Our dirty little secret

It seems lots of parents have a dirty little secret.

We don’t tell each other, we don’t tell the doctor, and we definitely don’t tell our Plunket nurses…

A secret addiction? A devious spending habit? Nothing so scandalous. It’s that we are all co-sleeping.

I realised the other day how widespread it was when my coffee group were talking about having trouble getting kids to fall asleep, stay asleep or generally have any interest in sleep whatsoever.

First one of us admitted that we more often than not share the bed with our kids, then another, then another – until it was obvious that almost all of us were doing it in some way.

Why don’t we talk about it? Probably because it’s become something of a parenting crime.

From the time you have a baby, it’s drilled into you by virtually every health practitioner you see that sharing a bed with your baby is a dangerous, no-good, very bad thing.

Coroners warn against it and Plunket nurses ask pointed questions about where your baby is sleeping – and send around back-up if you admit that it is sometimes Mum and Dad’s bed.

But when you are exhausted, co-sleeping can be a lifesaver. Falling asleep while your baby breastfeeds can take some of the sting out of what would otherwise be a sleepless night. Some people – and their babies – just sleep better together.

But because it’s so frowned upon, it’s hard to get any information on what you can do if you want to cut the risks.

So, if you find co-sleeping is what suits your family, here are some ways to make it safer.

  • Your baby should be on his or her back.
  • The surface of the bed should be firm – no waterbeds (apologies to anyone channelling the 80).
  • Make sure there are no gaps down the side or top of the bed where the baby could get stuck.
  • The same goes for the wall – make sure your baby could not get lodged between it and your bed, either.
  • Make sure the room isn’t too hot.
  • The baby’s head should not be covered and there should be no pillows nearby that could fall on to your child while you are both asleep. You might need to wear something to cover your top half at least, so you can have the duvet well below your baby’s face.
  • Don’t co-sleep if you’ve been drinking or taking any medication that will make you sleep more heavily than normal.
  • Don’t put your baby to sleep in a bed with an adult who doesn’t know the child is there – sharing a bed with a baby should be a conscious decision.
  • Don’t swaddle a baby who is in bed with you – they could get too hot and it limits their ability to move and let you know they are in trouble, or to move blankets from their face.
  • Some people suggest that it’s better to have the baby next to his or her mother rather than between the parents – some mums are more aware of their kids at night. If your child is at the stage where they are moving around, between you may be better to make it harder for them to fall off the side.