Co-sleeping (the practice of sleeping with your baby in the same room) or bed-sharing (sleeping in the same bed) has been a contentious topic ever since interest in the practice was revived. Every mommy blog I’ve visited has featured more than a few heated debates over it. In fact, nothing has generated more controversy in the child rearing community than the topic of co-sleeping.
When I was pregnant, I was convinced of all the benefits, perceived or real, of allowing a baby to sleep in its own room, and I was going to do just that. I don’t think I even read or heard about co-sleeping, except in a very negative light.
A few months later we welcomed a beautiful baby girl, and all my preconceived notions of what life with a baby would be like just went up in smoke. I was exhausted, sleep deprived, hurting in all the core areas of my body – due to an emergency C-section and painful breastfeeding sessions. Not to mention the irrational fear, the overwhelming sense of responsibility, and feeling of inadequacy coping with it all that suddenly gripped me.
The only thing I could control was where my baby would sleep. So I went ahead and co-slept with my baby, her crib mere inches from my bed, for the first 8 months of her life. You could say I did a complete 180. But being a first-time mom and a bundle of raw nerves, and therefore impressionable and hypersensitive to a fault, my decision to co-sleep was not premeditated. I simply chose to trust my instincts, as fragile as they were. I just couldn’t fathom how I could let a few months old new-born sleep in their own room, separated from mine by a flight of stairs to boot. That being said, I couldn’t fathom how I would get any sleep at all in that scenario.
Enter the opposition, with a plethora of information and advice – all unsolicited, about how I was sowing the seeds of extreme emotional dependency in my child, and that I will reap what I sow a few years down the line. My response to those sceptics was two-tiered. First, let’s maintain some perspective here; we are talking about a helpless baby, not an adult with co-dependency issues. Secondly, why are we in such a rush to make our children independent from us? They will be soon enough, anyways.
It was then that I started reading about this issue and found that the case for co-sleeping is just as compelling, if not more so than the case against it. It’s been an accepted practice across different cultures since the beginning of time; it wasn’t until the 1700s that it became less popular. Eventually, it became side-lined to an offshoot of child rearing science, called ‘attachment parenting’ and considered to be fringe and too ‘hippy’ and new-agey to be taken seriously, because it stood in stark opposition to the ‘parent-led routine’ advocated in much of the Western world. That being said, why are we so ready to dismiss a tradition that predates Western science?
And yet, studies emerged, showing the link between co-sleeping and a decrease in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). They also showed that children who co-slept with their parents in their infancy usually became independent sooner, and were less fussy and clingy than those placed in their own rooms before they were ready. Those who fall under the former category feel that their emotional needs have been met from an early age.
For someone who struggled with bonding issues, I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for co-sleeping, it would have taken me much longer to bond with my baby. And, once I discovered the miracle of nursing while lying down, breastfeeding became a joy for me. Indeed, my favourite time of the day was 6 or 7 AM when she would wake up and I’d take her in my arms and nurse her. Then we’d both fall back into a deep and restful sleep for the next few hours. Sometimes, just before sleep overtook us, she would stroke my arm, often she would move her little hands all over my face, as if to memorize it or place her fingers inside my mouth, as if she too was feeding me. As much as she needed me at night, I felt that her presence also protected me. For me, those were moments filled with light at a time when I was overwhelmed by those first few challenging months of motherhood.
People even remarked how calm and unfussy she was. When I mentioned to a midwife that I co-sleep, she commented that her emotional needs have been met, so she doesn’t feel the urge to demand my constant attention.
At around the 8 month mark, against my better judgement, I moved my baby into her own room, if only to placate the voices of disapproval around me, if only temporarily. But now, I was bombarded by a new wave of criticism. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, I guess.
Initially, I was happy to return to my normal routine. But then I started noticing a disturbing trend. When we were co-sleeping together in the same room, she was sleeping peacefully through the night – at least, most nights. Ever since I put her in her own room, her sleep has been interrupted and I would have to go downstairs in the middle of the night, pick her up, trudge back upstairs, and breastfeed her until she falls asleep. I vehemently dismissed any suggestions to sleep train my baby. I drew the line at letting her cry herself to sleep.
At first, out of a sense of commitment to my decision, I would force myself to put her back in her own room after she fell asleep. But after a while, I gave in. I was tired, frustrated, and it was too tempting to let her sleep in my arms rather than having to move her. So, I suppose, in a way, I’m still co-sleeping with her, more now than before.
Some might attribute my baby’s interrupted sleep to sleep regression or her reaching some sort of developmental milestone, or just hunger. I’m not sure. But, here’s the funny thing; we’re co-sleeping in the same bed now (bed-sharing, in fact), after I moved her into her own room, than before, when we were simply sleeping in the same room.
I like to think that it’s the universe’s way of telling me that I was right all along, that I should have trusted my instinct and kept on trusting it. Because ultimately, as mothers, our instincts are all we have to navigate the constantly changing landscape of motherhood.
Artwork by Km Berggren.
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