There were three in the bed and the little one said: "You've been drinking. Can you go sleep in the other room?"
Would you like to sleep with a snorting, farting, potentially deadly hippopotamus in bed next to you?
Well consider that equation when you’re pondering the vexed and volubly debated issue of co-sleeping, because that’s what it’s like for the poor, defenceless little baby next to you. Thank goodness no one remembers their very early years.
The argument over whether you should have your baby in bed gets people fired up on both sides. The Pro camp argue it’s what nature intended, and that our ancestors unquestionably slept with their furry little offspring right beside them.
Our ancestors also rutted like animals under the stars, because the odour we gave off from wiping our arses with our hands and never washing was too overpowering for indoor copulation.
What’s more, they didn’t have the internet.
Today, the web will provide you with reams of For and Against arguments about co-sleeping, but the one thing that’s not in any doubt is that doing it, will lead to less ‘doing it’.
If you think having a baby in bed is going to slightly restrict your sex life, you’ve misunderstood the word “slightly”.
This bed ain’t big enough for the three of us
I have one mate who admitted to me — in a room well out of earshot of his missus — that co-sleeping pretty much destroyed his relationship.
After the first child was allowed to sleep in the marital bed — which he quickly found it was about as comfortable as kipping on a jail-cell floor — he was told he wouldn’t be allowed in there at all if he’d been drinking.
So he moved into the baby’s room, which was a turn of events he’d never really considered while painting it pink.
Two years and a second baby later, he was still sleeping in there.
By this stage, he’d had to install a bunk because his first child had become so used to hearing a parent’s breathing as she slept that trying to transition her from their bed to her cot was like trying to transition an alcoholic to milk with Milo.
Meanwhile, baby number two was kipping in his bed (or what used to be his bed) next to his wife, and he couldn’t even figure how he’d managed to impregnate her a second time, because sex had become a Father’s Day and Birthday Only thing.
My wife co-sleeps, I co-lay awake…
Another mate of mine, fellow DAD writer Gregor Stronach, was subjected to similar bedroom shenanigans. However, he at least managed to stay in the bed.
Here’s what Gregor had to report:
“My wife and I tried the co-sleeping thing on and off with both of our boys when they were little – and to be honest, I’m in two minds about it.”
“On the one hand, I was constantly worried I was going to roll over and crush him, so I always ended up sleeping on a tiny strip on the edge of the bed, in constant peril of falling overboard.
“Not to mention, it put a bit of a dent in our ‘nocturnal activities’. Having a baby in (or even near) the bed made it a bit difficult to get the romance happening. Nothing kills the mood quicker than looking over to check the baby’s still asleep, and seeing two little eyes peering at you through the darkness.
“On the plus side, though, I was right there whenever he started to cry during the night, which gave me time to volunteer to feed or comfort him to let my wife get some sleep.
“She always had trouble getting back to sleep once she’d been woken up, but I’ve been blessed with the ability to drop off to sleep pretty much anywhere, so it wasn’t such a hassle.”
Dodging the bed-share bullet
Personally, my wife and I put both our kids into their own rooms from night one (entirely due to the wisdom of my wife, I’ll admit).
One of the best decisions we ever made.
Sure we worried constantly about SIDS, especially with the first one (I’d often sneak in there at night with a mirror held above his tiny mouth just to check that he was breathing). But we never suffered a single transitioning night-mare, and our relationship remained in tact.
I also think we would have worried just as much about cot death if he’d been literally coming between us at night.
Sleeping a few hours a week in the rocking chair in his room was a small price to pay for our bed remaining a haven where we could discuss the big parenting questions of the time, like “what have we done? Where have our lives gone? Can you even remember what morning sex was like? Are my eyes bleeding?”
This is not to say we’ve missed out on the joys of sleeping with our children, of course, because pretty much as soon as they can walk, and operate a door handle (or pick a lock), they turn up in your bed on a pretty regular basis anyway.
I know one couple who have banned their kids from ever, under any circumstances, crossing the threshold of their bedroom (and that rule applied when they were babies too). But those parents have nannies and au pairs and too much money, so they don’t really count.
What are the pros of co-sleeping?
The folks at babycenter point out that co-sleeping allows you to have extra time and closeness with your baby and can strengthen your bond with them.
Babies who sleep with their mothers tend to breastfeed more often than babies that sleep alone and the feeding process is also less disruptive for both mum and baby — no pulling them up out of a cot, the woman can just lie there and be far more cosy than when sitting up, and they can both go back to sleep more easily.
Breastfeeding in bed is more comfortable and, some suggest, more natural.
We’re also told that babies who sleep with their parents stay awake for shorter periods of time, which would undeniably be a huge win at that stage of your life, and that they may cry less as well, which is pretty much the Holy Grail.
Sleeping next to them also allows you to respond more quickly if they cough, cry, or, God forbid, stop breathing in the night.
At the same time, you may sleep less soundly because some part of your brain is always listening for those noises.
What are the risks?
The Australian SIDS Research Foundation ‘Rednose‘, strongly recommend against co-sleeping if your baby is less than six months old. At that age there is a risk of suffocation or overheating under your thick, old-person bed clothes, and overheating is one of the causes of SIDS.
According to Rednose, having your baby in a cot or bassinet next to your bed is the best way to go for the first 6-12 months.
They also advise that you should never, ever share a bed with a baby when you’ve been smoking, drinking or taking drugs, or even if you feel like you are just so wiped that you might not respond if they need you.
This is a very real fear I had about sharing a bed with a baby, because I sleep like someone who has been shot with a tranquilliser gun designed for whales, and was so worried I would roll on them.
You should never attempt to sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair either, for those same smothering reasons. Nor should you attempt to co-sleep if your baby was premature or had low birth weight, because this further increases the risk of SIDS.
Once your child gets over six months, sharing your bed with their squirming, squealing, night-pooping little bodies can “take some getting used to”, as one expert understated it. It’s also worth nothing that “you and your partner might sleep as well as you do when your baby sleeps alone”.
There’s also the very real danger that co-sleeping is the definition of the term you’ll hear a lot as a parent; “making a rod for your own back”. Because when the time comes to put them in their own room to sleep, they’re going to find it very, very hard indeed.
Not the mention the trouble such sleeping routines will cause if you ever want to go out and leave them with a babysitter.
Lastly, and we may have hinted at this already, co-sleeping can adversely effect your sex life. Not quite as badly as cutting your penis off, but close.
Whose decision is it?
Like many, many decisions in parenting, as in life, this is one of those situations where it’s absolutely fine for you to have an opinion, or even to protest that you’re worried about co-sleeping affecting your relationship (this is the recommended euphemism for “sex life” in this context).
But in the end, if your partner is breastfeeding and they’d prefer to do so in bed with the baby next to them, it’s probably not going to be your call. Just keep in mind how lucky you are not to have breasts at this point (and even more so once junior grows teeth).
If your child’s mother feels strongly about sleeping next to her beloved ball of joy, ensure you both read up on these risk minimisation techniques from RedNose (scroll quickly to about half way down page — right past all the scary stats and warnings).
Lastly, make sure you’ve bought a really comfortable couch/spare bed before the baby arrives.