we were asked to move out of the master bed for a couple of months. Our whole family headed upstairs together to try out having separate bedrooms.

We introduced Henry and Elliott to their unknown-to-them very-own bedroom (the unused nursery) and hoped the newness would help with the big task ahead. A crescent moon lamp and large fluffy clouds dangling from the ceiling! Their very own bookcase full of bedtime stories! Toys they had forgotten about!

The first night not cosleeping was miserable for everyone involved, but that didn’t surprise me in the least. Elliott spent almost no time in the nursery, waking up and wanting back in with us pronto.

And while Henry lasted longer than him, he woke up sporadically and often enough that my husband gave up and slept next to him. Henry was scared to wake up without us, even though he knew how close we were. He was unsure of this room he’d hardly ever seen.

No one got any rest.

Even still, I could tell Henry was on board with the idea. The next day he was delighted to play in his new room, and though I offered to let him nap in our bed, he decided for himself to use his big boy bed.

The second night was not great either, but it was already less difficult because of his willing attitude. Over the next couple of weeks, Henry warmed to the whole thing. I made sure he had chances to just play and enjoy it during the day, plenty of adjustment time to get down for naps in there, and slowly but surely his nighttime sleep started getting back nearer to normal.

Instead of waking up almost constantly: every time he heard Elliott cry or heard one of us walk down the hall, he’d wake up two or three times a night and be laid back down more and more easily.

Now, we’re one month in and all the practice is starting to pay off.

Elliott has worked up to spending roughly half the night in their room. On the less successful nights, he’ll stay in there just long enough for my husband and I to watch a show and get ready for bed. Given that until very recently he wasn’t sleeping if it wasn’t on me or next to me, I’ll take all these little victories where I can find them.

Henry now proudly bears the responsibility of the big boy room. He goes down only a little later than his original bedtime, sleeps mostly through the night and all the way to his normal wake up time.

He’s adopted a lovey for the first time in his life, a bear he’s fondly named Peanut Butter, and takes great joy in seeing what pillowcase pattern he has that night—Lightning McQueen? Thomas the Train? Bears?— and asks us to turn off his crescent moon lamp for him so he can get to sleep.

April Wallace is a stepmom to one smart, funny teenager, mama to two beautiful and curious baby boys and wife to a very kind and generous man. She spent the past decade as a news reporter, sometimes lifestyle writer, and recently left her job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to be with her babies while they’re still babies. When she gets a few minutes to herself, April loves to run local trails and read fiction. For more of April’s posts on pregnancy, babies and toddlers, click here.