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Three In a Bed and the Little One Said...

Three In a Bed and the Little One Said...

Issue 1 Sept / Oct 2003

Sharing a bed with your child - positive parenting? Or should we just roll over and listen to the experts? Charlotte Rogers finds out more.


Parents live in such fear of ‘getting it wrong’, we tend to follow a prescribed childcare pattern, offered up by ‘professionals’, emphasising the importance of routine and discipline in a child’s life. This includes an assumption that babies will begin their life sleeping in a crib beside their parents’ bed, before moving as soon as possible to a cot in their own separate room.

 Parents who ignore this advice and allow their baby to share their bed are sometimes made to feel that what they are doing is somehow unnatural. Bed sharing with a baby is frowned upon not only because there is a fear of one parent rolling over and smothering the infant, but due to the belief this will teach the baby bad habits: that the child will always get their own way, and will never leave the parents to the privacy of their own bed.

 Yet as Deborah Jackson, author of Three In A Bed - the benefits of sleeping with your baby, has found, just because a child has his or her own bed, does not guarantee mum and dad an undisturbed baby-free night. Friends and families of new parents constantly ask, “does he sleep through the night yet?” precisely because many babies do not. Months or years of sleepless nights are the norm as parents are woken up in the middle of the night by their crying baby in the room next door or the bed across the room. Jackson has shown that babies who co-sleep from birth, often voluntarily make the transition to their own bedroom at around 2 or 3 years old.

 Co-sleeping with babies has been practised in Muslim countries and world-wide for centuries. With the rise of the middle class in nineteenth century western society, this changed. Childcare manuals encouraged parents to place their babies in separate bedrooms for perceived safety and hygiene reasons and as a form of character building; to teach the infant selfreliance and discipline as early as possible. These sentiments survive today, even in liberal childcare manuals, such as Dr. Miriam Stoppard’s New Baby Care Book; she advises parents to ‘encourage’ their babies to be ‘happy alone in bed’ because it will teach them ‘self-reliance and independence.’ Ironically in the same chapter she writes about two of her own children who only seemed to sleep once she allowed them into her bed at night.

 There are no specific rules for co-sleeping since different cultures the world over have been doing it in different ways for centuries; babies will be safe in bed with their parents as long as natural instinct and common sense caution are relied upon.

 On a practical level co-sleeping ensures a good night’s sleep all round, since there is less likelihood of a baby waking up when close to its mother. This sense of security increases among breastfeeding mothers, who often adopt a position while sleeping that ensures they know where their child is. The more secure a child feels, the more likely he or she is to develop confidence and become independent; and the more in tune a mother and child are, the more confidence the mother will have as a parent.


photograph: Amran Afzal

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