Sharanya Misra

Parenting

How co sleeping became pivotal in my motherhood journey

Aug 29’202, By Sharanya Misra

My 3.5-year-old daughter and I co-sleep every day. Mostly during the nights, but also on the weekends, when we take our afternoon naps together too. Sure, I am usually found sleeping in the slimmest corner of the bed while the rest of it is taken up by her and her innumerable babies (soft toys!). And sure, I am abruptly awakened a couple of times each night when she cries and reaches out for me in her sleep. But would I want to change this arrangement? Never. Not for the world. I am mother to a toddler. And this is my take on the joys of co-sleeping!

When it comes to new motherhood and the special bond shared by a mother and her baby, a lot is often spoken about breastfeeding. Not just because it allows a mother to give her child the best nutrition possible, but also because it is a bonding opportunity that most mothers cherish. Ironically, it was along this journey of breastfeeding that I stumbled upon what would prove to be my lifeline throughout early motherhood, and thereafter too. I discovered the magic of co-sleeping.

As an expecting mother, I was often advised to get my child used to sleeping separately right from day 1. The fact that most of my pregnancy was in the UK may have contributed, considering that this is a very common approach amongst parents there. Asian parents of grown-up kids too would often share that they regretted not getting their children hooked onto this habit from birth, leading me to strongly believe that this was the way forward. Back home too, I often had elders cautioning me against getting my child used to sleeping on my lap…a habit that they said would not go away easily. And so even before my child was born, I had bought her a crib.

The first few weeks postpartum, I was adamant on using the crib. I would work very hard at feeding her, putting her to sleep and then force myself to put her down in the crib. Only to have her waking up and crying, making me repeat the process all over again! A few days later, I started to give up, realizing that my sanity was very closely related to doing whatever was needed so as not to disturb her sleep! And so, my journey of co-sleeping began. Little did I know, it was a journey that would define the joys of early motherhood for me.

Breastfeeding was extremely difficult for me in the initial few days. Problems with latching and her cries in hunger all through the night meant that I was constantly sleepless. That’s when I read that a lot of mothers breastfed while lying down so that they could catch a few extra winks at night. Skeptical at first, and paranoid about SIDS or of rolling onto my baby in sleep, I tried it extremely tentatively. It worked. For the first time in a long time, I managed to give my body some rest through the multiple (almost hourly) night-time feed. Ask any new mother and that is a BIG deal!

And thus, for the next two years, co-sleeping became my saviour. Every parent-child duo has challenges of its own. With us, it was my child’s sleep pattern. She is a very light sleeper even today and wakes up at the smallest sound. So it was back then too. Not to mention that soon enough she had begun to associate her sleep with suckling, something quite common with breastfed babies. Sleeping next to my child allowed me to feed her, reassure her, and comfort her right there next to me, and drift back to sleep once she did. As a tired momma, I was grateful for that luxury! Co-sleeping became key to my mental peace during those two years. I found I was more empathetic to and receptive of my child’s nursing demands because I too was getting sufficient rest.

But while it was breastfeeding that introduced me to my love for sleeping next to my child, it was my decision to wean her off after she turned 2 that really sealed it in place! A lot of moms worry about weaning off their child, not only because of how difficult the process is for both the parties involved, but also because it is the severance of a really, really, strong bond. The closer I came to weaning her off completely, the more I began to fret about what this would mean for us. Would I ever be able to compensate for the lack of this physical closeness with anything else? I needn’t have worried.

The day I completely stopped breastfeeding my child, I suddenly realized that now my child valued me for ‘ME’ rather than as a milk-machine! Sleep times became a time for bonding, for chit chatting, for snuggling and for comforting each other with words and touches. We began to look forward to our afternoon naps and sleep times. We do, even now. Stories are told, sometimes by me, other times by her. Last minute tickling games are played. Songs are sung. And then in the comfort of each others’ bodies, we let sleep take over.

The beauty of the physical intimacy that co-sleeping allowed me with my child has been secondary to none in my experience as a mother. The calmness and comfort visible on my child’s face as she snuggles up to me is priceless. Being a light sleeper, she wakes up in the night often even now, only to unconsciously look for me, place a hand around my neck and drift off to sleep again. The feel of that little hand wrapped around me, almost like she’s making sure I don’t slip off, is one of extreme love to me. And when she has nightmares and suddenly cries, pulling her close and planting a kiss on her forehead is all she needs to calm back down. Sometimes she suddenly decides the bed isn’t good enough and chooses to slide on top of me and dose off again. Being my child’s sleep buddy has been the most loving phase of my journey of early-motherhood.

When my child was a baby, I remember reading how important skin-to-skin or physical contact is for a parent and child. With co-sleeping, I experience it every single night. And it works both ways. Being a parent can be very draining physically and mentally. But on most nights, breathing in the scent of that little head and snuggling into her little body as she snuggles into mine works like magic. I find all the exhaustion of the day wearing off, I forgive her for all the little ways in which she troubled me during the day, and I forgive myself for all the times I felt I could have been a better parent to her. Watching that innocent face, so full of unconditional love for me, just before I fall asleep gives me that renewed determination to try and be the best parent I can for the next day.

Now, a word of caution. Co-sleeping is definitely not easy for the parents. I get where those parents who had advised me to let my child sleep separate were coming from. Even now on most days my husband chooses to sleep in a different room while I sleep with my baby so that we can all have a comfortable sleep. On days when we choose to sleep together as a family, the space crunch is very obvious even on our king- sized bed, with me clinging onto a narrow corner for life while the father and daughter battle it out for territory all through the night. Also, co-sleeping with your child does take a toll on some precious moments with your partner too. And more often than not, it changes your sleep patterns based on your child’s. My bed-time routine is heavily tied up with my daughter’s and we often adjust all our plans around this fact. A lot of parents, in fact, like to have an undisturbed, comfortable sleep so they can wake up refreshed the next morning. What works for one child/parent, may not work for another. But in our case, my daughter ends up sleeping well and so do I; and cuddled up against my little girl, I wake up each morning as a happy mommy!

I read somewhere as a new mommy that skin-to-skin contact and physical touch with a child is very essential. I continue to experience that with my child. Every parent, over time, discovers that unique formula that seals the bond with their child. For me, thus far, it has been co-sleeping. Yes, that formula will change over time as will the bond. But for those of you who are scared to take this step during the early years, for fear of what you hear about it, I am here to reassure you – go with your instincts and do what feels right! Co-sleeping with my child simply felt right to me back then, as it does now, and until the day she chooses to sleep independently of her own accord, I wouldn’t change a thing about this arrangement!

Image from Unsplash.com

Read more of my articles on my journey of parenting here.

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