Some topics are raising high emotions. Surely, sharing a bed with other people is one of them. We love to know who slept with whom, and whether it was a one-night stand or turned into longer relationship. Sometimes we cannot imagine sharing a bed with a person A, but dream about it, when we think of a person B.
This is exactly how we also react to bed sharing with a newborn or infant. The issue always raises emotions and there are as many supporters as opponents. When I find myself trapped between many opinions, at times very contradictive, I love to step back and see the problem from a different angle. For parenting issues, I often wonder how things are handled in other places in the world. If you like to travel, taste different food and learn various cultures, and you happen to be a parent, you may sometimes wonder, how all these foreign parents raise their kids.
Some time ago I spoke to Tolu, born in Nigeria, raised in the UK, currently living in Germany, who is a mother of a one-year-old Jacob. Living across many countries and cultures, she is very sensitive to differences between them. She has shared with me some great observations, which I published last November. But I did not mention bed sharing then. I decided to spare this hot topic for today…
People always comment on who you are sleeping with
The issue of bed sharing has always been controversial. This was the most common advice that we received from friends who were already parents. “Try and get him out of your bed as soon as possible. Our son is two and a half and still sleeping in our bed.”
I looked at the nursery we had decorated for Jacob but I still felt it was cold and unloving to put our newborn all on his own in a separate room. So I decided to meet halfway and let him sleep in our room with the hope of transitioning to his own room when old enough. So, we bought the three-sided cot to attach to our bed.
Side-cots and wonderbeds may not do wonders
When Jacob arrived, he initially didn’t complain about the side cot. But when we got back from hospital, especially with the frequent feeds, he was having none of the side cot. In fact, the only way he would sleep for the first month was skin-to-skin – sprawled across my chest – all night long. I had to prop myself up with giant pillows on all sides to ensure I was comfortable whilst we both slept. And eventually, Jacob began to accept being eased down right next to me on the bed. He never went back into the side cot. Well, I kept trying and he kept refusing. I even bought a so-called “wonderbed” that worked miracles for other people’s babies and helped them sleep through the night. Not for my baby. He lasted a total of eight seconds the two times I tried to put him in it.
We bought a lot of expensive wonder gadgets in those first few months, hoping to hasten sleeping through the night and reduce colic. None of them seemed to work for us and it wasn’t our baby that was broken. We soon learned that of course, our baby is unique and doesn’t fit into a prescribed box. All babies will eventually meet their milestones only when they are ready and it isn’t because of the wonder apparatus you bought.
Co-sleeping is common in Africa
On discussing with my mum, she said all her three children slept in the same room and transitioned into the adjoining nursery around two years old. A friend who was born in another part of Africa also said something similar. She also practiced safe co-sleeping with her baby and it helped ensure a better night’s sleep for them both. She, like myself and my mum, did not believe in the “crying it out” method. And thankfully, we had the time and support to avoid letting our babies cry it out.
Bottle-fed babies protest less
Now, both my brothers and I were bottle fed. My mum had to return to work after a three-month maternity leave and between shifts, bottle was just easier. We slept in cots, not in my parents’ bed. So also, I have noticed that my friends’ babies who are bottle fed tend to protest less when they are laid down to sleep on their own. I explained my predicament with Jacob to an older German friend and she nodded sagely and said “Stillkind” – breastfed baby. This reassured me. Jacob was so used to being so close to me and preferred to be so. I took it as his personality. We both sleep better together and night feeds and dream feeding are a lot easier with co-sleeping. When we eventually wean him, I’m sure he will sleep through the night.
I’m glad to say all my mother’s three kids eventually learnt to sleep through the night on their own, ha-ha. And my friend’s baby started crèche and almost immediately became more independent with weaning, feeding herself and sleeping on her own.
I’m sure you will have some opinions different to ours. My advice is to always go with your instincts. There is so much information out there but as you learn to know what your baby is like; you can decide what works best for you both.
Well, my take-away from Tolu’s story is quite simple: sleep with anyone you want.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the family.