The definition of co-sleeping is this — sharing a sleeping space with your baby. Co-sleeping can therefore include having your baby in a cot in your room, or in a moses basket/bassinette next to your bed. It also includes the practice of bed-sharing, which is… well, exactly what it says; sharing a bed with your child. It is a wonderful bonding experience and is perfectly safe (if done correctly — look out for an article on safe co-sleeping coming soon), despite what we may be told.
The modern phenomenon of having our children sleep on their own is a strange one, when you look at it in terms of what we, as human beings, expect on a physiological basis. Think about it; if we were living in the jungle or similar, it would be incredibly dangerous for the family to sleep in separate rooms. The old saying, “safety in numbers”, rings very true. You wouldn’t want some wild animal coming into your home and picking off your children one by one without you knowing about it, because you were sound asleep in the next room.
Now, obviously in the western world we aren’t affected by those same issues. We can be fairly sure that our children aren’t going to be eaten in the night by large, hungry beasts. However, our physiological expectations haven’t changed; our babies aren’t born with an innate knowledge of the world we live in now. They are born, instead, with an intense need to be near to us at all times. It is part of their strong survival instincts, and it makes sense that to ignore those intense, survival-driven needs will have a negative impact on them, and on you.
So what are the other benefits of co-sleeping?
We all know that babies like to wake in the night. A lot. Sometimes a lot more than we would like. Co-sleeping makes night-time baby care so much easier, especially if you are nursing. You may not even notice those 2-hourly-sometimes-more feeds if your baby is snuggled in next to you, with unfettered access to the breast. Even if you do have to rouse yourself somewhat to help your baby latch on (most of them do need a little help in the early days), or to burp them after a feed, its going to be a damn sight less hard work if you can do it all from the comfort and warmth of your own bed. There’s no need to worry about nappy changes at night; unless your baby has nappy rash, just change them if they’ve pooped. You certainly wouldn’t wake them to change them if they slept all night, would you?
Co-sleeping does not kill our babies. Really, honestly, truly. Yes, it is dangerous to sleep in bed with your baby if you are not doing it safely; if you look behind the headlines of those “Irresponsible Mother Smothers Baby in Bed” stories, you will surely be able to pick out several things that were wrong with the co-sleeping set-up. Mothers who co-sleep with their babies are finely tuned into their sleep cycles, and will often find themselves awaking shortly before the baby stirs for a feed. Sleep Apnoea (when the breathing pauses momentarily) is common in little babies, and a co-sleeping mother will usually reach over in her sleep and put her hand on the baby when their breathing pauses in order to rouse them back to regular breathing. A lot of mothers are very concerned about the danger of rolling onto their babies at night, but you really needn’t worry. How often do you fall out of bed? Never, I’ll bet, because you know that the edge is there. Same goes for your baby. Obviously this is different if you are taking medication that causes you to sleep deeply, or if you have been drinking or taking drugs. In these situations, it is safer to have your baby in a basket next to your bed, rather than in bed with you.
Comfort and Security
These are two things that babies need in abundance. Co-sleeping is a wonderful way to help your baby feel secure. Night-times can be scary times for small babies; they spend practically all day in our arms and then we expect them to sleep separately from us without physical contact for long periods of time. It’s no wonder that babies settle better when they are near us at night. Sleeping with your baby will help foster a strong bond between the pair of you, and you will become very tuned in to their needs.
Co-sleeping is not essential for a successful nursing relationship, but it sure does help. Night-time is when the levels of prolactin (a hormone responsible for milk production) are the highest in the mother; this is why tiny babies tend to feed more at night than they do in the day. Therefore, feeding frequently at night time is very important to ensuring that your milk supply is bountiful. Oxytocin, a hormone responsible for your milk let-down reflex, is known as the ‘love hormone’; it flows a lot more freely if you are relaxed and comfortable — dozing in bed with your babe sounds much more relaxing than sitting up in a chair, watching the clock and trying to keep yourself awake, doesn’t it?
There is absolutely nothing in the world like stroking the soft, downy hair of your gorgeous little baby and gazing at them in the half-light, all snuggled up in the warmth of the family bed. Even parents who don’t routinely co-sleep will be able to recall times that they have, and more often than not the memories will be happy, warm ones. One thing people really worry about is making their children less independent by co-sleeping with them, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. There has been plenty of research that shows that parenting in this way is conducive to raising happy, well-adjusted, secure and independent children. All children have different needs, some will need to be with their parents at night for longer than others, but they all become independent in the end. Childhood is such a tiny part of their lives.
Even considering all of the above, co-sleeping isn’t for everybody. Believe it or not, my son and I didn’t bed-share at night-time and never have done. It just wasn’t the right choice for us at the time. However, he has always co-slept with me for his daytime naps, either curled up on my lap (which he still does now sometimes, at almost 2 and a half! Big smiley face) or snuggled up with me or his daddy on the sofa. Sometimes I feel guilty for having not given bed-sharing a shot when he was little, and I definitely will be bed-sharing with baby #2 when they arrive, but I must remind myself that we just did what was right for us at the time — and that is exactly what you should do, too.