I didn’t plan to be a co-sleeper. Having seen my best friend get her kids sleeping through the night in their own cots at only a few weeks old, I’d convinced myself that I would be just as strict when my own kids came along and of course they would be just as compliant. My own kids, however, had other ideas.
In my head I had imagined gently placing a baby in his crib each night, bending over to lay a tender kiss on his forehead, whispering “I love you”s and wishes for sweet dreams before retreating out the door to the gentle rhythmic breathing of a sleeping baby, a sleeping baby who then stayed sleeping until the morning sunlight peeped through the edge of the curtain and we were all ready to start the day.
What I actually got was babies who only slept soundly in the safety and comfort of their mother’s arms and a serious dose of natural earth mother instincts that would not allow me to leave my crying babies out of sight and out of reach when they called for me through the night and clearly needed me. What I actually got was 4 years of co-sleeping with one or other of my babies. In fact, Monkey only moved out of my bed the night I went into hospital to have his baby sister and she was not one to be left out of the family co-sleeping tradition, taking up his place immediately upon her arrival into the world.
After all of this, I think I have become somewhat of an expert on co-sleeping and I can now give you the full lowdown – the truth about co-sleeping.
The truth about co-sleeping is that it is the best way to wake up in the morning, and sometimes the worst. I have loved waking up in the morning with my babies snuggled in my arms, that peaceful milk drunk face the first thing I see when I open my eyes. But for every one of those mornings there have been other mornings being woken up by a swift kick to the head from a wriggling little person who has no understanding of personal space and clearly doesn’t know their own strength. Variations of this include a headbutt to the face, a punch on the nose and a finger in the eye – all lovely ways to start the day!
The truth about co-sleeping is it is easy – there is no getting out of bed and trudging over to the cot to rock and soothe a baby waking up every hour through the night, just roll over, cuddle, pat and maybe feed back to sleep, all with your eyes still half closed and remaining fully horizontal. Studies show co-sleeping families tend to get more sleep overall and baby may also be less likely to wake every hour when snuggled up next to mummy – double winner!
The truth about co-sleeping is it is hard – snuggles are great when you are ready to go to bed but not so much when it is only 8pm and you still have a tonne of stuff you need to do, yet your baby insists that he will not sleep unless you are in bed with him, effectively holding you hostage in your room for the rest of the evening. Your attempts to build a pillow decoy are quickly sussed out and your fear of baby rolling off the bed and you being branded an unfit mother keep you within arms’ reach until you eventually give in and call it a night. There goes all the “me” time activities you had planned for the evening.
The truth about co-sleeping is that no matter how big your bed is, or how many people are in it, the smallest person (i.e. baby) will take up the most amount of space and you will spend most of the night pushed out to the very edge of the bed, hanging on for dear life, with one butt cheek firmly clenched against the mattress, legs configured awkwardly in an effort to anchor yourself in for the night and your senses on high alert for baby’s stealth position changing and attempts to shuffle you further off the precipice to which you are clinging.
The truth about co-sleeping is that the more effort you put into decorating a baby’s nursery before they are born, the less likely they will ever spend a full night sleeping in it – if baby arrives to a beautifully decorated, perfectly co-ordinated nursery like Monkey did, there is a good chance you will find yourself co-sleeping in your room and the nursery will effectively become one oversized walk in wardrobe with the cot acting as an elaborate stuffed toy storage system. By baby number two you will hopefully have learnt your lesson, although an undecorated nursery is also no guarantee of a baby sleeping in their own cot, as Missy has proved. That’s if you even manage to get to baby number two – most people’s reaction to our announcement that we were expecting Missy was to demand how that was even possible given our constant co-sleeping arrangement with Monkey!
The truth about co-sleeping is that you can simultaneously love cuddling your babies to sleep and miss cuddling your husband to sleep. That you can be excited about the prospect of getting your marital bed back when baby finally gets into the cot and looks like she might stay there for a couple of hours but then in the next breath miss them so much that you feel it as a physical ache and long for them to wake up unsettled so you can scoop them up in your arms and bring them back to the cosy comfort of your family bed.
The truth about co-sleeping is that it is the most natural thing in the world, yet some people will tell you it is unnatural and make you feel like a monster for “allowing” it. They will talk about bad habits and SIDS and the sanctity of the adult space. But if co-sleeping is what suits your family best then rest assured that it is perfectly normal, people have been co-sleeping since the beginning of the human race and much of the world continues to do so. There are safety precautions to take of course since the development of bedding and pillows and other potential hazards, but provided these are taken, co-sleeping can be perfectly safe and in some cases safer than leaving a baby unmonitored and alone in another room.
The truth about co-sleeping is that it does not last forever. Your baby will not still be sleeping in your bed when he is ready to go off to university. That has been my mantra to get me through the tough times and to remind me to enjoy this closeness while I can, as well as my retort to anyone who dares to question our arrangement. With the benefit of hindsight, it will feel like such a short time that they slept in our bed and I know I will long for it when they are too big and too grown up to snuggle with their mummy all night long. The truth is, I will not know when my last night of co-sleeping is until it has already passed and I wake up with the bitter sweet realisation that baby has finally slept through the night in their own bed and no longer needs me in that way. So until that night comes I will hold my baby, I will snuggle and cuddle and breathe in their sweet baby breath all through the night. I will make no apology for it and I will try not to get too annoyed when I find myself at 3am contorted into some unnatural position with my baby’s feet where my head should be, the duvet somewhere off the bottom of the bed and knowing that in another few hours the big one will probably wake up and want in on the family bed too!
The truth is you don’t always get to choose co-sleeping, sometimes it chooses you and I for one am glad it chose us. While it can be a complete pain in the a*se sometimes, it is and has been one of the defining experiences of my relationship with each of my kids in their early years. I know I will look back on these times as being (mostly) wonderful, bringing back precious memories of when we did what came naturally to us and were (mostly) the happier for it.
And that is the truth.
Do you or did you co-sleep with your children? How did it work out for you? leave me a comment below, I would love to hear from you!