Before I became a parent, I read dozens of articles about co-sleeping.
I weighed up the pros and cons and swore I’d never do it, for fear of SIDS. Around five babies a week die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in the UK, and studies have found that sharing a bed with your baby increases the risk of cot death fivefold.
The most recent statistics date from 2016 – when 219 babies died, up from 195 in 2015. I’d read all the headlines, and when I had my daughter, I was petrified.
As I watched my bump grow and we bought new baby paraphernalia – including a Moses basket – I was determined that I would stick to my bed, and she would stick to hers. I’d read the NHS guidelines and I knew that for the first six months, the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a cot in the same room as its parents, rather than in the same bed.
[Read more: Co-sleeping safety and risks: What parents need to know ]
The reality was less straightforward. I was breastfeeding, and my daughter was a light sleeper. She’d fall asleep while I fed her sitting straight up in bed, for fear I’d fall asleep too and the worst would happen.
Eventually, so tired I could barely focus, I’d pick her up and place her in the Moses basket, holding my breath so as not to risk waking her. But every time I laid her down, her eyes would pop right open.
I spent those first few months getting little to no sleep at all, and feeling increasingly exhausted. And then I read the advice of The Lullaby Trust, and realised that I could co-sleep – so long as I did it safely.
They publish FAQs, advice and a list of circumstances in which you shouldn’t co-sleep. Top of the list: when either parent smokes, or has drunk alcohol or taken drugs. We passed those first checks.
“She’d fall asleep while I fed her sitting straight up in bed, for fear I’d fall asleep, too."”
Next, following the trust’s advice, I needed to make sure there was no loose bedding that could slip over the baby’s head and risk suffocation, and that the baby wouldn’t overheat – so I dressed my daughter in a baby sleeping bag, and kept the duvet pushed down around my feet.
I made sure she slept flat on her back, rather than on her front, and I gave her half the bed, so she couldn’t fall out. The cat was shut downstairs at night (The Lullaby Trust advises not letting pets or other children into the bed with you. They also warn you never to fall asleep with your infant on a sofa or armchair).
But I was still too nervous to sleep properly, and even more tired – which is a known risk in itself. So, we bought a co-sleeper: a special cot that straps to the side of the bed, with a detachable side separating your baby’s sleeping space from your own.
It meant I could pull my baby daughter towards me to breastfeed her, and then pop her back into her own safe space, all without waking her.
It changed everything, because it gave me the confidence to let myself go and get a good night’s sleep. And when I had my son a few years later, I did it with him, too.
The funny thing is: I’m still co-sleeping – even if it’s not entirely by choice. My two-and-a-half-year-old son may have graduated to his own room and his own bed, but he still toddles in during the middle of the night to sleep with me.
But now that I know there’s no danger of him doing anything but kick me in the head and stomach repeatedly, I’ll take it. I know these night-time cuddles (and kicks) won’t last – and I want to enjoy them as long as I can.