Why I do it and how it doesn’t make me a bad mother.
There is so much speculation around this topic, my own mother has even had a comment or two on it. In a nutshell, my daughter sleeps in the bed with us. And you know what? It works. We like it. We all sleep better and I’m about to blow you away with some cold hard facts.
This blog post is not intended to shun those of you who don’t bed-share. Whether it be co-sleeping with an open cot next to you, having a crib at the end of your bed or your baby being in an entirely other room to you, that is your prerogative. We’re all doing what works for us.
I didn’t intend to start bed-sharing with my newborn, it came about in a very organic way. I was up every hour with her at night until one night, after a feed I tucked her in next to me and we slept for four straight hours. I felt like a new woman. Four hours sleep, unbroken, with a baby of a week old? That’s bloody unheard of. And so it began. After some research.
If you think about it, expecting our babies to sleep apart from their mothers hours after being born (you know, who they’ve literally been inside of for 9 months) is a little unreasonable. That constant heartbeat is replaced with a stony silence. The gentle rocking has disappeared and suddenly everything is very still. The whirring and shushing around them has been taken over by static objects and tightly wrapped blankets. I think I’d be scared and wake up every hour crying too.
I discovered Dr James McKenna of Notre Dame University who has done a lot of research in this area and described this new phenomenon of separated sleeping as a ‘westernized cultural construction’. He highlighted that some advantages of bed-sharing and co-sleeping with your newborn can include, ease for breastfeeding mothers, better sleep for all involved and a closer bond to the parent and child.
As cave men and women did we make our babies sleep in a separate cave to us? No. In tribes’ today mother’s still sleep with their newborns, it is the most instinctive primal response. There is a helpless, precious, gorgeous newborn in your life. You want them to just accept that the environment they have grown accustomed to over the last 9 months has changed and won’t cause any stress on their poor little selves? Sure, maybe that’s inevitable. But trying to lessen the shock so they’re near you when sleeping, the familiar sound of your heartbeat and the comfort of your smell will make them feel safe.
Babies have been known to dream of being back in the womb and have forgotten to breathe, causing death. McKenna points out that bed-sharing combats this issue as newborns are reminded to breathe as subconsciously they can hear the breathing of their parents next to them, kick starting them if they momentarily forget.
I have also personally witnessed my little one calming from just the change of rhythm of my own breathing. Jellybean had been fussy for a while, after many failed attempts to calm her, through singing, dancing, playing, massage, changing her…etc, she was steadily becoming over-tired and nearly impossible to console. As a desperate attempt for my own sanity, after the endless crying, I put her on my chest and practised my mediation breathing. Within two minutes she was asleep. The familiar sound of my heartbeat and the gentle rhythm of my breathing lulled her into a sense of safety and comfort, and she slept like that for two hours. Possibly I should have put her down and got on with other things, but the relief of silence made me stay put and enjoy the moment.
Since I’ve had Jellybean it is like a 6th sense has awakened in me and honed in on just her. I thought I was going insane when I first felt this but McKenna documented a mother he was interviewing as experiencing something similar. This extended to when I was sleeping, too. When I was asleep I knew where she was. I could feel her, I could hear her, I was constantly on guard, there was absolutely no way I would ever roll over her. To this day – touch wood – I have not. I genuinely feel like I can’t. Darren has even begun sleeping as close to the wall as possible as she has sometimes slept between us. When turning in his sleep he stays in the same spot. I wonder if that is his primal instinct telling him to give her space.
I often wake in the night for a bathroom trip. In those 30 seconds, Jellybean who had been cuddled into me is now awake and wondering where I am. She is as aware of us as we are her. I have watched her half-asleep flail her arms about looking for her dad and waking slightly when she can’t find him. I gently push her closer to him and watch as she relaxes back into a slumber almost instantly.
Midwives are now recommending co-sleeping which has the broad definition of, bed-sharing, having an open cot next to the bed or the baby just being in the same room. This is recommended for at least six months as parents are more likely to pick up on unusual cues from the baby and prevent SIDS or any other issues that may arise. Health visitors and midwives talk a LOT about safe sleeping and the risk of SIDS. May I just remind everyone that these guidelines change and no one has pinpointed the cause of it. Also, whenever bed-sharing is mentioned, it’s always in conjunction with people who are heavy smokers, have taken some sort of drugs or drank a lot of alcohol the night before. They attempt to deter everyone from it, by scaring people from the potential dangers if you are careless about it. They never consider an ordinary, competent couple who may want to bed-share, and would like the advantages and disadvantages of it. Instead, we have to hunt for safe co-sleeping and bed-sharing guidelines ourselves.
There are of course some drawbacks to bed-sharing. We will one day have to move Jellybean into a cot and then into her own room. We understand that this might be difficult, but no way is she going to sleep in our bed forever. Especially if/when we have more children. The bed would get crowded very quickly! We know this, we accept this, but it still doesn’t stop the comments and questions coming our way – “That’s not very safe is it?” “What if you roll over her in the night?” “She won’t be in your bed forever will she?” and “It’s a bad habit to start.”
So call me irresponsible, careless, a bad mother. Tell me I’m making a rod for my own back and encouraging bad habits, I don’t care. Right now this works for us. And interestingly it is only when I open up to others and tell them we bed-share that I usually get the response of “oh she/he has slept in with us a couple of times too.”
In fact, McKenna states that 90% of parents will co-sleep with their babies at some point. So I truly don’t understand why it has gained such negative traction. Those moments at night are so precious I wouldn’t change them for the world (sorry, massive cliché) and I dread the day we will be moving her to her cot.
So for now, I will enjoy it and block out the annoying comments, thank you very much!
If you would like to read more on co-sleeping, here’s a link to Dr James McKenna’s articles and essays available to download on the topic.
Do you or have you in the past co-slept with your baby? Or have you ever considered co-sleeping in the future? Let me know!