Why I lied about co-sleeping with my new baby

Heidi Scrimgeour reluctantly went against prevailing wisdom and shared her bed with her newborn, but she says new mums shouldn’t be judged for doing it.

I wish practical safe-sleeping guidelines were as widely espoused as the terrifying cot death figures are

AS is often the case with a lie, the words had escaped from my lips before I’d even thought about what to say.

“He’s sleeping in the moses basket at night?” the health visitor had asked, her eyebrows raised and her pen poised in anticipation of my answer.

“Oh yes,” I said, nervously touching my nose to check for sudden growth.

I don’t even know why I said it. At that time, my days-old firstborn baby slept only when nuzzled on a parent’s chest. Thus, my husband and I took the line of least resistance and co-slept with our baby, despite knowing the risks of doing so.

I passed those nights in a fretful state, dozing fitfully whilst propped up on pillows for fear of smothering my child. The moses basket was utterly redundant.

So it came as no surprise to read that almost half of new mums lie about co-sleeping with their babies because they fear being judged.

That’s according to a study of 600 parents commissioned by author Sarah Ockwell-Smith for her latest book, Why Your Baby’s Sleep Matters. It revealed that 46% of bed-sharing parents haven’t admitted doing so to a GP, midwife or health visitor.

I ‘resorted’ to reluctant co-sleeping to grasp a chance at rest so I simply didn’t have the wherewithal to debate its dangers. I knew the risks; that bed-sharing isn’t advisable because research indicates links between co-sleeping and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Heidi Scrimgeour with her children Edan, 11, Zack, 9, and Alba, 2, and her husband Matt
Heidi Scrimgeour with her children Edan, 11, Zack, 9, and Alba, 2, and her husband Matt

I also knew that being a non-smoker, avoiding alcohol and not being on medication went in my favour with regards to the risks of bed-sharing with my baby.

So I did what new mothers are forever being urged to do; I trusted my instincts, even where that meant flouting expert advice. Nonetheless, I felt guilty and reckless for doing so and I wish that hadn’t been the case.

I’d like to have been able to confess my co-sleeping secret and trust my health visitor to offer support on the safest way to sleep with my sleep-resistant baby. That postpartum mums feel compelled to lie to the very people trained to help them saddens me.

Ockwell-Smith believes expectant and new parents should be advised on how to bed-share safely.

“Currently, most new mothers are only told that co-sleeping is risky and that they shouldn’t do it - but they should be made aware of the benefits of sharing a bed with their baby as well as the risks, and most importantly, they should be taught how to reduce those risks,” she says.

“We know that most parents will share a bed with their baby at some point - some planned and some accidentally - and it’s better that all parents plan for it so they don’t find themselves accidentally falling asleep with their baby in bed, or worse, on a sofa.”

Most of all, I wish new mums didn’t have to dread others’ disapproval.

“I think in part new mothers are lying to health professionals because of fear of judgement - as a new parent you receive unsolicited advice constantly and most of it serves only to undermine you and make you feel even more vulnerable,” says Ockwell-Smith.

“It makes sense that you wouldn’t ‘confess’ to a health professional if you expect they’ll criticise your choice.”

All of this was true in my case. Yet now I look back with fondness on my bed-sharing years. My newborn is due to start high school later on this year, and as far as I can tell co-sleeping has done him no lasting harm.

I’ve since co-slept with his younger brother and sister, too, and no disaster has befallen them.

“New parents should know that bed-sharing is not an inevitable death trap,” adds Ockwell-Smith. “Around half of parents around the world bed-share and many who do so as standard, such as those in Japan, have incredibly low SIDS rates.”

Of course, anecdotal evidence should never undermine prevailing wisdom about the risks of bed-sharing, but I wish practical safe-sleeping guidelines were as widely espoused as the terrifying cot death figures are.

If so, I might have slept more soundly during those anxious co-sleeping months instead of suffering a recurring nightmare about not being able to find my baby beneath the bed clothes.

For safe-sleeping guidelines, visit Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s www.gentleparenting.co.uk.


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