There's been three in our bed for as long as I care to remember. Sometimes it's like sharing your bed with a slumbering warthog whose nostrils are caked with snot. Other times, it's like sleeping with a kangaroo who likes to kick you in the kidneys. Mostly though, it's like having a beautiful cherub next to you, who is peacefully asleep and smiling slightly, as if she is dreaming about flying over a land made of chocolate.
Astrid disliked her cot from the beginning. Even at a few months old, she railed against the wooden bars and the confined space. Obviously, she could not crawl or walk, yet she still did not seem to like being hemmed in. Rarely would she fall asleep in this wooden cage without a lot of effort from us and a lot of crying from her.
When she did fall asleep easily, it was on our bed. Then we had to pick her up and move her to her cot. Invariably, she would wake up and the whole process had to begin again. At some point, we just left her on the bed, moulded ourselves around her and went to sleep. No doubt many co-sleeping situations develop in a similar way.
Of course, there are good and bad sides to this arrangement - none of which are clear-cut despite evidence from a host of scientific studies. The American Academy of Pediatrics deems it "hazardous" to sleep in the same bed as your child, and statistics from the United States point to co-sleeping as the cause of a higher rate of infant deaths than sleeping in a cot. Yet these statistics do not allow for the possibility of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Sids), which, according to the statisticians, can only occur in a cot. Nor do they take into account factors that dramatically increase the risk of a child dying while co-sleeping, such as the type of pillows and bedding on the bed and whether the parents smoke, drink alcohol or take drugs before going to sleep.
The benefits of co-sleeping include the speed at which you can respond to your child during the night, the ease of breastfeeding and the increase in cuddling, hugging and contact with your child. A study in 2004 by a pair of researchers called Keller and Goldberg found that sharing a bed with your child can help him or her to become more independent and self-reliant in early childhood. This slightly counter-intuitive conclusion is rooted in the idea that co-sleeping fosters security, which makes the child more relaxed and confident with others. Obviously, co-sleeping is not for everyone, but parents should not be berated in the way they often are now if they do decide to sleep in the same bed as their child, as long as they know the risks and do their best to minimise them.
We moved Astrid in to her own bed a few nights ago. As with the decision to co-sleep, practicalities rather than arguments and scientific studies prevailed. Astrid has grown so much. Her legs and arms are so long that when she sleeps spread-eagled on a double bed (as she often likes to do) it leaves little room for us. We were worried how she would adjust to the change, but she seems untroubled. She wakes up once or twice during the night, but no more than usual. In fact, the past few nights I have woken up thinking I have heard her crying and staggered sleepily to her room, only to find her sleeping soundly. It seems I am having more trouble getting used to sleeping without Astrid than she is without me.