Petra has been a dedicated co-sleeper ever since she was a tiny baby. I chose to co-sleep initially because I figured that if I didn’t, I would never sleep again. We set her up in her own little wrap of blankets, safely out of the way of our blankets and pillows, and sleeping got a whole lot easier for everyone. Once she was big enough, she joined us under the blankets and a snuggly, if somewhat wriggly, time was had by all.
We bought her her own bed with much fanfare and fuss just before she turned three and she began starting the night in her own bed. But she always joined us at some point, snuggling in against a nice warm back and crashing out until morning.
Just last week though, she suddenly found herself uncomfortably hot and crammed and unable to sleep between us anymore. I think the last growth spurt she had means that she’s just too big for the available space now. We had a couple of miserable nights where she was awake and thrashing around for hours. She complained, we grumped and growled (or I did anyway), and it was no fun at all.
So, we said, “time to sleep all night in your own bed.” And Petra put up surprisingly little resistance. She had been sufficiently uncomfortable that she knew something needed to change. The first night, it took her a couple of hours to settle down to sleep by herself after she woke at around midnight. Travis and I took turns sitting outside her door until she finally passed out. That was exhausting, but since Petra was pretty mellow, not as stressful as it might have been if we’d had to fight her the whole time.
In the three nights since then, she’s been sleeping pretty well. She’s waking up a couple of times a night to pee and coming to see us afterwards to ask us to tuck her in again. And then she’s going quietly back to sleep. Being woken up is a bit painful, but I’m hoping she’ll stop needing tucked in again relatively quickly.
In the end, it’s all been rather easy. Petra was ready and so off she went. A very anti-climactic end to the co-sleeping saga.
And yet co-sleeping roils the parenting world like few other topics. From the alarmist, “you’ll smother the baby,” to the fearful, “do you still want to be sleeping with her when she’s 20?” to the judgemental, “children should be in their own bed.” Everyone’s got an opinion that they’re only too happy to share with you, and most of them are not positive. Indeed they often boil down to, “it’s unnatural and icky.” I’m not sure why this is. People have always slept happily and safely with their babies. Bunging them off on their own in a cot is a relatively recent innovation and one that even now is still mainly practiced only in the western (or westernised) world.
Co-sleeping doesn’t work for everyone. Some people just can’t sleep with a wriggly small child in bed with them. Some small children can’t sleep with other people around them.
And of course you have to ensure the baby’s safety. No co-sleeping if you smoke, have been drinking or taking any kind of drugs, or are very over weight. No co-sleeping anywhere other than a bed – no sofas, bean bags, or armchairs. No putting babies in bed with a small child. No nestling the baby in amongst your own blankets or pillows. All this means that initially at least, mum and baby are probably safest sleeping together without any other company, and that the baby needs to be in a space which is free from anything that might cover the face or squash against him or her. Once the baby is old enough to turn or move away from obstructions, you can go back to more conventional sleeping arrangements.
If you’re lucky and careful, you get several years of extra cuddles and snuggles and closeness. And, what’s not to like about that?