THERE WERE THREE IN THE BED
And the little one said "move over"! Moms and childcare professionals voice their opinions for and against turning the marital bed into a family bed.
When your beloved baby screams blue murder at 4am, it's all too easy to tuck her into bed with you and hubby, and drift off into the ocean of sleep on a dreamboat made for three.
For many new parents, the family bed is an easier option to sleeping problems, but a primary worry for most parents is that once you' ve let them in, you'll never get them out. Some parents believe that the marital bed should be a separate, sanctified space that is not occupied by children.
Family therapist, Annette Steele, believes it's important to provide baby with physical closeness, especially in the early weeks. This allows for easy feeding, involves the father and prevents the new mom from becoming exhausted.
The risk of separation anxiety is lowered, and so it' s a win-win situation for all she says.
Many dads find the presence of a baby in the marital bed threatening but, says Annette, for a while after the birth, the sexual relationship is affected anyway. But, if a dad' s prone to jealousy, and threatened by the bond between mother and baby, then the family bed issue becomes more complicated. One way of dealing with this is to involve dad more, and to give him responsibilities with feeds
Annette advises moms to move baby into a cot next to the bed once she' s settled into a routine, or alternatively let her sleep in her own room, so that she doesn' t associate falling asleep with her parents' bed. Once baby has been weaned and grows into a toddler, let her sleep on a mattress next to the bed rather than in the marital bed.
Intimate space is important for parents, and establishing the idea of privacy relatively early is good for all. A child needs to learn to respect and value that her parents love each other, and that she can' t dictate their relationship says Annette.
Annette believes getting kids out of the marital bed only becomes an issue when a child reaches school-going age. That' s when a child' s awareness starts to change, and manipulation and control are present. Separation needs to have happened before then, and if not, the family dynamics are out of sync.
Midwife Heather de Koning is a strong advocate of the family bed and dismisses the idea that bed sharing makes children dependent and clingly. On the contrary, she says, you bring them close so they feel confident enough to be independent.
She believes children will naturally seek out their own space as they mature emotionally.
You can wean your children gradually, by introducing a single bed in your room, and eventually move them into their own
Moreover, Heather sees the family bed as part of your journey as parents and believes sharing sleep allows for more open parenting and increased flexibility. She believes this arrangement shouldn' t compromise a healthy marital relationship as parents can be inventive with love-making when their bed is filled with little one. Heather also believes co-sleeping provides parenting opportunities for many fathers who have little day-time contact with their children due to work commitments.
Heather's strongest motivation for the family bed is to solve sleep problems. I' ve had countless calls from parents who resisted sleeping with their children, based on social taboos, yet weren' t getting any sleep ! After I encouraged them to put their babies into their beds, they found instant results
Heather believes most people find the idea of sleeping alone abhorrent. Why, she asks, should children feel any differently? She also believes that it' s the most practical option for breast-feeding moms.
It all depends on your marital circumstances and your children. Some children will leave your bed effort-lessy, and others will leave and return. Each child is different, and so is each family. It' s all part of the process of growing as a family.
Paediatrician Dr Jonny Lotter takes a practical approach. There is no perfect sleeping arrangement. Each parent and child will have different tolerance levels, and different physical and emotional needs. Babies don' t read the sleep well handbooks and don' t follow rules. Trying to install a feeding and sleeping rhythm early in infancy has advantages, but can' t be forced before at least six months.
In his experience, sleep deprivation often has a more debilitating effect on the parents than the child. If you feel drained, constantly tired and emotionally run down most mornings after another sleepless night, it' s time to change your sleeping arrangement. Do what makes you feel comfortable, but both parents must agree on the plan of action- there' s no need to create even more stress at 3am when tensions are already running high!
Dr Lotter says a key factor in the family bed debate is confident parenting. He believes that if parents hold different opinions on sleeping arrangements, this will cause conflict which affects the whole family, and as such needs to be worked out.