World Sleep Day: ‘Co-sleeping with my baby saved my sanity’

Posted in Sleeping Baby Tips.

A mother co-sleeping with her baby

Growing up, you learn that some things in life are obvious. Milk goes in the fridge. The ocean is blue. Babies sleep in cots.

Then in 2020, I had my first child – a gorgeous boy named Koa. As the saying goes, I was the perfect parent before I had kids. With absolutely no prior experience caring for children, all I had to go on was what I’d learned in movies and books. And as it turns out, babies don’t read books or care about what they say.

Despite setting up our bedroom with a brand-new cot and stylish fitted sheets, my little bundle of joy was far from impressed.

While his day naps (always cat naps) were sometimes successful in the cot, Koa would cluster feed at night and wake up the moment I tried to transfer him. Eventually, crying in desperation, I called the Australian Breastfeeding Association Helpline, and I was given wonderful advice about how to nurse while side-lying and safely co-sleep with my baby in bed.

A mother breastfeeds her baby in hospital bed

According to the Safe Sleep 7 rules – a series of guidelines designed to make bed-sharing safer – we ticked all the boxes:

  • No smoking in the home or outside
  • Sober adults: no alcohol, no drowsy medications
  • Breastfeeding day and night
  • Healthy baby who is full term
  • Baby on back and face up
  • No sweat: baby in light clothing, no swaddling
  • Safe surface: no soft mattress, no extra pillows, no toys, no tight or heavy covers.

As my little Houdini baby also refused to be swaddled, it was the perfect solution.

Koa and I happily co-slept until he was 17 months old, when I weaned him after falling pregnant with baby #2. It meant I rarely needed to physically get out of bed to resettle him when he woke, and I was actually able to function during the day – especially once I’d returned to work. Co-sleeping saved my sanity.

This World Sleep Day, I think it’s important to spread awareness about the benefits of safely co-sleeping with our babies, which can be considered controversial in our modern society.

When exhausted parents of newborns fall asleep while holding their babies on a couch or chair, that can lead to accidental co-sleeping fatalities. But if you take the time to set up a safe co-sleeping space, you can greatly reduce that risk.

A mum smiles as her baby sleeps on her chest

Expert-backed Australian parenting website Raising Children recently updated its advice about co-sleeping, no doubt recognising that the practice is far more common than many are led to believe.

On social media, other parents are also helping to normalise co-sleeping. Among them is Isadora Ambrose from the UK, who has attracted a huge following on her Instagram account (@Happy Cosleeper) with her real life bed-sharing photos and holistic sleep tips.

“I’m a mum to 3 boys, aged 16 months, 3.5 years and 6 years. My eldest is the reason I went into studying baby sleep and eventually, co-sleeping. He was a terrible sleeper! Or, as I now know, a pretty normal baby with biologically normal baby needs…but, I wasn’t prepared for that!” Isadora shares with Mum’s Grapevine.

“I fell asleep accidentally with him so many times trying to avoid bringing him to bed, that eventually co-sleeping was the only way to get any sleep. The moment I brought him to bed I knew that was where he belonged – it just felt right! So I started studying, reading books, digging into the research, and sharing everything on social media. I soon found out I wasn’t alone and many other families wanted to know that their urge to keep their babies close was normal and could be done safely.”

While Isadora is clearly a big promoter of co-sleeping, she acknowledges it’s not for everyone and has no judgment for those who prefer to let their babies sleep in cots.

“There is a strong separation culture in the West. Independence is highly valued, and in some countries maternity leave is minimal and there is little support for mothers, so separating babies from their mothers is what is needed or desired by society,” she says.

A mother co-sleeps with her baby

Isadora and her son

“I think it’s individual as to whether mothers sleep better with or without their baby in bed. I know I couldn’t sleep without my baby and I know of many other mothers who feel much more relaxed if their baby is with them.”

For those who may be considering co-sleeping, or are struggling to get their babies to settle independently, Isadora has this advice…

“Learn if you can do it safely, prepare your bed accordingly, and embrace it. If you are too nervous or your bed is not suitable, even just moving the mattress to the floor in the middle of a baby-proofed room should help with eliminating those difficult transfers, before going back to your bed.

“Lie down with your baby in the middle of the bed in a cuddle curl position (curling up around them, with an arm above their head and your knees bent below them), and move any loose items and heavy covers away.

“Co-sleeping doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Your baby could start in a cot and be brought to bed later, or the other way round. It’s important to do what’s needed for everybody to be rested while keeping your baby safe. Bed-sharing in the absence of known hazards is as safe as a baby sleeping in a clear cot.”

And no, your baby isn’t ‘broken’ if they refuse to sleep in a cot –  they simply love being close to you.

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