Sleep sharing: the DARK side

“Put the baby down!” “You’re making rod for your own back!”  “Your newborn/baby/toddler needs to learn to self soothe NOW or s/he’ll NEVER learn!”

Hands up if you’ve heard any of these whilst holding your child? If I had a pound… even a penny for every time I heard this, I’d be blogging from a beautiful beach hut somewhere without a care in the world!

But you know the deal right, you bring the baby home from hospital, tuck it in its cot at 7pm, and it sleeps til 7am the next day right? Everyone is rested and harmony abounds. At least that’s what everyone told me happened to them. It did not happen to us.

Baby number one spent every waking second attached to me. My husband at the time lived away, so I was on my own 5 or 6 nights a week. At the end of a long day feeding and taking care of my son, I would lay him down in his cot. And he would scream. In fact, he screamed at being put down in any sort of baby safe receptacle at any time of day or night. Now, I was a new mum and determined to get things right. I’m also a very stubborn person. So, once I’d worked out when my baby was tired I formulated just about every plan, every routine, read every book and followed every word under the sun about how to put my child down, alone, to sleep.

After several months of this exhausting effort, I discovered that the ONLY time my son slept happily was when he was on me. Why could this be? What was the matter with him?  I started to look at some different books. Elizabeth Pantley’s The “No-Cry Sleep Solution”, and Deborah Jackson’s “3 in a bed: The Benefits of Sleeping with Your Baby” were 2 that I particularly enjoyed. I discovered that instead of psychologically damaging my child, and reducing his chances of ever being able to sleep alone, or having positive sleep associations, that what I was actually doing was called “co-sleeping”, a practice which would, in fact, benefit my son. Not to mention, the both of us were actually getting some sleep.

It wasn’t all rosey, there were nights where I didn’t get to make any dinner because he’d fallen asleep and there was no escape without a long night of hysterics from both of us if I moved and woke him up. And there was the 4 am poo, which sorry guys, still had to be dealt with promptly co-sleep or no co-sleep! But nor was there sleep training, creeping around, keeping his sleep space dark and silent and undisturbed, or the panic of wondering why he hadn’t woken for a feed, and tiptoeing in to see if he was still alive only to wake him for the rest of the night.

Over the years as more children came along and my husband moved back to live with us (but never quite managed to be around for bedtimes) creative new solutions had to be …well created. There was a period of 4 in a bed, with a 3 side cot attached, then there were 3 in a bed with a 3 side cot attached and a mattress on the floor for the oldest (or whoever got kicked out). And sometimes there was a whole bed full of kids and very little parent room! (I quickly learnt that it was not a good trick to settle one into his or her single bed, because very soon everyone else jumped in for a cuddle and then you’d have mum plus 3 kids in a single bed)- very difficult to crawl out of alive, and without waking one or several of them- YIKES!

Now before you send someone round to cart me off to the nice place with padded walls, I will provide you with a disclaimer. It wasn’t my plan to live this way.  When I went to homes of friends whose babies were those in scenario 1 who had come out of hospital sleeping in a cot and never questioned the practice, and who still as teens have never once missed a 7 pm bedtime or woken in the night- there was a certain whiff of jealousy in the air. Those parents had evenings, wine, dinners down stairs, friends over! They had lives!! And so yes, I will admit those bed sharing years were tough, challenging, and exhausting. But guess what? That’s life with children!

I’ll tell you a little about what I now know in hindsight.  My first 2 babies -the 2 that screamed hysterically when put down- I didn’t know it at the time, but they were autistic. Instead of failing as a parent I had trusted my instincts and done the very best I could at providing some kind of sleep and structure for 2 high needs challenging children. My third had read all the textbooks about how to be a baby and was a breeze by comparison.

There is a happy ending to this story, especially for any of you out there who might be struggling through the years of sleep issues. My 14 year old finally slept through the night in his own bed, about aged 3. He now takes himself to bed, and sleeps. My 12 year old, who wouldn’t sleep without being held until aged 6 for various reasons, now is in bed by 8.30 and sleeps peacefully until I wake her in the morning. Even my 8 year old takes herself to bed at 8pm and is asleep before the other 2 even come upstairs. All 3 of my children can fall asleep in the light, in the dark, with or without noise around them. They do not fear sleep or bedtime, or suffer from insomnia or nightmares. they sleep soundly through the night. I truly believe that by allowing them to share sleep with me, that they have created safe, healthy sleep associations that they will carry with them into the future.

 So, I hope that wherever you are in  your sleep adventure, whether you had a sleeper or not, a bed sharing family or not, that you will take comfort in knowing that you are doing a great job, that its ok to do the thing that everyone says will make a rod for your back because you know what your child needs, and more often than not, purely and simply, they just need you.

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