Okay. This seems to be the most controversial topic out there (aside from vaccination), and yet the more I talk to people, the more I realize: EVERYONE DOES IT! I don't think I've spoken with one mother yet who hasn't co-slept with their baby. Which makes me wonder why "experts" are still talking about it. These experts are either childless, or perhaps fathers. If you jettison all other reasons to co-sleep, the one that will still always come out on top is: survival. A mom simply can't survive on a one or two hour long naps at nighttime. Nighttime lying-down nursing is the only way to go.
But, that reason aside, I had a moment of realization about co-sleeping the other day. It was bedtime and Benjamin was being a little fussy, which can happen. He is awesome about going down for naps: swaddle him up, lie him down and scoot out the door. It takes less than 30 seconds. Nighttime can happen this quickly, but so often I've missed his early tired signals and so it takes a little longer.
So there I was, lying on the bed next to him. He was tugging at his feet and cooing, perfectly happy just lying next to me. I didn't need to hold him or rock him. Sometimes I will sing to him and caress his chest. But that night I actually pulled out my book and started reading. He gradually got more and more sleepy and then just drifted off. I closed my book and left the room.
My realization was this: Benjamin simply wanted the comfort and reassurance that I was nearby. The act of sleeping and waking must be scary for a baby. I know I've woken up before and needed a few seconds to orient myself, reminding me where I am. I think there are just times when Benjamin needs a little extra reassurance that I'm there, that he isn't alone, that he needs not fear falling asleep.
From these thoughts, I could easily project down the road. It may take a few more months, but eventually Benjamin will grow comfortable with the idea of falling asleep because he knows I will be nearby when he wakes. Sort of like a kid learning to jump in the water. He needs to jump into his mom's arms a few times to be reassured that she will be there in case something happens. Eventually the kid will jump in on his own. But each kid needs a different amount of time to get comfortable with the idea.
Conversely, if I left Benjamin alone and forced him to sleep by himself, I can see him developing a fear of sleeping. Back to the swimming analogy, imagine if the mom just kept pushing the kid into the water telling him that one of these times he'll learn to swim. Some more adventurous kids might move their arms and legs and start swimming. Others might develop a deep fear of water. I think the lesson is that every child is different, every baby is different, and rather than learn a method one needs to learn their baby. When you pay attention to those early personality cues, even evident in young babies, it will be much easier to choose parenting techniques that fit both you and baby.
Perhaps that's why I've really enjoyed sleeping with Benjamin these months, and it also explains my reluctance to move him to his crib for the nighttime (although naps will be in the nursery so I can get in and out of my bedroom throughout the day!). As his mom, I have that instinct that he needs and loves to be near me at night, and now I understand a little better why.