When I started this motherhood journey I never imagined I'd be bed sharing and nursing an almost two year old. In fact, I didn't know too much about the research on either subject. I thought it was weird when parents shared a bed with their children, and I had no idea what the recommendations on breastfeeding longevity were. I knew that I wanted to nurse my son, but didn't envision myself nursing a toddler. Likewise, I knew that I didn't want to leave my son to cry in a crib, but I didn't think we'd be sharing our bed with him every night.
I remember the first time I shared a bed with my baby. It was the day after or night of (I'm not even sure as all my early postpartum days run together) his birth. We were in the hospital and I was holding my son (not touching him felt so unnatural as his whole existence he had been a part of me). Exhausted as I was, I closed my eyes to rest. I remember a nurse coming in and scolding me. "You cannot do that," she told me with a tone that implied I was doing something horribly wrong. I remember feeling like that wasn't right. I remember thinking that I just wanted to hold my baby and that together we would be safe. After all, my sister was sitting in a chair right next to us and how was I going to harm my baby holding him in my arms, while I lay on my back and just rested my eyes.
At the time I didn't plan to sleep with my son. Sure, in that moment maybe, but that wasn't my long term plan. We had registered for a crib which I thought we would use once Henry was no longer in the rock n'play. Had we lived in a bigger apartment and not been moving soon maybe we would have set the crib up in our room and had him sleep there from the start. Who knows. I think that our parenting decisions have been a combination of our circumstances, our beliefs and personalities, and Henry's temperament. Whatever the case, Henry started sleeping in his rock n'play by our bed. I remember a few times when I would let him come in bed with me while I rested during they day. I had a million pillows and safety measures set up to ensure his safety and I only ever let him in the bed with my husband if I was awake.
Once he grew out of his rock n play we attempted to transition him to his crib (you can read more about details our sleep journey in my Child Led Sleep Training post). That didn't work. He wanted to be with me, his mom, his first home, the person who grew him and continued to comfort and sustain him. I can't blame him. Until he was at least a year old (maybe later I don't really remember the exact point) I never slept with my back to him. I would crawl over him every time I needed to turn over and switch sides. Now I still watch to make sure our pillows and blankets are never too close to him and I often end up at the bottom of the bed because he's taking up too much space.
Parts of sharing a bed I love and parts of it I hate. Yet, sleeping with him feels natural, normal, and right. With him in our bed, we know that he feels safe, protected, and secure. It also gives my husband a sense of bonding with our son that he doesn't get during the day. Since he works away from home and Henry has always been a mama's boy, my husband doesn't get the same feeling of connection that I do. At night he will sometimes just watch Henry sleep. He loves knowing that our son is safe and enjoys experiencing his presence.
Part of the reason Henry sleeps so well with us is because he can nurse whenever he wants. Since he was born I've pretty much nursed on demand. We really struggled in the beginning. Henry couldn't latch, I didn't know what I was doing, and we needed to use a nipple shield for the first few months. I have gone through many stages where it has been incredibly painful and I often feel exhausted and drained (both literally and figuratively) as a result of nursing. When we spend hours nursing to sleep, when he keeps me up all night latched on, when he takes it without asking, when he sticks his hands down my shirt and pulls my boobs out without any regard for my privacy, those times I wonder why I continue. Yet, when he is sick with the stomach flu and I don't have to worry about dehydration, when he is sad or hurt and finds immediate comfort at my breast, when he is asleep on me and I get to feel the warmth of his body and admire the beauty of his every feature, these are the times I am so grateful that I continue to nurse him.
I don't know when we will wean nor when we will stop bed sharing, but I trust that all three of us will know when the time is right. I believe that our journey is fluid. I want these phases to end naturally, the same way they began and the reason they have continued. Right now I know he is benefiting from both of these practices. Both physically and emotionally, I believe that he is better as a result. Until that or something else changes, I will have faith in our decisions and trust our parental instincts.