Have you ever thought about where ‘the cot’ came from? Who invented it? When was it introduced into society? Me neither. At least I didn’t until I read ‘Three in a Bed: The Benefits of Sleeping with Your Baby’ by Deborah Jackson, which made me profoundly question the perceived Western norms of baby sleep environments.
Before having my son, I always understood a cot to be a staple necessity in the life of a baby. The perfect cot within the perfect bedroom represented perfect parenting – that beautiful fantasy of what your life will be like when you became a parent. And as far as I was concerned, cots had been used by parents and babies since the dawn of mankind. I had not once given a second thought to the story behind the cot or its appropriation within western society.
But, as I explained in my previous post, The Accidental Co-Sleeper: Part One – How We Ended Up Co-Sleeping, my son just did not take to his big, beautiful, expensive cot. We would spend hours trying to get him down for the night in it. This would usually involve several attempts of feeding and rocking him to sleep, then gradually attempting a skilled transition from arms to cot, only to immediately re-start the process as soon as he woke. He would easily fall asleep on or next to me, but when placed in his cot, he would rouse and ultimately cry in distress until he was picked up. It was both defeating and exhausting for all involved.
On the nights that we did successfully get him to sleep in the cot, I would lay awake in bed watching him sleep, often getting up to check he was still breathing until I relaxed and fell to sleep myself (yes, I’m a worrier, but I bet I’m not the only one who has done this). To me, the cot started to look barren and empty; a big open space that contained my son’s tiny little frame. A few weeks in, when exhaustion really had set in, I started to let him stay in bed and sleep next to me. He was happy and content in close proximity and it was absolutely delightful for me waking up next to him.
The amount of sleep we both got seemed to dramatically improve, but a guilt that I was doing something terrible and dangerous lingered over me. You frequently see tragic articles about babies suffocating due to dangerous sleeping environments, along with the implication that SIDS is also caused by co-sleeping, and this terrifies parents into thinking that they are doing something wrong. But capturing my attention with the title, I decided to read Deborah’s book to see if it could reinforce my growing belief that sleeping next to your baby is both normal and natural.
Deborah goes into great detail about sleeping habits in different cultures and I was surprised to learn that, as opposed to my old ingrained belief that everyone throughout history has always used a cot, that it is only really western countries, and countries that look towards the west as a cultural model, that use them.
So at what point in our society did co-sleeping start to become viewed as dangerous and undesirable? Why is it that in certain parts of the world such as Japan, Sweden, and Hong Kong, co-sleeping is viewed as not only normal, but highly beneficial to the healthy development of the child?
In part answer to this, here is a brief bit of history about ‘the cot’. While cots in the form of small wooden baskets have indeed been around for many hundreds of years, they weren’t popularized in Western society until around the Victorian era. According to Deborah, cots became a status symbol of the upper elite during this time, and popularized across the classes during Edwardian times. In a time of defined social hierarchy, being able to afford the luxury of a cot (and if you were really superior, have enough space to harbor your baby in a separate room), became something to be aspired to. The notion of co-sleeping, which was highly common until this point in time, thereby came to be considered as something uncouth, and therefore only something the lower classes would do.
This commoditization of the cot is of course something that we all recognize today, whether consciously or not. As mentioned above, we’ve been bombarded all our lives by images and clever advertisements from baby product manufacturers of what the perfect nursery should look like. This is usually an image of a spacious room (separate from the parents’ room of course), with a grand cot filled with plush toys, a large wardrobe, a swanky changing table, and stunning décor. Subconsciously, future parents are told exactly what to buy to become the perfect parents, and sadly, images of babies blissfully co-sleeping between their parents are few and far between.
“But, aren’t cots for safety?” I hear you say. Well yes. But this element of danger again goes back to Edwardian times. With poor sanitary conditions in heavily populated areas, it came to be perceived as unhygienic and unhealthy to sleep with your baby, since you increased the risk of passing germs onto them (ironic really, since close proximity has actually been proven to heighten a baby’s immunity). Instead, people of all classes were urged to separate from their babies at night by any means possible (a banana box in a cold damp room sounds like a cosy sleep-pen, right?)
Today of course we’re told that co-sleeping causes SIDS – a term that strikes terror into your very core as a parent. In actual fact though, co-sleeping has been shown in many instances to decrease the risk of SIDS. The danger of co-sleeping is actually from suffocation caused by overlaying by a caregiver or loose bedding – something very different from SIDS (aka ‘sudden infant death’ from unknown causes). While indeed co-sleeping has its hazards if practiced unsafely (i.e. you or your partner are intoxicated, or there is too much bedding), the same can be said too for cots which are often unnecessarily stuffed with teddies, bulky bumpers, pillows, and duvets…as per many advertisements!
The truth is, if properly researched and performed correctly, co-sleeping is a beautiful, natural, and symbiotic way of spending time with your baby (particularly if you’re breastfeeding and can master the side-latch). With a long list of benefits (which I’ll touch more upon in a future post), co-sleeping needn’t be something feared, since the reality is that the cot is simply a popular trend that became ingrained into Western culture. And while I don’t always know the answers to the many questions people ask me, like “when will he go in his own bed?” my husband and I are content in our ‘go with the flow’, natural approach to parenting.
Having now fully embraced our co-sleeping practice, I literally can’t think of anything more perfect than snuggling up with my beautiful son and husband ❤