Let me get one thing quite clear from the outset here: this is not a confession. Have you noticed that about parenting-related blogs and op-eds? Everything’s a mea culpa these days. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen parents “confessing” to eating ice-cream, using Calpol as directed, wearing Cheerios to the office and wanting more sleep. Hang on, what? Who doesn’t want more sleep, whether they have children or not? Come to that, who doesn’t think that Cheerios are an office-appropriate accessory?
I’m aware that I’ve used the trope in the past myself, but enough is enough. It’s time to call time on the disconsolate confession, unless you have actually murdered someone and are letting either a priest or a member of Her Majesty’s Constabulary know about it. No more. A confession this is not.
So, we co-sleep. Our eight month old daughter sleeps with us, and we all like it better that way.
This is the part where, in lots of blogs, the next paragraph would describe how my co-sleeping daughter is a special case, how there’s some physical condition that means sleeping in a cot isn’t right for her, how there’s some reason that we’ve failed in our mission to move her out of the bedroom and into the nursery in the three trimesters that she’s been alive and the two months since we passed the end of high alert for SIDS. Nope. Apart from a couple of fairly mild colds and that nasty spot of gastroenteritis after somebody brought a baby they shouldn’t have to a party they shouldn’t have been at, Scarlett has been healthy and happy. She is a healthy and happy baby who prefers to co-sleep, and we prefer it right back at her.
Now, some of my regular readers may have babies a bit older or a bit younger than ours who are already sleeping in a separate cot and a separate room, and if that works for you my rule is as ever “go to it and be happy”. Or you may be the owner of an older child who took to his or her own cot like a duck to water when still a tiny infant; or you may be my own mother; and my response is the same. Whatever works for you is good, and whatever worked for you in the past was good. But there is, isn’t there, a particularly weird presumption in the western world (in fact, not even the whole of the west but really mostly the Anglo-American bits of it) that not putting your baby into a room by herself at the age of half a year is some kind of parental failure? Stuart Heritage refers to this in his own hilarious confession on the matter; why are we so keen to get our under-1s away from us at night, even the ones that don’t want to be?
“Aha,” I hear you say, dear reader, “but how can you know the mind of your infant daughter, Lise-ma? She is not yet blessed with the gift of language, or telepathy either as far as I’m aware.” You have a point, dear reader, as you always do; but my daughter is one of those strong-willed types and she’s never let the mere fact of not being able to talk prevent her from letting us know exactly what she wants. Anyone who has witnessed her bee-line for my bosoms at snack time and help herself to boob without any assistance from me will attest to that. Anyway, I digress. From birth, Scarlett had a co-sleeping crib which allowed her to sleep safely next to us in her own defined space, which she immediately poo-poohed by screaming in abandoned horror any time we put her near it. It took five weeks for her to sleep anything like a full night in the co-sleeper, which at the time we viewed as some kind of success because hey, the kid’s using the thing to do the thing it’s meant for, huzzah.
Shortly after Christmas, at around the same time that she was discovering how to shimmy around the floor in the daytime, Scarlett decided that she didn’t want to remain sleeping in her co-sleeper at night. She expressed this decision by wiggling her way onto the mattress next to me, night after night. To begin with, I popped her back in the co-sleeper, only to find a little head next to my armpit again an hour later; so on the third night I just let her stay snuggled up under there and the result was the best night’s sleep all three of us had had in ages.
This pattern has continued ever since; now I might start the night by settling her into her co-sleeper with a kiss goodnight, but I pretty much assume she’ll have rolled next to me before midnight, and there we’ll stay happily until the morning. Often these days she’ll stick her legs in the crib but keep her head cosied up to my ribs, and with my arm wrapped around her I’m sure we look the very image of mother-and-childly bliss. She likes sensing me against her, and I like being able to check in with her from time to time during the night (y’know, making sure she’s still alive, that sort of thing).
As time passes, I wonder more and more about the sanity of insisting that babies be separated from their parents. After all, most adults like to sleep in twos; most people who own a cat or dog enjoy the comforting feeling of being cosied up together. I enjoy waking up to find a sunny, smiling infant in my arms; and although I haven’t done a statistically-valid, large-scale study on the issue, I have a feeling she enjoys an all-night cuddle too. As ever, it all depends on the baby; some might be happier in their own space, some are clearly happier staying close to a loving body. The most insane thing is expecting all babies to conform to the same timetable and the same expectations, and to pressure parents to suppress their instincts when finding a sleep model that works for them.
If co-sleeping appeals to you, of course follow the advice given by the Lullaby Trust on how to do it without smothering your baby. Although our co-sleeper is getting what might be called a modified use, we’d probably still recommend having one attached to the bed as it does create much more space and means if you all roll over then your baby won’t roll out. And finally, if you don’t want to co-sleep, don’t co-sleep. But I’m done ‘fessin.