The baby sleep equation: two plus one equals a crowded but happy bed

Before you start thinking ‘three in a bed, what’s not to love?…’, let me make it clear I am talking babies here.

Before you have them, other parents joke about ‘sleepless nights’, but until you become a parent yourself you just don’t appreciate the hell of being kept awake all night by the horrendous squawky crying and irritating writhing that babies combine so well.

Anyway, regular readers will have gathered by now that my parenting style is fairly ‘instinctive’, (a euphemism my critics may say for lazy or ill-informed), and the books I read and the friendships I form are chosen very carefully, designed to support rather than inform the choices I make.

We all know that you can find a study (or friend) to back up any argument, and I always manage to justify the decisions I make. It’s a bit like shopping – “But these shoes were in the sale, so technically I have saved money, and they go with everything, so represent excellent cost per wear value..”

I’d be the first to admit that my parenting isn’t always selfless, but honestly, TV can be terribly educational you know. There are some choices I make though that, although they have not made my life easy for me at the time, I feel confident were absolutely the right thing to do for us.

One of these is sleep. Bee slept through the night from six weeks old. I don’t say this in a gloating way, it’s just a fact. Although at the time I smugly put it down to my ‘laid back parenting style’ (oh what a young foolish woman I was), on reflection I realise it was just luck. She did however sleep in the same room as me, and at times in a bed pushed right up against mine, until she was at least 18 months old. If I’m honest this was less a philosophical standpoint and more a matter of logistics, living as we were then with my mum in one bedroom. It felt right though, and I never had the urge to push her out into her own room.

And then I had Belle.

It would be fair to say that Belle didn’t sleep quite as well as her sister. In fact, she woke up regularly at hourly intervals throughout the night until she was about two, and it was only when she started school that she began to sleep right through.

Many of these nights were spent with her in our bed, often with her Dad relegated to a mattress on the floor. When she got older she moved into her own room, but this just meant I had further to stumble in the night when she woke crying, and that I slept even less. If you’ve ever done that teenage thing of sharing a single bed with another person, it’s like that, only worse, as you can’t really shove a toddler against the wall in protest of them stealing all the covers. Well you can, but I believe it is frowned upon in parenting circles.

My point is…what is my point?…ah yes, my point is that I never resorted to controlled crying. Babies only really have one way of telling us something is wrong, and although it’s a shame that the one way is so loud and piercing, it has a purpose. Whatever the parenting gurus like to have us believe, babies don’t cry as some kind of elaborate mind game, to test us, or to prove a point. They cry because they are upset and need comforting. So when my babies cried, I comforted them. Sounds obvious doesn’t it, but there are plenty of parents who don’t do it.

I was delighted therefore to have my choices validated this weekend in The Guardian  by psychologist Oliver James. James’ examination of the evidence shows that ‘unresponsiveness’, i.e. ignoring your baby when it cries, has been shown to have serious long-term consequences. Having your cries go unheard as a child can make you insecure as an adult and lead to emotional vulnerability in your future relationships. James also highlights how unique we are in this country in believing babies should be sleeping alone – 79% of  societies around the world normally have their infants in the same room, 44% in the same bed.

So why are co-sleepers so often made to feel like freaks? When ever anyone tells me their baby shares their bed, it tends to be in a conspiratorial whisper – ‘I know I shouldn’t, but…’. We feel guilty, weak maybe, despite the evidence showing we’re actually setting our kids up for a healthier adult life.

I thorny subject maybe, but I’m happy at least that one of my parenting choices has turned out to be a good one. Now all I need is a study showing Oreos make a wholesome breakfast and I’m set.



  1. suburbanmummyuk
    19 April, 2010 / 3:35 pm

    I am in the same camp as you, co-slept from the get go. My Daughter stayed with us until 15 months and she asked for her own bed but still came in with us a lot and still does. I still lay with her every night until she goes to sleep, she’s 4. My son who’s nearly two sleeps better than she ever did, but still spends 6/7 nights in our bed.
    I would never leave my kids to cry to sleep either. But hey if it’s how other need to do things then so be it. I do what I want and so do they!

    I’m also one of those “extended breastfeeders” lol

    • 19 April, 2010 / 7:25 pm

      I stayed with Belle too until about a year ago – then we moved on to me checking on her every five minutes, every ten, every fifteen etc over quite a long period of time. I’m a long term breastfeeder too – Belle was about two and a half by the time we finally made the break.

  2. itsasmallworldafterallfamily
    19 April, 2010 / 3:39 pm

    I really admire you. I’ve often wished that I found co-sleeping easy, when I’ve been standing at the side of a cot in the freezing middle of the night comforting a crying baby. But I just can’t do it. I can’t sleep with a small child in my bed. Which makes me even grumpier and more miserable the next day. The only times I’ve ever managed it were with tiny babies and even then my poor husband got kicked out. I did do the cot at the side of the bed thing, which worked for me.

    • 19 April, 2010 / 7:27 pm

      The cot by the bed think is a nice compromise – I know loads of people who say they just don’t trust themselves with a baby in their bed, that they panic about rolling on them. You’re still close at hand if you’re baby is in your room – whether it’s in your bed or in a cot nearby.

  3. 19 April, 2010 / 3:40 pm

    There was an interesting post on this over at Feminist Philosophers:
    I think there can be so much pressure on parents to do the one or the other – when most of us just do the best we can with what we’ve got! I know things were very different with my son and my daughter, and I wouldn’t dream of criticising parents who used controlled crying or those who didn’t!
    Oliver James pushes too many guilt buttons on not much evidence, I think.

    • 19 April, 2010 / 7:30 pm

      That’s an interesting post and you are so right about the pressure on mothers to ‘do the right thing’ – hence my shift in approach. I make a decision and THEN find evidence to back it up, rather than the other way round! Whatever we do as parents has the potential to be the subject of therapy sessions in later life, we can only do our best with our situation at any one time.

  4. 19 April, 2010 / 3:44 pm

    Yeah I co slept from the beginning – when the second one was four my hubby started to get a bit miffed though so I reluctantly said adieu to her and made her sleep in her own bed. But it was fun!

    • 19 April, 2010 / 7:32 pm

      Belle had a period of sleeping back in my bed after her Dad left and she finally went back in her own bed about four months ago. I must admit I was quite sad to see her go – she was lovely to snuggle up to and great for warming the bed up. I could go to bed, push her over onto the cold side, and get nice and warm.

  5. 19 April, 2010 / 3:44 pm

    We co-sleep and I couldn’t survive without doing it. I was back at work each time before mine were 5 months and still nursing in the night. Co- sleeping means I get some sleep. What’s not to love?

    • 19 April, 2010 / 7:33 pm

      I think a lot of mums do it when they go back to work – night feeds are a lovely way to get some quality time together aren’t they when the days are hectic.

  6. 19 April, 2010 / 4:15 pm

    I think co-sleep is the way to go. As you stated, this is standard and accepted practise in most civilisations. I ended up sleeping on the floor for a few months when the boys were little but I would rather do that and make my child secure and confident than feel like I was neglecting him by letting him scream all night. And of course to get some sleep. Now at 2 and 3 they both sleep in their own rooms and through the night unless they are sick. I have no doubt it was the Victorians and their warped sense of family values that started this whole child seperation issue. They have a lot to answer for, ideas they started that are now adhered to but are totally counter productive. Parenting is instinctive and you have to do what feels right for you.

    • 19 April, 2010 / 7:34 pm

      Child rearing all became a bit bizarre when doctors started putting their oar in and getting us to hang our babies on hooks on the wall and stuff didn’t it? (DISCLAIMER: I may have just made that up, but it sounds familiar).

  7. hilly
    19 April, 2010 / 5:46 pm

    my thoughts exactly. i have never used controlled crying, i co-slept with both my children, i breastfed til they were well past a year old. we had a very smooth transition to them sleeping in their own bedroom. i swear by elizabeth pantley books, she gave me the confidence that my way would not result in clingy children who could not fall asleep or stay asleep in their own beds. at 2 and nearly 4 years old they now give me 12 hours of respite nearly every night – glorious!

    • 19 April, 2010 / 7:35 pm

      I love the Elizabeth Pantley books too. I read them when Belle was about two and found them really useful – very gentle and understanding.

  8. 19 April, 2010 / 6:05 pm

    I was very lucky that Chick was a great baby who slept all the way through the night from being 4 weeks old. i tried the controlled trying thing once and it was so horrific I gave it up as a bad job. She still occasionally finds her way into my bed now but I don’t mind as in a couple of years she won’t even want to be seen with me!!!

    • 19 April, 2010 / 7:37 pm

      Don’t bank on it – even my teenager finds her way into my bed from time to time! I don’t mind though, like you say it will pass all too quickly…

  9. 19 April, 2010 / 7:51 pm

    Oh jeez Jo make me feel bad why don’t you?! Miss L was a rubbish sleeper and I let her do as she wanted which resulted in lots of faffing,grumpy family life and she still isn’t great. Baby P I spent many hours ‘teaching’ her how to sleep which involved letting her cry and she loves her sleep, naps,up at good time, the lot. I do not believe she will be scarred as a result I truly feel I have taught her a valuable skill and a healthy approach to sleep. So there!

    • 19 April, 2010 / 8:03 pm

      Sorry – didn’t mean to make you feel bad! I don’t think I made my point very well, which was really that most of the time I am a bit crap, so I cling to any evidence that backs up the choices I make.

      Plus it makes me feel a bit better about all the times I have traumatised them by chucking out their Dads, having to have them look after me with a hangover, neglecting them while I blog etc etc :-)

  10. 19 April, 2010 / 8:36 pm

    The world would be pretty boring if we all did the same thing though eh?! Whatever works for you I reckon. And don’t apologise, I must practice my playful sarcasm writing style :)

  11. 20 April, 2010 / 6:36 pm

    I co-slept with Will until he was around two; it worked brilliantly for me as I was still breastfeeding him until then, too. He then self-weaned and went off into his own bedroom more or less in the same week. We never had sleepless nights all the time he was in with us. I still co-sleep sometimes – we sit up until late on Saturday nights watching crap DVDs and eating snacks and then fall asleep together in my bed. It’s special and lovely, though sadly, probably not going to happen for much longer because he is now seven and will soon no doubt freak at the notion.

    • 21 April, 2010 / 3:25 pm

      You should definitely make the most of it – I do miss having Belle in my bed sometimes but daren’t let her back for one offs as I’d never get rid of her!

  12. 22 April, 2010 / 7:32 am

    ardent supporter of co-sleeping, or anything else that makes life easier, and gets you by. In fact one friend said to me, with her first she followed all the advice on controlled crying etc etc. With her second she regularly rocked her son to sleep, and couldn’t believe what an amazing experience she had missed out on. Co-sleeping with a warm, nuzzling baby is just gorgeuos. I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world. great post.

  13. 24 April, 2010 / 8:24 pm

    J coslept for the first 2 years. It wasnt out of choice initially but then it was. I loved it. I miss it :(

  14. 3 July, 2010 / 1:54 pm

    revious research has shown an increase in brain activity motor, visual, auditory processing and centers of the brain during sleep in infants.
    Scientists say the study of the response depends on the cerebellum of the brain. Accordingly, the present study have implications for future treatment of autism and dyslexia, two conditions associated with abnormal function of the cerebellum.

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