Monday, 1 April 2013

Sleep: a Parental Preoccupation

We're having a lovely, lazy long weekend at my parents' house. Sausages is enjoying spending time with his grandparents, aunties and uncle, especially having an Easter egg hunt in the sitting room, still decorated for Christmas. Husband and I have been enjoying getting a little bit more sleep when he leaves us every morning to go for stories in Mammar and Bapar's bed.

Do you keep a family bed? My parents we encouraged to co-sleep with their babies by my Grandad, a GP with obstetric specialization, but it's not their natural way of sleeping. They have, however, always kept a family bed from dawn to dusk. My family are big snugglers, and it's not uncommon to find the six of us tucked up in bed together drinking tea and reading, or watching a gentle, old-fashioned murder mystery on the telly. When Husband and I got married, my Gran and Granpa gave us some money to buy our bed, and we chose the biggest we could afford, because Husband has always quite liked my family's approach. When Sausages was born we had a moses basket next to the bed, and then a cot with the side down, and he slept in them and in our bed, depending on how the mood took us.

I have always loved co-sleeping. I love waking up to find a small face next to mine, a tiny fist clenched in the hair of each parent, Husbands feet meeting mine so that we have unconsciously created a protective fort around Sausages with our bodies. The ease of breastfeeding lying down means that a nursing mamma can get a lot more sleep than if she had to get up to feed baby through the night, and is invaluable when either baby or mamma are under the weather. Husband, however, does not enjoy it. He worries about squishing Sausages. He listens to every little sound. We have reached a compromise: since Sausages turned one, we have kept a family bed from dawn to dusk, and in case of illness or other disturbance. The rest of the time Husband is responsible for putting Sausages in his own bed. At around 6 a.m. every morning there is a knock on our door. "Are you in there mummy-and-daddy? Can I come in?" Isn't that a beautiful way to start the day? What a reward for nights and nights of broken sleep; a child for whom you are the first thing he wants when he wakes up, and who is polite about it. Bliss.

Co-sleeping is a beautiful, natural family practice, but it has been receiving some bad press recently. This is sad, because unless you smoke, drink, or take certain medications it can be a safe and beneficial way to sleep for babies and children. The physical closeness supports breastfeeding and bonding with both parents in the early days with a newborn. Co-sleeping parents naturally monitor their child's temperature and breathing while they sleep. It's not a cop-out or lazy parenting; it's any parent's privilege. And as my family have demonstrated, any grandparent, auntie or uncle's privilege too. I'd love to hear your experience with family sleeping arrangements.

All the lovely sleep I get these days means more energy for getting things done, so here are a few finished objects for you to have a peek at. A hat for Husband, and Sausages' Fisher gansey:

I love wrapping my boys up in hand-knitted love. I wonder whether many other knitters and home bakers see their efforts as an expression of love. It's not the feeding or overheating, but the effort we put in that we are putting towards caring for our loved ones, and - importantly - making them feel cared for.

I hope you've had a lovely long weekend with your loved ones, and lots of lovely sleep of your own!



  1. With my first child I was in total confusion over the whole thing. I thought he "needed his own space" and he was so incredibly easy at night that he went into his own room at about two weeks. I have now come to think that we think he is ASD he didn't really know how to make a fuss. He should have been in our bed and had as much contact as possible. The next three have all been in and out of our bed over the years and now they are in my bed more than ever! We moved from a two bed house to a six bed place because we assumed they needed their space .. and guess what? they chose to sleep together in one enormous bed! or come and get into mine. You notice mine..... husband now sleeps with whichever child wants him that night as our bed is not big enough for six.

  2. That sounds lovely! I love the idea of a night nursery where children co-sleep with each other. Elizabeth Pantley claims to have one.