When I was pregnant, we knew that we had some fairly fixed ideas about how we wanted to raise our child, including allowing her to share our bed for as long as she wanted to. We have been shocked and sometimes upset at other people’s reaction to what seemed to be a very instinctive decision, to sleep with our daughter. I am often made to justify this decision and made to feel as if we are ‘bad’ parents just because we hadn’t trained her to sleep in a cot in her own room by 8 weeks old.
As it happens, we didn’t even really talk about it, it just seemed the right and natural thing to do and offered some major advantages. Our daughter loved the constant contact and it made it so much easier to breastfeed during the night. By simply rolling over and letting her feed before either of us were fully awake, we were both able to drift back to sleep much quicker than if I had had to get up to feed, so everyone got extra sleep.
Many studies have shown that co-sleeping helps to establish breastfeeding and leads to a more settled and happy baby. Others claim that these benefits can last for years and that children who slept with their parents do better at school, have higher self-esteem, fewer health issues and is more likely to be well adjusted than their peers.
We know this goes against many bestselling books on parenting, such as Gina Ford and Richard Ferber but we are convinced that this was the right decision for us and for our daughter. Personally, I believe that night time should be about nurturing and closeness, not about training for the realities of later life.
Yes, there can be some downsides to co-sleeping, but most can be overcome with a few adjustments, such as buying a bigger bed. There have been many reported studies into the dangers of co-sleeping, the most recent published early this year in the Lancet. La Leche League, amongst others, claim that they are flawed as they do not distinguish between safe (following current guidelines re temperature, soft bedding etc) and unsafe (eg on a sofa or with parents who smoke or drink alcohol) co-sleeping.
Our daughter is very independent already (at 13 months) and I am convinced that this is due to all the extra nurturing and contact that she receives during the nights. At some stage, she will decide that she wants her own bed and she will be welcome to it. But in the meantime all three of us love the extra time we get together and there is nothing more wonderful than being woken by a kiss from your baby and seeing just how happy they are to be so close to you. I know that in this way we have created many special moments that we all treasure.
What ever you personally decide, do make sure you follow the latest advice re safe sleeping for your baby. Much of it is commonsense, but the following guidelines should help:
- Always put your baby to sleep on their back.
- Use a firm mattress and never co-sleep on a waterbed or on a sofa.
- Do not use a pillow for your baby and always make sure that your baby’s head is clear of your pillows and bedding. This will reduce the risk of smothering and overheating.
- Do not sleep with your baby if you smoke, have drunk alcohol or have taken any drugs which make you drowsy.
- Do not give your baby a pillow, and ensure that his head is not covered by the duvet or the sheets. Either of these could smother him.
- Use bedding that tightly fits the mattress and make sure there are no gaps between the bed and the headboard where they could become trapped.
If you are unsure or need further advice, always speak to your GP or Health Visitor.
Arabella Greatorex is the owner of www.naturalnursery.co.uk, an online store selling organic and fairly traded products for families including organic clothing and nappies, fairly traded toys and natural toiletries.