The reluctant co-sleeper

Co-sleeping used to make me think of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in Away We Go. She plays an eccentric academic with an unyielding commitment to the “continuum family”.

For her, this concept involves a phobic hatred of buggies (“Why would I want to push my children away from me?”) and, of course, a family bed including a toddler. Her hilarious performance pictured co-sleeping every bit as weird and disconnected from reality as many people believe it to be.

None of that ever bothered me. I just always held – possibly naively – that we should start as we meant to go on. While I wanted my baby in Moses basket next to me so I’d not be freaking out about whether she’d stopped breathing or something, I didn’t want her in our bed. That just seemed like it was storing up trouble for later.

What I didn’t anticipate was that the baby would refuse to sleep in the Moses basket. She lulled us into a false sense of security her first week or so. Nights involved feeding her, putting her back in the basket and returning promptly to sleep. Even in the day, she was happy to put in some solid time there.

Then the rules changed. Thinking back it coincided with me becoming the “mummy dummy” or “liquid love”. First, she’d only stay in the Moses basket for 20 minutes, then for 5 and now I’m lucky if she settles there for more than a few seconds. But put her in our bed and le voila! She’d sleep two or even three hours in a row!

So we tried swaddling her since she seemed to wake herself up by moving her limbs. For two nights it worked and we thought: “We’ve cracked it!” Then our baby became an escape artist. I don’t know how she does it. No matter how snugly she’s swaddled, she gets out.

It became apparent that if we were to sleep, it would be in our bed. Maybe I’m lazy, maybe I don’t try hard enough, but at some point you’ve got to pause and say: “Look, I need some sleep.” At any rate, I tend to feed her lying down in the night and usually fall asleep anyway, waking up a bit later to put her back in the basket.

But I haven’t fully embraced the situation. Though it’s quite fun waking up to see this cute little being snuggled up to me, I’d rather she were in her own space.

I miss being able to sprawl out on the bed, something I couldn’t do in pregnancy because I could only sleep on one side without discomfort. I feel sore because my body doesn’t change position when she’s in bed with us. I always automatically curl protectively around her.

And I often wake up checking that she hasn’t got her face caught between anything and that her father hasn’t smooshed her, which I’m sure he won’t.

Even if I could be convinced of a way to do this comfortably and safely, I worry that I’m ingraining habits though people keep saying she’s too young for that to be the case.

I also wonder what this will do to our intimacy. Perhaps it’s another of nature’s postnatal contraceptives.

It amazes me how many mothers I speak to who struggle with the bed sharing thing. None of us want to admit it at first but so many of us are doing it, especially if we’re breastfeeding.

No need to make it political. We all just need a decent night’s sleep.