I read an article this morning where yet another mother admitted that she had been able to speak frankly to her health visitor and GP about the realities of her and specifically that she was bed sharing with her baby. It turns out that half of parents who bed share have lied to their GP or health visitor because they don’t feel that they can have a honest conversation with them
When Littlest was born we agreed that we would co-sleep from the start – we had read the research on how to co-sleep safely and we knew from experience that it was far better to plan to bed share than to fall asleep in the rocking chair during a night time feed
We had co-slept with both the girls and had been supported to do so safely by our midwife
The first time we encountered our health visitor after Littlest arrived, we confidently told her that we co-sleeping and expected a conversation around how we were ensuring we were safe and for our researched decision to be accepted. Instead I was told ‘we can’t encourage that sort of thing’ and handed a ghastly leaflet with the title ‘once upon a time I went to sleep with my Mummy… I didn’t wake up’
Not only did this leaflet try to suggest that SIDs deaths and deaths through co-sleeping are the same when they are not (SIDS means there is no explanation for the death, a tragic accidental smothering by a co-sleeping parent who may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a very different thing) but this leaflet also suggested that the safest place for your baby is away from you
I wonder how many parents read the leaflet, stopped bed sharing and instead ended up accidentally co-sleeping and ended up creating a much more risky situation for their baby than going to bed together in a planned situation. We know that accidental co-sleeping on a sofa or chair is not safe, nor is getting so exhausted trying to stay awake during the night feeds
We also know that planned co-sleeping, with a good arrangement of bedding, with a parent whose ability to wake is not impaired by drugs, alcohol or exhaustion is safe. We also know that co-sleeping helps with breastfeeding and co-sleeping mothers get more rest
When Bigger was born I initially tried to get her to sleep in a moses basket but rapidly realised that I wanted her close to me, I was tired and wanted to snuggle with my new baby. I wanted to be able to cuddle close, lulled by those wonderful breastfeeding sleepy hormones and doze next to my baby as we both enjoyed knowing that each other is right there and listening to each other breathe
I’ve co-slept for 8 years and it is part of the fabric of our family. Littlest still comes into our bed when he wakes in the night and snuggles up to me – when he’s in pain nothing can comfort him like cuddling in my bed, close together. The girls sleep in their own beds now but when they’re poorly, or they’ve had a bad day at school or something is wrong, they come in and join us – we’ve had nights when all 3 have been in with us (usually this is the moment that N heads off to a less cluttered bed, and then finds that at least one of them join him there). At night I can give my children the cuddles they don’t get when I’m away in the day
I’ve written before about how to co-sleep safely and the research that backs it up – have a read and make your own decision about what works for you and for your family rather than take my word for it
We need to be able to talk honestly about the risks of co-sleeping and how to mitigate them.
We need to educate parents that planned safe co-sleeping can be a good thing but unplanned co-sleeping is a very different beast.
We need health care professionals that understand the reality of life with a small baby and that parents are sleeping with their babies and we need to give them the tools to do that safely
And most importantly we need to treat parents as adults and not scare them away with fairy stories