I make no secret of the fact S shares my bed; I love that she's right next to me. Over the weekend I read a post on Mummascribbles that inspired me to write about my own experience of co-sleeping.
When we were in hospital, we had the most fantastic nursery nurse called Kit who came down from NICU (because S was under their care) to help with feeding. There were a lot of tears; I was so tired and stressed with the whole situation and felt like I was failing at motherhood already. Kit showed me to do two things that literally saved us. The first was "Kangaroo Care" where I would undress S and put her down my top. She would happily sleep "skin to skin" on my chest. Although I had her sleep in the fish bowl cot over night (for the most part), when she woke early in the mornings I would get her out of the cot, pop her under my shirt, and doze off sitting up. It was heavenly. This did cause a bit of a fuss among the midwives though, as they would often come round to check on us, look into the cot and gasp "oh, where's your baby?" She was so tiny, they couldn't tell she was under my shirt!
The second thing Kit showed us was how to feed lying down. She put up the side of the bed, and put a pillow against it so there was no chance of S going anywhere, and I fed her laying down. I was against the idea originally; I thought the midwives would tell me off (there was one lady who was very disapproving), but Kit said "sod them, she's your baby. You're her mum, and it's your decision what you do with her." (that sentence has stayed with me ever since; sometimes it's on a loop in my head)
When we finally came home from hospital it was on the condition that I never let S go longer than 3 hours between feeds. That first night, we discovered the roof of my new flat had been leaking the entire two weeks I was in hospital; my bedroom ceiling and walls were soaked. We spent that first night at the ex's house, and then came home to sort the flat out. The council delivered a massive dehumidifier (the size of a cooker; the sound of a train) and showed the ex how to work it. Unfortunately he never quite got around to passing that information on to me, so I wasn't aware I could switch it off overnight - I slept downstairs, on the sofa. I had the moses basket next to the sofa, and my mobile next to my head, with alarms set for three-hourly intervals.
Every time the alarm went off, I would wake S (she was jaundiced so often needed to be woken to feed), switch the TV on for some company, and feed her. Then I would put her back down in the moses basket, ensure the alarm was set for another three hours' time, and go back to sleep. Within a couple of days, I was so crazy from sleep deprivation, I found myself waking after ten minutes, panicking about where I'd put the baby; was she suffocating somewhere under my duvet? Had I missed the next feed? I was going bonkers! When I finally moved back upstairs to the bedroom, the three-hourly feeds continued, and so did my panicked waking, until the health visitor told me it was okay now to leave her to sleep as long as she liked between feeds.
Now that S was waking for feeds, and her jaundice was clearing, I found it more and more difficult to get her to go back to sleep afterwards. She began to wake every three hours, and I was exhausted. One morning around 3am, I remembered Kit's words. I propped myself up with a lot of pillows, lay S on my chest, and put a small blanket over both of us. We both slept soundly for five hours. It was heaven. This quickly became the norm after early morning feeds, and then one day I thought to myself, you have a big double bed; there's plenty of space for S next to you. So I put a little blanket down for her to sleep on, and although she went down in her moses basket, the first time she woke I would feed her in bed and then put her down next to me. We both slept a lot better. Eventually I did away with the moses basket all together, and began feeding S to sleep in my bed. When she woke in the night, I would feed her laying down and we would both just fall back to sleep. We carried on like this until S stopped breastfeeding at 17 months
Now, S is 29 months old. When she goes to bed at night, it is in my bed. There was a brief spell when she was sleeping in the cot, but it stopped as suddenly as it started and now she very rarely sleeps in there (and only at her request).
Our living situation means that even if I wanted to, I could not put S in her own room - the noise on that side of the building is too much, and there are often sudden shouts or car horns. Although there is noise outside our room, I am right next to her so if she is disturbed I can usually help her back to sleep fairly quickly.
One of these days, we will move house to somewhere that's not this noisy and disruptive. S will have her own bedroom, and her own toddler bed. And she may well use it. But if she stays in my bed, I really don't mind. Yes, I sometimes get kicked in the face - but it's worth it. I believe that co-sleeping has helped us to develop a very strong bond. When I get into bed at night to read a book, S usually puts her head in my lap. When the alarm goes off in the morning, S wakes up and says "come on Mummy, let's go!"
On a weekly basis, I hear she's not still sleeping in your bed is she? or ooh, you want to get her out of that habit as soon as possible and other such niceties - as if she's picking her nose and wiping it on my leg. People offer to help me tidy up our spare room so that S can have her own bedroom - as if I weren't capable of tidying the room up myself if I wanted S to sleep in it. People tell me it was ok when she was small but now I really need to kick her out and have my own space, as if my entire life is not intertwined with S's any way. As if it's any of their business.
To clarify: I don't think it's unhealthy that I share a bed with my two-and-a-half year old. I don't think she needs to be in her own bedroom. Most importantly, I don't think it is of anyone else's concern where my child sleeps.
I have shared my story because when I first started co-sleeping, I felt like I was being terribly naughty and shouldn't tell anyone. I thought if my health visitor found out, I would be in trouble, and feared the judgement of other mothers. The fact is that I was sensible in my co-sleeping when S was small. She was never in a dangerous position where she could get trapped down the side of the bed or smothered by a pillow or my duvet. Yes, there are terrible situations where babies have died whilst co-sleeping with their parent(s), but what is rarely mentioned in the sensationalist news reporting of these is that for a lot of babies and parents, co-sleeping is the right idea. Lisa, who inspired this post, co-slept with her baby because her son Zach found it hard to settle anywhere but on one of his parents. When babies are very small, being close to their mother helps to regulate their heartbeat and breathing.
Every parent should make their own decision when it comes to co-sleeping. For some, like me, it can help to forge a close bond and foster confidence and happiness for parent as well as child. For others, baby is in their own bedroom from six months, and I'm sure they're just as happy. None of us is an expert in this parenting malarkey, and it is important to remember that what works for your friend, your mother, the nosey woman down the road, won't necessarily be what works for you.