Parenting is one of those things that can spectacularly divide people, like Pokemon Go, or the colour of some dress.
Ok, maybe the parenting divides can be a bit weightier than those.
The nature of parenting is so personal that the moment you begin to discuss some aspect of it, such as food, or television, or discipline, or breastfeeding, people become immediately emotional, even if they themselves are not parents.
Co-sleeping is one of those things. In a country like Australia, it is not accepted practice, what with all those warnings by doctors, midwives, nurses, hospitals, government sponsored ads and so on about SIDs.
So when people start to ask me about my own children, and how they sleep, and where they sleep, I take a minute to decide whether I should bother being truthful, or if I should just answer with a simple, “they sleep well”, or “they don’t sleep very well”, depending on how the month of sleeping has gone with them. (Every month, hell every week, every night, can be different before kids finally settle into a set sleeping pattern. Don’t ask me at what age this happens. It’s different with every kid.)
With my eldest, of course I tried resolutely, at first, then desperately as the weeks of disrupted sleep become months, to force her into her bassinet next to my bed. I didn’t even consider putting her in a separate room. That seemed totally unnatural to me.
The first night we brought her home from the hospital was sheer hell, where she slept for ten minute intervals, then would wake up screaming for what I assumed was a feed (I was breastfeeding her) then she’d promptly fall asleep within a minute and I’d painstakingly put her back in the bassinet.
Fifteen minutes later, as my husband and I began to drift off to sleep, she’d wake up screaming again.
It was torture. We woke up like zombies the next morning. We swore at 3am that we’d never have any more children, and wondered why ANYBODY had more than one child. Surely you had to be insane to put yourself through this all over again right?
Fast forward 2-3 months and I was still battling to put J back in her bassinet. Often I simply could not stay awake while feeding her, and when I got the whole side-lying and feeding down pat, and Bob’s your uncle, she’d fall asleep next to me, I’d fall asleep next to her, and she STAYED ASLEEP for more than 30 minutes. Then more than an hour, then we had two hour stretches which felt like heaven. And slowly she started to sleep for longer periods at a time.
The reality, although it took me about 6 months to accept it, was that having her lie next to me was the easiest way to keep her sleeping, and therefore I could sleep. My husband could sleep. EVERYONE WAS SLEEPING.
J slept in our bed for almost 3 years. Throughout this time I attempted to move her into the cot by trying the ‘cry it out’ method (when she was around 1 years old), which was, well, not my finest parenting moment. I persevered for FIVE WHOLE DAYS, by which time she’d cry for shorter periods and eventually fall asleep. Then she hit a round of teething and everything went out the window. She was back in my bed.
An important lesson that I learnt in hindsight, which was applicable to weaning and toilet training as well, was that I could not push her to do something if she was not ready. And she showed that she wasn’t ready by resisting. And I’d keep pushing. And we’d all end up in a puddle of tears and guilt.
But when she was ready, it was easy. At 18 months I weaned her. Easy. At 2 years old I stopped giving her a bottle before sleeping so I could toilet train her (so she wouldn’t need a nappy at night). Easy. When she conquered this, I started to toilet train her. Which had its challenges, but again, she proved she was ready for it, and within a week she understood the concept of using the toilet. To be balanced though, this was all done with strategy and firmness on my behalf. And she proved she was ready by responding.
By 3, she literally told me one night that she was going to sleep in her own room, in her own bed, on her own. No need for me to sit by her, or read her a story, or snuggle her. As I was preparing to lie next to her to snuggle her to sleep (which is how we’d been putting her to sleep) she literally asked me, “Mum, what are you doing here? I’m going to go to sleep on my own.”
Of course, I should have been celebrating the fact that my daughter had just chosen to put herself to sleep, instead I was crying because she no longer needed me to put her to sleep, which meant she was growing up.
With my second daughter, I didn’t even bother trying to put her in a cot. She slept in my bed from day one. In fact she forced the nurses at the hospital (who insisted that she not co-sleep) to let her sleep with me because every time they tried to put her down into the bassinet, she’d wake up screaming. For reals.
The thing about co-sleeping is that it is so innately natural that it is just weird that it has been so stigmatised to be seen as something unnatural. When I tell people that both my children slept in my bed they respond with shock. With fear. They ask me all the questions about where my husband sleeps, or doesn’t the baby get squashed, or suffocate, or they tell me that I’m raising children who will become overly attached, and that they’ll never leave my bed etc. etc.
The fact of the matter is, this is what works for our family. Baby is happy because her natural instinct is to stay close to mum. Maybe its because she spent the first ten months of her life baking away INSIDE her mother’s body, and the only thing she knew was the sound of her heart beat, the smell of her skin, the sound of her blood rushing around her.
When a baby comes screaming into the world, crying, the moment they are placed in their mother’s arms, they stop. They stop crying. They stop screaming. They rest their fragile selves against their equally fragile vessels and they settle.
They settle because they are home. They are back with the only thing that they have ever known. They are safe.
And instead of rushing to cut this bond as early as possible because “we need to have our own space”, I see co-sleeping as allowing a child to cement their bond with their mother. To instil in them a sense of safety, of trust. A way of saying, “I will hold your hand until you are ready to let go.”
And they will let go. And it will be all too soon, relative to the span of an entire lifetime. And when they do, you will feel grief, and sadness over the separation, but also pride and confidence that your child is taking steps on their own. Steps that are taken gently, steps that borne out of love, not forced detachment.
To read a more scholarly article by actual professionals on co-sleeping, take read of this.
Featured image source.