Oh, the before and afters of being a parent! It is truly amazing to me how my opinion on certain topics can do complete 180 degree turns depending on what side of the fence I’m sitting on. I’ve lost count of how often this has happened to me since I became a mother. It’s totally dependent on experience, isn’t it? But that applies to everything I suppose. Random example – I always thought I wanted a small winter wedding in the middle of the city centre incorporating cobblestones, velvet capes, mulled wine and foggy breathe. In reality I had a big wedding in the country hills on a beautiful summer’s day. The theory and the practice can be oh so very different.
I’m dying to have a chat with you about the before and afters of breastfeeding but today I’ve been thinking about the before and afters of co-sleeping.
My mother tells me that in our house all four of her children were fantastic sleepers who slept peacefully, uninterrupted in their cots all night. No little shadows darkened their door or entered their bed. We were all bottlefed but that may or may not be relevant.
All the public health information in the mainstream media highlights the danger of sleeping with your baby and the current official recommendations say that “the safest place for your baby to sleep at night is in a cot in your room”. They also actively discourage you from having your baby sleep in your bed with you.
For as long as I can remember, I have heard people tut-tut and sneer when discussing other people allowing children sleep in their beds. “They can’t let them away with that kind of thing…”, “You’ll never get them out of the bed”, “Sure nobody can get any kind of sleep”, “They’re spoilt rotten those children, no discipline…”, “Too soft…”, “Nobody’s getting any action in that bed…” etc etc. I admit I joined in on occasion. For those not in the know, you would easily believe that only irresponsible or indulgent people shared their bed with their babies.
The first time I ever heard of the term “co-sleeping”, I was reading the weekly column of clinical psychologist and broadcaster David Coleman in the health supplement of the Irish Times. In response to a letter from a distressed parent who was having sleep problems with their small child, he was extolling the benefits of co-sleeping as a solution and I remember thinking, “oh, should he really be doing that?, isn’t that dangerous?”. I believed it was, because I’d never had first hand experience of it and everything I’d heard about it was linked to a negative connotation.
When myself and my husband went to our antenatal classes, one of the midwives mentioned off the cuff that it was okay to tuck the baby in beside you in the bed. In fairness, she whispered it. I raised an eyebrow. Why would you do that?, I wondered.
That was the “before”.
Then came the “after”.
As I mentioned before, I found the second night after baby S was born really hard. After a good recuperating sleep following the adventure of being born, he just wanted to be held. There was absolutely no way he wanted to be anywhere else except in my arms. I was awake all night. When I told the visiting midwife about it the next morning, she told me not to be afraid to put him in the bed beside me, that he would be comforted by my presence and we would both rest. She whispered it too. Like some secret we couldn’t have overheard.
She used the phrase “it’s okay”. And I believed her. So I did it. Not all night, every night but sometimes. I moved him between the cosleeper and our bed. Sometimes my husband cradled him on his chest. But we did it quietly because it felt like a guilty secret. When baby S was two weeks old, we went to our first breastfeeding support group in the local HSE centre. I have to say, it was just fantastic. Here I was surrounded by other women at exactly the same stage as me and my baby, going through nearly the same experiences. In the following few weeks I discovered through quiet conversations and hushed tones – so the public health nurse couldn’t hear – that I wasn’t the only one who was sneaking the baby into the bed.
In fact, here’s Things I learned #5: the secret world of co-sleeping – EVERYONE IS DOING IT!
Okay, not EVERYONE but many, many, many of the women I met – and we’re easily talking nearly 100 over a three month span (the birth rate appears to be through the roof where I live 🙂 ) – had their babies in their bed at some stage or another. We not just talking about the hardcore attachment parents here, we’re talking some Gina Ford fans too and everyone in between. As far as I could gather, when you have a small baby the general rule of thumb is “do whatever it is you need to do to have a happy baby and a happy mama.” I like this rule, this is how I live my life now and it’s working really well for us.
Co-sleeping may not be for you because it’s definitely not for everyone – and it actually wasn’t really for us for a long time – but don’t be afraid of the idea of it. There is literally acres of advice online and in many books with details on how to do it safely. If you’re breastfeeding in particular, you might get yourself some serious extra zzzzs. Now that I’m out the other side of it, it’s definitely something I’ll be embracing more readily next time round.