My favourite time of day is the moment I go to bed, and a small warm-bodied child rolls from her end of the bed into me, snuggling her head into my chest. One small warm hand delicately cups my cheek. She is still asleep – her closeness and intimacy is instinctual. She senses her mother and wants to be near.
The family bed is controversial. When people ask where Elka sleeps, they are often dismayed to learn that she sleeps in our bed. People give me gifts for her room and quilts for her bed, perhaps in the hope she will move there. And yet when young children visit our home, they bee-line to our family bed, which is a king-sized mattress plus a king-single mattress on the floor, butted against the wall. The children will lie in it, or bounce on it, or roll around. Elka does the same thing. Occasionally, if I am making dinner, I wonder where Elka is. She is lying in our bed.
There was no debate in our family that our child would sleep in our bed. Our feeling was that freshly out of the womb, a child needs to be close to its mother, particularly at night. Gone are the days when the nurses would remove a new-born baby for up to 10 days, bring it to the mother for feeds, so the mother could rest up after labour. Now Elka is Miss Independent, but we all still love to sleep next to one another, and wake up together.
At first Elka slept directly next to me, and Gregor in another bed, so he could sleep through the night before work. We then used an insert, so her tiny body was on a different surface, with little foam bits either side to protect her. For a while she was in a cradle directly next to my side of the bed. And when she was too big for the cradle, she came back in to our bed. Initially, our concern was that we might roll on her in our sleep, or a blanket might cover her face. But we very soon found that although we were asleep, we were very aware of where she was in the bed. We placed her on top of the covers, and down from the pillows, just to be sure.
Night feeding was easy for me. Elka would wake and I would have already woken, because our cycles were in sync. I would feed very briefly and both of us would drift back to sleep. During the early morning, we would be in a half sleep as she fed. I always think this is one of the reasons why I have not felt tired since having a baby.
Co-sleeping is often given a bad rap in the media. It causes SIDS, people say…children die from being suffocated. I believe that if you practice co-sleeping correctly, it is very safe. Some believe safer than having babe in a cot or a crib. Dr James McKenna has conducted much research into co-sleeping, and has found that co-sleeping promotes bonding and breastfeeding. He found that babies are attuned to the mothers’ body temperature, and are able to adjust theirs accordingly. Mothers and babies in general were more attuned with each other. Longitudinal studies have found that children who co-slept with the parents were generally secure adults, and had positive intimate relationships. It is advised that parents don’t co-sleep if drunk or on drugs, as this can be dangerous. Of course, everyone should do what that are most comfortable with. We have been most comfortable with co-sleeping, and now I can’t imagine it any other way.
Being intimate with my husband is not a problem, either. We spend every evening together, after Elka’s gone to bed. We have many opportunities just to be with the two of us. I don’t feel our relationship is compromised by sharing a bed with our child. If anything, it is enhanced.
I am not worried about when she will move out of the bed. I can’t image a 16-year-old still desperate to sleep with her mum and dad. She will move when she’s ready, and in the meantime, I will enjoy being close to her through the night. Sleeping next to my baby completes me, and fills me with warmth and joy. I fall asleep to the rhythm of her heart and her breath.