Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Language of Co-Sleeping

Do you "co-sleep" with your baby or have you "not got it out of your bed yet"?

The language that you use to talk about co-sleeping is loaded with connotations, both positive and negative. Co-sleeping has an image problem but those of us who have researched it know that when practiced safely, it is just as valid a choice as separate sleeping (which must also be practiced safely). I have noticed that, because of the image problem, Cave Father and I can be rather sheepish when we talk about co-sleeping.

We have nothing to be ashamed about, and I kick myself every time I speak apologetically about my choice to co-sleep. For it is a choice I have made, in full possession of my faculties. I know the advantages (more sleep, no getting up, more breastfeeding, less bedtime stress, more securely attached child, better support for sleeping infant's natural physiology) and the disadvantages (more frequent waking, less freedom to move in bed, fewer mummy and daddy cuddles, difficulty transitioning child into own bed).

It is not as if I shout from the rooftops about our co-sleeping. I never introduce it into a conversation. Most people wouldn't be interested anyway. But if somebody asks me how Cave Baby is sleeping, I will mention it. I don't think it should be kept as a guilty secret. The more people talk openly about co-sleeping, the less strange it will seem (and research does show that a lot of people do it but don't admit to it). If it is acceptable to talk about cots in a conversation, I don't see why I should blush at the mention of co-sleeping.

You can convey so much information about the acceptability of co-sleeping in the way you talk about it. The phrases "she's still in our bed" or "she still sleeps with us" both imply that co-sleeping is just a failure to move the child into a cot. They both say that the bed belongs to the parents and the child is no more than an interloper. They both sound apologetic. They invite further questioning: when are you going to move her out?

I prefer a phrase that communicates the fact that we have made a positive decision to sleep with our baby: "we co-sleep" or "we bedshare". Both imply that we are all equal partners in this arrangement: we "share" a bed rather than "letting her sleep in our bed". But my favourite way of putting it is: "she sleeps beside me". It is an accurate description of what happens. It conjures up a rather lovely image of a little baby curled up next to its mama, and I think it conveys the fact that we have made a positive decision to respond to our daughter's need for company at night.

If you co-sleep, do you find yourself apologising for it? And if you choose to sleep separately, do you find that other people apologise for it when they admit it to you?

20 comments:

allgrownup said...

We didn't co-sleep from the start (a big regret), and now our 18m old tends to share our bed when he needs to, i.e. in times of illness. He has bronchoiolitis at the moment, he spent most of the night with us last night. Hubby said something sweet (he LOVES co-sleeping)when trying to comfort baby last night: "do you want to come in our bed?". It was the "our" that did it, I could tell he meant that the bed belonged to all of us.We plan to co-sleep with the next baby due in September. People love asking pregnant women if they "have the nursery/cot ready yet?" so I always say that we will be bed sharing. Like you say, the more openness the better,it is not shameful. Most people have been interested, especially when I explain that tantrums and nightmares don't exist in co-sleeping cultures!! But a great auntie smothered her child in bed, so I'm having some family issues. I've tried to explain how rare it is, and how much research and preparation into safe sleep we have done....but old people are set in their ways. I'm not sure how supportive people will be when the baby grows into a 2yr old and is "still" in the bed with us.I explained to hubby that in many co-sleeping children remain in the bed for 2yrs, braced for outrage: he smiled and said "oh wouldn't that be lovely!"

Jessica said...

I bed shared with my son for about 6 months and moved him to his own room due simply because we were sleeping horribly (he tossed and turned and fussed and cried, I got absolutely zero sleep, and it made for baaaad days). And when I did make the move I could tell that people were VERY supportive of the change.

No one said, Hey, you should give co-sleeping another try and here are some tips. In fact, when I complained about how badly I slept with Hollis at my side (despite how much I adored the whole idea and process) no one helped me make it better. They just asked how much longer I'd "suffer" before I moved him out of my bed. *sigh*

Maye I'd have learned a new trick or something and been able to sleep better if more people supported it and had experience with it. I'll never know. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the second baby arrives (whenever that may be).

Liz said...

If it comes up, I tend to say 'we have a family bed' in a matter-of-fact way which brooks no argument. Maybe I'm over-defensive because I've rarely encountered negative comments (once I stopped seeing health visitors that is...)

Joxy said...

We on and off bed share. I did transition Rye into his own bed, relatively easily really, but I did miss him beside me, although having more space to spread myself was lovely too.

I've found lately that Rye seems to sleep better with me; although I am often woken with is feet pressed against my shoulders and have to gently move him.

I tend to be quite a bit advocate of bedsharing, particularly for breastfeeding women and certainly I think for us, it's one of the reasons why at 2 and half Rye is still a keen breastfeeder, although he tends to limit it to morning and evening sessions with the ocassional during day/night.

But yeah, thinking about it I have used the "still" word. I think though in reality, Rye and I share a bed as is convenient. Some nights he settles fine in his own room, other nights he makes it very clear he'd prefer to sleep with me. I no longer feel like it has to be one or the other.

Joxy.

Joxy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mother of four said...

We have co - slept with all of our children, (they left the shared bed when they were ready!) yes it obviously has it’s draw backs, although in my opinion small compared to the benefits that you yourself have already mentioned. 16 years ago when my eldest was a baby I felt that co- sleeping was a guilty secret to hide, although now on our fourth (currently 29 months) if questioned I do speak about it and with pride. It is our choice, we are well informed of various ‘methods’ of getting young ones to sleep and choose positively this option .

TopHat said...

When our daughter (15 months) was younger, I'd give the excuse, "We live in a studio apartment- where would we put a crib?" to make it sound like it's a space and economical issue. It's not, and I don't portray it like that anymore. I love sleeping with her- it makes it easier to vacation because she'll sleep with us- she doesn't have to adjust to a new room or crib- we're her constant, her stability. I love it.

clareybabble said...

I didn't co-sleep with either of mine but my 11mth old daughter still sleeps next to me in her cot. I just lift her out for a quick feed in the night and put her back in again, where she goes straight off to sleep again. I do find myself trying to explain why she's still in our room, i.e. our house is too small, but in truth I'd just like her next to me a little while longer.

Mon said...

It's the most natural thing in the world to me. I also use ' she sleeps with/beside me'.

It's so natural that among other things I do, I won't make it an issue. Even after a lengthy discussion about sleeping I MIGHT happen to mention it. I often don't just because it doesn't come up.

Then the person says, 'oh' you share the bed?', and I respond with an 'aha' a nod and an open expression as if they had said, 'oh, you breathe'

Melodie said...

It depends who I talk to but I do find myself speaking sheepishly about bed sharing sometimes. I can't even admit it to some people (like my Grandma) for fear of the wrath! Most of my friends co-sleep though so I am lucky to be surrounded by like-minded and like-acting smart women.

Alice Law said...

We practice co-sleeping with Little Sprout(Currently 22m old)since the day we discharged from the maternity.

We love co-sleeping with her, despite most of the time we get "karate" kicks from her (She is a very restless and light sleeper)!

However she is more independent, self-assertive and helpful compared to her peers. We believe co-sleeping children get more self-assurance from their parents, they feel secure with their parents always around for them... and so are we (When we find them lying safely beside us)!

edenwild said...

I don't think I sound apologetic when I speak of bedsharing. I think I usually say "we sleep with our baby" or "he sleeps with us." Sometimes people ask if he is "still sleeping in our bed or our room" and I smile and say happily "Yes, he is." I think it confuses some people, but I think it makes it clear that this is something that we intended, not something that "accidentally" happened.

geekymummy said...

what a nice post. We don't co sleep, the downs you outlined outweighed the ups for us, so though we considered it, we decided not to. I was a committed breast feeder/baby wearer. Here in San Francisco I actually find myself defending the choice to sleep separately to my many co-sleeping friends!

People tend to fall into the "all or nothing" camp, and it is assumed that if you exclusively breast feed and wear your baby that you will also use cloth diapers and co sleep! I think it is OK to mix and match.

ella said...

My third and fourth boys slept with me (the fourth still does at 16 months). My second baby was happy in a cot from day one but my eldest stuggled to sleep in a cot for months - I wish I had co-slept but I felt I had to get him sleeping in a cot - pressure from other mothers/health visitors etc. Looking back it spoilt what would otherwise have been a perfect time.

Really enjoyed your post.

Cave Mother said...

Interesting to hear points of view from both sides of the fence, as it were. I agree that you should mix and match ways of doing things that suit you - co-sleeping is definitely not for everyone, and you would be miserable if you did it but your heart wasn't in it. I have heard of a few people who wanted to do "attachment parenting" but felt bad because their babies just didn't take to co-sleeping. You've just got to go with your babies' wishes haven't you!

cathy said...

i ADORE having my baby sleep with me. she is now 13 months and we have done this from the beginning. from the first moment when i grabbed her from her crib in the hospital because i thought she might be cold...and the funny look the nurse gave me as i snuggled up to her...i knew it was the right, natural thing to do. i'm sure it kicks off lots of hormonal interactions in both mother and baby and goes some way to explaining the 'post natal elation' i have experienced ever since i had her. also, now that i am back at work full time, it gives us a valuable way to reconnect.

Mummy said...

I found you via the Mummy Bloggers Carnival. I couldn't agree more. My little one had really bad reflux and couldn't and wouldn't sleep on her back for the first few months but I was so petrified of cot death that the best solution was for her to sleep on her front, on me. I really liked the closeness and it made breastfeeding all the easier.

Most people I told responded with thinly veiled disgust and more than once I was told I was making a "rod for my own back" and she would never go into a cot. She did, easily, we did both cot and our bed for a while when I was still doing night feeds. It all seemed to work very well. Now at 18 months she is in her own room, her own cot. I got so, so annoyed at people who told me what I was doing was wrong. As if a new Mum doesn't have enough to worry about without people telling you that you are emotionally stunting your baby.

Keep at it and ignore them all.

edenwild said...

I know of a few attachment parents who don't co-sleep, because that works better for them. But I find it intriguing when someone says it works better for their baby. Even though I respect this, I have to wonder--would a cave women put her baby in another room? Of course not. So if co-sleeping is the most natural, how come some babies don't like it? Just wondering here, not trying to spark a debate or anything. I do agree that attachment parenting doesn't have to be all or nothing. In fact, I when I decided I wanted to do an AP style of parenting, I thought I would skip the co-sleeping part. I ended up embracing it, but at first it wasn't in the plan.

The Broken Man said...

We co-sleep, and I am definitely going to pinch the "she sleeps beside me" line! Thinking about using the "family bed" term too, as we are getting more and more comments about it as Grace gets older.

Broken Man's Wife

chocolatefish said...

Ditto - I just had the same thoughts running through my head this week! We cosleep with our 22 month old DS and I always kick myself for saying 'he's still in with us' or somesuch - it sounds like we have 'failed' somehow to get him out to his own bed / room along the way! So as of now I am going to use your phrase, or at least drop the 'still...' from the above.