My name is Alice and I am a co-sleeper. It’s like admitting to being an alcoholic. In fact, I haven’t admitted to co-sleeping to many people and when I have done, it’s been with an air of trepidation, as if I’m about to be given the “Reckless Parent of the Year” award. The irony is that before I became a mum, I would have been ready to hand out such an award to anyone who thought sharing a bed with their baby was a good idea.
How did I become a convert? Sheer exhaustion. It started with my realisation that when your baby wants to feed every 2 hours, breastfeeding in bed is a whole lot easier and more restful especially when you are recovering from a C-section. After falling asleep on the job the first few times, I woke with a frantic jolt each time but soon realised that I hadn’t moved an inch and still had a breathing baby. I slowly learned to trust that my husband and I wouldn’t accidentally roll over and squash or smother our baby, largely down to the fact that we both woke up at times convinced that there were three in our bed even when the Moses Basket was occupied.
I was never a regular co-sleeper, just an occasional one on those nights which seemed never-ending and you count down the hours until it was morning (something which before I entered motherhood I never thought I’d hear myself say). It was only when I started bed-sharing that I started reading into it. The more I delved, the more I realised that beneath the surface of messages (which subtly say “it’s OK to bed-share if you follow the safety guidelines but really you shouldn’t”), there was actually a lot of evidence which made me feel reassured about my decision to bed-share, even to the point of feeling like it’s a very natural thing to do.
I read a lot of articles by Dr James McKenna, Chair of Anthropology and Director of the Mother-Baby Behavioural Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre-Dame, Indiana (US), who advocates bed-sharing when done safely. He summarises the benefits of bed-sharing quite succintly in his article “Co-sleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone” (http://www.naturalchild.org/james_mckenna/biological.html ). I think the most fascinating for me is just how much natural synchronisation goes on between mother and baby when you sleep next to each other. Through his research, Dr McKenna has found that “irrepressible (ancient) neurologically-based infant responses to maternal smells, movements and touch altogether reduce infant crying while positively regulating infant breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status and oxygenation”.
When you think about it we don’t bat an eyelid at other mammals sleeping with their young because that is what nature intends. We forget too easily that we’re also subject to Mother Nature. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we all start co-sleeping – far from it. As with every parenting decision, we all have to do what we think is right (part of the most frustrating thing about being a parent!). My message is simply that when you’re thinking about it – or when your guilt-ridden friend is confessing to you that they had their baby in bed with them last night – not to leap to the conclusion that co-sleeping is a reckless act but rather a beneficial practice for those who want to do it.
— Alice Hart
Photo credit: oreses