'Mum, what took you so long?': a love letter to co-sleeping

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

There's a fleeting moment, at dawn. It's when the light has just started to creep into a corner of my room and if I wake before my son does, I can watch him while he sleeps. 

He is completely still and I can shift up next to him and see his little eyelids quiver and admire the shape of his mouth as it hangs sweetly open, his small hands clutched at his chest. Or wildly flung across the pillow. 

I take in his beauty, clad in his little pyjamas and try to stop time for a moment, or at least, hold on to it As sleep begins to slip away his limbs will twitch and I'll lay there cuddling his warm body until he says: 'Can we get up Mama', nudging me with his body to go with him in the early morning light as he pads off to the bathroom.

Then the morning will begins and mum life starts. But before this, in these gloriously quiet minutes, I lay resting on one arm and soak in the peacefulness of my sleeping child.

Mum, what took you so long?

Co-sleeping wasn't a conscious decision I made. I'm not really an attachment, tofu-munching parent, I'm just a mum who put my child next to me one night out of sheer desperation, and ended up loving the shared night times.

My son was a horrible sleeper as a baby, the worst in my mother's group. There were endless nights of rocking and patting, he would wail when we left the room.

We tried sleep training (torturous for everyone, and it didn't work), different sleeping bags and wraps, adjusting the room temperature, giving him an extra bottle, a t-shirt I'd been wearing. None of it changed anything, he would wake up crying up to seven times a night.

The only time he consistently slept through the night was on a holiday to the UK at 10 months old when I couldn't get him to sleep in the travel cot and I put him next to me to avoid waking everybody up. Even my mum said "He's now where he wants to be, next to you." 

One night when I was five months pregnant with his sibling, and sitting on the floor beside his cot patting his back for umpteenth time I thought "F this!" and I picked him up and brought him into bed with me, where he promptly slept for 10 hours straight. It was as if he'd been saying: Mum, what took you so long?

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Natural and instinctual 

Looking back, I should have done it a lot sooner, I could have saved myself months of sleep deprivation. I didn't because co-sleeping is often frowned upon, and I was scared it could be dangerous or turn him into a monster sleeper. But actually, when done safely, it feels natural and instinctual. He is a kid who doesn't want to sleep alone, and I get it. Many adults don't like to either. 

Co-sleeping makes things a lot easier when your child is unwell. You can gauge their temperature, or monitor laboured breathing. Offer extra cuddles when they wake up scared because they can't breathe through their nose. He doesn't have to cry out for me when he has a nightmare, I just fling an arm over him and we both go back to sleep. I barely even wake up.

We sleep with a pillow between us to avoid any kicking but luckily my son is not really a flailer or a starfish sleeper. Bed sharing is as much about me not having to get up, as it is my son feeling secure sleeping next to his mama. In the animal kingdom all the little ones sleep next to their mums and in many cultures, it's just the norm. 

I tried to give my son his own big boy bed in his own room when his sister arrived. He flat out refused to sleep in it. At best he'd sleep there for a couple of hours and then run to get in with me.

Now that I'm mother for the second time, I've finally learned not to worry what other people think (if co-sleeping works for you great, if it doesn't, also great). I also know that many, many parents have their kids in bed with them at some point, we just don't go around announcing it. Sleep wins, ultimately. 

Maybe next year

But I love bed sharing for more than just practical reasons. It has given me an extra closeness with my son. In the daytime he is a four-year-old tornado, he likes to be  outside making mud pies, shooting water guns, digging and climbing trees. That's just who he is. He will run at me and hug me with great ferocity, brush my hair to make it 'more beautiful' – there's no shortage of affection, but I rarely get to sit with him in quiet, like I do with my daughter (who fiercely loves her own bed and couldn't be less interested in getting in with me).

So I cherish my son's sleepy little pillow talk at nights when his guard is down and he tells me what's on his mind. I adore the way he whispers to himself about Andy and Mrs Pickles when he's drifting off.

My son has his own bed waiting for him when he's ready to sleep there. A few weeks ago, just before his birthday he began telling me that he wanted to sleep in his own room when he turned four. Though I was a little sad at the thought, I was encouraging and I said we'd get his room ready and all set for when he wanted to do that. A few days before his party he told me he'd changed his mind. "I'm still scared Mama. I'll do it when I'm five."

No arguments from me, kid.