It’s the hot-button parenting topic that everybody has been talking about - from the Mums and Dads at playgroup to the Kardashians. So what is co-sleeping, and how much of what you’ve heard about it is true?
In this article, we will be investigating the different types of co-sleeping, the pros and cons and how to go about co-sleeping in a safe and healthy way. Read on to find out more
Myth: Co-sleeping means sleeping in the same bed
Co-sleeping is often mistaken for bed-sharing. Bed-sharing is when one or both parents bring their child into the family bed as opposed to having them sleeping separately in a cot.
Co-sleeping can also refer to bed-sharing, having your baby beside your bed in a specialist sidecar arrangement or simply sleeping in the same room as you. Even having your baby in a cot at the foot of the bed counts as co-sleeping.
Co-sleeping is even recommended by the NHS for the first six months of a child’s life, when they are likely to need extra supervision and wake for nightly feeds. For mothers who choose to breastfeed, a room-sharing arrangement is helpful for ease of access whilst feeding.
There are other benefits to co-sleeping. The close proximity can ease anxiety for you and your baby. Knowing your family is sleeping soundly in the same room creates a feeling of safety, security and strengthens that all-important parental bond.
Myth: Co-sleeping is dangerous!
As we have already discussed, co-sleeping can mean many different things and in some forms is even endorsed by the NHS.
Bed-sharing, on the other hand, is not without its risks. Certain studies have suggested a tragic link between Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and bed-sharing and it is hardly surprising that some parents shun the idea altogether. However, it can be a good choice for you and your baby when practised safely.
There are certain circumstances in which bed-sharing should not be considered an option, as well as some important guidelines to follow to ensure your baby is safe. Babies who are premature, underweight or otherwise vulnerable should not bed-share. In a similar vein, parents who drink or smoke regularly or show high degrees of sleep agitation should not share a bed with a baby either. Light bedding and a firm, smooth-surfaced mattress are also essential.
Myth: Co-sleeping is just another hipster, hippie, make-your-own-yoghurt trend!
Actually, despite the recent interest shown in the West, many cultures have been co-sleeping for generations!
In Japan for instance, co-sleeping is the norm - sometimes even up until the teenage years and beyond. Bed-sharing seems to stop after a certain age but it is not unusual for entire families to share a room. Sometimes they sleep on futons or tatami mats on the floor.
In Asian countries such as Hong Kong and the Philippines, babies often bed-share or are kept close by in baskets. Sometimes these are placed into the bed, for a bed-share environment with an added barrier. Some Native Americans also used ‘cradleboards’ - a comfy, swaddling baby-carrier to which infants could be strapped, carried or even laid down to sleep.
There are diverse sleeping and parenting traditions adopted all around the world, but rest assured that this is nothing new. Co-sleeping and bed-sharing are both probably a lot more common than you think - even in the UK!
Myth: You’ll never get to sleep with a baby in your room
Many new mothers fear that having their baby in the same room means they will never sleep again. Effectively, you’ll be turned into a 24-hour milk bar for your little one - open all hours!
Of course, this isn’t true. Newborns do vary in their sleep patterns but typically end up sleeping between 8 to 18 hours a day. They may not have their night-waking routine down yet and still need night-time feeds but don’t fret. Your baby will need to sleep at some point too!
With your baby in the same room, you will be able to soothe them quickly when they wake up crying. A baby who has been crying for a long time to get your attention, for instance from another room, will be more wound up and have a harder time settling back to sleep.
Both mothers and babies often find themselves soothed and comforted by one another’s presence, actually making for better sleep overall. And frankly, mothers who sleep apart from their babies don’t seem to report the most perfect, uninterrupted sleep either!
Myth: Babies who co-sleep will end up sleeping in your bed until they are 30!
Some parents fear that letting them sleep in their room past a certain age will give them separation anxiety.
It’s true that some children do have trouble adjusting when they move into a room of their own. However after a while, all children begin to crave their independence. They will want to have some privacy and a space that’s all their own. Think of it this way: have you ever seen how a teenager reacts when you enter their room without knocking?
When the time comes to lovingly turf your little one out, there might be some teething trouble if they have co-slept for a while. If this happens, try treating their new room as something very exciting. Give them some say in the decorating and invest in a night-light if they don’t feel happy in the dark. If you treat their new room as something very special and grown-up, then they will view it that way too!
So there you have it - hopefully, you feel enlightened or some worries have been put to rest. Of course, only you know what is best for your baby and every family is different. Co-sleeping is not for everybody, but for many, it is a viable option. The most important thing is to be fully informed as you plan your baby’s sleeping environment.
For more information, visit our page on how to get a good night's sleep with a new baby.
For more information on bed-sharing and how to do it safely, check out our other post in this series.