Wondering about co-sleeping with your newly adopted infant? The science may surprise you!

  • Understand the terms: According to James J Mckenna of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, the definition of co-sleeping is “any situation in which a committed adult caregiver, usually the mother, sleeps within close enough proximity to her infant so that each, the mother and infant, can respond to each other’s sensory signals and cues.” This includes room-sharing, not simply sleeping with an infant in the same bed as the parents. So placing your baby in a bassinet next to your bed, close enough to be able to respond to the baby’s needs quickly? Co-sleeping. Creating a safe space for the infant in your own bed, close enough to be able to respond to the baby’s needs quickly? Co-sleeping. Putting the baby in her own room with a monitor next to your bed? Not co-sleeping.
  • The most important variable is the caregiver’s response to the child: Mckenna explains that the benefit to the infant isn’t necessarily the warmth of the parent’s body or the extended nursing, although both are wonderful for mother and baby, but learning to respond and trust the tiny cues given by each participant in the arrangement.
  • Bottle feeding and co-sleeping can go hand-in-hand: Many adoptive parents choose to bottle feed their new baby, and the bulkiness of the process can seem counterintuitive to co-sleeping. I found that keeping my baby in bed with us, in a safe position, allowed me to quickly learn her hunger cues and be able to get a bottle prepared and ready before she was fully awake and hollering for food. Keeping her satiated and happy kept me sleeping better and rested. For those parents choosing to stimulate lactation, breast feeding an adopted child increased both the bonding and health of the baby, as well as helps night feedings go smoothly and easily.
  • Know the “right” positions for co-sleeping: An arm’s reach away is most helpful if not bed-sharing with your child. McKenna recommends that bottle-feeding positions in co-sleep situations involve as much skin-to-skin contact as possible, letting baby associate the smells and sensory stimulation from parents with comfort and feeding.
  • There are definite ways to do it wrong: “Couch” sleeping, placing an infant alone in an adult bed, sleeping with more than one child in the bed, or attempting to co-sleep under the influence of drugs and alcohol are sure recipes for disaster.

At the end of the day, YOU are the parent of your child, and what works best for your family is certainly the most ideal – and if my kids are any indication, you will end up “co-sleeping” with a three year old no matter what your infant choices were!

Have you used co-sleeping methods with your adopted children? Let me know your experiences in the comments!