If you're expecting a baby, you have a lot of big decisions to make. Hopefully you've found an OB or midwife and a pediatrician you like. You've probably spent hours researching what baby gear you will need and adding it to your registry. I'm sure you've dedicated time to researching whether you will breast or bottle feed or possibly do both and have looked into resources to help you with that as well. And now you're looking at the nursery and asking yourself:
Where will baby sleep?
Many parents come home from the hospital and are paralyzed by this question. Even though they may already have a crib set up in the nursery, they are all of a sudden unsure about where baby will sleep that first night home.*
There are so many options. So, which is the right one? Let's take a look at your choices.
* Please keep in mind, that sometimes your baby will have pretty strong preferences for where he wants to sleep, and it is not where you planned. Take a look at all of these options so you can have a back-up plan in place that is safe for baby and maximizes your sleep when all of sudden baby will not sleep where you want him to.
Option 1: In the Nursery, In the Crib
You've designed a beautiful nursery for your little one with a lovely, new crib and it's just waiting for you to bring home your newborn. Some parents want baby to start off sleeping in the nursery, in their crib, from night one. Since the ultimate goal for these parents will be to have baby eventually sleeping through the night in their own room, starting off in the crib just makes sense. If baby is happy in the crib, this will skip any transitions they'll have to make later.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is the number of times that your newborn will wake during the first few months, especially if he or she is breastfeeding. This can be a lot of up and down for the parents in the middle of the night. For some breastfeeding mothers, it makes sense to put a mattress on the floor of baby's room and sleep there for the first few weeks. This way mom stays close to baby and baby stays in the crib.
Option 2: A Bassinet/Rock-n-Play/Pack-n-Play in the Parents' Room
Some parents find it more convenient and easier to deal with baby's night wakings by keeping baby in their room. This is called room-sharing and is actually recommended by the AAP for the first six months of baby's life to reduce the risk of SIDS. (Of course, if a parent is sleeping on a mattress in the baby's nursery, this is really the same thing.)
There are many different contraptions for baby to sleep in during this room-sharing period. Bassinets or Moses baskets. A Pack-n-Play or Rock-N-Play. With baby in a bassinet or Rock-N-Play, right next to the parents' bed, middle of the night feeding and soothing sessions can be more convenient. Many families find that room-sharing works well until it is time to transition baby to the crib in the nursery. If one of these sleep arrangements works best for your family, just be sure to follow all safety guidelines and recommendations for whatever you choose.
Option 3: A Co-Sleeper or SideCar
A co-sleeper is similar to a bassinet, except it attaches to the side of the parents' bed. Some parents also use a mini-crib or portable crib with one side removed that is level with their mattress and attached to the side. Again, following all safe sleeping guidelines is key here.
This option still allows the parents and baby to have their own separate sleeping space, but it eliminates the need for mom to actually get out of bed for those middle of the night feedings. Mom can simply reach over to baby's co-sleeper, bring her close for a feeding, and then place her back when finished. Many babies enjoy the extra closeness that a co-sleeper (the Arm's Reach co-sleeper is a popular brand) brings. With the frequent night wakings, especially when breastfeeding, many moms find this method can optimize their sleep while also meeting baby's need to feed during the night and stay close to mom.
Option 4: Bedsharing
With bedsharing, baby is in the bed with the parents or at least with the breastfeeding mother, as some partners choose to sleep elsewhere during this time. This sleep set-up is popular throughout the world and has gained more attention recently with Dr. James McKenna's research on "breastsleeping," in which he concludes that in the absence of all known hazards, bed-sharing is beneficial to the mother-baby breastfeeding relationship.
There has been much debate on the safety of bedsharing in this culture, but there are safe ways to do this. One of the easiest guides to follow is La Leche League's Safe Sleep 7, which sets forth safety standards for bed-sharing.
Despite their best plans, some parents find themselves with a baby who will only sleep while being held. If you have found yourself falling asleep in the rocker or on the couch while holding baby, consider bedsharing as an option. By following the safe sleep guidelines you will create a much safer sleeping environment than sleeping in a recliner with baby on your chest. The latter poses a suffocation risk if baby were to become wedged in the cushions or sides.
So, which choice is the right one? They all are.
There is no universal right answer to this question. Only the answer that is right for your family. As with all things parenting-related, there are many different ways of doing things. But you must decide what is right for your family.
As a postpartum doula, we are happy to provide resources and information to help you make an informed decision, but we will never make that decision for you. Nor will we judge you or try to influence your parenting choices. Our job is to provide you with non-judgmental support so that you can make the big parenting decisions with confidence.