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Time to treat parents as adults when we talk about bed sharing?

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

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4 comments to Time to treat parents as adults when we talk about bed sharing?

  • Jem

    Before I had either of mine I was determined not to cosleep but after a couple of weeks of trying to get #1 to settle in the cot and failing miserably I thought sod it.

    By the time #2 arrived I knew I would co-sleep from the beginning and was so determined to do so that I convinced the midwives nothing they said would make me change my mind, and they ‘had’ to come and check up on us every couple of hours overnight.

    They’re now 6 and nearly 4 and sleep together in their own room.

    The research is in favour of safe co-sleeping (as you know), it’s just a shame media shock stories and blanket statements are used to put people off.

  • Mwa

    Generally, I think parents need to be trusted more to make the right decisions for themselves and their babies. Especially the ones that overthink everything anyway, like me and you. 😉 I had a great doctor who convinced me to let my daughter sleep on her tummy after more than a month of her not sleeping and us going crazy. I didn’t dare to turn her over because of all the scare stories, but like you said we ended up falling asleep with her on our chests in the sofa every night because she would only fall asleep on her stomach.

  • Yes definitely. I was that exhausted parent with my first baby, who was terrified of co-sleeping due to hearing it was under no circumstances recommended by the health professionals, yet most definitely on occasion falling asleep sitting up with a feeding baby in arms. Co-sleeping would have been far better for us. Second time round, we co-slept (for over two years), but even then I was still anxious that maybe I hadn’t followed entirely correct procedure with pillows and bedding, etc, and filled my head with “What Ifs” all because there is no open dialogue with midwives, HVs, etc on how to do it safely. You have to search that info out online, and even then it will always lead to second guessing yourself.

  • Thanks for sharing this, with our first on the way, this is just one of the many things we feel like we have to think about, and this was a great post to get The Husband and I considering the pros and cons of different approaches, all the while accepting that our thoughts now may well change when the baby does arrive!

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