Co-sleeping – a common reality and guilty secret?

NICE announced their new guidelines this morning, recommending against co-sleeping in baby’s first year due to the increased risk of SIDS.

I’m no expert on SIDS and I have no idea on how many precious babies die because of co-sleeping.

I am, however, a new mum and it was made very clear to us during pregnancy and these first couple of months that babies must sleep on their backs and NOT co-sleep, whether that be from midwives, health visitors, antenatal classes, books, magazines, apps….

‘No problem!’ I thought, when W came along, he’ll sleep in his moses basket next to me. I went mad with my OH if he brought W into bed with us or had a nap on the sofa with him. Then sleep deprivation and reality hit in – W settles ok in his basket ’til about 3/4/5am but then gets difficult to settle so I tend to bring him into bed with us.

At first I felt awful about this, and nervous, and scared. Then something strange happened – whenever I sheepishly mentioned this to family/ friends/ colleagues/ other bloggers and tweeters it turns out I wasn’t alone and I’d say 90% of them admitted to co-sleeping at some point or another… to comfort their babies and get some much-needed sleep.

I’m sure I’ve read that sleep deprivation has the same impact on reflexes as drinking a load of alcohol. So what’s riskier – co-sleeping for a few hours? or being in charge of a baby on very little or no sleep??

As I said, I’m no expert and I’m not disagreeing with the guidelines. What I’d like to suggest is that the experts at NICE and the NHS recognise that a large number of parents co-sleep, and give guidance on how to do it as safely as possible.

In my experience, co-sleeping is a common reality, but at the moment feels like a huge guilty secret. Again, could we reduce risk by making it less of a taboo?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – do you agree with me, or do you think more should be done to stop people co-sleeping?

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23 thoughts on “Co-sleeping – a common reality and guilty secret?”

  1. We had our daughter sleep with us in our bed from being a newborn. She slept at the top of the bed where the pillows were so she couldn’t slip under the duvet or be rolled on top of.

    We started doing this because no matter what we did, she wouldn’t sleep in her moses basket or the cot. She hated being away from me and was strapped to me all day, everyday. It was exhausting and I couldn’t get anythi g done. It was far easier than being sleep deprived and zombie-like and it meant we got a decent nights sleep.

    I also found that no matter how tired I was, I was always in tune to the fact she was there. If she stirred, i’d wake, if she cried, I’d wake and if i turned over, I always knew she was there. It was as if I was never fully asleep.

    I’ve got to admit I loved sleeping in bed with her. It was such a cosy, lovely feeling, and to wake up to that face every morning was priceless.

    I also found I hid co-sleeping from the madwives, HV, friends and family because of what they may think at first, but then I thought why should I!

    It would be interesting to know hoe many babies die from actual cot death in relation to co-sleeping….

    If co-sleeping is done responsibly i.e. no alcohol/drugs consumed, baby sleeps further up the bed and you further down etc then why should it be an issue.

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    1. thanks for sharing Ruth – I’d also be interested in those stats!
      I should have added to the blog, but actually co-sleeping in the mornings is probably my favourite part of the day – just me and him, skin on skin, him being so content and peaceful – I know exactly how you felt!
      Thanks again, really appreciated x

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  2. I forgot to add that when I was made to feel “guilty” for having her in my bed, I eventually started putting her in her cot. She woke all the time! She also had reflux and one night I heard strange noises on the monitor. I ran upstairs thinking something was wrong and there she was, choking on her vomit and unable to turn herself on her side. My poor little baby. I felt so bad for listening to others and not myself.

    After this episode she ended up back in our bed!

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  3. All of our kids have slept in with us not 100% of the time but starting off in their own bed if possible but migrating to ours over the course of the night. When the first few were little as far as we were concerned it didn’t even have a name! It was just something that happened to help everybody get some much needed sleep! We weren’t the only ones, it wasn’t an issue and not something that needed to be a secret.
    Your right there shouldn’t just be guidelines that say not to do it. It would be better to concentrate on telling those people who do, how to do it in the safest way possible. The situation reminds me a bit of the rule in some American schools that they only teach abstinence to avoid pregnancy. Yeah, we all know how well that works!

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    1. thanks Katie for sharing your experience with this – you’re right about teaching abstinence!! I know these guidelines have to cover everyone in society but yeah I think they should be more realistic and about the safety of doing it! thanks again, diolch 🙂

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  4. I completely agree with you. My daughter slept brilliantly until she was 6 months old. Then teething, development and growth spurts changed all that. We’re working on her sleep at the moment but for ages she refused to go to sleep at bedtime. Instead, she would often be awake until midnight and then she would wake a few times a night. Co-sleeping kept Mr H and me sane. We are a little less sleep deprived then we would be if we kept Little Miss in her nursery all night. Instead of condemning it out of hand, we need safety guidelines distributed to new parents.

    End of essay.

    Hugs

    Mrs H xxxx

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  5. I agree that there should be guidelines about how to co-sleep safely. I’ve known babies pass away in cribs/Moses baskets, it’s about educating safety in whichever your chosen method of sleeping is. I’m more nervous about judgmental HVs than anything else as I head into parenthood, which is sad really xx

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    1. That is sad…. it’s a bit like breastfeeding…. you get brainwashed a bit on what’s ok and not ok…. I know HV have a tough job as they also need to look after poorly-educated/read parents but I think 1 size doesn’t fit all!x

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  6. This is like reading my own blog post! Thanks for directing me to yours 🙂 great post and so true. Most parents aren’t stupid, most will fully research the ins and outs of co-sleeping (or anything to do with their baby!). I agree that instead of saying don’t do it, help parents with the knowledge to do it safely. In real life it happens and reading so much on it today, like you say, it seems a lot of people do it!

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  7. I read a positive book from the US when I was pregnant and was keen to cosleep. On my second night at home I accidentally fell asleep on the bed next to my son and was leaning on him. Luckily my husband came in after a few minutes and woke me, our son was fine but it was very scary. I didn’t cosleep after that, it happened because I was so tired.

    despite this my son slept so badly that either my husband slept sat up with him on his chest or I slept sat up on the sofa sat up with him (he would only sleep vertically!) Which I’m sure is more dangerous.

    Anyway my point is I think sometimes you do what you must, we were lucky that our son was fine but I wish I could have had more support to help me get him to sleep rather than muddling throughin a pretty risky way. There is fab guidance available out there to help with safer co sleeping but to be blunt, with a baby who slept only in 20 minute stints I would have done anything to make him sleep and health visitors advice of just not sleeping with him didn’t help me at all.

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    1. Wow that must have been a stressful event… and I’ve not heard of a baby only sleeping vertically… and for 20 mins at a time…. tough times!! I agree with you – more realistic guidance would be more useful!x

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  8. I always thought it would be easy to avoid co-sleeping…. until baby arrived. We co-slept for the first few weeks and luckily Jasmine sleeps very well on her own in her own bed now but it was necessary at the time. And hey, we all survived. The thing is they don’t know a lot about SIDs and its causes and I’m not saying that co-sleeping doesn’t increase the risk of it but as you say, I think I’d definitely be more of a danger to my baby with no sleep at all! #babybabble x

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    1. Thanks Jenna – I remember reading your blog about it around the same time we’d just started doing it… co-sleeping is as stressful as it is enjoyable so I am looking forward to him settling better in his basket/cot!

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  9. Really good post hun. We do co-sleep, even though we try really hard not to. 5 babies die a week from SIDS, but I don’t know how many had co-slept. I think the problem is your fighting nature. My LO will settle in her basket in the day, but it’s a different story at night. I think it’s down to prolactin levels being highest at night, usually between 1am and 5am. Not co-sleeping in some cases is fighting nature, which is why so many end up doing it. We don’t use duvets so baby doesn’t over heat, she sleeps at the top of the bed where she can’t be rolled on and fingers crossed we are ok with those precautions.

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    1. thanks Zena, and thanks for leaving such an useful comment – it’s a good point about the change in hormones during the night. It’s so sad that 5 babies die every week from SIDS – I’m all for trying to reduce that number but maybe through better education and guidance?

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  10. Fab post, I co-slept with my daughter quite a lot, and still do now if she’s poorly (23 months)
    I think if you’re not drunk/heavy smoker and baby isn’t under your covers then it’s quite safe. Of course we all feel differently, I found it easier when breast feeding and am a very light sleeper.

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  11. I had this with both my children….on my second mainly for feeding as at one point it was so frequent it was so much easier. They used to come in if they were ill to help comfort them so then one of us went in another bed so there was plenty of room. Thankfully both grew out of it and transitioned to their own beds pretty quickly. I dont think theres many mums out there that havent done this at least once or twice.

    By the way found you via the South wales bloggers page of FB…..I live in St Mellons….nice to have you in the group x

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  12. I felt the same as you before our twins were born. The thought of co-sleeping petrified me. I was worried about SIDS, about them suffocating, falling out of bed, being too hot, rolling on top of them etc. My husband started co-sleeping first as I was too scared too. Our one daughter, R, always sleeps in her cot, but M likes to be in bed with us. My husband has her bed. We have a super king size bed so she sleeps in between us, on top of the duvet and has done so for as long as I can remember. If R is ill, I’ll bring her into bed with as she’ll sleep better, but I don’t sleep very with her in the bed as she’s a fidget! I agree there should be more information around about how to safely co-sleep. Great post.

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