Poppy had her 6 month check up the other day (although because she is a second child and I forgot about it entirely it was actually a 7.5 month check up) and the child nurse asked all the usual questions about her health and development. When I told her that she still needed to be resettled numerous times in the night she asked me how I was coping with that. I replied that I wasn’t exactly enjoying it, but was coping ok. But I omitted to tell her why I was achieving this feat, for fear of being told what I was doing was ‘wrong’. Because the only way I can cope with all these night wakings is by co-sleeping.
I never thought I’d be a co-sleeper. In fact I vividly recall being pregnant with my first child and pronouncing that I would never let my children get used to sleeping in bed with me, after seeing my sister in law forced to go to bed at 9pm because her toddler son couldn’t sleep without her.
Yet here I am all these years later, doing the same thing. And kind of liking it.
I say kind of because I do dearly wish my daughter would sleep in her own cot for 12 hours at night. Or even 8 hours. Actually, I’d take 6. But as much as I would love to have some time to myself at least in my sleep, there is something delicious about having her in bed with me. It feels so natural, so comforting, so….right.
Poppy is a very, VERY, active baby. She moves and squirms and jumps and explores every moment she is awake. Even breastfeeding is like trying to wrangle a monkey. It feels like she has already left the baby stage well behind, too busy trying to be a kid. Which is why I cherish the time we spend sleeping side by side. Because she is still my new baby, because she relaxes in my arms and her breathing rises and falls with mine, because she nuzzles into my breast and I can drink her in, knowing how soon this time will be gone.
She is also a shocking sleeper. She fights sleep like it will be the end of her and can go all day with two half an hour naps at best. Yet when she’s in my arms she will finally submit to sleep and stay that way for hours. So while it is tempting to label her as a little diva who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it (which of course she is!) the fact is the desire to be close to her mum is a completely natural instinct, not a cunning manipulation.
So I have gone with it. Because, on top of all that, I cannot function if I have to get out of bed four times a night to pat, feed, rock and beg her to go back to sleep. In my experience it’s just not conjunctive to being a sane person. But I am well aware of the downsides of the practice, which is what prevented me from telling the child nurse about our sleeping arrangements.
The official stance from SIDS and Kids is that they recommend you do not co-sleep, as it can increase the risk of SIDS or sleeping accidents. However they also point out on their website that there is presently ‘Insufficient evidence to issue a blanket statement either for or against this infant care practice.’ Yet they do state that babies who are most at risk of SIDS or sleeping accidents, whilst sharing a sleep surface, are babies who are less than four months of age 4, babies who are born pre-term, are small for gestational age or whose parents smoke.
However, co-sleeping advocates such as American Paediatrician Dr Willaim Sears, cite research that claims the exact opposite, claiming that co-sleeping actually decreases the risk of SIDS. According to the Dr Sears website,
‘Worldwide research shows that the SIDS rate is lowest (and even unheard of) in countries where co-sleeping is the norm, rather than the exception. Babies who sleep either in or next to their parents’ bed have a fourfold decrease in the chance of SIDS and further research shows that the carbon dioxide exhaled by a parent actually works to stimulate baby’s breathing.’
However aside from the threat of SIDS, which plays on the minds of every new parent, there is also the fear of an increased risk of suffocation for babies who co-sleep. In fact, within a two year period in South Australia there were 5 infant deaths reportedly due to co-sleeping, leading to a Coroners inquest. Yet, on reading the findings, in every instance there was a contributing factor - such as medication or alcohol consumed by the parent, pillows used to enclose the infant, or co-sleeping on a couch, which is unanimously considered to be unsafe.
So the question has to be asked, how many families are there safely co-sleeping across the country that we don’t hear about? And are those parents keeping their sleeping arrangements to themselves, just as I did?
I’m sure we can all agree that if you do want to co-sleep you must follow the guidelines to make sure you are doing it safely, which can be found here.
Finally, having said all this, I only plan on co-sleeping for a little while longer. I know there are plenty of families who are happy to continue doing so until their child is much older, but that’s not for me. I do want Poppy to learn to sleep on her own and in a few months I will work towards that aim with her, so that co-sleeping is kept for nights when she is sick or extra needy, as it is with her brother.
But until then, I will happily wrap my arms around her, appreciate how gorgeous and perfect (and quiet and still) she is when she’s sleeping, close my eyes and feel at one wit this precious little girl - who is happiest when she’s next to her Mummy.
Are you, or have you been, a co-sleeper? Do you tell people about it or keep it to yourself? Comment on Amity's blog.