Thanks mainly to the internet the co-sleeping movement has found its voice and despite the refusal of the Department of Health and its employees to accept the reality of co-sleeping and the best efforts of organizations like National Institute for Health Care and Excellence (NICE) and the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths to steer new mothers away from it, the practice of co-sleeping, which is as old a practice as our own human origins, continues to thrive as mothers follow their instincts and keep their babies close to their breasts through the night.
As all co-sleepers know, the term co-sleeping covers a wide variety of different sleeping arrangements: babies are sleeping on chests, sleeping in mother's arms, sleeping on the bed but cocooned by pillows, sleeping next to the bed in an attached cot, sleeping in a moses baskets next to the bed, on a mattress on the floor next to the bed or sleeping in the bed itself... and so the list goes on. Whichever kind you are again, thanks mainly to the internet, worldwide research confirms the safety of co-sleeping as long as parents are not drinking, smoking, over weight or influenced by drugs and as long as parents understand the suffocation potential of our heavy western bedding. This knowledge now is widely available from mainstream and respected organisations like Unicef, La Leche League and the NCT.
Co-sleeping has become an acceptable practice. You stop worrying and start sleeping and, for a while everything is going swimmingly; the breast-feeding relationship is thriving, mother and baby feel close and bonded and the baby is settled and secure. Well...that's the optimistic vision. More often than not there are niggling problems; a resistant father, compromised intimacy and, as the baby grows into a a wriggling toddler who can only be put down by mothers breasts, rendering her evenings obsolete, a questioning mother too. As said toddler spends the night unwittingly kicking both parents in the head, the night time can start to become a night mare and co-sleeping anxiety is rife. Why?
More often than not the fears that underpin co-sleeping, the fearful by-products of our Victorian heritage and the normalisation over the last 200 years of cots and separate sleeping, are always simmering away in the back ground. Is this normal? When will it end? And how?
These were the main questions that arose at the last meeting of the Magnetic Mums - an organisation devoted to supporting the practices of AP Parenting. (Part of the remit of Magnetic Mums is to support and explore all aspects of AP practices honestly and without judgement.) What came out of the meeting was the over-riding concern of transitioning from the family bed-space to sleeping alone.
There appears to be a lot of fear and anxiety about a) whether it is possible to transition from the family bed without causing distress and b) when is the right time to transition (as if there was one) and c) how you actually achieve this transition as gently as possible.
Some mothers are wanting to transition big babies to cots, some mothers are wanting to transition toddlers to their own rooms. Not all the babies and toddlers are in the bed. Some are in part of the night, some are simply in the same room, other mothers are in the child's bed and wanting to get out.
Another observation that arose was that not everyone was necessarily committed to the co-sleeping situation and that some ambivalent co-sleepers had arrived there by instinct rather than choice. This ambivalence, which is so often fuelled by comparison with other seemingly happy separate sleepers, causes much added confusion - and suffering. Many of us start out with ambivalence and gain confidence in our choices over time. It is fine to feel ambivalent about co-sleeping as this is a natural and honest response to our cultural conditioning.
So lets begin by asking when is the right time to transition?This is entirely subjective. Some families transition big babies out, others have five year olds in the bed. A lot depends on breastfeeding. Long term breastfeeders may want to co-sleep longer. A good guide is to look at the general family well-being. Is Baby's happy? Is mum happy? Is dad happy? If its not broken. It doesn't need fixing.
Every situation has its positive and negative aspects. Compromised intimacy can be managed with a little imagination if the intention is there, bigger beds can be bought, mattresses can be brought into the room, night-time feeding can be reduced or stopped without ending the co-sleeping relationship. Much depends on the bigger picture.
A good rule of thumb is the older the child is, the easier the transition because you can at least communicate with them. An older baby cannot communicate except with cries, cannot understand why it can no longer enjoy the warmth of its mothers body.
When the co-sleeping relationship is causing conflict either between parents, or when bodies start to physically suffer due to cramped sleeping conditions (and a bigger bed is not an option), or when there are too many siblings in the bed for anyone to get a good nights sleep, at these times your instinctive voice will tell you clearly its time to create some space between you and your children. These are good times to move. In the end something gives.
Personally my life experience has taught me that when I am acting from this place, lets call it a gut decision, my motivation is clear, and there is strength in my purpose. My children have understood very quickly and clearly. I have never faced any great resistance.
I have three children - all of whom I have co-slept with. The first went into a cot at 2 years when his brother was born, the second went into a lower bunk bed with safety guard at 2.5 years when we moved home and the boys could share a room. My younger son remained a regular night visitor until his sister came along when suddenly there was no space for him. Now he sleeps a full night on his own still in the lower bunk bed. (Recently my older son transitioned effortlessly to his own room freeing up one of the bunk beds for my daughter who has also moved form the family bed to her own bed just shy of 4 years old. I lie with her at night in her new bed until she falls asleep. Sometimes she goes through the night, other times she wakes and slips into our bed where she is welcome and cuddled. Baby number 4 is on its way.
Anxiety around co-sleeping and the second sibling coming is is also quite common. Many attempt to transition the first in order to make space for the second - especially where space is compromised. If the transition hasn't taken place before the birth - the ideal time when it can be done peacefully and gradually. Sometimes it is the baby who, knowing no different remains in the moses basket whilst the toddler sleeps happily in the bed - easing the transition into sibling-hood for that child.
But every family situation is different. How old is too old? is a question that is entirely subjective and must be arrived at as a family taking into account the needs of all family members. Many mothers have voiced to me that they reluctantly gave up their co-sleeping because their partner had had enough. The health of the whole is the end goal.
What was interesting at the last MM meeting was that what is comfortable for people is entirely subjective. Over 50% had come from AP sleeping situations themselves so for these mothers it would feel entirely uncomfortable to be putting their own baby to sleep in another room.
The remaining 50% although coming from the Victorian model of separate sleeping, (one mother shared how she had ben tied down in her cot by her own well-meaning mother), instinctively they were drawn towards co-sleeping. But sometimes ambivalence was there.
So the next pertinent question was how to make the transition as gentle as possible?One key issue is the night-time feeding - an obvious spanner in the works. One mother in the group expressed how she had taken the child to its own room and co-slept with the child there - a common phenomenon enabling dad to sleep uninterrupted whilst mum settled the child into his/her own space but she couldn't leave to return to her own bed as he continued to nurse during the night. Her questions concerned night-time breastfeeding and the delayed inevitably of sleeping through uninterrupted and alone?
It's certainly not a given that night-time breastfeeding always delays successful independent sleeping. Much depends on the age of the night-time feeder. As always it is a question of when is the right time to stop which we know is highly subjective. The answer will be found in your levels of resistance. I stopped night feeds at 2 years to prolong breastfeeding and the co-sleeping arrangement. For me the night feeds were the only problem. Eliminating them worked well for me. I was done with 4am nipple-tweaking and felt it was not necessary anymore. The cost outweighed the benefit. Together we smoothly transitioned away from night-time feeds. That was a guttural decision.
Co-sleeping father Dr Sears says if you feel you are done: Just say no!
"When our son, Matthew, was two, Martha felt desperate for sleep if awakened more than two times. I would wake up to hear a dialogue like "Nee" (his word for nurse)..."No!"... "Nee!"... "No!"... "Nee!"... "No, not now. In the morning. Mommy's sleeping. You sleep, too." A firm but calm, peaceful voice almost always did the trick. You can manage to stay peaceful in this situation when you know you are not damaging your very secure, attachment- parented child."
Listen to your boundaries. If you are resenting the feeds, maybe its better to stop than share resentment with your child.
Calm, clear discussion during the day coupled with day-time feeds and plenty of love plus the introduction of stories at night instead of the breast, back tickles and rubs all held together with a great degree of patience and commitment will ease this very important preliminary separation.
And remember just because you want your bed back doesn't mean you want your room back. Another mother I spoke to had moved the baby out of the bed but onto a mattress next to theirs where he remained happily for a few years until he asked for his own room.
Transitioning can also be affected by siblings. If there are siblings to share with, you have a natural transition opportunity.Providing the right conditions for sleep in the space you wish to transition them to is paramount. The right conditions are re-creating as much as possible the same conditions they have been sleeping in thus far.
This is why a mattress close to the bed but not on the bed is a natural and easeful step towards separation. As is a separate bed in the same room. Familiar smells, sounds and lighting will make a new space feel safe to the unsettled toddler.
Irrespective of whether or not you are breastfeeding lying with your baby to sleep in their bed space thereby reassuring them with your physical presence at the time when they need you the most, is another way of gently supporting them in making that transition.Irres
pective of whether or not you are breastfeeding lying with your baby to sleep in their bed space thereby reassuring them with your physical presence at the time when they need you the most, is another way of gently supporting them in making that transition.
Napping in the space you would like your child to transition to is another common practice among co-sleepers seeking separation.
The separation can be a gradual process of transitioning from snoozing your child to sleep to rolling over at the end of your shared story and grabbing a book to read leaving your child to fall asleep on their own. If they feel safe and comfortable they will fall asleep. Sitting next to the bed, meditating whilst they fall asleep is a step further still and is what Dr Sarah Buckley did who co-sleot with all her 4 children now in their teens.
There are as many solutions as there are sleeping arrangements. The answer for everyone is be creative, be patient and check that you are committed and ready to instigate loving change. Check that you have the support of your partner and, if possible, that your child understands. You have given your child the best possible start. Be there for them at night when they need you for, it may seem never-ending, but these long bedtimes are actually short moments in your precious shared time together.
Magnetic Mums Circle