(this article was originally published in Kiwi Parent seven years ago, when we were still a two parent family. When I left my husband I did find I quickly established the rule that my bed was just for me, which is possibly another topic entirely! I might like to add I currently have the BEST sleepers in the world, and they have been for a long time 🙂 Sleepless nights caused by children DO end! )
Another night with a leg draped over my head, and a hot little hand patting my face to make sure I am still there. Sleeping in the same bed as my children always felt like the right thing to do, especially when I was working full time and away from my baby during the day. Not only did it make breastfeeding easier during the night, but we caught upon all the cuddles we missed during the day. It makes me appreciate those little bodies in the bed- even if they did wriggle!
Getting our first child to leave our bed seemed very simple. Once she was weaned she slept through the night- and was happy to do so in her own bed. However two years later I now share a bed with two children. Our first child decided she wanted to come back into the bed, to enjoy the cuddles she could see the baby receiving. This was in part due to an unsettled year last year, which my sensitive daughter found hard to manage.
For us, the best solution has been to have two beds for our family- I sleep part of the night with my husband and the rest with our children. The need for sleep for all of us was the deciding factor in this arrangement.
Co sleeping is not a new way to parent. In most cultures it is still common practice, although in the west it has become less socially acceptable as parents have moved to make their children as independent as possible right from birth. Yet more and more parents around the world are becoming more aware of the benefits of sharing a bed with their babies and children – especially where the mother works out of the home.
Ellen (35) and her husband co slept with each of their three daughters. They are now aged 9, 5 and three. As with most parents she began sharing a bed with her babies for convenience sake when feeding them at night. Then one night Ellen awoke to find her daughter not breathing. After this she and her husband decided co sleeping with the best option for their family.
Dr Sears, who has written several books on attachment parenting and bed sharing talks of study completed in 1994 by Mosko, that showed the carbon dioxide in our breath near the babies face helps stimulate their breathing. A child who sleep shares with their mother is also more likely to sleep on their side or their back, making it less likely they will become a victim of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). In fact in societies where co sleeping is commonplace, the incidence of SIDS is very low.
While I love sharing my bed with my children, how long do I want them to stay? And how do I get them out? I met up with a group of parents who have chosen to share their bed with their children and managed to get them out of it before it became too difficult to manage.
“I loved having our children in our bed for a time, but I became ready to be able to have enough room in the bed to stretch,” laughs Sarah.(31) She and her husband Andrew (33) have two children aged six and three. Both children have recently begun to sleep in their own beds, after sharing the bed with their parents from birth, The key to successfully moving the children to their beds, say Sarah and Andrew, is to make any changes gradually. They began with placing a mattress on the floor next to their bed and settling the children in this. Then they moved the mattress further and further away until they were sleeping in their own bedroom. The whole process took some time, but besides that felt relatively easy.
Jane (29) also uses this method. Her youngest is still sleeping in a bed at the bottom of her parents’ bed. “She will probably stay there another year due to space problems in the house. We don’t have room for her bed in the girls’ bedroom. We don’t have another bedroom to move our oldest into. So we cope”
Dr Sears, also suggests this method. He and his wife are well practised with it, having had eight children. He shares many ideas on parenting on his website www.askdrsears.com He writes “encourage your six year old to sleep in this special bed, allowing him the security of feeling close to you at night but getting him used to sleeping alone.” He also notes that bed sharing with children works best with only one child at a time, otherwise the children tend to take over the bed and squeeze the parents out!
There are several times where it is easier to get your children out of your bed. Once they are weaned is a good benchmark for many parents. After they are weaned, many children start to sleep through the night. You may choose to “celebrate” this by moving them into their own bed, and even their own room. You may need to settle them down for a while depending on how they were getting to sleep when sharing your bed.
This is the time Jenny and her husband chose to move their daughter Alice from their bed. Jenny felt she was missing out on sleep, which was impacting her moods and the way she was talking to her children and husband. Alice has settled well into her own bed, and Jenny is enjoying more time with Alice during the day. “There were a few hard nights where Alice wanted to come back into bed, but I just quietly put her back into her own bed and tucked her in.” For Jenny the cost of a few nights of little sleep has paid off “I am feeling so much more refreshed and I know it is better for the whole family.
Celebrate a milestone birthday by moving your child to his own bed. You can choose the age, and start to talk to your child about what will happen for several weeks before hand. Get him to help you select a new special cover for his bed, and some special toy or books he will only be able to have in his new room. If he is still having day sleeps, he could try to sleep in this bed during the day to get used to it.
Jodi Mindell, the author of Sleeping through the Night reminds parent to try to avoid making this big change while other stressful things are occurring. It is important your child still feels relaxed and happy about sleeping, or you could end up with a bit of trouble on your hands! While they are toilet training, beginning a new childcare arrangement, or the birth of a new sibling. ‘Its best not to make your child deal with more than one change at a time, if you can help it” she tells parents thinking of moving their children out of their bed.
Ellen admits that it has not always been an easy decision to co sleep with her children. “For nearly a year when my middle child was two and not ready to move out of the bed, but the baby was in the bed too, my husband actually slept in another bed in another room. There was simply no room for him with both babies in the bed. It was heart wrenching for me, because it felt so wrong to have my husband in another room… like he didn’t love me anymore. It exacerbated every problem we had with our marriage. Of course, we survived, but it was really hard to take at the time.”
All parents agree co sleeping does take a commitment from both parents for it to work well. “ If my husband had not agreed I am sure our marriage would not have survived.” Jenny says. “I am so glad we both believed in its importance because there were some days we never got a moment to ourselves”
Most parents admit there are still times that their children end up in their beds “If she wakes in the night and climbs in with us, no big deal. It’s normally because she is cold. I hate the thought of my baby being cold and awake, lying in another room, unable to sleep or get warm, not welcome where she can get warm and be comforted” Ellen says.
There can be a side benefit to weaning your children from your bed. Sarah admits “the years when we did not have a baby in bed were a lot more spontaneous and active as far as sex is concerned.” However she and the other mothers all agree that during the time the bed is shared with children, you do not need to stop this side of your relationship. “We used to like trying new places to be intimate rather than in the bed” smiles Jenny. “I like to think it kept us young – even with three kids!”
The time for my children to share our bed will pass so quickly. For now I will keep on enjoying (as much as you can!) the feet in my face and the happy sigh of a baby who knows her mother is just there. As Sarah said, “I like to think that by welcoming our children into our bed we have given our children a secure and natural start to their life”