If you co-sleep with your baby, you’ve no doubt felt the disapproval. You might have been lectured by family and friends, or read terrifying warnings from health experts. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
So it comes as no surprise that a UK survey of 600 new mothers has found that 46 per cent admit having lied to a midwife, health visitor or GP about co-sleeping, because they’re afraid of being judged. Now that’s really terrifying. That means these women are missing out on vital advice on how to co-sleep safely.
The survey was carried out by parenting author Sarah Ockwell-Smith, who believes co-sleeping is safe if done correctly, and leads to improved sleep.
“All the research supports that both mums and babies get more sleep when they bed-share,” she told the Sunday Times.
From her survey, she concludes that half of all mothers sleep with their babies at some point.
Some babies will happily sleep by themselves in a cot, and some babies will not. Many mothers don't plan to co-sleep, but end up doing it anyway. They're the ones who most need advice on safe co-sleeping, but may miss out, because they're aware that what they're doing is frowned upon and are too ashamed to admit they're doing it.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I went along to an information session run by a midwife.
"Anyone planning on co-sleeping?" she asked.
No one's hands went up.
"Right, well, if you do end up co-sleeping, just remember these things."
She went on to explain that the baby shouldn't lie in the middle of the bed, and to give other bits of advice. That information was invaluable later on.
We need to ease up on the judgement around co-sleeping, because clearly that's not stopping women from doing it, but just making them hide it. The focus needs to be on providing good safety advice to all women.
We need to remember that what's really dangerous is accidental co-sleeping: falling asleep while feeding a baby in an adult bed full of pillows and quilts, or, even worse, falling asleep while feeding a baby on a couch.
The sleep deprivation that results from standing by a cot for hours and hours, trying to settle a crying baby, is dangerous too. It's dangerous for a mother's mental health, and makes daily tasks, like driving a car, more risky.
On her website, Ockwell-Smith has compiled a long list of safer bed-sharing guidelines. You've probably heard a lot of them before: keep pillows and bedding well away from the baby, don't drink alcohol if co-sleeping, don't co-sleep with a premature baby, etc. Here are a few more:
- Neither parent should have consumed recreational or prescription drugs, including post-birth painkillers.
- Both parents should be non-smokers and the mother should not have smoked during her pregnancy either.
- Make sure both parents tie any long hair back and do not wear nightclothes with loose ties or belts.
- If possible, sleep on a mattress on the floor, or a futon-style bed.
Have you ever been made to feel guilty about co-sleeping?