Co-sleeping with your little one: 'Husband on the couch, baby in the bed, everyone's happy....'
Co-sleeping with your little one is controversial, but Chrissie Russell says it's best for her family
I have a confession to make: I'm sleeping with another man. Society may judge me and I suspect the few friends I've told secretly disapprove. But my husband is well aware of the fact - he's asleep on the sofa bed in the living room.
No, it's not a saucy Gallic threesome I'm embroiled in but the debatably more controversial world of Attachment Parenting. For the past nine months I have been co-sleeping with my infant son Tom, sharing the double bed with him while my husband spends most nights on Ikea's finest.
It's admittedly not as drastic a scenario as that revealed last week by British mum Julie Darby (41), who shares a bed with her sons, aged nine and 10, while her husband, Gary, sleeps in a single bunk bed in the kids' room.
The Attachment Parenting devotees have faced a barrage of criticism for spoiling their children and putting their marriage in jeopardy but insist they're simply 'putting their sons' needs first' - the boys will sleep alone when they decide for themselves that they're ready.
Now, ideally I'm hoping we'll have reclaimed the marital bed for the adults long before anyone's doing homework, but I'm not in any rush to judge Julie and Gary because maybe they didn't intend for this to happen. I know I didn't.
My husband and I spent a small fortune on rocking Moses baskets, hypnotic mobiles and luxury cots. I'd read up on Attachment Parenting - based on responding intuitively to baby's needs and keeping them close specifically by bed-sharing, breastfeeding and baby-wearing (carrying the tot on you in a sling) - and was pretty sure I wasn't 'that sort' of mum. Oh no, I was going to be in A Routine.
Then I had a baby.
Having previously known nothing about breastfeeding, I swiftly discovered it wasn't going to fit into a tidy schedule prescribed in many of the other parenting books I'd devoured.
The baby suckled more or less constantly for the first six weeks and, in a sleep deprived haze somewhere along the way, getting out of bed to put him into the sodding Moses basket two feet away became too much effort. He nodded off in my bed, next to a boob and we both slept a million times better. My husband decamped to another room where he too slept much, much better.
Now nine months old, Tom wakes three or four times a night to feed and in order to get my maximum quota of shut-eye I head to bed with him at 8.30pm. I let him set the pace in other areas too - breastfeeding on demand (something I've no intention of stopping any time soon), being in my arms (I wish I'd invested in a sling) and now we're engaged in baby-led weaning, offering him a range of foods and allowing him to feed himself, something we've all found exciting and fun.
I've become an accidental Attachment Parent, a co-sleeper of convenience. After convincing myself that I'd a be a failure if I didn't have the kid sleeping alone, self-soothing and in A Routine basically from the moment my epidural wore off, it's a huge relief. It feels right.
But it's not everyone agrees. "You're creating a rod for your own back," I'm warned. "He'll never sleep for you now". "Cry it out never did mine any harm," is another one often followed by, "you can't let him manipulate you," as if my baby son's Machiavellian wiles have somehow kicked in before his gross motor skills. Mum-of-seven Dr Kate Byrne has heard them all. "The idea that babies have the thinking skills to manipulate is ridiculous," she laughs.
"Babies are born with a basic neurological blue print and key to this is 'survival instinct' is attachment.
"If they want to be close to you all the time, it's because they are optimising brain development and following nature's model, not trying to get one over on you."
Psychologist Kate set up the support group Attachment Parenting (AP) Ireland in 2006 and has seen a steady increase in interest in the approach.
"I think a lot of people try to follow rigid instructions in books and it stresses them out, they're not enjoying being a parent. Our ethos is, if you're doing something and it feels awful and you're fighting it then that's your instinct saying it isn't right and the most important part of being a parent is listening to your instincts.
"That doesn't mean permissive parenting but we need to recognise that instead of manipulative, control freaks, babies are small human beings who work on their senses."
Gratifyingly there's also a host of studies supporting the benefits of baby-led parenting and co-sleeping.
Last year researchers at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, found that babies who slept near, or on, their mums had a stronger bond with them and went on to advise co-sleeping until three or four for optimal brain development.
Other studies show safe co-sleeping helps regulate infants' temperature and breathing, that co-sleepers grow up with higher self-esteem, less anxiety and greater independence and that bed-sharing babies thrive better.
HSE guidelines say that the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot in your room. But while some headlines have linked co-sleeping to infant deaths other research states being near mum helps baby rouse himself and means mum is more likely to wake up if something's wrong. In fact, according to renowned paediatrician, Dr William Sears' research, the rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is lowest in cultures that embrace co-sleeping. The idea that babies should be 'sleeping through' and in their own bed from a young age is a uniquely Western and recent development and, when you think of it, makes little sense.
Sleeping, like eating and walking, is a skill that the baby will learn in his or her own time. We wouldn't stick a pair of shoes on a kid and leave them outside to learn to walk, or put a plate of food in front of them and leave them unattended to work it out. Why then, when we hover over them ready to catch them when they fall, is it not only acceptable but encouraged, to leave babies to self soothe and cry it out so they learn to sleep on their own?
My husband and I believe in providing a safe, secure base for our son and letting him lead the way in when he's ready to sleep alone. He'll get there in his own time… ideally before he's 10.
Gwen Stefani says life's too short to miss out on night-time snuggles with her son, saying: "I don't want to look back and say, 'Oh my God, I didn't sleep with Zuma that time because I was too tired,' so I'll just snuggle up with him tonight."
"Strap them to you and hang out with them and sleep in the same bed with them and just love every second of it," is Angelina Jolie's advice.
Model Heidi Klum co-slept with all four of her children. After giving birth to daughter Lou, she told German magazine Gala: "She will sleep now for a year with us in our bedroom - just as her siblings did. It's easier at night if she is hungry."
Kourtney Kardashian co-sleeps but Kim isn't convinced. "I'm really strict on nap time and sleeping in her own crib," said Kim last year. "Kourtney's style is where her kids sleep in bed with her."
Do's and don'ts for co-sleeping
Don't have the baby in the bed if you are under the influence of alcohol, drugs or in a smoky environment.
Take precautions to ensure baby can't roll out of the bed or sink into any gaps between headboard and mattress.
Don't have loose covers or pillows near the baby.
Only mum should sleep beside babies - they have protective awareness of baby.
Put baby to sleep on their back.
For more advice see askdrsears.com