Co-sleeping can be an easy option when your baby is young and can make feeding and comforting easier. But what happens when your child gets older, asks Arlene Harris.
Whether you believe in attachment parenting or not, we have all fallen asleep with our newborn babies tucked alongside us. Granted some may have nodded off unintentionally, while others will have made a conscious decision to make room in the bed for their infant in a bid to keep them close for the first few weeks or months of their lives.
But some parents find it difficult to evict their growing child from the marital bed and this can lead to problems if either the youngster refuses to sleep alone or one parent gets tired of the crowded bed. Last year, heiress Tamara Ecclestone revealed that her two-year-old daughter, Sophia, still shared a bed with her and husband Jay Rutland as she had no plans to stop breastfeeding any time soon.
Speaking on ITV’s Loose Women the 32-year-old said while Rutland was initially sceptical about the idea of co-sleeping, he became as committed as she is. “In the beginning he wasn’t too sure about it, but now he can’t imagine her not being in the bed with us,” she revealed. “It won’t be forever, so we want to make the most of it while we can as we have the rest of our lives together.”
A lack of privacy
Claire O’Rourke also co-sleeps with her daughter, Sarah, but says her husband has become a little fed up with both the lack of privacy and the regular disturbance from their 21-month-old.
“When Sarah was born, both Paul and I agreed that she seemed too tiny to be put into a cot on her own,” says the 37-year-old. “We moved to the edge of our big bed to make sure we wouldn’t crowd her – we both really enjoyed going to sleep beside her and seeing her little face when she woke in the morning – it was also brilliant for me when I was breastfeeding as I didn’t have to get out of bed.
“But I stopped feeding her a couple of months ago and Paul says he would like Sarah to move into her own room.” The Dublin woman says her husband has resorted to sleeping in the spare room on occasion, so she knows something is going to have to give.
“When Paul first broached the subject, I objected strongly as I didn’t want Sarah to feel left out,” she says. “But he says he’s becoming more and more uncomfortable with the fact that we can’t be intimate in case she wakes up; which means we have to go to the spare room for a while before getting into our own bed.
“I don’t mind that too much but I do agree that Sarah can be an awful wriggler and keeps us awake at night – however when I showed her the new bed in her room, she had a great time getting in and out and putting her teddies on it, but as soon as I said it was time to sleep, she headed off to our bed and wouldn’t get out of it for love nor money.
I am usually too tired to argue with her, so I always end up letting her stay and for the past few weeks Paul has ended up in the spare room. But I know I have to be stronger and insist she moves out as everyone tells me that the older she gets the harder it will be – and of course, it’s not fair on Paul. So although I will miss her, my six-month goal is to get her sorted and happy in her own bed.”
Time to sleep independently
Joanna Fortune of the Solamh Parent and Child Relationship Clinic says co-sleeping does impact on intimacy and parents must decide together the best time to move babies into their own bed.
“While I wouldn’t say it’s detrimental, co-sleeping will of course impact on the level of intimacy between you and your partner,” she says. “It is really important that you stay invested in your relationship with each other as well as with your baby.
“And as babies grow, they benefit from seeing their parents have a life outside of them and it helps to develop their capacity for people permanency later on between 12-18 months. So use your judgement. If your baby is becoming restless or increasingly wriggly they may need to sleep in their own cot to get better quality sleep. There is no universal right or wrong time to do this but depending on how old your child is the approach you take to managing the transition will be different.”
The parenting expert says everyone is individual and parents like Claire and Paul must not worry about what everyone else is doing and concentrate on whatever suits them best.
“There are a lot of new parents who are so worried about getting it right or wrong with their babies,” says Fortune. “But the most important thing is that you attune to your own baby in your own way – trust your instincts because each baby is unique and each parent is unique. Positive Parent-Child attunement is the most important factor in bonding and attachment with you and your baby, so parents should do what feels right for them as opposed to something they have read in a book.
“There are both pros and cons to co-sleeping – on one hand it can mean that babies go to sleep a lot quicker, it can be much easier for mothers who are breastfeeding and it can promote synchronised sleep patterns between mother and child.
“But there are cons too – sharing your bed with a wriggly baby may interrupt your quality of sleep. It may also make the transition of moving baby to their own bed much harder and can impact on the level of intimacy in your relationship. So a bedside crib can be a nice alternative in that it allows you to sleep alongside your baby rather than in your bed or under your duvet.”
Midwife and founder of the Gentlebirth App, Tracy Donegan says although co-sleeping and ‘attachment parenting’ are often seen as new trends, they have been around forever.
“Attachment parenting is actually a return to a more instinctual style of parenting,” says Donegan. “Long before books were in print parents were ‘reading’ their babies and responding to their cues and trusting their instincts. As a midwife, it is wonderful to see parents trusting themselves rather than self-acclaimed baby experts – we need to remind parents that they are the experts on their individual baby.
“However, sleep is the Holy Grail for all new parents. For a breastfeeding mum co-sleeping makes sense as demonstrated in a 2011 study showing breastfeeding mums get more sleep. Mums who are sleeping well especially in the first few intense weeks adjusting to having a newborn are less likely to experience PND and naturally are able to enjoy their baby more.
So for anyone considering co-sleeping I would recommend reading about safe co-sleeping from experts such as Dr James Mckenna.”
- Infants should sleep on their backs, on firm, clean surfaces, in the absence of smoke, under light (comfortable) blanketing.
- Their heads should never be covered.
- Parents taking sedatives, medications, drugs or alcohol should not co-sleep on the same surface with the infant.
- The bed should not have any stuffed animals or pillows around the infant and never should an infant be placed to sleep on top of a pillow.
- Infants should never sleep on couches or sofas, with or without adults wherein they can slip down (face first) into the crevice or get wedged against the back of a couch.
For more information, visit www.gentlebirth.ie or www.solamh.ie.
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