The Family Bed: attachment parenting for the independent baby

If you take a toddler and a newborn, who do you think would sleep better? Clue: its not the toddler.

My youngest daughter came into this world via a textbook natural birth (with a bit of gas and air, of course!) I walked and swayed through my labour, before pushing her out in two pushes in the birth pool. I had all the “hippy” stuff going – mood lighting, a hypnobirthing CD (not actually planned, but the midwife put it on and I loved it), a TENS machine, a physiological third stage. She tumbled into this world and fulfilled all my natural, attachment parenting hopes and dreams. Except she didn’t.

I set about parenting the only way I knew how – breastfeeding, babywearing most of the time, cosleeping, naps on me, and all the cuddles. She was definitely happy, but every evening would fuss, like most babies of a similar age do. I put it down to gas or general fussiness and spent hours nursing, patting, walking, rocking around our living room, caught in the rhythmical, circular movements of lost time that every parent is familiar with.

Until one day, I laid her down on the playmat – and she quietened, settled with her pacifier and fell straight asleep. Perhaps she was tired from fussing, I thought, but the next day, I tried putting her down again, and this time she lay there and cooed, and smiled up at me. That night I put her to sleep in a big cot, rather than in our bed. She slept four hours straight and probably would have slept longer had her sister not woken. These days and nights occurred over the Christmas period, where we were busy with family and in a mostly new environment. My eldest, the previous Christmas, had needed to be wrapped to me the entire time, because she was overstimulated and wanted cuddles. Now this little one, just needed peace and quiet. By herself.

I’m still amazed, and honestly quite shocked. I’m an anthropologist, and know that human babies need to be close to their mothers, to be fed, to be comforted by the sound of their voices and the beat of their hearts. My parenting style reflects this – not intentionally, actually, but coincidentally my eldest thrives on natural, biological parenting and so I followed her lead. She clings on to my hip like a monkey when she doesn’t want to go down. She’d spend every night sleeping [climbing on my head], in our bed, if she could. I went into becoming a parent of two completely expecting to do it the same way, to cuddle and comfort and snuggle my way through the first year and beyond, and now I’m here with two and I’m not sure its going to happen.

I think this emphasises something about parenting that we often forget; we need to be flexible. SO many are SO gung ho about parenting. You either fit in one camp or another. You breastfeed and cosleep so you must be a crunchy attachment parent. You bottle feed and use a stroller and therefore you can’t be anything other than a ‘mainstream’ slightly authoritarian parent. I’m deliberately exaggerating here, but the mummy wars are real. I’ve seen women torn down on forums because they don’t fit nicely into the perceived box of parenting style that is assumed.

But as parents we should know that there is no box of parenting. Sure there are tools we can use, but more often than not, children throw many a spanner in the works.

You may plan to breastfeed but it turns out that  baby struggles to latch. That’s okay.

You may want to use a stroller until a friend lends you a carrier and you are converted to babywearing. That’s okay.

You try to do CIO after everyone and their mother tells you its the right thing to do, and you give up after 30 seconds. That’s okay.

Again, these are extreme examples, but trying to fit into a box isn’t useful for anyone – you will disappoint yourself and your children will disappoint you. We need to go into parenting with no expectations, and a willingness to learn and be taught, by our friends, by our spouses, and most importantly by our children. Each child is different, and wonderfully so.

I’ll go to bed tonight with my youngest daughter in her cot beside me. I now understand when people say that cosleeping doesn’t work for them. She’ll come into bed with me for a feed, and then will (hopefully) happily go back to her own bed next to mine. And that’s okay. I’ll treasure her sleepy snuggles and treasure the short time there is extra space in the bed. The chances are, before morning comes, my toddler will wake and she’ll end up in bed between me and my husband. And that’s okay too.

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