I'm going to come right out and say it: I co-sleep with my baby and I love it. My husband does too, and we both feel that the pros outweigh the cons.
The interesting thing about it is that when you mention in conversation that you are a co-sleeping family, people can look at you strangely. Or, other parents will then admit to you that they do it too, but it's never something that's brought up freely. In some ways, it's almost a taboo.
My new friend S (whom I met at antenatal classes) was delighted to hear that this was our choice, but wasn't prepared to tell me about it until I 'fessed up.
"Oh we have our 15 week old in our bed too!" she said, when I had spilled the beans.
When I asked her why she hadn't mentioned it earlier in the conversation when it had come up she replied, "Well, you know, my midwife said it wasn't a good idea, and when I was in hospital after giving birth, the baby was taken away from me and put in her crib beside my bed at night time. I just thought it was frowned upon."
S tells me that she and her partner have no plans to move their baby into her cot just yet, but now that she had grown out of the sleeping nest they had been using (which keeps the baby separate in the bed, and prevents her from rolling), they were worried about the safety aspects. S was concerned that one of them would accidentally roll on the baby without it.
Co-sleeping is actually the norm in many cultures, just not necessarily those of the "first world". Those of us in the UK, US, Australia and other Western cultures are not always given this as an option by our healthcare providers when they are educating us about caring for our babies.
This, according to Helen Ball, Professor of Anthropology at Durham University, is because of the supposed 'health risks' co sleeping can be associated with. The fear of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and, it, would seem, a pervading professional cultural fear of giving or condoning the 'wrong' advice, ultimately translates to new parents not being presented with all the possibilities by their health care provider.
We are generally taught that infants should sleep in their own beds, and the sooner they can learn to do that, the better. The fact is, co-sleeping, if done while observing some key precautions, can be just as safe, if not safer, as having your infant sleep in their own bed.
What is co-sleeping?
Co-sleeping is where a baby sleeps in the same bed as his or her parents, or sleeps in an open sided cot beside the bed, which is freely accessible from the bed, as an extension of the main mattress. Co-sleeping is sometimes referred to as simply sharing the same room as the parents in a separate sleeping space, but this is not what is being discussed here.
According to UNICEF, there are several key safety considerations parents need to take into account when co-sleeping with their infant or child:
• Never share a bed with an infant or child if you have consumed drugs or alcohol, are exhausted (as in, you can't even face leaving the house), you smoke, smoked during your pregnancy or have been smoking (even a cheeky social one). This also goes for your partner, if they are sharing the bed as well.
• Remove all soft pillows and parental duvets from around the baby to prevent smothering.
• Ensure that your sleeping partner is aware of the baby in the bed (especially important if you have brought the baby into bed with you for breastfeeding after you've all gone to bed).
• Never place the baby between you and the wall, or at the top of the bed if there is a gap between the headboard and the mattress.
• Co sleeping is not advised if you or your partner are particularly heavy sleepers, or if either of you is classed as clinically obese.
• Never place the baby in the bed either bedside, or alone with, another child or toddler.
• Never sleep on a sofa with your infant.
• See here for the full UNICEF leaflet
Why not just put the baby in its own bed?
Many parents prefer not to co sleep with their infants, and that is fine too. Where and how one sleeps is a very personal choice, and really, none of anyone's business. A close friend of mine, T, has two children – a toddler aged 3, and an eight month old. She has never co slept with her children, for many reasons, the least of which is that she and her husband feel they would never get any decent sleep.
"When we had our first, he slept in his moses basket in our room for the first couple of weeks. I was breastfeeding, and in addition to the night feeds, I was forever getting up and checking on him at each and every snuffle he made. Sharing a room was hard enough – but by checking on him all the time I not only had a very disturbed sleep, I disturbed him as well, waking him needlessly with my new mother worries and anxieties at his every twitch and sound."
T and her husband found that they all slept better once the baby had been moved into his room. When their second baby, was born, they didn't have the space for her to have her own room, and so had to live with sharing their bedroom for several months. When they moved to a larger house, the baby's having her own room meant a return to normality for the whole family.
"It helped us get into our routines very quickly," she says. "The whole family has benefited from it – while it took a bit of time and patience to get her used to her own room, once this was done – night times are so much easier. I wake up feeling more rested as I'm not woken unnecessarily, and my husband doesn't lose any of the sleep he so desperately needs to be able to function at work the next day."
So why do I do co-sleep?
When I hear this reasoning from my friend, I do wonder if she's onto something – I am constantly tired all the time from very little and/or poor quality sleep.
But I love having my little one next to me, and it makes breastfeeding at night so much easier – all I need to do is adjust my position or roll over and have him latch on. Most of the time neither of us even wakes up fully. This means I get more sleep, but the quality of that sleep is certainly not the same as if he wasn't in our bed at all. I know I don't sleep as deeply, and I am very sensitive to his movements and noises, having him right beside me in the bed.
However, I have come to the conclusion that this will not last forever. Before we know it, he will be big enough to go to school, have his own room, and prefer to go his own way. He won't want to share our bed anymore. Besides, isn't it amazing how well you can function on so little sleep when you have to?
Please see below for some research on co sleeping:
Mother Baby Behavioural Sleep Laboratory, Notre Dame University
Bed sharing and co-sleeping by Helen Ball
Do you co sleep? If so, how does it work for you?
Or do you prefer separate rooms and beds?