Co-Sleeping: Is It Harmful to Your Child and When Should It Stop?
Sleeping like a baby is a well-worn expression that describes the peaceful bedtime that the newest members of the family enjoy, but while they are peacefully snoozing, parents are often on edge as they await the scream that can mean many hours of insomnia.
To counteract this, many exhausted parents bring their babies into their own bed to be fed and comforted as soon as possible so that everyone can hopefully fall asleep again.
This practice, often warned by medical professionals about a potential choking hazard if a parent accidentally rolls over on top of the baby, is usually discontinued in a child’s first few months of life, but if they are not good sleepers it may continue until their first birthday and beyond.
However, some people encourage their children to sleep in their bed well into infancy, with actress Alicia Silverstone recently sparking outrage when she admitted she still sleeps with her 11-year-old son, Bear.
“I believe in love, I believe in nature, and our society is afraid of nature and afraid of love,” she responded to criticism.
Jayne Whelan agrees. Their nine-year-old daughter Millie still sleeps in her bed every night, often crowding out her husband, who invariably “lands up in the guest room.”
“Millie’s always had a problem taking my eyes off me,” she says. “I breastfed her until she was three years old, so it was easier to have her in bed with us.
“Then we said – well, mostly my husband – that it was time for her to sleep alone, so we bought her a nice new bed, but she refused to go in and got really angry at bedtime.
“So I tried starting her in our bed and then moving her when she was asleep, but she came back every night, so we kept it going like that for a couple more years.
“Then when she started school we told her that because she was a ‘big girl’ she had to sleep in her own bed and we created a reward chart to motivate her.
“It worked, but she still came into our bed every night and continues to do so – John usually sleeps in a different room.
“People say I should be more steadfast, but I don’t agree. I think she will stop coming to our bed when she is ready. It may only be a few more years so I look forward to enjoying the cuddles until then.”
Fiona Walsh, who lives in Cork with her husband Tony and children Martha, 10, and Robyn, 7, has had the same experience, as her younger daughter is a regular night visitor.
“Robyn has always had trouble sleeping after being diagnosed with sleep apnea as a baby,” says the presentation trainer.
“Her tonsils and adenoids were removed when she was three years old and during that time she was waking up about eight times a night.
“I used to sleep on a pull out mattress on her floor and I think that started her addiction to sleeping with someone else.
“These days she sleeps in her own bed and when she wakes up she comes into our bed – not every night, but it happens a lot. I thought that after the surgery she would magically start sleeping better, but after seven years of not getting much sleep, the thought of getting up to put her back to bed doesn’t appeal to me.
“When we go on vacation, she usually sleeps with me. In the evening, when I’m tired and lie in my bed to read, she brings me her book for her bedtime story – then we sometimes fall asleep together in my bed.
“When Tony works nights, Robyn sneaks into bed without me noticing because she knows there’s plenty of room.
“We have a little joke between us and I tell her she needs to get out of bed before dad gets home and remove all the toys she brought so he thinks she wasn’t in our bed. That’s a bit of a joke because he wouldn’t be angry.
“I don’t mind her sleeping in our bed, apart from cooking, so it’s like sleeping with a giant hot water bottle.
“She also moves a lot and we often get hit in the head or I roll over and get a sharp elbow in my temple.
“But I know it won’t be for long as I see her becoming more confident and sometimes not wanting a bedtime story.”
Digital Marketing Specialist Laura Stapleton lives in Kilkenny with her husband Dinny and their three sons Theo and Louis (3) and Charlie (6 months).
She says they’ve had a good bedtime time with the boys for the past few years, but since the twins moved into “big boy beds,” they’ve enjoyed the freedom of being able to hop in and out, and regularly moving to their parents’ bed that often offers space for five people.
“We’ve been really lucky with sleep since the twins arrived but a few months ago they moved into their own beds and now we can’t get them to go downstairs at 7pm and sleep until 6.30am “staying in their beds before bed and they wake up at 4:30 for the day,” she says.
“They climb into our bed and make a horrible noise, barely falling asleep again, and with Charlie in a ‘next to me’ bed next to the bed, all five of us are awake and exhausted.
“We tried going to their beds with them to keep them in their rooms, but it didn’t work.”
The exhausted parents are now on a waiting list to see a sleep counselor and Laura says she would be happy for the family to share a bed if the boys were actually sleeping.
“I enjoy cuddling with my boys because I know it’s fleeting and I don’t think I would mind sleeping together if they would actually go into our bed and sleep, but our boys seem to think that around this time is party or wrestling time,” says Lara.
“Charlie only wakes up two or three times a night so we’re very lucky, but the toddlers’ sleep regression left Dinny and I exhausted.”
Sleep counselor and psychotherapist Lucy Wolfe doesn’t think there should be an age limit for children sharing their parents’ bed, but she recognizes that it can cause problems.
“Some parents may report that it takes forever to get their child to sleep, which means they have little time to unwind themselves, or that bed-sharing disrupts their own (or their children’s) sleep,” she says.
“Bed sharing can also mean that parents no longer share a bed, which can affect the couple’s relationship. However, sharing the bed is a personal, in-house decision and parents decide individually what feels right for them and their child.”
Wolfe says it can be easier to negotiate bed arrangements with older children, but there are some tips that can help, including:
- building on the changes;
- search for their involvement;
- create a book with pictures of the changes;
- spending time outside of sleep in their bedroom, which helps them understand their own sleeping environment;
- Having a bedtime routine that focuses on creating a calm environment before bed and being predictable with them when there are changes.
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/co-sleeping-is-it-harmful-to-your-child-and-when-should-it-stop-41886070.html Co-Sleeping: Is It Harmful to Your Child and When Should It Stop?