Why I haven't slept with my husband in seven years
Mum-of-three Katie Gunn on how dad got the spare room to make space for the baby
This month is my eldest child's seventh birthday. Which means it is nearly seven years since I last slept in the same bed as my husband.
When my daughter, Kaya, was born in 2004 my husband and I had just bought our first home and he was starting in a new job. That's right -- we squeezed three of life's most stressful events into a two-week slot, how clever of us. Or not.
Due to the pressure of new house/new job/new baby, plus the fact that said baby was waking every hour to be fed, we decided that my husband should move into the spare room in order to get a good night's sleep. There was no point in both of us being tired and grumpy the next day, plus he had to go to work each morning so it made sense.
Unfortunately, Kaya wasn't a great sleeper, though, and so for the next two years she woke up three or four times a night. Every night.
So my husband stayed in the spare room and Kaya stayed in bed with me. It was only when our next child was due that we were forced to change the arrangement. So Kaya moved out.
And the baby moved in.
Marley had a similar routine -- waking every two hours or so for a feed and spending most of the night star-shaped across the double mattress. We didn't even discuss changing the set-up -- it worked for us and we were happy (or at least as happy you could be on five hours' sleep a night).
By the time number three arrived two years later, we knew instinctively that Marley would move out and the baby would move into my bed. Dragging the cot out of the loft was not even mentioned. It remains the least-used piece of baby equipment ever purchased.
Of course, for the first couple of years I was a 'closet co-sleeper', afraid to admit to health workers, friends and even family about our strange sleeping arrangement. However, as time went on and I became more confident in our decision, I openly admitted the fact that we never even used a cot.
The remarkable thing was that as soon as I admitted it, a large proportion of other mothers would agree, often with an obvious sigh of relief that they weren't the only ones.
Some co-slept with their husband and baby; some co-slept part-time, meaning that when their baby woke in the night they would be brought into the parent's bed and some co-slept when their child was sick. The point was that almost all of the parents I encountered had, to some degree, co-slept at some time.
Aifric and Phil McDarby in Co Wicklow agree. Aifric herself was the fifth child in a family of seven. Because she arrived four years after her elder sibling and three years before the next child, she experienced a very close method of parenting, including being breastfed until she was two and co-sleeping with her parents.
She feels strongly that this contributed to the person she is today.
"I certainly feel that this style of 'attachment parenting' gave me a strong sense of self and a confidence and security," says Aifric. "Because it was such a positive experience for me and my parents, it felt natural to do the same with my own children."
Aifric and Phil co-slept with their first daughter, Sofia, for seven months, and then Aifric continued co-sleeping with her until she was 18 months old.
By the time their second child, Ava, came along they were happy to replicate the arrangement.
"Ava is now 16 months," says Aifric, "so we will be thinking about moving her into her own cot soon. Although many people would be appalled to hear that my husband spends a good deal of time in the spare room, for us co-sleeping has been a natural and wonderful experience that really is over in such a short time.
"I firmly believe that the security and foundations that it offers for later life, as well as the bonding benefits, far outweigh any negatives."
Naturally, there are guidelines about co-sleeping safely with your child and any parent intending to follow this route should read up carefully on the matter.
The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths is the UK's leading baby charity aiming to prevent unexpected deaths in infancy and promote infant health.
It advises that you shouldn't co-sleep with a child
if you (or your partner):
> Are a smoker (even if you never smoke in bed or at home)
> Have been drinking alcohol
> Take medication or drugs that make you drowsy
> Feel very tired
or if your baby:
> Was premature (born before 37 weeks)
> Was low birth weight (less than 2.5kg or 5.5 lb)
If practised correctly, however, co-sleeping offers lots of positives, such as making breastfeeding easier, helping your baby feel safe and secure, and getting more sleep -- which as any mum of young children will say is number one priority.
Siobhan Freegard of the UK parenting website Netmums.com gives the following advice:
"If you're thinking that co-sleeping may be for you, the first thing to do is discuss it with your partner.
"Some dads will jump at the chance of an undisturbed night's sleep, whilst others may feel they are being rejected.
"It's best to tentatively find out their feelings on the matter first".
She goes on to say: "Once you have that in place do a little bit of homework to ensure you are offering your baby or child the safest and securest co-sleeping arrangement possible.
"After that, all you need to do is lie back and enjoy!"
Certainly for us, and for countless other families, it proved to be the perfect solution.
However, seven years, three kids and two house moves after my husband and I began this journey we remain in separate beds, separate rooms.
The only problem now is that I am no longer feeding 'the baby' Baxter, (who in fact is over two-and-a-half-years old), and there is no other baby on the way to replicate the 'one-in-one-out' routine that went before.
And so I am coming to the conclusion that it is time for us both to move back in to the marital bed.
But how will I adjust to sleeping with a six-foot man instead of a two-foot toddler?
Now that's really going to cause some sleepless nights!