For some co-sleeping is calming while for others, it's a scary option - it really depends on the parent. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Manisha Chellapermal, Dubai-based expat mum of two, recalls feeling like she was abandoning her children when she tried to leave them alone for the night. Conversely, co-sleeping, she says was much, much easier.

Cecile De Scally, Lead Parent Educator at UAE-based Malaak Mama and Baby Care, explains that there are three scenarios that constitute co-sleeping:

  • When everyone’s on the same bed
  • When the baby is in a cot attached to the parents’ bed
  • When the baby is in the same room but not same bed as the parents (advised).

“It worked really well for us, the co-sleeping,” says Chellapermal. “I have two kids, they are four years apart. Noah [who is older] co-slept with us till Marcel was born and when Marcel was born, we co-slept for three and a half years and then transitioned.”

This change of nap scene was tough on the family, admits Chellapermal. She explains: “My friends who had done other sleeping methods, where they had kids sleeping in separate rooms at a very young age, even though that transition was very difficult for them, they were sleeping very well through the night, whereas I struggled with it a lot longer, because they were so used to me being with them. But I would not have traded it for the world, because -

  • I got enough sleep and
  • I feel like I developed a much greater bond with my boys.”

For Thai expat Sana Muqbil, having her baby in bed with her seemed like the answer when the child’s sleeping habits were hit by the ‘four-month regression’. “By the time she was six months old she was waking up every hour or so. It was very difficult for me, because I also had another child to look after,” she recalls. But, she says, when she tried to sleep, the thought of the small bundle beside her kept her awake. “I was very conscious about the baby being there and I kept thinking she was going to fall off the bed [or] I thought I would roll on top of her.

“I didn’t know how to do the co-sleeping safely. I wasn’t really willing to look into it, because it didn’t really appeal to me. What I actually wanted was proper sleep – I didn’t want a kind of band aid on a sleep problem. So basically what did work for us was sleep training [using the cry it out method]. And moving her into her own room,” she explains.

What is sleep training and the cry it out method?
This baby training programme, developed by Richard Ferber, calls for parents to leave their children alone for a pre-decided period and ignore any cries of protest. The aim is to get the infant to self soothe. While proponents of this method say this will lead to independence, detractors of this proposal say it breeds insecurity in a child at base level, because it makes them believe their pleas will not be answered.

However, she warns people against labelling any method right or wrong – at least until they’ve tried it. “I think mums should not rule out any solution that’s given, whether it’s sleep training or co-sleeping or whatever, try everything, because you don’t know what’s going to work for your baby,” she says.

American-based Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine in 2019 called for greater discussion on the pros and cons of bed sharing and sleeping apart, too; it warned that unintentional bed sharing – which is inevitable when you have an exhausted parent on the rolls - is much more dangerous than doing so in an intentionally safe environment.

For 58-year-old Iranian-Canadian expat Farangis Bakhtiar, who co-slept with her three children, the third time was eye-opening, because she was exclusively breastfeeding. She explains: “It was a lot easier to have my child next to me. It was much easier for me to feed her – I didn’t have to get up, I didn’t have to do anything basically. Everything to me seemed to be natural.

It was a lot easier to have my child next to me. It was much easier for me to feed her – I didn’t have to get up, I didn’t have to do anything basically. Everything to me seemed to be natural.

- Farangis Bakhtiar

“You feel every movement of your child so when your child has reflux or is tossing and turning, basically, all you have to do is reach out and put a hand on their chest. And even without knowing it, you realise that you and your child are breathing at the same pace or sleeping at the same time – everything seems to fall into place.”

Why do mums like to co-sleep with their babies?
Paediatric sleep consultant and founder of UAE-based King of Sleep Ausra Cirkelyte has worked with more than 300 families in the UAE. She says: “I usually find that parents decide to co-sleep with their children because the parent is too tired to wake up multiple times at night to soothe their baby to sleep. They choose to keep the infant next to them to speed up this process.
“In addition, some parents feel physically exhausted to carry the infant every time upon the waking.” Sometimes, it’s just a question of not wanting to struggle to solve the issue, she says. And finally, she adds: “There are also parents who choose to co-sleep with their child in order to maintain a great bond between the parent and the child. However, that eventually results in sleep deprivation for parents and children.”

Dubai expat Sehrish Luqman uses a two-step process to co-sleep with her children.

  • Step one: Lay down with them and cuddle them to sleep.
  • Step two: Move them into their own cribs, which are in the room but off the bed.

“My experience has been great, because I believe kids share a special bond with a mum and when we co-sleep it gets deeper. Kids sleep better and even as a mum, when I co-sleep, it’s so stress-relieving for me and it’s overall a nice experience,” she says.

As parents juggle opinions and anecdotes, we turned to the experts for some frequently asked questions and their responses. Here’s what they said:

Dubai expat Sehrish Luqman
Dubai expat Sehrish Luqman with her family Image Credit: Supplied

Is co-sleeping safe?

“Before I was a sleep consultant, I co-slept with my son,” admits Claudine Gillard, consultant at UAE-based Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting. “However, now, in my professional capacity I advise against it. I do not believe it to be safe.”

De Scally points to the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome guidelines from American Academy of Paediatrics, which calls for no mattress sharing but says it’s good to share a room.

For those considering a bed attachment, she warns, infant beds that attach to the mother’s bed provide easy access for the mother to the infant, especially for breastfeeding, but safety standards for these devices have not yet been established.

However, Hannah Duncan, the Lead Midwife and Nurse Manager at Nightingale Dubai, says if one feels they must co-sleep, there are some guidelines that must be followed. These include:

  • Keep pillows, sheets, blankets away from your baby or any other items that could obstruct your baby’s breathing or cause them to overheat. A high proportion of infants who die as a result of SIDS are found with their head covered by loose bedding.
  • The baby must sleep on their back
  • Avoid letting pets or other children in the bed
  • Make sure baby won’t fall out of bed or get trapped between the mattress and the wall

When should you absolutely not co-sleep?

Duncan warns of the following scenarios:

  • Either you or your partner smokes (even if you do not smoke in the bedroom)
  • Either you or your partner has drunk alcohol or taken medications that may make you drowsy
  • Your baby was born prematurely (before 37 weeks)
  • Your baby was born at a low weight (2.5kg or less)
  • Never sleep on a sofa or armchair with your baby, this can increase the risk of SIDS by 50 times

What should you consider before deciding to co-sleep?

De Scally calls for clarity on the following three points:

  • Are you happy to continue doing this long-term as behaviours are created by what we do and if we decide to change this behaviour later, we then need to change a child’s expectations and that can be hard to do.
  • Am I sure my child is safe?
  • Are my partner and I completely on the same page about this?

Duncan calls for parents to question the motive behind the behaviour. She asks: “Are you utilising co-sleeping as a backup for those desperate moments before you and your baby are ready for sleep coaching?”

It is important to remember that when room sharing, to know whether you will be able to tend to your baby and return them to a safe sleep space once you are done feeding them.

- Lamis Benjelloun

Lamis Benjelloun, Certified infant and Child Sleep Consultant at UAE-based One2Sleep, warns: “It is important to remember that when room sharing, to know whether you will be able to tend to your baby and return them to a safe sleep space once you are done feeding them.”

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