CO-SLEEPING | Why We (Still) Sleep With Our Toddler in the Bed
Co-sleeping is everything like you imagine: it’s cramped, inconvenient, a bit scary, and can often have you waking with a stiff neck. So why do it? Because as much as co-sleeping with a little one literally cramps your style, it’s also A-MAZ-ING.
Let’s set the scene: Imagine hearing the wind rattling at your bedroom window, rain lashing against the glass and it just sounds sooo horrible outside. (Basically right now thanks to Storm Ali.) And here you are: totally cosy, with the heat of a small body snuggled up next to you beneath fluffy duvet land. With three in the bed, it’s toasty warm, everyone’s safe under the wing and everything is right with the world. It’s in this precise moment my husband and I love co-sleeping with our toddler in the middle of our bed.
Of course, there’s nothing like the stark reality of waking to a vomit incident beside your pillow and a leaked nappy to wake you from that bubble. Co-sleeping isn’t always pretty. But the up-side is at least I’m only making one bed!
So where did it all begin? Well, we never once made a conscious decision to co-sleep. If you’d suggested it to us before we became parents we’d have laughed you off – it’s a bit hippyish isn’t it? And only a soft parent would allow their child to sleep with them. But of course parenting isn’t as easy as we think it is when we’re opinionated and don’t have the heartstrings to pull.
At eighteen months old, Reuben is a complete live-wire; always on the go, always inquisitive, and never likes to sit still long. But he’s also a cuddly baby who loves to be carried and to hold hands, and likes to sleep with us close by. And by close, I mean close. Reuben never settled well on his own as a newborn so we just let him drift off to sleep on our chests. We became his nap-time venue and to this day Reuben still expects a sleep on Mum or Dad.
Right before Reuben was born we bought a moses basket and a cot, fully believing the family bedtime routine would be a matter-of-fact ritual where baby gets fed and bedded down and we (ie. husband and wife) collapse into our bed of freedom. Hilarious, right?! Well, Reuben did start out sleeping in his moses basket, he just didn’t settle in it, always writhing around with his arms flapping at the confined space. Progressing to the cot didn’t move things in the right direction either. The minute he’d be laid down he knew he wasn’t with us and the crying would ensue; our fractured nights scarcely giving us a moment’s sleep.
The night-times were a literal nightmare. We’d to and fro, lifting Reuben in and out of his little bed, settling him with a cuddle, sometimes a milk, and back and forth until we (the frazzled, sleep deprived parents) were at each other’s neck. The bickering was awful, our team fell apart because neither of us knew what to do nor had the answer. The only thing that did seem to work was co-sleeping.
So over time, Reuben started to appear in our bed. Not all night, just a few hours at first (mostly in the last dying hours of the night) so we could at least feel respite from battling a fraught baby and our own insanity. Reuben was a regular feeder, wanting milk every two hours, but if he was in bed with us he’d settle instantly and wake for milk less often. It was amazing! We wondered why we never did it sooner. Well, because of the dangers we’d heard were associated with co-sleeping – that sleeping with a sleeping baby on you or next to you can increase the risk of SIDS – we were always hyper alert to the threat. No bones about it, we were petrified to sleep with Reuben between us and the guilt that we were doing something we really shouldn’t made us feel like the ultimate failed parents.
Whoever you speak to, whether they’re a relative, stranger or acquaintance, you’re guaranteed to find someone who doesn’t agree with co-sleeping and who’ll make sure you know it’s not a good idea. From the veiled judgemental advice: “you’re making a rod for your own back” to the theatrically blunt: “you’ll kill him!”, we had it all. We get it. Co-sleeping is not the best idea if you’d really like to reclaim your bed and it truthfully is linked to infant death. But as long as you’re careful and responsible, what you do is really none of anybody’s business. Not even a health visitor’s.
When Reuben was still tiny we were acutely aware of doing it safely. We didn’t have him between us, or under the duvet, and he was strictly to stay on his back. I used to move my pillow right away and slide myself down to the bottom of the bed like a dog sleeping at the foot of my master; while the other half pushed himself over to the bed’s edge. And Reuben would lie there with his own cellular blankets, in a cosy bubble at the heart of the bed.
As I’m writing this, my 18 month old toddler is fast asleep beside me. I’m sat in our modest double bed, while Reuben lies horizontal and oblivious to the amount of mattress he’s owned. He’s taking up most of the bed and the other half isn’t in yet.
Tonight will likely proceed like most days before: my husband will come to bed, we’ll all rearrange our positions (pillows shifted apart and semi hanging off the bed and Reuben, still asleep, shimmied up to the top centre) and we’ll drift off to sleep before waking a full 8 hours later. But our sleep is mostly broken, having woken several times to a dummy falling through the headboard or lost beneath someone, having been kicked in the face/arm/back of the head, and waking with a stiff neck or dead arm from grappling for a sliver of mattress through the night.
But you know, you get used to sleeping on the edge of your pillow. Stirring to replace a dummy becomes second nature, and despite the lesser quality sleep, we are getting sleep none the less. Reuben’s sleeping through without getting upset, he’s comforted feeling his mum and dad along side him, and we’re safe in the knowledge he’s okay. I’d worry endlessly if Reuben was in another room and besides, I feel content knowing he’s safe with me. And he’s super cuddly! You can’t beat snuggling up to a sleeping baby who’s reaching out to feel the touch of your face and who rolls over to cuddle into you. And a little sleepy, smiling face wanting to play duvet den (okay, sometimes it’s a bit much) isn’t such a bad way to wake up.
Our family sleep huddle won’t last forever and we’ll certainly outgrow our double bed. So in the meantime, things are good the way they are, just us, all three in a bed.