We're hippie co-sleepers. It's what I've started telling people when they ask about how my son is sleeping. They ask how many times I have to get up in the night, how I get him to sleep at night, and whether he is in his own room yet. I don't mind the questions at all, as people are naturally intrigued to hear how we're all getting along.
What upsets me is that I am quite often met with horror when I tell people that "he sleeps in our bed". Because of this, I have more recently started to reply in a light-hearted manner saying "yeah, we're just a bit hippie and like having him close", as a way to try and avoid the criticism.
Looking back, I used to get defensive and try and blurt out the benefits of co-sleeping, or otherwise join along with the grimaces as if acknowledging I was doing something wrong as a parent. But it was when a childless acquaintance of mine shook her head in disgust and said "Nip it in the bud. Nip it in the bud right now, it's a terrible habit" that I took a step back to wonder why people are so fast to frown upon the notion of co-sleeping, particularly those who have yet to be in the position of raising a baby and have not had to wade through the complicated, complex world of baby sleep.
We never set out intending to co-sleep. In my imagined world of perfect parenthood, I envisioned cosy night-time snuggles in my son's nursery, as I lovingly fed him and rocked him to sleep with soft lullabies playing in the background. I would then pop him back in his cot, and go back and sleep soundly between his night-time feeds. I have no idea where this image came from, since his cot, first of all, has always been in our room anyway!
I guess I put it down to both movies and clever advertising of baby products, which visually show us what the perfect nursery should look like, and thereby what we need to splash our cash on to ensure we're the perfect parents. Similar to the roots of my envisioned world of perfect parenting, people without children have also seen these images, so are naturally met with shock at the foreign notion in western society that a baby might sleep between its parents.
My son does have a cot - a big, beautiful wooden sleigh that matches perfectly with our big, beautiful wooden bed. It felt almost like a rite of passage buying it in my third trimester. We trawled the baby stores looking for 'the one', and I excitedly waited for over two weeks for it to be delivered. It then sat there, full of teddies, ready and waiting for our little guy to arrive. I loved the thing, and I still love it now because of all the happy connotations from my pregnancy days.
The only thing is, my son does not.
In the early days, the vast space of the cot seemed to engulf his tiny little frame; it was so big, open and bare, and I felt like he should be in my arms, safe and snuggled. He also wouldn't sleep well in it, and when he woke in the night, that was it, another hour+ process or rocking, feeding, and shhhhh'ing until we managed to lower (trick) him back into his cot.
It wasn't like he was a 'bad' sleeper - he was just a newborn baby needing to feed frequently at night and be close to Mummy. It is just tiring, quite naturally, for un-trained new parents who've gone from eight plus hours of sleep a night, to what feels like nothing.
Because of this, I started on occasion to keep him in bed with me in the early hours, since we both slept better in close proximity, and I felt it was safer than accidentally falling asleep on the sofa or in a chair with him in my arms. I would throw off all the sheets and pillows so it was just me, him (and Daddy on his side) on a big open space. I adored our morning snuggles and as I continued to do this, I noticed two simple patterns emerging:
1) Baby boy in cot = upset, restless = difficult sleep for Mummy, Daddy & baby boy = tough day ahead
2) Baby boy sleeping next to Mummy = happy, snuggly, well fed baby boy = less sleep deprived Mummy and well slept Daddy & baby boy = more smiles all-round
I continued doing this as the months went on, to the point where he now sleeps in our bed all the time. While we'll still have nights of disturbances (being thumped in the face is a common occurrence, along with nights of teething distress - oh joys!), overall I feel now that we all get much more sleep than we otherwise would.
Nowadays, my son will only go down to sleep for the night if he is in our bed. Not his cot, the pram, not on my boob relaxing on the sofa, and not in Daddy's arms; he must be in our bed. I remember the people wincing with horror at this, but if you truly think about it - he associates bed with sleep - isn't this the goal here?! As soon as his bum hits the bed, he knows it's time to relax for the night. The fact it is in our bed makes little difference to us.
So that, in brief, is how we ended up co-sleeping. I'm completely aware it is not for everyone. Some people find their babies take well to the cot, others find they all sleep better when baby is in a room of its own, or like us, some find they're a big happy family when all snuggled together. Every parent has their own prerogative and right to choose what is best for their family unit, and the fact is, different things work for different people, and co-sleeping just so happens to work for us, because, you know, "we're just a bit hippie".