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Why we do what we do – Co sleeping and the Family Bed

March 3, 2010

I’ve become aware recently that the kinds of practices that we take for granted in our family are not common.  I think since I started working in a parent facing environment I’ve realised how many different views there are out there.   I’ve also begun to realise that the way I was raised is probably quite uncommon, things that I took for granted are not really the ‘norm’.  So I thought I’d write a few posts about the way we live round these parts and some of the reasons we do it.  I know (and am glad) that for many people our way is also the norm so this isn’t a ‘how to’ more of a celebration of our choices.

When I was very little (I actually can’t remember my age), I decided that I needed to teach myself to sleep with a baby and not let it roll out of bed.  So every night I would tuck my beloved Blue Ted into my tummy and go off to sleep.  To my horror he would be on the floor every single morning.  I felt that, as I wanted to be a mummy in the future, learning to sleep with my children was an essential skill.  Eventually, after much practice and not a little concern on my part, I awoke to find Blue Ted safely tucked against my body.  I was happy.

Stephen and Huwyl on his first day home from NICU

Though my journey to motherhood took some years to be fulfilled  I found my teeny self was not so disco crazy after all.  Both of my boys have spent (and are still spending) much or most of their sleep time snuggled in with Mummy and Daddy.  At first, certainly for my beloved, this was a difficult transition.  We are often given to expect certain things, babies sleeping in cribs is one of them.  Luckily I grew up always welcome in my parent’s bed so I had strong feelings about offering this kind of security to my own beans.

With Huwyl we went back and forth trying to get him to sleep independently until one night (when Huwyl was around 16 months old) in a moment of desperation and madness I decided to follow conventional advice and leave him to cry.  Mistake.   It was around 7.30 and he just wouldn’t settle,  I came downstairs, crying myself and left him in his room.  A few minutes later we heard a loud thumping coming from his room, we rushed in to find Huwyl smashing his head off the side of his very sturdy crib.  Suffice to say we didn’t try that again.  Although it was a tough way to learn I actually feel grateful that we had a child who was stubborn enough to resist our efforts and challenge us to be more creative in our thoughts and actions.

When we moved to our current house we had the good sense to invest in a King Size bed, one of the best things we ever did.  Not only is it a great bed but it allows for a full family snuggle!  The first few nights in our new home Huwyl slept peacefully between us, for once we all had enough room.  He was 2 1/2 by then so we slowly transitioned him back into his own room and over the course of the next 6 months he evolved into an independent sleeper.  If things get tough, though, we always know because we have an extra companion in Huwyl at night.  It is a great barometer of how he is feeling and helps us to read his state of mind and work on making him feel more secure if he is out of sorts.

With Neirin we had the family bed discussion before he was even born.  I was determined that I would not be pacing the floors again, I couldn’t cope with the exhaustion a second time around.  With Huwyl bringing him in our bed was always the silver bullet and I couldn’t imagine it would be any different with baby 2.  In fact with Neirin it was even more natural as he was born in our bedroom so the first place he slept was on Stephen’s chest in our bed.  And there he stayed.

Our rhythm has evolved over the course of the last year, changing as his needs change.  In the first few months he slept in a bassinet  in the same room where we spent our evenings, or in our arms if he was wakeful.  As months passed I began a regular bedtime, nursing him to sleep in our bed; he would sleep like this about 2 nights out of 3, if he woke he came downstairs and would usually nod off on my lap.  When he was mobile we transferred him to the crib in our room for his first part of sleep and then into our bed when we came up.  He was content with this arrangement so he napped there too, happily dozing with the sound of waves soothing him from the cd player.

One night, when he was less than 4 months he was sleeping in the crib and we decided not to move him.  The whole bed to ourselves, no tiny bean between us.  Bliss?  Not for me!  I lay awake trying to hear snatches of his breathing, any noise to indicate that he was alive.  Stephen took pity and brought him in with us again.  Even though he is nearly a year old I still feel happiest when I can hear his breathing, respond to his movements and signs of waking.  I sleep hour after hour with my body curled around him as he sleeps and nurses as he needs to, mostly I don’t fully wake.  We work together, more like one person than two, tangled together in our happy slumber.

Recently Neirin’s sleep took a nose dive.  Not only was he waking constantly through the evening he was waking all night too.  He would jerk awake, screaming and twisting; not a nice alarm call for any of us.  For some people this would have been ‘sleep training’ time.  We approached it differently.  Stephen cleverly worked out that the crib (now in his own room undisturbed by noisy parent’s comings and goings) was no longer working for our big lad, so we moved him to a mattress on the floor.  An instant change took place, it was clear he was much happier.  I also made changes to my diet as he still nurses a lot so irritants in my breastmilk would have a strong affect on his system.  Removing wheat removed the screaming.

At the moment Neirin sleeps in two 5-6 hour blocks with some nursing in between, pretty peaceful with plenty of snuggles.  I’m sure that teething, or sickness or other unpredictable factors will disturb his sleep, just as they do with Huwyl.  But instead of trying to ‘control’ this process we prefer to work with him and use the children’s sleep as an indicator of well being, another clue to help us help them.

When the wakeful nights come I’ll certainly grumble but soon enough, sooner than I’d like, the boys will stop marching a path to my door.  The days of waking up squeezed between two sleeping bodies will be over and I know I will miss them.

For now I remind myself to be grateful for these night time moments.  The ease of nursing my little bean in our bed rather than pacing the floor.  The tight snuggles with my little boy that can repair the hurts of a trying day.  I laugh when I find Huwyl asleep in some odd location, remembering the days when I was in despair that he would ever sleep ‘properly’.

So when I see a parenting magazine listing the many ways to keep your child out of your bed I try not to be frustrated.  Instead I hope that many others will discover the wonderful opportunity to open our hearts and our sleeping places to our children; giving them our love and protection as The Kinks would have it ‘all day and all of the night’.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2010 8:33 pm

    I love this post Emmalina. We have co-slept with our children since their birth, and we never needed a crib or other bed. While they have just left our room in the past few weeks, they now share a sibling bed, which they love. I personally am such a huge believer in co-sleeping, and I feel so good that our family had that experience. Thank you again for sharing this wonderful post

    • emmalina73 permalink
      March 4, 2010 6:33 pm

      Hi Heather, that sounds wonderful. I’m sure my eldest would love a sibling bed, he really doesn’t like being on his own. When Neirin is bigger that might be an option for the two of them : )

  2. March 3, 2010 9:09 pm

    bravo! love the image of training yourself to sleep with baby as a girl! if only all my doll nursing had translated to actual prowess! all good now, and still sharing sleep at 2 years old. our boy also clued me in to some food sensitivities. wow! it is so helpful to know of others who co-sleep when things get hard!

    • emmalina73 permalink
      March 4, 2010 6:31 pm

      I am also glad to hear from other co-sleeping families. There is so much sleeping training stuff out there we need to speak up and connect to each other so that we don’t feel we are crazy! It isn’t always easy but what is with kids? It is nice to know that so many other people are making the choice to help their kids feel safe and content at night : )

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