Co-Sleeping With Your Baby: Has The Indian Culture Got It Right Or Wrong?
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
In India it is the cultural norm to co-sleep with your baby from the moment they are brought into the world, and is encouraged to do so for as long as possible. It is not unusual to find a ten year old still sleeping in their parent's bed or in the same bedroom. It holds such cultural significance that by not co-sleeping would more than likely be frowned upon.
Although it would seem that economic influences would be the reason behind Indian parents choosing to co-sleep with their infants, it actually holds much more cultural significance. Since they are a very family oriented culture many households will be multi generational and you will tend to find that many of the family sleep in the same room as one another and not only the children.
It's only been of late that co-sleeping has been on the rise in the western world. However it is more often than not frowned upon by many, especially bed sharing with your newborn child. This is mostly due to risks such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome which is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby under the age of 12 months.
However if you take precautions then there is no reason why you cannot adopt the Indian way of co-sleeping with your baby. Particularly since co-sleeping is actually practised by more non western cultures than the western way of making baby's sleep a private affair.
Though as with any parenting techniques not everything will be a one size fits all. If you have found something that works best for mother, father and child then that is what is important.
So What Is Co-Sleeping?
Essentially it is sleeping in close proximity to your child, whether that be by bed sharing, sharing the same bedroom or having their bed attached to yours.
Why My Husband & I Co-Sleep With Our Son
Co-sleeping was one of those cultural aspects that we had to discuss before we decided to have children. My husband was adamant that our child would be sleeping in our bedroom for as long as possible. Though the reality of sharing the same bedroom, let along sharing the same bed as your child, is vastly different.
We have been co-sleeping with our son since he was born, alternating between bed sharing and room sharing. My husband didn't arrive back in the country until our son was about three months old. So for the first three months after our son was born it was easy enough for just the two of us to co-sleep.
At the time I was living at my Grandmother's house since my husband was in India until his residency was approved. Therefore we were a little short on space, although I was given the okay to use the spare bedroom for my son's bedroom, however it was much more convenient for us to sleep together.
I slept on a single mattress so that it was close to the floor and there was no risk of falling. Beside the mattress I had a bassinet set up for nights when I needed to just stretch out and sleep on my own. I alternated between sharing the same bed, sleeping on my chest and using the bassinet.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to breastfeed therefore I didn't have that same bonding opportunity with my son as other mothers would. It is recommended that you have skin to skin contact with your newborn to promote bonding. So sleeping on my chest was the closest form of skin to skin contact that we could have. However many mother's choose to co-sleep for the convenience of breastfeeding during the night.
Other nights when I had him sleep with me on the mattress I always had his own area established so that I couldn't accidentally roll over and squish him. I had it set up in a way similar to those co-sleeper infant beds that you can buy from retailers. They are essentially a firm foam roll out bed with four walls where you place baby into so you can bed share safely.
As a mother I know that children are individuals and what is working for you might not work for someone else, albeit experts might say otherwise.
Many are afraid of co-sleeping due to the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Which was a concern that I also held when our son was first born. Which is why when my husband arrived back home we had our son sleeping back in the bassinet as the bed just wasn't big enough for the three of us to sleep safely.
Eventually we moved into our own home where we had our own separate bedrooms, but we decided to continue co-sleeping. It had become a lot more convenient to simply put his cot in our bedroom so that I could attend to his needs without him ever waking or crying.
It's only been since our son's turned one that he now sleeps in the same bed as us once again. He suddenly started waking up and crying randomly throughout the night as though he was having night terrors. He would stand up in his cot and start bouncing and crying. Turns out sleeping in between mummy and daddy worked wonders and he's been sleeping there since.
After a few months of co-sleeping with our son, my husband started moaning and groaning about not getting enough sleep on the nights that our son wrestles alligator's in his sleep. Turns out he regrets ever saying he wanted to co-sleep with our son for as long as possible. If he can't manage when hes a toddler imagine how he would go when he's a five year old!
The reality of sleeping with a toddler means many nights of sleeping on the very edge of the mattress, with a stiff neck from trying not to move all night long, and usually with a pair of feet jammed into your ribs or a pair of hands poking your eyes out as they sleep diagonally across the bed.
If co-sleeping is or isn't the right fit for your child or circumstances then no one should make you feel ashamed for your choices. Everyone leads different lifestyles and every child is an individual there is no one size fits all when it comes to parenting.
Most mornings I wake to find my son's head crammed up under my armpit while I'm teetering on the edge of the bed. One morning I actually woke to a black and bloody eye because he had whacked me in the eye so hard when I was fast asleep.
Though with that said there are the peaceful nights with all three of us snuggled up under the doona sound asleep. It's those nights that make you appreciate co-sleeping and its benefits, as we definitely have a much sounder sleep on those nights.
Despite not every night being a perfect peaceful night's sleep, co-sleeping is definitely one of life's little moments that you should treasure. For us as a family we never have been sound sleepers so the few nights when our son wrestles alligators is no big loss for us. Particularly not for me since I am up most the night changing nappies and making bottles. And my husband is dead to the world once his head hits the pillow most nights so he doesn't notice it as much as he says he does.
Albeit that my husband wanted to co-sleep for as long as possible, I personally never really agreed with the idea until now. However I don't foresee us co-sleeping with our son once he's three years or older. It may be earlier though it depends on circumstances. He is already growing so fast that by the time he is three there won't be room in our bed for us. Not only that, he will start to become his own little person and I think that will be the right time to have him start sleeping in his own bedroom.
Why Bother Co-Sleeping?
Despite the kicks in the ribs and punches to the face here and there, it really is the best feeling to wake up next to that little smiley face. Though there are many benefits to co-sleeping with your child. For instance, sharing the same bedroom actually decreases the risk of SIDS by 50%. However should you decide to co-sleep with your baby by sharing the same bed then precautions should be taken to do so safely. You should also consult your family doctor before deciding if it is the right choice for you and your baby.
Bonding With Your Baby
Being able to bond with your child is one of the main reason's a parent chooses to co-sleep. Who can resist that cute smiley face as they look deep into your eyes every morning when you wake. By being close to your baby it also allows them to feel safe and secure. Bonding thus in turn improves baby's emotional and physical well being.
It Is Convenient
Aside from bonding with your baby, the other main reason to co-sleep is simply due to the convenience. By having your baby sleep in a cot in your bedroom means that you can easily attend to their needs. It also means you don't need to spend money on baby cameras and monitors.
For those mothers who breastfeed it certainly makes life easier by having baby sleep by her side or the same room. It is a baby's natural instinct to cry when something is wrong, so being able to attend to their needs quicker will hopefully lead to a more peaceful night's sleep for both baby and parent/s.
Reduces Night Crying
By having baby close by you are more likely to wake and attend to their needs when they first whimper, rather than waiting for baby to escalate.
Baby's who are attended to when they cry, learn that their needs will be met, therefore cry less in the long run. Whereas when a baby is consistently ignored they can learn that their signalling system is ineffective and can escalate their crying.
I can certainly attest to this as our son has always slept through the entire night and never cries at night. This is because whenever he becomes unsettled I attend to his needs before he ever needs to cry.
Ever since bringing him home I have been co-sleeping with our son and he hasn't cried in the night since. Whenever we have slept over at anyone's house they always comment about just how peaceful and quiet he sleeps.
Increases Child's Confidence
It just isn't true that co-sleeping creates needy and clingy children. Many co-sleeping advocates believe that co-sleeping, as a component of natural, or attachment, parenting ultimately leads to more confident and independent children.
Children who co-sleep have also been found to have a greater satisfaction with life as they grow into adulthood and often feel more secure in their relationships. By co-sleeping and showing your willingness to be available to your child's needs both day and night, fosters an environment of acceptance.
My husband and his brother were both raised by co-sleeping and both of them were very confident and independent as children. Which still holds true about them as adults. Very much like our son who is already very outspoken and extremely curious to learn.
It Is Safer
Having baby sleep isolated in its own room is a fairly new concept introduced by western society. In comparison to co-sleeping which was the cultural norm, and still is for majority of cultures.
By having baby sleep in close proximity to you means that you are checking in on them more frequently and can remove any hazards when or if they appear. Should baby be in any danger it is more likely to rouse a parent sleeping close by than one who is sleeping in another room.
Sometimes a baby monitor just doesn't cut it and having a parent close by is the safest option. There are just some circumstances that can only be prevented with a parent close by.
However One Size Doesn't Always Fit All
As a mother I know that children are individuals and what is working for you might not work for someone else, albeit experts might say otherwise. One thing that every pregnant woman will notice once becoming pregnant, is that everybody suddenly becomes an expert on pregnancy and raising children.
Suddenly everyone feels the need to offer you advice on how to raise your child because they obviously must know better. That doesn't stop after birth either, it only continues.
So if co-sleeping is or isn't the right fit for your child or circumstances then no one should make you feel ashamed for your choices. Everyone leads different lifestyles and every child is an individual there is no one size fits all when it comes to parenting.
So How Do You Bed Share Safely With Your Baby?
Should you choose to co-sleep by bed sharing then there is a right way of doing so to ensure that your child is safe. Co-sleeping by room sharing you would follow the same precautions as you would if baby was sleeping alone.
Ensure Sleeping Area Is Hazard Free
Treat your child's sleeping arrangement as you would when they sleep on their own. That means making sure there are no hazards and that baby is sleeping in a safe environment. Don't have any loose pillows, blankets or objects laying near where baby is sleeping to avoid smothering baby. Ensure there are no gaps between mattress and headboard, side rails, or wall where baby could become stuck.
If there is the risk of baby falling off then make sure to use a bed rail or infant sleeper bed that is designed especially for co-sleeping. Tie your hair up if you have long hair that may become entangled with baby. Keep any pets away that may be a potential to smother baby.
Essentially you just need to remove any potential hazard that may harm your baby.
Sleep On A Safe Surface
You must always have baby sleep on a firm and stable surface so that baby doesn't roll around or become trapped. That means no sleeping on couches, water beds or anywhere that baby has the risk of becoming trapped and suffocating.
Parent's Must Be Responsible
This goes without saying, if you choose to bed share then you must not be intoxicated. That means no excessive drinking or taking any drugs or medication that may cause you to become drowsy. If you are not alert then there is every possibility of suffocating your baby accidentally. Smoking is another no no as smoke inhalation can suffocate baby also.
You also need to ensure that you dress baby in attire that is safe and comfortable for co-sleeping. Especially if it means the chance of baby becoming over heated. Baby's aren't able to regulate their own temperature very well so tend to become very cold or hot quickly. So don't pile on the blankets when your body heat is probably enough to keep baby warm.
Baby Has No Vulnerabilities
If you choose to bed share then you want to make sure your baby is healthy and not vulnerable in anyway. If your baby was born prematurely or they have breathing difficulties then co-sleeping might put them in more danger. Always consult your family doctor to see if co-sleeping is right for you and your baby.
Has The Indian Culture Got It Right Or Wrong?
Co-sleeping unfortunately has been given a bad reputation by the media, although it is the cultural norm for majority of societies across the globe. Surely the Indian Culture that is so rich in history and tradition has been doing it right for all these centuries.
Personally co-sleeping for my husband and I has made life a whole lot easier and nothing beats waking up next to that smiley little face. However there is the one issue that you are all probably wondering about and that is intimacy with your spouse.