Co-Sleeping in the ICU

You can attachment parent in a hospital setting

I experienced every parent's nightmare when my then-eight-month-old daughter Kymberlie ended up in the Intensive Care Unit at a local hospital for 24 hours. Kymberlie has literally been attached to me since birth, and we were both fortunate to be able to continue attachment parenting while in a hospital environment.

A few days before Thanksgiving, the croup virus entered our home. I suspected that my daughter Rachel, and son Ian had it, and my suspicions were confirmed by our primary care physician. Next, Kymberlie started to show croup symptoms and I again made a trip to see our PCP with a sick child in tow.

Our doctor confirmed that Kymmie had croup and reminded me that it sounds worse than it really is, and to continue sitting in a steamy room as often as possible during the night. Another course of treatment is to bundle up and go outside into the cold, which is easy to do high atop the mountain on which we live.

During day two of Kymmie's illness, her fever suddenly rose up to 104.5 and her chest was making strange movements, which were later described to me as chest retractions caused by stridor breathing. I knew that something was seriously wrong now and we ended up back in our doctor's office.

Within a minute of being in the examination room, our physician asked me which hospital our HMO contracted with. I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes began to burn, as I knew what was coming next. I was given a nice, warm hug and sent on my way with my daughter as our physician called the hospital to inform the emergency room that we were on our way.

At the emergency room, Kymmie and I were immediately whisked into a treatment room and surrounded by a large staff. My daughter's chest retractions were severe, and as she sat in my lap, she was given breathing treatments and a steroid shot to reduce the swelling in her esophagus. She was diagnosed with a severe case of croup. An X-ray was taken to rule out pneumonia.

After Kymmie's condition was stabilized, I asked if I could breastfeed her. Our nurse, who was a male, told me that I could, and that he would leave the room so that we could have some privacy. I told him that we didn't need privacy, so if he needed to stay, he could. The nurse left the room, I believe more for his benefit than for ours.

Kymmie nursed well, but she still looked traumatized from the whole ordeal. The ER physician told me that he was admitting Kymmie to the Pediatric ICU for 24 hours for observation. Together we rode on the gurney from the ER to the PICU, Kymmie laying against my chest.

As we entered the room where Kymmie would spend the next 24 hours, I saw it. A crib!! Kymmie has never seen a crib before, much less been inside one. What do I do?

A nurse was inside the ICU room waiting for us. As the gurney was parked next to the crib, I said to the nurse "Kymberlie has never been inside a crib before, and it would be very traumatic for her to be put inside it right now." I added, "She sleeps with my husband and me. I know that some medical professionals do not recommend co-sleeping, but it works great for our family." I didn't receive the negative response that I was expecting. Instead, our nurse said that she would bring in a recliner.

Kymmie spent her night in the ICU sleeping on my chest in a recliner, next to the monitors that were hooked up to various parts of her body. On the few occasions when I had to leave the room, a nurse held her for me. Normally, my baby would never allow a stranger to hold her, but she was so weak that she did not cry. Kymmie was never left alone in the ICU, nor was she ever left inside the crib. The same held true the next day when we were transferred from the PICU to the children's unit for another 24-hour stay. My child had truly been blessed.

I believe that the continuation of co-sleeping encouraged Kymmie's complete, swift recovery, and I am so grateful that we were in a hospital that agreed to bend the rules a bit in the best interest of a very special patient.

Sharon Waldrop is a stay-at-home mother of four children, married to a Deputy Sheriff. They live on a mountain. She is an active member of La Leche League and Moms Club, a PTA volunteer and Sunday school teacher.