My daughter’s birth was traumatic for both her and I. It was a thirty six hour breach delivery with forceps at the end, a registrar in charge and about 9 students watching, as breach delivery is apparently very rare!
My daughter cried continually and although my instinct was to pick her up and comfort her, it was hard to ignore the conventional advise of the 80’s that “crying is just what babies do” and not to ‘spoil her by picking her up too much’.
In my total ignorance of what having a baby would be like, I had organised my beloved dog to be pregnant and to give birth around the same time as myself which she obligingly did about a week after my daughter arrived! It was a nightmare!
I discovered that the only way I could cope, was to put my daughter in a sling and carry her constantly because this soothed her. I was secretive about this as it was hugely frowned upon, but as I went about my daily tasks of cleaning, washing, hoovering, shopping and getting ready to return to work, I defiantly ‘came out’ as a ‘baby wearer’ and put two fingers up to the judgment of everyone else.
The nights however were a separate matter I was up every two hours or so all through the night as my daughter was desperate for human contact. She would feed avidly and then projectile vomit. My nights were totally disrupted and I was exhausted. I had moved her cot into my room for ease but the idea of sleeping with her in my bed was so revolutionary that I didn’t dare try.
I had arranged to return to work as an actress in the West End when she was 10 weeks old (I told you I knew nothing about babies!) The challenges of this are another story but a fellow actor, noticing how tired I looked gave me a book called The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. This book literally changed my life! It gave me permission to sleep with my children and Jean’s idea’s on child rearing and child psychology became the catalyst for my change of career and current passion for Early years.
For most of human history, parents have slept close to their babies for safety, protection and convenience. Yet in recent history, co-sleeping, especially sharing your bed with a baby, has gained a bad reputation, with the NHS and other major health bodies advising against it, especially in the first six months of life.
Co-sleeping means sleeping in close proximity to your baby or child. This can mean in the same room or in the same bed.
Whilst the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and other major bodies advise for your baby to sleep in the same room as you for the first six months, they also advise against sharing your bed with your baby. This is due to a purported higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and accidental suffocation or injury through the baby getting caught up in bed linen, or overheating.
Despite this, within the first few months of having a baby, around half of all parents in the UK co-sleep or bed share with their newborn.
Putting aside the claimed risks, co-sleeping with your baby has been found to have many benefits for parents and babies.
Research shows that babies that co-sleep virtually never startle during sleep and rarely cry during the night, compared to solo sleepers who startle repeatedly throughout the night and spend 4 times the number of minutes crying.
This can lead to longer-term sleep issues since startling and crying releases adrenaline which increases heart rate, interfering with restful sleep and often leading to long-term sleep anxiety.
Studies show that babies who co-sleep have more stable temperatures, regular heart rhythms, and fewer long pauses in breathing compared to babies who sleep alone. This suggests co-sleeping babies feel physiologically safer.
Despite the NHS advising against sleeping in the same bed as your baby, due to an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), worldwide research suggests that rates of SIDs are the lowest in countries where co-sleeping is the norm. Babies who sleep either in or next to their parents’ bed have a fourfold decrease in the chance of SIDS. Research shows that the carbon dioxide exhaled by the parents actually helps to stimulate the baby’s breathing.
Babies who co-sleep generally grow up with higher self-esteem, lower anxiety, are more comfortable with affection and have a lower incidence of mental health issues in later life.
One study found that preschoolers who co-slept from babies were more likely to be able to dress themselves, entertain themselves and work out problems on their own.
Data published in the US showed more than three times as many cot-related fatalities compared to adult bed accidents Another recent large study concluded that bed sharing did not increase the risk of SIDS, unless the parents were smokers or abused alcohol.
Both adults and babies sleep longer overall when they bedshare. This is probably because parents don’t have to get out of the bedroom to settle the baby or to breastfeed and therefore are immediately able to meet the baby’s needs.
Research suggests that more well-rested parents make better decisions and have better emotion regulation. Sleep deprivation also raises the risk of postnatal depression in new mothers.
If you do decide to share a bed with your baby, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk and maximise the benefits for both of you.
● Always put your baby to sleep on their back.
● Never smoke in bed or before going to bed.
● Create a barrier, or place your baby in the middle of the bed, so they can’t fall out or
become trapped between the mattress and wall.
● Keep pillows, sheets and blankets away from your baby to avoid covering their face
and obstructing breathing or overheating.
● Baby sleeping bags are a good idea. Use different togs for different seasons to keep
your baby at a comfortable temperature.
● Avoid letting pets or other children into the bed at the same time.
Did you co-sleep with your baby? Did you notice any benefits?