20 November 2010

The Co-Sleeping Taboo

The one parenting choice I've made that's probably gotten the most comments is my choice to co-sleep (by co-sleeping I mean bed-sharing).  When I was pregnant with K, I swore I'd never co-sleep, and I set up a Moses basket by the bed with every intention of him sleeping in there.  Evidently he didn't get that memo, as from the very first night he would only sleep if he was touching me.  And so that night he slept on my chest, and we both loved it.  When I went home, I again thought he'd go in the Moses basket, but again he'd have nothing to do with it.  I couldn't bear to listen to him cry if I could comfort him so easily, and so he'd end up in our bed every night.  I quickly discovered that this made it really easy for me to breastfeed, too, and quickly mastered the side-lying breastfeeding position so I could go back to sleep whilst K ate.  It was perfect.

And yet, I was always reluctant to admit to anyone that I co-slept.  There was, and is, this huge taboo about it, and any time someone found out, the most common reaction was either to tell me it was unsafe, or to tell me K would be overly dependent on me.  So I started researching it, and I found that for breastfeeding mums, co-sleeping is safe, provided you follow some general safety guidelines (such as not smoking, not being under the influence of alcohol before bed, keeping pillows away, making sure the baby can't roll off or get trapped, things that seem to be fairly common sense).  Dr James McKenna has conducted sleep studies and also concludes that co-sleeping can be safe.

The reactions were worse after C, when I ended up in hospital with a postnatal infection.  I intended to co-sleep with her from the very start, and knew how to do so safely.  She, like her brother, didn't like the plastic bassinet that they provide in hospital, and it was difficult for me to get her in and out of that with the IV in my hand.  So I took precautions and co-slept.  I had the rails up and plugged all gaps with pillows and such.  I put her in the middle of the bed, so I was on the very edge.  And of course I was in the classic breastfeeding position with my legs curled up under hers and my arm over the top of her head and my other arm around her.  There was no way for her to roll away or fall, or for me to roll onto her.  Even so, I was awakened every 2 hours or so one night because I was co-sleeping, and had another midwife chastise me during the day for letting C sleep in the bed next to me whilst I was awake!  This was in a hospital that is working on becoming a UNICEF Baby Friendly hospital, and thus should soon have protocols in place for accommodating co-sleeping in hospital.  I hope that is the case so that other mothers can be supported in co-sleeping.

I was also reading another blog recently that discussed this, and the unintended consequences of a wholesale condemnation of co-sleeping.  I agree that a wholesale condemnation of it could just lead to mothers co-sleeping in unsafe situations, such as on couches.  A better approach, in my opinion, is the one taken by UNICEF's Baby Friendly Initiative, where women are to be educated on how to safely co-sleep, and then supported in that.  I recognise that co-sleeping isn't for everyone, but I wish others recognised that it can be done safely and even has benefits (especially in regards to the breastfeeding relationship).


  1. I loved co-sleeping with both of my kids. LOVE IT! No better way to actually get some sleep, in my opinion.

  2. Tell me about it. People ask me if C sleeps well, and I generally respond that she doesn't cry when she wants to eat, and I tend to go back to sleep once she's latched on, so yeah.