When you have an infant, sleep is on your mind.
A new mother craves nothing more than sleep. She remembers how easy sleep was to come by without a baby; she talks about the amount of sleep she’s getting with her other new mother friends and the few family members who will still listen to her; she wills and pleads with her child and maybe turns to religion but nothing helps.
The shrill newborn cry creeps into her brain each and every time she manages to drift off.
It’s tempting, then, to give co-sleeping a try.
As midwife Cath Curtin describes on Mamamia‘s Year One podcast, “Full co-sleeping is when you go to bed, your child goes to bed with you, and everyone sleeps in the same bed.”
It's not to be confused with the act of putting a toddler or young child in their own bed, only to wake up the next morning to find they've made their way into yours during the night.
"An Australian study from 2000 found that 80% of babies spent some time co-sleeping in the first six months," says host of Year One and Mamamia Head of Entertainment Holly Wainwright.
Holly, a mum-of-two herself, goes on "Most, if not every mum at some stage has slept with their baby in bed."
For any mum, this rings true. Whether intentionally or otherwise, there are times when you wake up with a jolt realising you've fallen asleep with the baby on the boob. Or next to you. Or while you're sitting in bed with bub in your arms.
Year One co-host and also-mother-of-two Christie Hayes knows the feeling all too well: "I didn't get out of bed. I was breastfeeding in my bed and my baby was resting on the pillow. I closed my eyes for what I thought was two seconds, and woke up an hour and a half later, sitting up... it happens."
Her baby was fine, luckily. And although falling asleep with a baby in your bed mightn't be safe, it's sometimes hard to avoid.
As Midwife Cath explains, "When you start breastfeeding, you just get this overpowering urge to go to sleep. I wouldn't encourage women to breastfeed in bed in the early days. I would encourage them to get out of bed and sit in a chair, so they're actually feeding out of the bed... also not laying on a couch because that can be dangerous - the baby falling down the side of the couch.
Listen to Midwife Cath run through everything a new mother need consider when it comes to co-sleeping, on Year One. Post continues after audio.
The debate on whether co-sleeping is acceptable or not, however, rages on. Mothers have long been criticised and given inconsistent advice when it comes to babies sleeping in the same bed as their parents. Some experts say it's 'only natural' for a mother to lie next to her baby, while others identify co-sleeping as the single biggest factor increasing a baby's risk of death by SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
In 2012, the Victorian coroner weighed in on the co-sleeping debate with heavy criticism of the practice, after four babies aged between 10 weeks and five months were all found to be victims of SIDS. All were in bed with at least one of their parents when they died.
At the time, researchers from the University of Queensland’s Centre for Mothers & Babies (QCMB) expressed their concerns about the coroner's findings.
QCMB Director Professor Sue Kruske said “It is not the act of bed sharing that is solely responsible for these deaths”.
“Rather it is other environmental factors that occur in combination with bed sharing.”
This is a sentiment with which Midwife Cath whole-heartedly agrees.
"It's dangerous if you're drug-affected, or drink alcohol, or have a smokey room with heavy duvets," she says.
Sometimes, however, co-sleeping is simply unavoidable. "It's very tempting," Holly Wainwright, always the voice of reason, says sheepishly. "Do not beat yourself up about all these sleep practices, as long as they are safe."
She asks Midwife Cath, "Is there a safe way to do it?"
"If you are going to co-sleep with your baby, it's probably best to be by yourself with the baby," Cath says. In other words, no partners or other children. Especially if they're heavy sleepers.
"These days there are some really good little sleeping cots which attach to the bed... they're a good option to put in the middle of the parents, in the bed," says Cath.
Have you ever tried co-sleeping with your child? Was it intentional or by accident? Let us know in the comments below.
Join the discussion in the Year One With Baby Facebook group, here.
You can listen to the full episode of Year One exploring all things newborns and sleep, below.
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